Out of Darkness: Jack The Radio Finds the Light

In its sixth album, the longtime Raleigh roots-rock band fronted by George Hage explores a slick, optimistic sound.
by Josh Klahre | photography by Jillian Clark

When the pandemic forced a shutdown of many in-person businesses, George Hage had a unique dilemma: He had a full album’s worth of songs ready to go, but nowhere to record it. “Normally, I’d write a song and bring it to the studio for the band to work through and see where it led, but this time was different,” says Hage.

Hage is the lead man, guitarist and chief songwriter for Jack the Radio, a longtime Raleigh rock band known for its blues-tinged roots rock sound. So along with band members Danny Johnson (guitar, keyboard, lap steel, vocals), Dan Grinder (bass) and Kevin Rader (drums, vocals), he decided to get scrappy. “It was me recording a demo, sending it to the band and then getting their feedback separately,” he says. Under Lonely Light, the band’s 6th album and first release in over 4 years, was recorded, mixed, engineered and produced entirely by the band — a first for the group. The album drops June 21st.

Johnson “really went down the rabbit hole,” Hage says, leaning into his passion for the more technical side of music by becoming its de facto producer. For each song, the various band members would record their parts independently. Then they’d send them over to Johnson, who would put all the tracks together for the song. “Each of the parts had to be perfectly combined and tracked to create the effect that the band was all in the same room recording live,” says Hage. “It’s a massive undertaking for a non-professional producer.”

But you’d never know it by the sound. Under Lonely Light keeps Jack the Radio’s folksy sensibilities, but layers in slick synth and guitar effects. “We wondered if we could actually pull it off and have it sound as good as their past records,” says Hage, “but I think we did it!”

One of the two singles released in the run-up to the full album premiere, “Fast Fun” gives us a different sound than what we typically hear from JTR. The track opens with a more modern and refined drum-synth-bass accompaniment, segueing into softer guitar riffs overlaid with effects. There’s way less fuzz and reverb than what the band normally offers — perhaps a signal of the band’s turning a new corner to a brighter path. The lyrics suggest that, too: “Life’s been heavy, now I’m ready for the heavy to be done.”

Coinciding with the album release, Jack the Radio will performing at The Pour House the evening of June 22, sharing the bill with another exciting new band on the scene, Fancy Gap, a project formed by the duo of singer/songwriter Stuart McLamb (The Love Language) and songwriter/producer Charles Crossingham. Local brewer Trophy’s celebrating the new album with a limited beer run, of Fast Fun Helles Lager. 

The original members of the band, Hage and Johnson, have been on the Raleigh music scene for over 20 years. And, like anyone who’s been in town for that long, they’ve witnessed massive change in that time. They’re proud to see how much Raleigh has come up, however they’re quick to point out some of the challenges that growth has brought on. “With all the buildings going up downtown, we’ve lost a lot of inexpensive rehearsal space,” Hage says. “This is a collective concern within the musician community.” He’s heartened to see some stakeholders in real estate development leaning in to consciously dedicate space for artists to create: “Hopefully we can figure that out.”

This article was originally published on waltermagazine.com on June 20, 2024.