In early October, I had the chance to see Chad Urmston of the new rock band State Radio perform. Expecting him to rip up the stage with his amazing electric guitar riffs, I was a bit taken aback when he quietly and unnoticeably walked on stage, acoustic guitar trailing behind him. Although the songs lacked the pungent rawness of the classic rock zest that I was expecting (having faithfully listened to their EP “Flag of the Shiners”), the acoustic sound definitely added that special something that was previously missing: the beat was slowed down, and without the banging of the drums the lyrics were delivered clearly and beautifully. The acoustic versions of State Radio’s songs add an element of melancholy that is lacking in their electric renditions.The rest of State Radio was unable to accompany Urmston, and he stated after his performance that he was “a bit wary of anything acoustic because I’m at a time in my life when I want to just rock out. I’d rather be known for the ‘electric’; I want to get away from the ‘singer-songwriter.’ I want to be in a band,” his lips slowly curve into a smile, “like Led Zeppelin.”
Most of State Radio’s songs have a strong, political message. After the show, I met up with Urmston and we talked for a bit about what he tries to accomplish through his music and how it acts as his political loudspeaker. “[The concept of being on stage and in front of people] is a responsibility that an artist has,” said Urmston. Political activism seems to fuel both Urmston and his creativity. Feeling passionate about our world and the way people are being treated unjustly, he takes action. He briefly mentions partaking in protests, “Yeah, I went to protests, marches, it had a big impact on my life … and my heart and music.” This is evident in his most recent song, “Camilo,” which depicts a man who refuses to go back to Iraq and fight. In accordance with United States law, he is now serving a five-year prison sentence.
After graduating high school in 1994, Urmston lived in Zimbabwe for six months. There he witnessed the harsh injustices to human rights. The experience still inspires his music – in the song “Sugarcane,” he depicts a woman getting beaten for not working hard enough in the sugarcane fields. “The idea of sharing music, [there’s] no top of the mountain goal. I love to write music and be able to do that and have the simple life with State Radio. If I can be a part of the machine of intellectual musical revelation, I’d feel lucky and privileged to be in that position.”
Urmston is not just a musician who happens to play the guitar exceptionally well. He is someone making a change, an impact, and striving to make things better. He has lots of ideas, both musically and politically. In addition, he is trying to begin a college fund for two Zimbabweans. I asked if he has anything else hiding up his sleeve, and he says slyly, “We’re just getting started.