Profile: Radon Chong (2020)

Radon Chong swears up and down that it’s not a – patent pending – Thinking Man’s Band, despite lots of mounting evidence to the contrary.

“I think people take Radon Chong seriously,” said Sasha Weisfeld, the band’s frontman, a healthcare worker “on Sabbatical” who came to Pittsburgh and fell into the band’s ranks by way of New York City and Miami. “Being a Jew, Bronx-born, a street Jew, I’m smart but I really don’t give a shit about ‘smart’ so much, about being an intellectual. People think we’re trying to be smart – but we’re not.”

Well, you could’ve fooled us. The Pittsburgh-based, post-everything quartet is rearing its head on the noise scene again with “Honey World,” a brand new, Bandcamp-only EP. And that record is a small but mighty thing.

The EP, which the band is self-releasing Dec. 4, is the perfect companion to the group’s Bizarro-world underground debut, “I Keep On Talking to You,” which the Philly label Single Girl Married Girl released on cassette and digital formats in 2017. Like “I Keep On Talking to You,” the new, four-song EP, culled from 2017-era material and recorded at PUHD 2 in Philly, makes great hay out of knotty guitars, atonal rhythms and somehow-in-tune histrionics from Weisfeld. If you imagine Captain Beefheart fronting Cheer-Accident, with a blender-ized smattering of Pere Ubu or U.S. Maple to boot, you’ve got a pretty good point of reference to start crafting your definitions.

Brian Hecht plays guitar in Radon Chong and sketches out demos of a lot of the band’s songs. (He stresses, however, that Radon Chong’s songwriting is highly collaborative and often based in free-improv.) Hecht says there’s no rocket science to a Radon Chong song, no precise chemistry. He just writes what’s in his head – and that’s often music centered around an atypical guitarist with something to say.

“I love guitar music,” Hecht told Pittsburgh Current. “I’m a sucker for any weird guitar stuff, whether it’s Derek Baily or Sonic Youth or John Fahey or Gastr del Sol – that’s what I like to listen to.”

Hecht also attributes some of the band’s new-found spit and polish to Spencer Carrow, who joined Radon Chong on drums – Bill Oliver and Hecht trade bass duties – after the first tape was released. His influence is evident on a song like the excellent “Rashomon,” where Carrow is a kind of gluey plastic polymer, lending verse/chorus/verse colors to the odd outing.

“I’ll say this about the new record: since that first tape, we’ve developed a real rhythm between the four of us,” Hecht said.

The EP also harbors a few surprises. On the last track, “Sissy,” Matt Aelmore – he of the lauded avant-noise group How Things Are Made – guests on trumpet during what Hecht called the song’s “improv section.”

Radon Chong’s members, despite the allure of a sophomore release, are modest to a T. Even Weisfeld, an animated presence among undistorted but wonderfully anti-rhythmic proceedings, doesn’t take much credit for his mesmerizing lead vocals, instead passing the praise to Hecht, Oliver and Carrow.

“I think Radon Chong is a good reflection of who [Hecht] is – quirky, yes, but funny and very sincere,” Weisfeld said. “I can sing along with him, you know what I mean? I have a sense of what he’s doing. I just rehearse and it’s just singing along. Eventually, there’s lyrics and there’s ideas there. Everything comes as part of improvisation.”

“And, if nothing else,” he added, laughing, “you follow the bass.”

To check out the new EP, set your Internet browser of choice to https://radonchong.bandcamp.com/.  — Justin Vellucci, Pittsburgh Current, Nov. 25, 2020

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