The dream of the ’90s is alive with Radio Relapse
As the animated frontman for local cover band Radio Relapse, Matt Sutter is stoked to perform other artists’ music—especially when the songs are universally adored. He points out that pretty much everyone at a bar gets excited when a ubiquitous 1990s hit such as “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World comes over the loudspeakers.
“You’re taking someone’s childhood and giving it back to them,” Sutter said recently over drinks at Madison Bear Garden. “Everything we play is something I listened to as a teenager, and when you’re a teenager you’re just discovering music and figuring out your taste. So, what we’re doing is reminding people of when they discovered Nirvana or Green Day or Weezer for the first time, and then we help them relive that.”
Radio Relapse has a fun, goofy on-stage aesthetic, with Sutter often donning a headband and track pants and each member rocking matching jerseys printed with nicknames like “Starkiller” (guitarist Matt Manfredi), “The Ace of Bass” (bassist Chase Reno) and “That Guy” (fret-shredding lead guitarist Will Anderson). The group is perhaps best known for its full-album tribute shows, which have included playing Nirvana’s Nevermind and Blink 182’s Enema of the State from start to finish.
There are downsides to playing strictly covers, though. Sutter recently became the last remaining founding member of Radio Relapse after longtime drummer Cody Johns left to make his own music.
“Throughout the history of the band, people have left not because of drama or frustration or conflicts, but because they wanted to pursue originals, and you can’t stand in somebody’s way on that,” Sutter said. “I think most musicians dream of writing original music.”
Radio Relapse launched about four years ago, originally sticking strictly to pop-punk covers, but having long since branched out to alternative radio hits of the 1990s, from Foo Fighters to Run-DMC. Prior to co-founding Relapse, Sutter was in a Paradise-based barbershop quartet (along with current Relapse bandmate Tom Prosser), but then he became a father and didn’t have much time to sing.
“After a few years of being away from music,” he recalled, “I made a lonely Facebook post where I was like, ‘Does anyone want to start a band?’ And a couple of friends responded.”
Staying true to their barbershop background, Sutter and Prosser share vocal duties. Prosser is also in charge of keeping the energy level high as the group’s hype man. The dual vocalist thing works particularly well on rock/hip-hop crossover tracks like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” “It’s Tricky” by Run-DMC and pretty much anything by Rage Against the Machine.
“Before we even started [Relapse], we knew how to play off each other’s voices,” Sutter said of his back-and-forth with Prosser. “It’s neat to have a friend that old in the band, and we just have fun—that’s the most important thing. I mean, we all have day jobs, for the most part.” (That is, with the exception of new drummer and overall solid dude Mike Moran, who supports himself entirely by gigging in various bands.)
This year, they have plans for a Rage Against the Machine show, where they’ll play tracks off each of the band’s albums, and will keep hitting the road hard, hoping to build more of a following outside of Chico. Ideally, Sutter said, Radio Relapse will break onto the casino circuit and play some of the bigger stages in the North State—but only if it stays fun.
“I’m a husband, father and teacher; that’s what I really am, underneath it all,” he said. “I love music and it’s bigger than a hobby, but it’s not a profession.”