Somewhere between punk and blues – a porch and an alley – lies Radiator King, the performing/recording name of Boston native and Brooklyn based, Adam Silvestri. Established in 2011, Radiator King’s music shows influences from both Dylan and Strummer with a sound described by Boston blog Allston Pudding as something akin to what “Tom Waits locked in a room for a month with nothing but a copy of Springstein’s Nebraska” might produce. Whether alone with a guitar or backed by a band, Radiator King embodies the raw energy of punk, the grit and intricacy of delta blues, and the lyrical potency of folk in “songs that are the sonic equivalent to an old whiskey bar at the end of a dirt road.”
In early 2017, Radiator King released his third full length album, A Hollow Triumph After All. The record is at once celebratory & somber, deftly channeling the mood of a Crescent City second line, that holy brass-anchored yin-yang jazz-funeral tradition of New Orleans. A sacred and profound attempt to transcend pain, loss and suffering by celebrating a life well-lived, while at once acknowledging the darkly tragicomic Catch 22 of existence—that we’re born to die.
“We’re all down here together,” muses Adam Silvestri, the singer, songwriter and creative force behind Radiator King. “What connects us is the strife we share in struggle. It unites us, it makes us do wonderful things. There’s this proverb in Eastern philosophy—within crisis is opportunity. I very much believe that. I think that what people connect with in music often has to do with pain. So building this record around the idea of a New Orleans funeral procession—it’s about finding a way to overcome the pitfalls in life, to face them straight on and find the beauty in doing that. That’s what character is in my opinion. That’s what integrity is. Those moments of crisis are where we learn what we’re built of.”
A Boston native now hailing from New York, Silvestri has been featured at outlets such as Brooklyn Vegan, Punk News and Daytrotter. His latest Radiator King record was recorded at NYC’s Vibromonk Studios by producer/engineer Jesse Cannon, and features an all-star cast of session players including drummer Brian Viglione (Dresden Dolls, NIN, Violent Femmes) and accordion player/keyboardist Franz Nicolay (The Hold Steady, World/Inferno Friendship Society). The bulk of the recordings were cut live to tape.
“When I was working on the demos for this album, I left a lot of room for interpretation,” Silvestri says. “I wanted people who would understand intuitively what I was going for, which is a tough thing, but Jesse helped me find the right people. Vibromonk is essentially a warehouse—just this big open space. I wanted to deal with raw emotion. For musicians to follow their instincts and impulses. The beautiful moments in recording are unplanned—when you lose yourself, and you’re just playing and having a dialogue with the people around you.”
A Hollow Triumph After All is a journey in song, an affecting pastiche of Americana and indie rock: snaky, dissonant junkyard psychedelia; ebullient hook-heavy rock & roll; church-organ folk-punk dirges where there’s more truth and salvation in the hangover than the sermon; weary ballads that at their most warmhearted-valiant approximate early Tom Waits and Springsteen’s Nebraska, and at their creepiest, the hellfire-and-brimstone freak-folk of 16 Horsepower. Gluing together the genre-hopping record’s varied styles is Silvestri’s bleak, desperate and unmistakable wail, wizened beyond its years, delivering impressionistic lyrics that seem to emanate from the mystic chasm between wake and dream…
Lyrically and conceptually, A Hollow Triumph is an exercise in the fleeting non-linear quantum leaping of memory. “It’s this character walking through scenes in his life, experiences he’s had,” Silvestri explains. “He’s searching for something. In the end, he’s sort of depleted, exhausted, recollecting back on life and recognizing that the end destination he sought the whole time wasn’t as important as he thought. Maybe it was all the little moments—drinking with strangers at a roadside bar, falling for a girl in Memphis—maybe these are the beautiful parts of life, and maybe he didn’t pay enough attention to them while they were happening.”
Silvestri has been touring and recording as Radiator King since 2011, releasing 2012’s Launching Day EP as well as 2015 debut LP Document Untold. Even on these earlier albums, he was honing in on everyday blue-collar experiences. “I’m drawn to telling stories of working-class people who embody some sort of integrity,” he says. “I’m always trying to find the underdog—the person who’s struggling or fighting for something. You try to put yourself in their shoes, but what you’re really looking for when you’re writing is where the point of connection lies— the essence of what makes these characters and their stories important to us, to our culture.”
Silvestri wrote most of A Hollow Triumph on tour—in motel rooms, the van, wherever he could find some quiet. The songs are informed by the constant motion and the influx of new experiences that come with being on the road. “I’m always inspired when I’m on tour,” he says. “You meet people, you have these connections with strangers you’d never cross paths with if you weren’t playing a show. Often times they aren’t very wealthy but they’ll give you the shirt off their back, cook you food, let you stay on their living room floor..…these people always inspire me. And when you’re traveling, you can’t help but notice how vast this country is. You’re exposed to a lot of different cultures. It opens new doors.”
“At the end of the day,” Silvestri says, “I consider myself fortunate to be a musician, to have the opportunity to travel to so many different places and play music for people. I know there’s nothing that I’m owed, but there are still people who will listen, people who open up their homes to you. This gets at the true sense of what music is all about—it brings people together, it helps us connect.”