Five years ago, Sam Cook-Parrot moved from Grand Rapids, Michigan to West Philadelphia with some guitars, some songs and a healthy Bandcamp back-catalog. His project, Radiator Hospital, pretty much became an instant hit around the scene, whether he was performing solo in the basement of Nacho House (where I first encountered him, opening for Ted Leo) or turning it up full-band style at Golden Tea.
Having trusted friends for collaborators helped. Sam knew drummer Jeff Bolt from back home, and the two relocated to Philly around the same time. They joke that they picked up Cleveland bassist Jon Rybicki along the way, while New Yorker Cynthia Schemmer joined on lead guitar after meeting Sam amid her own move to Philly. The chemistry was undeniable, the enthusiasm was contagious and the appeal was clear: this band had rip-roaring punk rock energy, classic pop songwriting motifs and themes — their honest, vulnerable songs tend to dissect love and yearning over hooky melodies — and a totally earnest, engaging delivery. Or, as their very on-point Facebook bio distills it: “We are a rock band of rockers who love to rock. We also can be just one person who is much quieter but still loves to rock.” Right on.
Sure, part of it was right-place-right-time, with Radiator Hospital moving in the same circles as Waxahatchee, Swearin’ and the general West Philly DIY boom circa 2013. Cook-Parrot briefly played in Waxy, toured with Swearin’s Allison Crutchfield on her most recent solo run, and last year put out a lovely record with The Goodbye Party’s Mikey Cantor under the name The Afterglows. But Radiator Hospital’s songs would stand out in any circle of creatives, and they accumulated fans in high places — Rolling Stone scribe Rob Sheffield being an early and ardent supporter — and continued releasing singles and EPs alongside knockout records like 2013’s Something Wild and 2014’s Torch Song.
This year, Radiator Hospital returns with Play The Songs You Like, out this Friday on Brooklyn label Salinas Records. It’s the best showing to date in the band’s discography, with punchy production by Uniform Recording’s Jeff Zeigler and songs moving at a breathless pace. Their recent performance for The Key Studio Sessions was ridiculously efficient, kicking out four jams in 8 minutes and 50 seconds; below, watch them tear across the minute-and-a-half long “Love Story.”
This Friday, to mark the official release of Play the Songs You Like, Radiator Hospital headlines a solid bill in the basement of the First Unitarian Church — Philly’s Eight opens the night, with Brooklynites Strawberry Runners and Baltimore’s Outer Spaces in the mix. For tickets and more information on the show, head over to the XPN Concert Calendar, and for an afternoon jolt of introspective energy, hit play below to hear Radiator Hospital’s entire Key Studio Session performance.
radiator hospital, The Key Studio Sessions