Sam Cook-Parrott plays songs you (probably) like
Play the Songs You Like, the title of Philly indie-pop act Radiator Hospital's new album, could be read as the second half of a sentence, as in, “Radiator Hospital Play the Songs You Like.” Or it could be read as an instruction: Play whatever music you want. Play the songs you like.
“That's the joke,” said Radiator Hospital frontman Sam Cook-Parrott, who uses the album to wrestle with questions of how songs age and what to make of the relationship between art and the artist when time becomes a change agent.
“The songs you like will never sound as good to you as they did under the blood red summer moon/Yeah the songs you like are getting older every day,” he sings in almost-title track “The Songs You Like.”
“It's partially about how a song I wrote, which the day I wrote it I really liked, means something different to me five years later,” he said. In the same way, Radiator Hospital songs change as they become intertwined with listeners' lives. “My stupid jokes, my fibs and lies are someone else's feelings,” Cook-Parrott sings on “Pastoral Radio Hit.”
“It's about the responsibility of making music or making art, and sharing a part of yourself with the world. But also,” he said, “it's about dating someone, or maybe a friendship — any kind of relationship where you feel close, and when you do something stupid, it almost reflects badly on them for being your friend, so it makes you be better.”
If some of the album's overarching concepts sound a bit heady, the music goes down easy, as Cook-Parrott mines melodies similar to the catchy, '50s-era pop songs he grew up listening to. “Those are the songs that always get me,” said the songwriter, whose father was in the radio business and flipped records on eBay on the side.
Cook-Parrott, 26, started Radiator Hospital as an 18-year-old in his former home of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Five years ago he made the move to Philadelphia, where he can be found playing in friends' bands in the city's tight-knit indie-rock scene. He recently played bass on tour with Allison Crutchfield, and Radiator Hospital shares drummer Jeff Bolt with Crutchfield's band, Swearin'. Cook-Parrott also plays in the Afterglows and the Goodbye Party, and you may recognize his voice from 2013 Waxahatchee album Cerulean Salt (he sings and plays bass on “Peace and Quiet”).
Swearin' singer/guitarist Kyle Gilbride also produced Radiator Hospital's 2014 breakout record Torch Song, which introduced the band to a wider audience through contagious sing-alongs like “Cut Your Bangs” and “Bedtime Story.”
Performing in front of larger groups of people gave Cook-Parrott an odd feeling he explores on Play the Songs track “The People at the Show.” “The people at the show just walk in acting like they understand how we're feeling,” he sings over crashing cymbals and dirty guitars. “We watch each other's eyes, wondering the entire time, would you save me in the flood? Do we care about each other that much?”
“That comes from playing to a bunch of people, and feeling like I'm just another person who's also in this room. I just happen to be the one who's playing the music,” said Cook-Parrott, who'll perform with his Radiator Hospital bandmates at Ace of Cups on Monday, Dec. 18. “Not knowing who anyone is or what their deal is can be kind of weird. You don't know what anybody's day was like, and you don't know how hard it was to get to a show. Everyone is at a show after they worked all day or been sick all day or had school all day. … This show is the world — the people of the world.”
As the band plays shows for more and more people of the world, Radiator Hospital remains tied to its humble origins, when Cook-Parrott would make cassettes of his music, and when the tapes ran out, he'd post the songs online for free. In fact, much of the band's catalog can still be downloaded for free on Bandcamp (or you can buy the entire digital discography for $8).
“The band has a way different meaning to me now, which I explore on the record. But I'm still the same person. I'm still trying to find the same thing from a song that I was back then,” he said. “I still want the music to be free or cheap. I like cheap music. I always have. The more music you can hear, the better.”