Under Strange Skies

by Radio Nowhere

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about

Singer/songwriter: for most people, the term still brings to mind the sound of one voice and a fingerpicked guitar, or a quiet piano, sketching a monochromatic study of one individual’s emotional landscape. Mike Baker, who performs and records as the Northern California alternative pop/rock act Radio Nowhere, is not that kind of singer/songwriter.

Possessed by kaleidoscopic musical visions and a tendency to spend more time singing about hostage crises than inner pain, Baker plays a whole pawnshop’s worth of different instruments and handles all of the engineering and production chores in solo pursuit of his own brand of panoramic sound.

It’s an amalgam of loud guitars, mistreated beatboxes, catchy choruses and a reverence for classic pop song form that marks Radio Nowhere as something like the missing link between Tom Petty and Duran Duran. Fans who’ve always loved these artists, plus Neil Finn, Aimee Mann, Counting Crows and Elvis Costello, but wished that they’d turn their guitars up a little bit, will definitely notice a kindred spirit at work in Radio Nowhere.

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Radio Nowhere first came to public attention on the San Francisco Bay Area bar & coffeehouse scene, while Baker was working an endless series of strange day jobs – rooftop acorn remover, online rock’n'roll trivia oracle, farm animal impersonator (including a stint as the successor to the late, legendary Mel Blanc [aka Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.] as the famous Berkeley Farms cow) – devoting nights to honing his skills as an electric guitarist and building up his catalog of original songs.

A demo tape of these songs caught the ear of several local musicians, most notably original Counting Crows drummer Steve Bowman. “We went mountain biking in the Oakland hills," Baker recalls, "and in between crashes, he told these hilarious stories about opening for the Rolling Stones. I screwed up the courage to play him my demo, he really liked it and offered to help me put a band together.” With Bowman as de facto musical director, a rock star lineup that included members of Primus, Mazzy Star, and the bands of Chuck Prophet, Peter Gabriel, and Jackson Browne came together to record Baker’s debut album and join him onstage.

“The core of the band was there and sounding fantastic,” remembers Baker, “but we really needed keys. One of my friends, a public school teacher in Richmond, said ‘oh, there’s this guy at my school who plays piano – he might be interested’: turned out to be the guy who’d played piano on Van Morrison‘s “Moondance” record, and a bunch of Bonnie Raitt‘s stuff besides. I said I thought he’d do…”

The resulting album, “Interstate Medicine” – underwritten entirely by friends and fans in a pioneering example of crowdfunding – garnered critical acclaim and an award from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Several songs from the album were picked up by radio stations worldwide, and soon ecstatic reviews were coming in from places like Scotland, Germany, Australia, and India.

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Before long, acclaim for the first album began to transition into demand for more music. Radio Nowhere's subsequent releases - "Days Between Stations" and "Under Strange Skies" - start with Baker’s old standbys – acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums and piano – and spike them with buzzy synths, dubbed-out snares, effected washes of sound and the odd sample to create music poised somewhere between then and now, organic and electronic, sloppy and robotic.

You might guess that Baker's lyrical preoccupations don’t exactly fit with the bland love songs and anodyne navel gazing that pervades pop radio and TV drama soundtracks these days, and you’d be right. A quick scan of Radio Nowhere’s lyrics reveals references to New World history, kidnappings, capital punishment, latent Catholicism, medieval torture devices, genocide, shanghaied sailors, running from the highway patrol – “all the catchy stuff!” he says. The songs also toy with an element that seems to have gone AWOL from much of today’s music – humor – with occasional sly twists and asides in the manner of Bob Dylan or Elvis Costello.

Radio Nowhere is currently ensconced in the studio, working on an album’s worth of new songs that will be released one by one, as they’re finished, throughout 2012. The new tracks are developing in very different directions, yet each one is still stamped with Radio Nowhere’s trademark devotion to thoughtful lyrics and widescreen sound.

credits

released 01 January 2011
Written and recorded by Michael Baker

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Track Name: The Captain's Daughter
LYRICS
--------
stowaway / for a year and a day
sail the ocean wide
shook the dice cup / my number came up
mama stood and cried
yeah mama stood

they made me sign / they said choose a line
the slaves against the fools
a man with brains / holds on to his chains
obeys the golden rule
obeys the golden

stay away from the captain's daughter
walking on wine made from water
uncorked on the sly
and they tell me the ship is sinking
but I'm going down drinking with a
toast to the sea and the sky
throw me a line

left my post / off the skeleton coast
once the madness passed
under strange skies / I'm traveling by
the star I keep on the mast
the star I keep on the mast

now I been flailed with a / cat o' nine tails
keelhauled off the bow
but all this I swear
just doesn't compare
with the plank I'm walking now
with the plank I'm walking

I got it bad for the captain's daughter
walking on wine made from water
uncorked on the sly
and they tell me the ship is sinking
but I'm going down drinking with a
toast to the sea and the sky
throw me a line

stowaway / for a year and a day
I thought I knew the score
but how could I / have known I could try
but I'd never reach the shore
no I'd never make it back to shore

I'm staying here with the captain's daughter
walking on wine made from water
uncorked on the sly
and they tell me the ship is sinking
but I'm going down drinking with a
toast to the sea and the

raise it up for the captain's daughter
walking on wine made from water
uncorked on the sly
and they tell me the ship is sinking
but I'm going down

I go down drinking
I'm going down
I go down drinking
I'll be going down
I go down drinking
all the way

captain's daugher
I'm walking on
Track Name: Emily
Lyrics
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We go walkin hand in hand in hand
stop at a payphone to call in our demands
hey operator do you get lonely too?
look what it's costin' me just to talk to you

Emily, can't you see
you don't have to spell it out for me
I'll bring you English Breakfast tea
and you can read the leaves
and learn what everybody else can already see
you should be drinkin your tea with me
Emily

Day 47 is just like the one before
Channel 11 is live outside our door
I watch a little but they don't understand
i love you so I can't let go of your hand

Emily, can't you see
1 and 1 and 1 and 1 is 3
I'll bring you English Breakfast tea
and you can read the leaves
and learn what everybody else can already see
you should be drinkin your tea with me
Emily

Girl you got my number
Call me I'm goin under

I saw you peekin up at the morning sky
I know you're sneakin around with another guy
Somebody's comin/I hear them through the walls
Honey hang up the phone before they can trace the call

Emily, can't you see
you got me beggin on my bended knees
I'll bring you English Breakfast tea
and you can read the leaves
and learn what everybody else can already see
stay here with me


Emily
Track Name: Katydid
LYRICS
====================

katydid
what she did they won't tell me
katy lies
underwater/fast asleep
fast asleep
dreaming deep

and are you fast enough to fly away
when the time for you comes?
are you still so young to take your wings
so close to the sun?
and when the wrecking ball finally comes for you
when the hour for you comes
will you go quiet or will you cry
that it's not your time?

butterfly
flies in circles over me
butterflies
live a day/then they are free
then they're free
she's nothing to me

and are you fast enough to fly away
when the time for you comes?
are you still so young to take your wings
so close to the sun?
and when the wrecking ball finally comes for you
when the hour for you comes
will you go quiet or will you cry
that it's not your time?


katydid
what she did they won't tell me
katy lies
katy lies

and are you fast enough to fly away
when the time for you comes?
are you still so young to take your wings
so close to the sun?
and when the wrecking ball finally comes for you
when the hour for you comes
will you go quiet or will you cry
will you go quiet or will you cry
will you go quiet or will you cry
that it's not your time?
Track Name: Spring (From The Secondhand World)
LYRICS
--------
she brings me shining things that she pulled out of the river
knee deep in shimmering
i hear her whisper to her
sisters on the wind
the winter steals my breath
but she says
that spring
is coming
yes she says
that spring
is coming

and the seeds you sow will reach out for the sun
your heart will beat again
the blood will run
so sleep right now in the arms of the cold cold moon
sleep right now but remember
spring is coming

she lights her secondhand world with stolen constellations
says a cold rosary of stars
she sings me strangers' songs
late
into the midnight
orion rules the sky
but she says
that spring
is coming
yes she says
that spring
is coming

and the seeds you sow will reach out for the sun
your heart will beat again
the blood will run
so sleep right now in the arms of the cold cold moon
sleep right now but remember
spring is coming

my fire is burning low and I pull you close again
wait for the spark to come on
oh sun won't you come again
come and shine the way you was
the winter steals my breath
but she says
that spring
is coming
yes she says
that spring
is coming

yes she says
hold tight / hold on
hold on through this cold cold night
hold on now
but remember
spring is coming

and the seeds you sow will reach out for the sun
your heart will beat again
the blood will run
so sleep right now in the arms of the cold cold moon
sleep right now but remember
spring is coming