By Jack Spencer
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By Rob van Alstyne
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Immaculately produced. Radio-friendly. Irresistibly poppy. These are not the phrases currently associated with music being lauded in the local realm, but they can all be applied wholeheartedly to Stuart D'Rozario's third and most accomplished album to date, The Radio in My Head. In an age in which so much emphasis is placed on a lo-fi and indie aesthetic, and in which expensive recording suites and producers are being abandoned for home studios and analog tapes, releasing an album as lush and flawless and D'Rozario's goes so steadfastly against the grain that it almost seems brazen.
But with D'Rozario's sophisticated songwriting talent and backing band of seasoned studio vets, The Radio in My Head would sound foolish presented any other way.
The album comes to life with a playful, experimental feel, a tough feat to pull off on a record so richly produced, and it's due to D'Rozario's knack for mixing different genres and feels, sometimes even within the same song.
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"My favorite album of all time is The White Album," D'Rozario says, chatting over coffee in downtown Minneapolis. "It's great. And I like the fact that you can have 'Back in the USSR' and 'Revolution' and 'Blackbird' and 'Sexy Sadie' and 'Honey Pie,' you can go '30s jazz. I looked at [Radio in My Head] very much in that sense."
Certainly, Radio sweeps through a variety of styles; the title track is pure power-pop, while the more pensive "L.A. Time" and "You're Not There" take on a rootsier folk feel, and "Not an Ordinary Girl" sounds like a lighthearted reinterpretation of the Beatles' "Savoy Truffle."
"I always listen to a range of music," D'Rozario explains. "Some songs, like 'Never Enough,' for example, were influenced more by the music my son listens to." At 15, his son has introduced him to albums by bands like Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy—"just peppy, fun stuff."
He says listening to his son's music also led him to think about studio recordings in a new light. "I was listening to a lot of songs which I liked a lot, even by bands like Green Day, all this stuff, and you realize, it's not [just] those guys, there's another two guitar players here," D'Rozario says. "You realize how people are making the records you like—and it's not by having six guys in a band come and play. It's by layering a bunch of other things. I started thinking more and more about harmonies, and I was missing a lot of people singing together. So I really wrote these songs around that. I wanted to get a lot of studio musicians who could sing together, and start from there."
Since he began writing and recording his own albums five years ago, D'Rozario has rounded up an impressive array of collaborators, many of whom will be joining him at the Guthrie this week for his album-release show and whose individual résumés could fill the rest of the pages of this paper. Ken Chastain, Tommy Barbarella, Noah Levy, Jim Anton, and George McKelvey all play major parts on Radio, and D'Rozario cites Morris Hayes as one of his first fans and the reason he decided to record his first album.
Still, despite the fact that D'Rozario is surrounded by such immense talent, he maintains an easygoing, humble approach to his music. "I'm used to doing stuff and really loving something for a period of time, then being able to step back and say, you know, maybe I can do better," he explains. By day, he is an executive creative director and co-president of the ad agency Barrie D'Rozario Murphy, and he has been working in advertising for over 20 years. D'Rozario says his experience working in such a demanding and creative field has helped him to continually refine his talents as a songwriter and performer.
"I try to be really objective about it, and kind of ruthless. Do you have any idea how thick-skinned we have to get in our business?" He laughs, smiling warmly. "You just get used to producing a lot of stuff, and you get used to not being too precious about it. You can't always be right. As a person generating ideas, sometimes things get killed for the wrong reason and you just have to shrug it off. But normally there's always a better idea. If you keep an open mind to it you'll always get something else."
STUART D'ROZARIO performs a CD-release show to benefit Free Arts Minnesota with Lynhurst on MONDAY, NOVEMBER 15, at the GUTHRIE THEATRE; 612.377.2224