Known for its enigmatic and genre-defying music, El Radio Fantastique appears poised to metamorphize — once again. While the eclectic Point Reyes Station–based band hasn’t played together for almost a year, they haven’t stopped creating, writing and collaborating.
“We really don’t know what we sound like anymore — we’ve forgotten a lot of our parts,” jokes longtime band member Robin Livingston, who provides keyboard and vocals for the band along with producing videos and working on other musical projects.
Front man Giovanni (Johnny) Di Morente founded the band in 2003 while living in New Orleans. Throughout the years it has undergone multiple incarnations (it once included a robust horn section complete with saxophone, clarinet and trombone). In 2008 Di Morente returned to Point Reyes and formed the current iteration of El Radio Fantastique that contains not only a lineup of multitalented musicians, but also a tight-knit group of friends who all grew up together in West Marin.
“To be honest, I had no idea how talented they really were,” says Di Morente of his bandmates, who include Colin Schlitt on bass and percussion, Robin Livingston on keyboard and vocals, Gene Fisher on drums and percussion, Noelle Boucher on violin, and the newest member of the band, Jim Cucuzzella, who owns the Players Guitars store in San Rafael, on guitar. Most of the members contribute vocals, with Di Morente taking the lead vocalist role.
Di Morente is no stranger to performing. In the late 1980s he was part of the male duo band Times Two, whose dance-pop hit single “Strange but True” made it to number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 list. It’s a quintessential ’80s dance track that many of us undoubtedly grooved to back in the day — pure unbridled fun. Thankfully, Di Morente hasn’t shed his early skin entirely and brings this same upbeat, danceable sensibility to his much more noir-inflected El Radio Fantastique.
“I’m just really into bubblegum pop,” says Di Morente, who writes most of the songs for the band. “It feels like a true collaboration,” says Noelle Boucher. “I came in as a violinist, but I felt so encouraged that I’m now singing, too.” It isn’t only Boucher who expressed gratitude and appreciation for the encouragement Di Morente offers to his fellow bandmates. “We are all huge fans of each other,” says Di Morente, and as Gene Fisher points out, “it helps that our musical tastes are similar enough that we usually agree with each other.”
“The music is the deciding factor — whatever the song needs is the direction we will go,” offers Di Morente, who has been writing practically nonstop during the pandemic. Along with a brand-new single, “Hollywood Girl,” that will drop in May, the band also completed “London’s Fatal” last June. The track (available on the band’s website) is a rousing synthesizer-driven number with plenty of bass and drums that provide a rich backdrop for Di Morente’s searing vocals. Despite its potentially grim lyrics, there is a buoyancy and clarity to the song that at almost four minutes long makes it uplifting and eminently danceable.
With four albums behind them, El Radio Fantastique displays an impressive musical range that showcases everything from a lush orchestral sound to crooning ballads and layered percussive arrangements that at times seem dreamlike and otherworldly. Di Morente’s captivating vocals and dark lyrics are often juxtaposed with rocking rhythmic arrangements that seem both sad and joyful. “Put Me in the Ground” from their Shine EP exemplifies the band’s ability to sing melancholic tunes with hypnotic beats that keep listeners entranced and tapping their feet. Oh Lord, put me in the ground/Take me to the graveyard in the heart of town/I say…Oh Lord, put me in the ground/I never had a heartache quite like this.
The band is known for its theatricality and vaudevillian live shows. This cinematic sensibility is on full display in their music videos, revelaing the creativity and artistry this band seems to have in spades. Di Morente’s early obsession with radio transmission informed his naming of the band. He also cites listening to Marin’s “weird” KTIM FM 100.9 radio station as a young boy, which exposed him to Monty Python and other out-there programming that made a lasting impression. There is no doubt the band, while hard to describe or pigeonhole, has an eclectic vibe — but as the lead photo suggests, it’s difficult to say whether their image is David Lynch or Burning Man–inspired.
Now that music venues are slowly reopening their doors again and beginning to book live acts, El Radio Fantastique is eager to start performing together again. Pre-pandemic they played regularly at the nearby Old Western Saloon in Point Reyes Station and could also be caught at Peri’s and 19 Broadway in Fairfax. And while the band members look forward to playing together and to debuting their new material, they also appear excited just to see each other. It is evident from the strong praise they all voice for one another that this band, despite its size — there are currently seven of them — genuinely respect and like each other. Di Morente put it this way: “The band is a tight-knit family of creative friends. It is something rare and wonderful.”
See El Radio Fantastique play their first show in almost a year at Smiley’s Saloon in Bolinas on May 28, 2021.