Photo by James BunoanFor Radio Vago's new front woman Mire Molnar, it wasn't the standard sex ed. image of a condom unrolled onto a cucumber or blown up and stretched over a high school teacher's fat head that stuck with her as she transitioned into adulthood, but rather something a little subtler.
A woman came to class with a piece of Scotch tape, stuck it on her arm, then peeled it off. "Every time you have sex with someone," the woman said, pressing the tape on her arm again, ripping it off again, "it's like this." She kept doing it until the tape was no longer sticky.
"It was bizarre," Molnar recalls. "I don't think I ever understood it."
We brainstorm a bit about what it could have meant. I suspect the emphasis might have been on the way the tape picked up a bit of whatever it touched, indicating the diseases one potentially encounters, but for Molnar, the significant thing was that the tape lost its adhesiveness. Perhaps one has a limited amount of connectivity? And ironically, isn't that precisely what those who've been battered about by love wish for? An end to the constant sticking?
On "Disappear," a fizzy bit of expert art rock from the Los Angeles quintet's forthcoming full-length, Molnar sings, "A heart that loves will be torn apart/Time and time and time again." This notion of empathy is at the heart of Radio Vago. The band's name—short for Radio Vagabond—was taken from a short story written by a friend of keyboard player Olivia Parriott about a guy whose brain functioned as a transistor radio, picking up the thoughts of those near him. Tired of the ceaseless chatter, he took to the road, only to find he couldn't escape. Ultimately, he went crazy. His mind was a piece of tape that was saturated but couldn't stop sticking.
Given the similar concerns in the two stories, it makes perfect sense that OC-based Molnar (who replaced Adrienne Pearson in December) would be a seamless fit for the group, rounded out by guitarist Jen Gillaspy, drummer Jenny Vassilatos and bassist Nicole Fiorentino. Still, it has to be weird to become the new front person of a band that's been successful for four years. (Gary Cherone, anyone?) Guitars, drums, bass and keys can be replaced fairly easily, but singers are burdened with being the "personality" and "face" of any band. Vassilatos says this isn't the case with Radio Vago. "It was never about the singer in this band. We're five equal members. If it was any other member, it would have been the same thing."
Still, Molnar is cautious when assuming her role. She cites a similar body type and image and wonders if the audience might mistake her for Pearson, whom she's never met. She worries about overstepping her bounds or rocking the boat. "It's bizarre to be the front person for four other people," she says. "If I'd created this band, it'd be a whole different story, but I'm coming into someone else's artwork."
How Molnar wants to look onstage is something she's still figuring out. Radio Vago tend to rock out in jeans and T-shirts. For a July 4 show with her previous band Kill Baby Kill, Molnar fashioned a G-string out of an American flag, put black electrical tape on her nipples and poured red paint over her body to approximate blood. "I have a lot of performance art in me," she offers.
Just how much is not readily apparent until this comes up: inspired by "ecstasy and Fight Club," she entered into what she refers to as an "experimental marriage" with a man she wasn't in love with for a year and a day. At the time, she had pink dreadlocks, and to propose, she shaved them into a bi-hawk, sheared off her eyebrows and carved MARRY ME into her chest. She seems a bit embarrassed about it now: "It was a crazy period."
At the time, she was living in Oakland, but she's since returned to OC, where she grew up. (Fun fact: Molnar played in indie, ska and riot grrrl bands in high school; the ska band, Los Pantalones, later morphed into Save Ferris! Another fun fact: Molnar's parents live on an alternate-energy compound in Orange! Her dad makes his own olives! But enough of the fun—back to the pain.)
Practicing in downtown Los Angeles, Molnar and her band mates are constantly confronted with messy social inequality. "There are people who don't get noticed. People on the margins of our perspective. Anybody who's poor, who's Third World, there's this disconnect between the haves and the have-nots. I don't consider myself a full-on have, but I have access to the 'have.' I could get there if I try, whereas other people would have to try a lot harder."
Molnar sings about this on the track "Below the Radar": "'Cause we don't bat an eye when fellow humans die." She later asks, "Can you hear me?/I'm the distasteful underbelly/Of your consumption and your thoughtless greed."
Molnar worries that because she's no longer doing crazy dramatic shit, she's become "a little boring." I suspect she has nothing to worry about.
Radio Vago perform with the Main Frame at Koo's, 530 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 491-7584; koos.org. Fri., 8 p.m. $6. All Ages.
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