John Hughes Radio. Photo by Lauryn Hottinger

Portland alternative rock act John Hughes Radio is back with another album of ’80s-inspired songs, but this time around, the sound behind the heartbreak-heavy lyrics has a little bit harder edge.

Released at the beginning of the month, “Outsail The Sea” is the band’s third album since forming in 2015 and continues to take inspiration from the soundtracks of the films made by its namesake, like “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, “Some Kind of Wonderful” and “Pretty in Pink.”

These soundtracks are home to tunes by Psychedelic Furs, OMD, New Order, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Simple Minds, among many others.

The members of John Hughes Radio are Matt Zimmerman and Michael Solak on guitar, Jason Marshall on bass, drummer Max Heinz and singer Sean Slaughter.

Zimmerman, a salesman at Hub Furniture by day, writes all the songs and came up with the name. “This band is a way for me to channel the music that I was blown away by in my childhood,” he said.

Zimmerman, who grew up in Portland and Cape Elizabeth, was raised on Top 40 radio and whatever his older brothers and their friends exposed him to. He also heard an endless amount of classic rock. But it was through John Hughes films that he came to learn about bands like The Psychedelic Furs, whose song “Pretty in Pink” is the name of an iconic Hughes film (the song came first).”If if weren’t for the movie, I would have been stuck listening to Foghat,” he said.


John Hughes Radio’s singer, Sean Slaugher, holding the download card for “Outsail The Sea.” Photo by Sean Slaughter Photo by Sean Slaughter

During a sit-down conversation with Slaughter and Zimmerman, we bonded over some of the glory of growing up in the ’80s, but there was one thing I couldn’t ignore and had to bring up. Several of Hughes’ films have not aged well. There are themes of nonconsensual sex, not to mention objectifying teenage girls and young women.

Zimmerman and Slaughter agreed. “Back in the ’80s, that’s what I saw people in high school doing to each other in real life, not just in the films,” said Slaughter, who works as a sound engineer.

Which is why the focus of John Hughes Radio has always been on the soundtracks rather than the films themselves.

“Calling it John Hughes Radio is, in my mind, no more problematic than referencing any pop culture reference prior to the very present day. You could go with any pop culture reference and find things that are problematic with it,” said Zimmerman.

The previous two albums, “Hopeless Romantic” and “Heartbreak Repeat,” are both synth heavy, but when keys player Mike Maurice left the band amicably a few years ago to pursue his solo work, the band decided to let the music be more guitar-driven.

“We are definitely a little more rock now, which is fine with me,” said Slaughter.


The title track opens the album, and my ears are transported back to the mid-80s as I picture Ducky from “Pretty in Pink” crying in an alley over Molly Ringwald’s Andie. I can also see Portland native Judd Nelson as John Bender running through the school hallways in “The Breakfast Club” while “Outsail The Sea” plays.

“Shattered In Stereo” cuts to the ’80s even more. To me, it sounds nostalgic but not dated. I can picture Mary Stuart Masterson’s Watts character in “Some Kind of Wonderful” drumming along to it.

“I’ll Take Less” shines with shimmering guitars and percussion, and Slaughter laments about battered hearts and bruised egos.

I also adore the album closer, “Forget You,” which has Slaughter singing about meeting someone in a record store. Ultimately, the romance fails, but the song’s a moody banger.

In fact, heartbreak and longing are expressed in pretty much every track on the album. But this isn’t a bad thing, because the songs are so good.

“Ever since I started writing music, it’s always been about regret, self-loathing, heartbreak,” said Zimmerman, though most of the songs aren’t autobiographical, and occasionally he’ll come up with something more tongue-in-cheek.

Slaughter said that he’s been through a couple of divorces, which made the material relatable. “Even though I didn’t write the lyrics, I was able to step into those shoes and sing those lyrics because I was feeling exactly what was written.”

“Outsail The Sea” is streaming everywhere. You can also purchase a nifty download card at live shows, like the one they’ve got coming up on April 21 at the newly re-opened Empire.

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