Gino DePinto, AOL "The first album was the darkness and now this is bringing…
- Posted on Aug 8th 2012 4:15PM by Erik Leijon
"You can go through a lot of hardship," the former James Brown impersonator tells Spinner, "but you don't see it, you just feel it. I was at the premiere, it was somewhere down South, and just watching all those moments of my life on the screen: seeing my uncle, seeing pictures of me when I was a baby, remembering those times I was just trying to survive and keep warm, I couldn't keep my composure, I had to get out of there."
His 2011 debut album, No Time for Dreaming, can be tough for him to listen to as well, but he says he keeps a stiff upper lip on stage because of how fans have latched onto his heartfelt lamentations. It's no surprise then, the man who cries the pains of post-recession America is constantly approached by fans needing to spill their guts.
The deeply spiritual Bradley spoke with Spinner about keeping his emotions in check, being a shoulder to cry on, turning pain into music and hitch-hiking to Alaska.
I'm sure you've told your life story countless times already. Do you still enjoy telling it?
I've been doing a lot of interviews, and I don't mind, but when they get deep into my personal life I get really emotional. When I'm under a lot of pressure and doing shows, and they keep hitting that one panic button, I feel it. But it's the same with my songs, like "Heartaches and Pain," which is about my brother dying. But I'm learning to push my feelings aside because I see how much people love it and I see that what I've been through, they're experiencing in their own lives. They tell me, and I see it, and when they hug me I can feel it and tell them it's all right.
Do people often come up to you and tell you their problems?
All the time. There was this one guy about my age who told me he thought his life was over, he told me he was sick in the hospital. I told him that life is never over until you close your eyes and leave this world, so if you got a small dream, whatever dream you got, hold onto it. My grandmother used to tell me you can have a dream as small as a mustard seed, but if you believe in it enough it will grow, I always keep that with me and pass it on.
Do you also get approached by a lot of younger fans?
These kids, these young guys, they're looking for love. A lot of their elders didn't tell them the truth: all they told them was how to go out and get money, regardless of how you use people. I see in a lot of teenagers who come towards me that there's something alight in their spirits and they see that in me, the honesty I come to them with. One kid came up to me in Canada, in a city where it rains a lot, about 18-years-old, he told me his mother had just passed away at 51. God, he was crying, I asked God, please give me something to say to him and help him out in his life. I told him "Young man, you know why is it the good sometimes die young? Sometimes they're brought to this earth to give you strength, to give you a message to be strong and keep going. She came to this world and brought you love, and she wants you to take that love and give it to the world and do good things with it." The kid started crying, I held him for three minutes and he thanked me. I meet people all over, because I took my hurt and made music with it, and a lot of people are going through the same changes but go through their lives holding it in, with no one to say it to.
Do you still write music the same way now that you have fans that are so attached to your music?
Yes, because I still have a lot of things inside me that need to come out. [Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings guitarist] Tom Brenneck and I find some music I like, then we go into the studio and I open my heart and let it out while he tapes it. Then we go back and write it line by line -- that's how I get it out of me, but if you ask me to write it first, I get too emotional doing it.
So most of what you sing about is improvised at first?
If I get some music that my soul likes, and I get that feeling, get your tape, put me in the studio, dim the lights, get me a hot toddy, and I'll let my mind go and it comes out. Then we'll go back, do one line at a time, change it if things are too emotional in parts. Then the other musicians will come in, but if I'm in a roll they'll just let me go, not bother me.
Do you try to make your music less personal?
I do, but they know the style I like. I'm more into Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, James Brown, the motor spirit. I'm in that era, and by being in that era I know the kind of music my ears look for. When I hear it, if I hear a word that has a certain feel to it, like something more positive, I'll feel that softness and beauty, so I think that way, then the words come to me in that style. If I see something with a dark shadow in it, with bitterness and hurt in it, I'll need that kind of music to bring the spirit out of me.
Is it true you used to live in Canada?
I hitch-hiked through Canada. I was around B.C., all the way up there. I was nervous about hitch-hiking my way back, until I met someone in Canada that told me if you cross to that island across the way, you'll be in Ketchikan, Alaska, you'll be back in America. So I did that, and it was beautiful. Ketchikan is like the beginning, it's unspoiled. I'd love to go back there one day, not the way I did before, but just to go back and see it again.