Brad Cole is a man of the road. Though he’s currently based in New York City, he’s a staple in Chicago, recorded his latest album in Nashville and spends most of his time on tour, going where the winds blow him. In the last eighteen months alone, he’s played over 100 shows—solo, as part of a trio, with a band, and even as an opener for some major names, such as Chris Stapleton, Ingrid Michaelson and Dave Davies. Cole will soon embark (though if we’re being honest, he was never really off duty) on a tour in support of his 4th full length album, the soon to be released, Lay It Down.
Today he’s premiering a song from the record, “Hey Susanne,” which showcases the truly eclectic vibe of his new record and maturing sound. Vibes and drums create a slinky, sexy bossanova vibe that perfectly mimics the song’s title character, a woman as beautiful as she is cruel; “You kiss just like an angel/while the devil makes your plans.” Cole’s voice is a captivating, well weathered croon, and he proves he can glide from genre to genre in the blink of an eye.
The singer/songwriter also took some time to talk with Elmore about his upcoming release, fatherhood, coping with loss and unexpected inspiration.
Elmore Magazine: So, congratulations on your upcoming album release! You talk about Lay It Down being a departure for you—harnessing a sound that you’ve never created before. Can you talk a bit about that and the creation of the record in general?
Brad Cole: I’ve been fortunate enough to travel around the country and make a living as a singer/songwriter, and that means I am usually out solo or with very sparse accompaniment. I was really yearning for a richer musical experience, and I have met so many tremendous players along the way, so I just wanted to do something bigger. Back in Chicago, I fronted a few different rock bands and as much as I love rock, I had zero interest to do a rock record. So the concept of the record really started with my love for Bossa Nova, the STAX sound and old reggae and dub. I needed a partner on the production side who would be on the same page with me. Ultimately, I found my soon-to-be producer and partner on this record, introduced to Joe McMahan. I brought him 20 or so songs we then whittled down to a dozen. I think what really makes this record special is the amount of composition on the fly that took place during the recording process. It was game on for everyone, and there was nothing cookie cutter about this. We were open-minded, and everyone’s creativity showed up in spades.
EM: On your website, you wrote to fans, “It seems like the biggest markers for me in 2015 were not what I planned for, but what happened when I showed up.” How do you think that sense of the unexpected has influenced your music making and career, either recently or throughout your life?
BC: Gosh, I hope I was not lecturing a fan! Seems like fear and inspiration are my two biggest motivators. The fear part is both constructive and debilitating, and that’s a whole separate discussion. It’s the inspiration that usually shows up unexpected. If I recognize and appreciation inspiration, and bring it into my heart, that’s a really good thing. With making Lay It Down, all the players showed up with so much creativity, I was inspired and just let it all happen. I got married in 2015. I think letting go, and walking into that commitment of marriage and a partnership, past all the labels (and wedding planners), has opened many happy doors for me. Same with being a parent– show up in that role and magic happens. Not always great, but hopefully something is learned. It’s like going to a show to see an inspiringly great player, makes me want to run home and write or play. Lastly, might be that one fan who shows up at a not so great gig, who has a great story to share, that might be food for a great song, its happened before.
EM: In your album trailer, you mention that you felt a driving need to get back on the road—can you expand on that a bit more? What is it about being on the road that inspires you, and how does your experience differ with each tour?
BC: When I was raising my daughter, her safety became front and center for me, and I did my best to maintain a day job. I had lost a brother in the ‘90s and a best friend in 2008. These relationships for me were a reminder to listen to my soul, do what I need to do to be happy. So in 2009, I made up my mind to rededicate to playing and writing full time and hoped to God I would figure out how to survive. On the road, I sometimes go out with different players, and it’s like team sports: it’s cool and every show is its own game. You meet people, you get their stories, you get invited into their lives and homes. You drive through the not so beautiful kingdoms of our country, you grow disdain for big box culture and useless advertising. You listen to evangelical radio in the south, you appreciate great architecture, you pull off the highway and have a sandwich in the cemetery of a small town you’ve never been to. You meet artists who are working it with everything they’ve got. And then of course, you really want to come home to a place where love lives and thrives.
EM: Can you tell our readers a bit about your collaboration with Matt Nakoa and Robinson Treacher? What can we expect in the future? (Editor’s Note: We caught this trio at the Northeast Regional Folk Alliance and fell in love!)
BC: We all met at a small festival on Long Island. I see so many artists, but each of these guys stuck out to me as incredibly passionate performers, and their skills as writers was about the best I have heard. I was doing a series called Acoustic Circus, where I would band together with other players so they could showcase to my fans and we collaborate. It was something about of us all being stylistically different, something about each of us feeling a little isolated as solo artists and something about the fun and the creativity in simply making up cool parts for each others’ songs. Well, one thing led to another, we did about a dozen shows in 2015 and we’ve started writing. We will be going into the studio to record at the end of March with producer Neale Eckstein.
EM: Tell us a bit about Cover Story, your web series. What inspired the idea?
BC: Cover Story is simply a weekly cover song series I put out on my social. It’s fun and it’s personal. I am kind of a sci-fi buff, and in Ray Bradbury’s Farenheight 451, each person committed a book to memory and then that book was destroyed, so that person became that book. I just thought that was cool. So, this is kind of a legacy for me that is about musical influences, interpretations and collaborations and of course, it’s a fun thing.
EM: Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
BC: First of all, I want to thank Elmore for being so cool! Secondly, as great as the record is, come to a show and we will blow your mind.
Listen to “Hey Susanne” below, and catch Brad in Nashville at the Basement East on April 12th and in New York City at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on April 23rd.