When Brad Cole started thinking about his new album, he realized he was on a mission to create something that would stand apart from the music he had been making for many years. For a singer-songwriter best known for crafting thoughtful tunes that generally lean towards Americana and folk, it was time to step outside genre confines and do something eclectic. To capture his vision, Cole managed to connect with Joe McMahan, the Nashville producer known for working with massively talented troubadours like Kevin Gordon and Patrick Sweany. Cole wanted to make an album of down to earth songs examining the human condition (relationships mostly), and he wanted his lyrics to be brought to life with a melange of colorful musical styles from lounge jazz to classy, Nick Lowe-esque power pop. Clearly Brad Cole and Joe McMahan had natural chemistry, as the fruits of their labor resulted in one of the most beautiful, charming albums you will hear this year, Lay It Down.
We are delighted to present an exclusive sneak preview stream of Brad Cole’s new album Lay It Down, which drops April 15th, right here on Glide Magazine. To get an inside look at the magic behind the music, we caught up with Cole to talk about making the album, musical inspirations, and his upcoming tour, which will include plenty of surprises. Brad Cole kicks off his tour this Saturday (4/9) with a special full band album release show at The Hideout in Chicago and will also hit The Basement East in Nashville on April 12 and Rockwood Music Hall (stage 2) on April 23.
Listen to a sneak peek of Brad Cole’s fantastic new album Lay It Down and read our interview below:
You worked with producer Joe McMahan on this record. Were there any albums you two shared or bonded over going into this recording?
Funny, I think album bonding was a major part of the courting price. First of all, Joe’s studio is homey-funky-cool and he has a substantial vinyl collection. We started talking about cool music elements (like snare tones and background vocal parts). Tops on the list were; Lee “Scratch” Perry and the Upsetters, Sergio Mendez and Brazil ’66, everything by Astrud Gilberto, The Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid soundtrack, New Orleans soul and pop of Irma Thomas and Lee Dorsey, pre Catch A Fire Wailers, the Staple Singers including Mavis’ recent works, and the list goes on.
Had you worked together in the past, and if not, how did you know Joe was a good fit?
I think the album bonding sealed the deal, but before that, I had been craving something more musically eclectic. I knew I wanted a change, wanted to blend my favorite sounds into something that was hard to articulate, and I knew I needed a musical partner to help execute this. I had been kicking around East Nashville for a couple years and as I explained my vision to friends, Joe’s name kept coming up as someone who shared my music sensibility, someone not afraid to be eclectic, someone who could be retro but not blatantly so. He was not famous but he was cool and I got a good sense of him being in control of his tools as a producer and his guitar playing. He also played me a couple things he had done that were very much outside the commercial box but I knew he would never let anything bad outside his door, thus I knew he cared and would put the time in to make it all work.
The album features so many styles of music ranging from bossa to jazz and lounge music and even power pop. What kind of music inspired you and did you have a clear vision of what you wanted going into the album?
Again after the listening parties, we started talking about staffing and instrumentation and as soon as I mentioned vibes things got interesting. Blending vibes and pedal steel with the poppy background vocals created a palate that we were excited about. But it was an iterative process: we listened, we staffed, we tracked and in the tracking session there was a ton of composition going on (by all the players really) and then fine tuned the blend. Then we listened some more, added some of the accents like horns and percussion. So the album was really born in the sessions and in the mix. I think the only premeditated parts aside from picking the players was leaving space in the writing and tracking for Chris Carmichael’s string parts.
Were you consciously aiming for a different sound than your previous albums?
Absolutely, not that there was a problem with the past albums, it’s just an evolutionary thing for me. I wanted to get at my deep musical passions and I did not want to do anything commercially obligatory. Ultimately, it would shift me as a performer from minstrel singer songwriter guy to band leader and vocalist with a jazz element. I really wanted to get this band on the road and have some fun.
Was there a particular reason why you wanted to record the album in Nashville?
I think you have to make the distinction on Nashville and East Nashville. The iconic Nashville is very focused on pop country and that is so not my bag. East Nashville just appeared to be a very friendly, open minded community of players and writers – a true abundance of great players and producers, focused more on making great music than commercial hits. So I knew I wanted to stay on this side of the river. And Nashville overall, is a very inspiring place, I still cry when I go to The Ryman Theater, I still go to Robert’s on Lower Broadway for great honky-tonk.
A lot of the songs on this album feel deeply personal. What kind of place were you coming from with the writing and how much of the material is based on your own experiences?
Well I did not write these songs for an Americana, jazz and soul record but I think there is some magic as to how these basic folk tunes turned into these beautiful pieces of music. The inspiration behind these songs come from the highs and lows of life and love I have experienced, as well as a reflection of some of the characters that have moved in and out of my life, yet all these songs started with me and my old Gibson.
A couple of the songs reference females by name (“Hey Susanne”, “Carmen”) yet they both have a different tone. Were these written about real women you know?
“Carmen” was written by my friend and amazing singer-songwriter Dan Connolly. I first heard it in 2002 and to me it was all about the love that stops you in your tracks; it’s about that woman, the one you can’t let go of. “Hey Susanne” on the other hand is based on a true character who kind of moved in on a close friend’s life when he was down and tried to take over: bit of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I think we all know someone like this.
Would you say there is a theme that runs through the album and connects all of the songs?
I think it’s just the joys and vulnerabilities of being in relationships, of being in love. I think it’s about finding hope when we are down.
You will be doing some interesting things as far as your lineup goes for your upcoming tour. Can you talk about what you have in store for fans?
Aside from this being an extraordinary 8 piece line up, you will have to come to the shows to find out. I’ve never been more excited about a set of shows.
Lay It Down is available on April 15. For tour dates and more info visit bradcolemusic.com.
Photo credit: Shervin Lainez