Nashville singer-songwriter Brad Mackeson says that when it came time to release his first recording, one plainly called “Nostalgia, “ he confidently declared he wasn’t ready to introduce himself to the music world with that effort. “ I didn’t think Nostalgia was a pure expression of myself. I didn’t know who I was as an artist and you could tell” recalls Mackeson.
“I couldn’t justify introducing myself to the music listeners of the world before I even knew who I was as an artist. Honestly, I just didn’t like the songs either. The world has enough mediocre music in it that I don’t need to contribute to that Mount Everest size pile.” If only more eager musicians were as modest as this singer-songwriter.
However the wait was well worth it as Mackeson’s full length “debut” 1945 shines with rhythmic simplicity and quite strength. The album is inspired by the year World War II ended in Europe which also coincides with the year Mackeson’s grandparents (his English grandmother and American, air force vet grandfather) met in London. It loosely chronicles their story… the journey starts with infatuation, takes a turn towards heartbreak and uncertainly, but eventually resolves in strength with plenty of personal soul searching along the way. The series of songs fit nicely next to the works of Josh Rouse, Matthew Ryan, Eels and Beck, proving that Mackeson can very well evolve into the career singer-songwriter he so intended to become. We recently had the privilege of talking to Mackeson…
Can you tell our readers a little bit about your musical background and when you first decided you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I started recording myself performing spoken word songs about the troubles of being an 11 year old trapped in the suburbs of Portland, Oregon in the wee hours of morning on a cassette player I stole from my best friend Rhett. And around 16 that progressed into playing with a band in the bars and clubs in the city. After a few years of that one day I woke up and decided it’d be a nice idea to move to Nashville. That was a few years ago, and since then I’ve spent time in New York City, Portland & Nashville. If I ever stop touring I may look to find a permanent home, maybe… However, my allegiance will always be to the Beaver State. I never said one day “I’m going to have a career in music.” It’s just something I do. I will always make recordings of my songs, but most of the time you need money to do that, so that’s why I sell them. The amazing part is people actually buy them.
You talk highly about vintage recordings – musically what steps do you take to incorporate their influence into your music without sounding too much like your influences?
Vintage recordings are cool because of the great performances and the dedication that people had to their craft at that time. The musicians and singers actually had to be able to sing and play; unlike now where people are more inclined to edit and auto tune everything. If you find yourself doing that (massive editing of your shortcomings) I think you need to ask yourself why it is that you do what you do? Is it because you want to be a cool celebrity and get chicks? Or is it because you have something to say and express? I love recording with computers, but they also enable the corporate music machine to really do some heartless stuff. Thankfully they are trending downward and everything works in cycles. But, also, if people keep buying that stuff they are voting for it. Maybe we’re the problem?
I also listen to a lot of older music because it has stood the test of time and as a songwriter that’s the stuff you want to study. I mean think about it…. I can dissect all The Beatles records and figure out what really makes their songs great. Timeless songs are more than just a nice arrangement and a catchy melody; there’s a timeless message somewhere in there. Recorded music is still in its infancy, but time has a way of filtering out the BS. It’s hard to tell what’s coming out now and what people will still be listening to in 50, 100, 300 years from now.
I don’t worry too much about sounding too much like another artist. I’ve been writing songs long enough to where I’m not insecure and I can be myself. Sometimes I will tip the hat to say the late great John Lennon. On my new record I wrote a song that felt like a song he would sing. I don’t know, maybe he really needed to get something off his chest and couldn’t in his metaphysical form so he used me? I digress…
Do you still collect vinyl and as an avid collector – what is about scouring crates that you enjoy so much?
Yes I do, just got a few records today including Billy Vaughn’s The Satin Touch.Have you seen the cover to that? Check it out! Absolutely insane. I got it for a songstress/love interest of mine. I’m hoping she’ll cop it and do something like that for her next album. Somebody should….maybe with woodwind instruments instead of brass.
Greatest find: THE ONE RING TO RULE THEM ALL… Found it at the bottom of a crate in Marysville, Kansas just off the Pony Express Highway (in case you were wondering). Anyway, having that ring makes it pretty hard to stay in one place… gotta keep moving.
I found it interesting that you shelved your debut Nostalgia – would you consider 1945 your debut and looking back now are you happy with your decision?
This comes back to the idea that I don’t put music out just to be a super cool guy in funny clothes who plays guitar. I didn’t think Nostalgia was a pure expression of myself. I didn’t know who I was as an artist and you could tell. I couldn’t justify introducing myself to the music listeners of the world before I even knew who I was as an artist. Honestly, I just didn’t like the songs either. The world has enough mediocre music in it that I don’t need to contribute to that Mount Everest size pile.
1945 is my debut, yes. It’s me. One of the best choices I’ve made so far in my life. No regrets. Making 1945 helped me grow up as a person and as an artist. I am much more self aware now, which is one of the keys to learning to be a more selfless person.
Why did you decide to go down memory lane with 1945? Did these songs come easily and what was the biggest challenge writing with a theme of sorts?
“1945” is a song I wrote about my grandparents. My grandmother is an English gal and lived through WWII, the bombings of London and that entire hellish scene. To make a long story shorter; my Grandfather was a navigator in the US Air Force and dropped a lot of bombs on Germany. After the war was over they met and married in London, had a few kids there and then eventually moved to the states where they lived for a few more years, but ended up divorcing. There is a lot of mystery around their story and I found it intriguing, so I wrote a song based off of some of the things I guessed that might have happened between them.
After I finished recording I searched the material for themes, looking for something to link them all together so I could name it properly. I realized I had a lot of songs about relationships that individually captured almost every part of a relationship; infatuation (the cocaine high stage)-stability-doubting-love again-insecurity-heartbreak and maybe some resolution and lessons learned. “1945” was the only song that sort of captured all of the concepts and was such a strong theme I went with it. The running order plays as a romantic relationship progresses (or as I described previously)
The challenge was finding the theme after everything was done. When I’m working I like to be pretty spirit lead. If you make too many rules it can stifle your work… Put you inside a box you know?
How would you describe yourself as a guitarist and what other instruments are you proficient at?
I’m really not much of a shredder on the guitar. When I’m playing lead I look for the melody, which is usually something that I hear in my head first. That’s the challenge of writing music; getting what you hear in your head out into the universe. I’ve always had a very strong natural rhythm which allows me to pick up any kind of stringed or percussive instrument quickly. If you have rhythm and a basic understanding of how instruments work you can play most anything. On 1945 I played everything from acoustic guitar-piano-organ-harmonica-tambourine-drums etc. I wouldn’t call myself a studio/session drummer or piano player, but I get what I need out of it and it works for my songs. Most of the time I’d rather play things myself vs having someone who is “better” play it. The record says my name on the cover and I think people should hear me play… not some random Nashville session player.
Musically what moments are you most proud of on 1945 or what would single would you play if invited on Letterman?
There’s a lot of great moments on this project. I feel like I had some great vocal performances. I always try to get deep into character and focus on the song when I perform… Get inside of that moment and scene. “Seein’ Ghosts” starts you way down and then brings you way up in the B section of the song… The end of that song is pretty epic.
Hard to say which song I’d like to play on Letterman’s show. I love em all, but I’d like to start with 1945. It’s so different (I sampled a Winston Churchill speech in it) I think it would surprise and catch people off guard, which is something I enjoy doing. Beyond that it’s just a very pure song.
Say you have an unlimited budget for your next recording, what direction would you most like to go?
I’d probably go the direction of buying some kind of 100 acre compound in the Oregon mountains and build what I’ve been calling my “fantasy factory.” A giant recording/art studio space filled with instruments from all over the world (among other things.) Inside the fantasy factory there will be a place where I can create films and make photos. I would probably create a multifaceted music/film piece that would be interactive with the audience in some way. I really want to push the music industry forward… I really think everyone (including myself) is still copying what Elvis and the Beatles did: make a record, get the radio to play it and tour around and sell it. Music isn’t limited to this and I think the public is ready for something new. I know I am. I have a few ideas, but I need technology to progress just a little bit to make it happen. Maybe in a decade or so I will shock everyone.
Your about to kick off a tour of some western states- what cities and venues are you most looking forward to? Really looking forward to playing the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland. It’s such a great venue and that’s the place where I really cut my teeth coming up…. lots of fond memories there. I first took that stage as a nervous kid, and I’m a different animal now. I’m also looking forward to playing in San Francisco, I love it there… Northern California is a special place for me. It’ll also be nice to get back to New York City in April.
Being Portland bred, and now residing out of Nashville – do you have any interest in relocating back? What do you enjoy most about Nashville?
Nashville is a fairly small city and it’s an easy laid back place to live much like Portland. Nashville has a lot of hustle which I respect. Hard work always pays off and is always worth your time if you are committing yourself to something you believe in. In a perfect world I would like to mix the hustle of Nashville with the creative & progressive attributes of Portland. I think Brooklyn is sort of like that, but that place isn’t really up and coming artist friendly because of the high living cost. I’m sure I’ll die in Portland most likely by way of drowning in the rain..sometime in late December of 2073.