Interview & Review @ Virgin Mobile Corona Theatre – 3rd May 2015
Scott Bradlee is an American musician, pianist, composer, and arranger, known for his viral videos on YouTube. When he brought his Postmodern Jukebox show to Montreal, we decided to ask the man himself more about his approach to music…
Montreal Rocks: You describe your project as an alternative universe where today’s pop music is being performed in a style from the past. If you had a time machine and could go back to the past musically, what concert would you want to check out?
Scott Bradlee: It’s kind of obvious that there are so many answers to something like this. I know for me personally, the kind of music that really inspired me when I was a kid was New Orleans Jazz. So around the turn of the century, there was this amazing melting pot in New Orleans where all these cultures were in one spot and as a result Jazz was born. We had the Ragtime tradition mixed with Blues mixed with French Creole music and it all came together. In a sense, that is the Postmodern Jukebox in the sense that we are blending different kind of genres and eras together. That is the kind of time period that appeals to me the most.
MR: To be a fly on the wall then…
SB: Yes, exactly.
MR: Still thinking about that time machine, if you could go back and talk to your younger self, what musical advice would you give yourself knowing how the business works today?
SB: It’s funny, I started taking pop songs and playing them as older genres when I was in High School. So I was pretty young when this project was born essentially, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. The main thing is that it took me a while before I got this project off the ground. It took a long time. An idea is one thing, but seeing that idea through to completion takes a decade or more, so my advice is you have to stick with it. You have to be patient; you have to enjoy the process and not look for any early return. The first couple of shows I did, there was nobody in the audience. Nobody knew who I was.
MR: Wasn’t there a supermarket?
SB: Yes! One of my first gigs was at Whole Foods with Ben our saxophone player on tour with us now. They had us play Jazz and people would walk by asking: “Why is there a band playing Jazz at Whole Foods?” A lot of questions…
MR: Hey, why not? Have to start somewhere.
MR: Your arrangements are being used on reality TV shows, like American Idol, the Voice and Dancing with the Stars. Are you getting the credit from these shows for the work that you have done?
SB: American Idol was actually pretty cool. The contestant Joey Cook who is really a fabulous performer did a song this season that was inspired by one of ours and shouted us out on National television. As a result, we got so many new fans that learned about us through her amazing work on that show, so we are really appreciative to her and American Idol for that kind of plug.
MR: A few collaborate with you that are formerly from American Idol, right?
SB: Yes, there are a lot that come from there or have done similar shows. I think the main thing is that if we get a credit, that’s cool with us. We hope that some of the other shows follow suit and when they want to use one of our arrangements that they name-drop us.
MR: …at least for the Respect. I first heard of your band on YouTube like so many others. You have Royals that is now at 11 Million hits and We Can’t Stop, All About the Bass at 12 Million hits. How has technology changed the way people are getting discovered these days? That was the catalyst for you, right?
SB: Absolutely. What is interesting is that this is such a specialized niche project that no major label would take a chance on this 5 years ago. Believe me, I’ve tried pitching this idea to many people back in the day and everybody thought it was an interesting idea but didn’t see it having an audience. I had to go out and pound the pavement and drum up an audience and that is what YouTube helped me to do. Before YouTube, it was nearly impossible to get a global audience.
MR: Kindred spirits…
SB: Exactly. So in some ways it makes it into more of a Meritocracy. Great content gets shared a lot and subsequently you will get a bigger fan base.
MR: Speaking great content, the Cosmopolitan Mashup was amazing. The question is: How many takes?
SB: It didn’t take too takes many believe it or not. I believe we did it in 5 takes. There are a few of our videos that we have done in one take, most recently Creep with Haley Reinhart. Nailed it on the first take. Usually the sweet spot is between the second to fourth take, after that it isn’t as fresh so it’s rare we go over six or seven takes.
MR: You have a campaign on Patreon. Tell me a little more about that and how it helps an artist.
SB: Patreon is a great platform for anyone wanting to start a YouTube channel or a band. It’s like Kickstarter but with a subscription model combining a very old system of crowdfunding with patronage. In the Middle Ages, kings and nobles would commission people to create. Instead of one person giving a big chunk of money, many people give small tips that can really add up. It was founded by Jack Conte of Pomplamoose, an artist himself, who really understands the business and how difficult it can be for artists starting out.
MR: How many performers will you have for tonight’s show?
SB: We have eleven so we can really pack a tour bus! The main thing when we design these shows, since we have so many singers and talent on our channel, is to make it a well-balanced show. Many vocal styles and performer types are represented which allows us to do a 2-hour show that is fresh and fun for us. We are bringing back the old variety show format with an MC and everything.
MR: Obviously it’s working because you are sold out. You are also inviting people to get dressed up in vintage clothes?
SB: Definitely. It actually started during our first show, I believe in Toronto, where we stepped out on stage and I was thinking to myself: I don’t know if anyone is going to show up! We look out, we were sold out and not only that but everybody is wearing vintage clothing. I just thought that was the just the coolest thing ever, so it’s become a thing for us. Everybody wants to feel like they are transported back in time. This is a night out back in the 1920s or 1940s, a gala you get dressed up for.
MR: Your latest album is Emoji Antique?
MR: You also have a book called Ragtimify?
SB: Yes, I received so many requests for sheet music and people asking me how I do the transformations on the piano. I had some time off so I decided to write a manual on how to transform songs into Ragtime. Rather then just showing the sheet music without any kind of guidance, it’s much more effective to show the method.
MR: How can we follow you?
MR: Have a great show tonight!
We were promised a trip through time, into an alternate universe where todays pop songs are done in a style from the past. We were not disappointed. Guests were invited to dress up in vintage clothes and I was a little disappointed with Montreal for not putting in more of an effort. I did speak to a few who did dress for the occasion and asked what songs they were looking forward to and how they discovered Scott Bradlee & the Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ):
Leanna was looking forward to hearing Sweet Child of Mine while her husband Shawn wanted Shake it Off. They discovered PMJ via Facebook, which directed them to the YouTube Channel.
Sonia was hoping to hear Blurred Lines and was introduced to PMJ by her husband who discovered the YouTube videos and was instantly hooked.
As people started to stream into the sold out Corona Theatre, a male DJ dressed in a Wonder Woman outfit started us off with some vintage sounds, quickly making the transition to upbeat modern songs. Dancing erupted and the energy level in the room was raised, only to be outdone by the performers soon to take the stage.
A total of 11 performers were responsible for the evening’s entertainment that included Robyn Adele Anderson, Sarah Reich (Tap Dancer), Ariana Savalas, Von Smith, Miche Braden and our MC Wilkie Ferguson. Leading the ensemble was Scott Bradlee and his Ragtime/Jazz arrangements on piano backed by the solid rhythm & horns section.
Here was the set list for the evening:
Included in the highlights of the performance was a roaring rendition of Sweet Child O’ Mine by Miche as well as an homage to all her “big girls” in the house with All about that Bass. At one point Wilkie, our energetic MC is singing a song I can’t quite figure out…I know the lyrics, but it’s not coming to me…then the frightful realization that it’s Nickelback’s How You Remind Me! Ariana had great teasing interaction with the crowd along with some of the best one-liners. Robyn skillfully raced through the lyrics of Anaconda & Thrift Shop with style and grace. Von accompanied Robyn on Thrift Shop but “roared” through Katy Perry’s song of the same name. You haven’t lived till you hear Another One Bites the Dust in Tap Dance by Sarah. Scott treated us to an improvisational mashup from crowd suggestions of Beyonce, Billy Joel, Will Smith & Queen.
The band was brought back by thunderous stomping to finish the show with Shake it Off along with performer introductions/solos. The encore ended with We Can’t Stop.
After the whole ensemble took a bow and left the stage, Uptown Funk starts playing in the auditorium and the whole crowd went nuts and started dancing! After the crowd got to dance that one song, we were escorted to the main level where a swing dance-off erupted lead by Sarah Reich. The performers joined in the fun and made themselves available for pictures and greetings.
A very impressive and energetic show was produced truly bringing us back in time. From it’s inception with a Miley Cyrus doo-wop cover on YouTube which went viral to the variety show format given to a sold out crowd, Scott Bradlee succeeded in showing us that staying true to yourself musically along with talent can finally pay off.
Follow @netwark on Instagram for more pictures of the show or #pmjtour
Review & Interview – Randal Wark
Photos – Eva Blue & Randal Wark