The original Brad line-up saw singer/pianist Shawn Smith, bassist Jeremy Toback, and drummer Regan Hagar join Mr. Gossard for a pair of albums - 1993's Shame and 1997's Interiors - both of which were reissued on CD and vinyl in 2013 via Razor and Tie. And while both albums didn't exactly skyrocket to the top of the charts at the time of release, Brad turned out to be one of the few groups to merge funk and rock without sounding like a Red Hot Chili Peppers rip-off; something Smith says is because Brad is influenced by Prince, whereas the Peppers and their seedlings seemed more enthralled by P-Funk.
I recall purchasing Brad's debut upon release. I was expecting something more Pearl Jam-sounding, and was quite surprised with the album's funky sounds and piano ballads - which I soon grew to fancy. Having interviewed Smith several years ago for my book, Grunge is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, it was great to chat with him once more about a variety of topics, including the first two cult classic Brad releases, songwriting, the Prince influence, and the stories behind several Brad tunes.
Shawn Smith: Well, we got them back from Sony, which is pretty rare. And just when we did the deal to put out the latest Brad record, the company that did it was interested in releasing our back catalogue, so that's how that came about.
Songfacts: Are they remastered, and do they include extra tracks?
Shawn: I think the biggest thing is that they are out on vinyl. There was a little bit of vinyl available I think in Europe, so you had to buy the import. But the biggest thing was vinyl. We didn't have that much extra stuff. The record was really well done and well mastered, so we chose not to redo it, because it was done - it was already at such a high quality, so that would have been just redundant. I don't even know if it would have helped... I'm not doing a great job of being a salesman. [Laughing]
The packaging is different - we used some old pictures that we found. It seems like it had more to do with getting it on vinyl and just getting it back out there so maybe some new people could find it.
Songfacts: As far as the songwriting in Brad, how would you compare how the songwriting was with those first two albums compared to what it is today in the band?
Shawn: I don't think it's a whole lot different. The first record was different because my skill set wasn't where it is now and Stone was already good at his job as a producer. So we spent three days just working on some stuff, and we went out and recorded them. Then I learned how to write better, so that maybe made it more complicated.
But it's really not that much different. Stone brings in something and I bring in something, and sometimes I have the whole thing worked out and we replay it, or Stone brings the whole thing in and I sing his melodies. It's pretty much the same.
Me and Stone are the writers, generally.
Songfacts: And are there also times when you and Stone will sit down and collaborate on a piece of music?
And he does the same thing. When he has a song, I don't change anything. And he kind of wants me to stick to whatever he wants. Sometimes vice versa. But I'll bring in general chords, changes, and then we play them. People get to make up their parts.
Songfacts: When it comes to songwriting, what instrument would you say that you write on? Would you say it's primarily piano or have you written songs on guitar, as well?
Shawn: It's generally both. I write almost equally on a guitar or on the piano. Definitely a little more piano heavy. But I get caught in reps, too, so I need other people to bring some music in. Otherwise I start writing the same song over and over.
Songfacts: Who would you say are some of your favorite songwriters?
Shawn: Well, Prince and Stevie Wonder. Joe Perry and Steven Tyler. Prince is kind of the rock in the center of it all. That's where I really learned. That's who I was focusing on when I was learning how to write songs. So everything I learned as a songwriter in terms of structure I kind of got from Prince, because he writes in a very specific way, you know, verse/chorus/verse/chorus, he has these things. Or he has a song where it's all a verse and then the outro's a chorus. So it's just like three minutes of verse, just kind of continuous.
My roots are in Prince, because when I was really learning, that's who I was paying attention to.
Songfacts: I remember there was a rumor I heard once about Prince, I don't know if this is true or not, that the only music he listens to is his own music.
Songfacts: Also I remember when I interviewed you for the book Grunge is Dead; you mentioned that Andrew Wood was also a big songwriting influence.
Shawn: Yeah. On some weird level, Andy was really into Prince, too. More than just Andy, I was around Mother Love Bone. I shared a rehearsal space - me and Regan shared a space with Love Bone in their formative first year. I would just sit at the other end and watch them try out new songs and rehearse. I even sat through a whole day session where they did all their new demos.
I sat in the control room with Jack Endino and Andy was singing in the booth, and I just sat in a corner. It's just off the chart how much I learned from that. It was like going to "rock master school" to just sit in the room and watch songs be created.
There was one song called "Gentle Groove." Are you familiar with Love Bone that much?
I didn't go to college, but I have these master teachings that I witnessed, and that's one of them.
Songfacts: With especially Andrew, I always wondered what he would have gone on to do if he lived, as far as songs and stuff, if he would have stayed with Mother Love Bone or gone solo.
Shawn: Well, I was just talking to Regan about that yesterday. He was really wanting to do a solo album, and he was getting ready to do that, and Love Bone was really sort of stalled. The energy had kind of stopped, there weren't new songs. I was just telling Regan yesterday that he would have been like Bowie: he would have gone on to make really amazing music outside of that band. I think he would have left.
He was a leader in his previous group, and suddenly he was in a group with other people that were leaders, and he was treated like a kid because of his substance abuse problems. He was kind of treated like a little kid, and he was really a big, powerful man. And what people don't know is that he was an amazing bass player. So he was going to go somewhere else, I think.
Songfacts: I agree. When I interviewed Soundgarden's Kim Thayil for another book of mine [A Devil on One Shoulder and an Angel on the Other: The Story of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon], he said that Shannon Hoon from the band Blind Melon reminded him also of Andy Wood. I don't know if you ever see that correlation between the two.
Shawn: Well, there was a correlation in spirit. My son's mother was close to Shannon, and that's what she always said. They were really free spirits. Andy was something else, though. But I think that's where the similarity is. And I had a chance to meet Shannon. He was a big fan of the first Brad album. And I had gotten to know Christopher Thorn and Brad Smith, because they were living in Seattle. On the tour shortly before he died, I got to meet him. He was a nice guy. But it was the spirit.
Songfacts: I'll name some songs, and I'd like you to talk about some of your memories of writing or recording recording them. So if you want to start with the song "Buttercup."
It was early summer of '92. We had a rehearsal space, and Stone came down and we had a jam. And one of the jams was "Buttercup," pretty vocal.
On my end it's "Purple Rain," with like one different chord. We recorded it - we had a little DAT tape running. I took the cassette of that home and sang the chorus and kind of messed around with the verse. It was that song that made Stone go, "Dude, let's the three of us go in the studio in the fall after I'm done with Pearl Jam stuff."
We did three days of writing before we went to record and worked on it more. It was the first take of the first day in the studio, and that's the version that we used. It's the live vocal.
The vocal's improvised, except the chorus. That's why some of the words are muffled. They don't say anything, really, except "absjurhh."
But it was the first take, the first day, and I remember just thinking, "This is going to be an album." We were going in to just spend 17 days. The plan was to just record some songs. We did that, and Stone was in a headspace where he was really confident and he didn't beat it to death. He just went, "That's it. Let's move on." And I think that was huge. Because he could have said, "Hey, dude, can you work on your lyrics," and all that. And he didn't. He was in a place where he just went, "That's it." And that whole session was like that. I was allowed to just sing nonsense if that's what worked.
Because I scat. Nowadays I work out my shit, but if I would have sat down and tried to work it out, it would have gotten stale. There was just something about the freedom that was proved to be magical.
Songfacts: I see. And what about the song "20th Century"? I think Stone said that the drums are a loop on that song.
Songfacts: What sticks out about that song?
Shawn: I think the riff was really cool. Stone just wanted to experiment with a loop. Some drummers aren't, you know, clocks. They move around. And "20th Century," that riff needed something super consistent like a loop would give you.
So we were just experimenting. Sometimes it feels like kind of half a song, because when we play it live, it just kind of dies. But on the record it sounded cool. The riff was really interesting and different to me.
Songfacts: I think one of the most underrated Brad riffs is the song "Sweet Al George."
Shawn: Yeah. That's a monster, I think. That's open G tuning. One of my favorites.
Songfacts: Was that a riff that Stone came up with or did you come up with that?
Shawn: That's a Stone riff.
Songfacts: And what about "The Day Brings"?
Shawn: Well, when we were doing Interiors, we were doing it where I'm at right now, which is Stone's studio in Seattle here [Studio Litho]. I was allowed to sleep in the basement, so everyone would go home and they'd turn on the alarm and I would stay in and mess around and work on songs or try to write. So I wrote that one evening and then left a note on the board and said, "Hey, when I wake up I've got something really good I want to do." And it was that one.
That was so fun, because I would sleep and I would hear people start to work upstairs. That was just the greatest. They don't let me sleep here anymore, but anyway...
Shawn: Well, the first one was just pure freedom. Stone was just writing - he was super happy that he'd just succeeded. So after the first Lollapalooza and Pearl Jam they did it. Whatever he'd been trying to do with his other bands, he did it. He was really happy and none of the turmoil that came later had happened yet.
He just was really happy and we had really good Turkish hash. [Laughing] So the first album was just amazing. And he was producing, so we were just having a good time, he and Regan and I.
We'd brought in this bass player, Jeremy [Toback], who was from LA, and he was really straight and he didn't like cussing and stuff, so we teased the hell out of him - it was just fun.
It can't be repeated. It was one of those times when nobody had kids, nobody had any responsibilities at all. It was just great.
Interiors, I was more uptight the whole time. The thing about the first record, also, is we weren't on a label, so there were no A&R people, there was no one telling us anything. We were just having fun. By the second record, we were on Epic and there was an A&R person that Stone was always talking to, and there was a producer, who was great, I loved him [Nick DiDia co-produced with the band]. But for me, I like to be in charge, and I like to create. When you have a producer, he's kind of running the show and a lot of times I'm just sitting on the couch. It wasn't super fun. But the end result I loved.
Songfacts: I always thought those first two Brad albums are some of the most underrated rock albums of all time.
Songfacts: And what is Brad up to currently? You mentioned earlier that you're working on some new material.
Shawn: Yeah. We did this tour in February in Europe, and it just went fantastic. Then Stone had Pearl Jam so we didn't do anything. He had a baby coming and stuff.
I'm always in and out of this band. My energy leaves, and I want to do other stuff. Something kind of opened up just a few days ago. I had some days in the studio for myself and I invited all the Brad guys down here. Stone couldn't make it because his baby arrived yesterday, but we have a side guitar player named Kathy Moore who's fantastic. So we cut a couple new tracks yesterday that I'm really excited about. So it's back on, I guess. Still in the band.
Songfacts: So would you say that this is going to be for a brand new Brad album, or are you just taking it song by song and see where it goes?
Songfacts: Especially in this day and age with iTunes, you could just put out a single.
Shawn: Yeah. I just can't handle this waiting. I like to get stuff out. You know in the old days where they would cut something and it would be on the radio within a week? That's what I want. I want it out.
Songfacts: Like when Neil Young wrote the song "Ohio," which was about the Kent State shootings, and that was put out I think within just weeks of the actual event.
Shawn: Yeah. And lyrically, I'm kind of writing about the Syria crap, and it's like, you know, I don't know, we'll see. It might just come out. You might just see it. It might be available in four days, because my solo stuff I've just been putting out. I've been putting it out digitally on BandCamp. But I don't know, Stone's a little more traditional. You have to really get him to look at things differently than the old major label way. But he's changing.
January 22, 2014
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