Sam Bradley had an interesting life growing up in London, Hong Kong, Sri Lanka and Nashville. His inner circle of school friends included fellow musician Marcus Foster and musician-turned-actor and international heartthrob Robert Pattinson with whom Sam collaborated on a track for the soundtrack to Twilight and which launched him into the international spotlight upon its release back in 2008. Afforded the room to develop as an artist as so few young musicians are, Sam has recorded two EPs in two years and spent most of his time playing tour after tour around the world. Buzzine caught up with Sam in the Hollywood Hills for an interview on the day after his rousing recent show at Los Angeles' El Rey Theatre…
Stefan Goldby: Perhaps, for a lot of people, as with us last night, they start off seeing you play live and having a fantastic time…but as we now have the chance to find out more in the bright light of day, can you begin by telling us about your musical starting points?
Sam Bradley: My mom is a musician. Her name is Lee Lindsey and she had a music night in London, and myself and my friends worked there. We were waiting tables and got to be around all these singer-songwriters: a very influential time, even though I didn’t play. I was maybe 14 or 15… My mom bought me a guitar at 16. I didn’t play it still. I was intimidated…one of my friends, a guy called Marcus Foster, he was really good at guitar, and I just didn’t think I would ever really get into it the way he could, so I backed away. But when I was 17, I started feeling left out. [Laughs] I wanted to be part of the jam more than just singing, so I started learning guitar and I just sort of taught myself - picked it up, watched my mom… My mom had a boyfriend at the time and he was a bass player but also a really talented guitarist, and he kind of gave me the whip and taught me proper form, which I still don’t have because that too is a reaction [laughs] and I just started writing… I wrote my first song, which was shit [smiles].
Then, as time went on, I started recording in my bedroom, just trying to get as much experience as I could before I went out and played in front of people, and when I started playing in front of people, I was 18 or 19 maybe, and I had a really nice little fresh face, and I wasn’t very good, so I could literally silence a crowd. It was amazing. It was the most incredible feeling. I would play these quite mediocre, sort of sweet songs, and I’d silence an audience. Then, as time went on, I started drinking more, maybe smoking a little bit more, and my voice wasn’t as fresh and sweet - it became a little more hoarse, and it was harder to silence a crowd, so my writing had to get stronger. I started listening to great songwriters. I started really researching the craft more. I liked country music a lot, and I love the stories in old country…Then I recorded an EP with an old boyfriend of my mom’s—he was like my stepfather for the crucial years, and I hadn’t seen him in seven years. I went to Paris, he lived in Paris, and we did this recording, which is “Sea Blue” which is on the old EP and the new EP because it’s really good… I mean not me - him, because I don’t do that. And it kind of just kept developing.
SG: So your musical beginnings were friends and family-based, and then so were your first big steps out into wider acclaim—outside London, out into the world, with your schoolmate Robert (Pattinson)…
SB: It’s still all friend-based. I don’t work with anyone that isn’t a friend. My band, my booking agent, my manager… Everyone I want to work with, I want to have a relationship that is stronger than just work. As far as the connection with Rob, he’s a friend—that’s it. There’s no special story. The special story is in our friendship. That’s it. There’s nothing grand about it. I got a song on this Twilight soundtrack—that opened up a bigger audience than I was ready for, perhaps, and then it was up to me to keep the music-lovers, and expand and grow on and through and past and with that.
SG: Is there a conscious decision there on your part, as to what exactly what your grand plan of how to do that is?
SB: It’s really simple. The grand plan is: Don’t compromise who I am, and do what I love doing, and try to spread as much…without sounding like a flippin’ hippie…as much joy and positivity as I can, to inspire, to whatever level that may be, is what I want to do. To touch, move and inspire, and I think that can be done through music, and I think that’s what I strive to do.
SG: You have a pretty unique opportunity. You found a large audience very early, and now you’re out touring the world playing sold-out shows… So you now get to make an album after already being in the spotlight. How does that affect your musical mindset?
SB: With having an audience there and not having any full releases, I definitely feel a pressure because I don’t write music and play music to sit in my bedroom, like “This is for me, man. Change the world…” No, no, no—blah. I do it to perform the song. I do it for someone to listen to, and it doesn’t matter how many people listen to it; it doesn’t matter if it’s family listening to it. That’s what I like to do—I like to be heard. I’d like the song to be heard. There’s no fuckin’ message or anything like that. I like doing it and I can do it, and I’m gonna work hard to try to do it for the rest of my life.
Musically, I want to try to dabble - and I don’t know if I can do that in one album - but I want to not really be too genre-specific. I was influenced by many types of music, and I want to try to play that type of music. I don’t have to be that type of music myself. If I want to play reggae, I don’t have to be a rasta… If I want to rap, I don’t have to be a gangster… I’m not gonna rap, and it’s unlikely I’ll try reggae, but you know what I mean. With this album, all I want to do is I want the song to be translated and documented in a way that I’m proud of and something I can talk about, and something that I feel and am emotionally connected to, and that has been a struggle for me in the recording process, but it’s something I’m getting better at.
If you hear it, you know it’s me, and that’s important. I don’t want to sound like anyone else, but I am fully aware that the songs are accessible…
SG: That comes out in your live show - your sense of fun and the sense that these are accessible songs that can trigger a crowd. That’s what we saw last night—that’s what was so enjoyable. For those that have not yet seen one, what is one of your concerts like?
SB: I try to keep it as upbeat or mid-tempo as possible so you keep the audience interested. I have lots of ballads and so on and so forth, but no one really wants to hear someone they don’t know tell them how they feel about their drinking habits or something… It is political, informative… My concerts are genuine, spontaneous—because I don’t repeat anything I say; I don’t try to write myself a script, so sometimes that messes up… But they just are. I don’t know what they’re like—they just are.
SG: Are you, in a sense, writing some of this music on stage as you go?
SB: Yes, I do. I try to have as much fun, and I think that comes across. It’s great to have my band, and they’re young and sexy…when it’s just me and the guitar, I try to grab an audience. They way I set up a song is important. I have a song called “Scared,” and really that’s kind of my truth and that’s who I am in a song. I try to be a bit more sensitive with an acoustic set, whereas with the band set, there’s a lot more space and there’s a lot more funk…and there’s a drum beat! And that’s nice because that makes my tushy move.
SG: After the show you were talking to a lot of fans and you made it clear that keeping in contact with them online was very important to you. Can you talk specifically about how you use the Internet to stay in contact with those fans?
SB: I have a Facebook page, I have a MySpace, I have a Twitter. The Twitter page, I say, is what I update most often. I recognize the power of Twitter. I struggle to find things that are interesting or funny or…I don’t want to just use it purely as a marketing tool: “Go buy Zuni! Buy Zuni please!” Also, I don’t love Twitter. I don’t love Facebook. Personally, I don’t use Facebook. Personally, I don’t use Twitter. I would love to be more mysterious, but those days are gone, so it’s not like I had it a different way beforehand, but all my idols did, so that’s kind of where my head is at. But I use the Internet. It works in my advantage in a great way, and it also keeps me connected and I get to know, in a roundabout way, the people that are coming out to the shows, which is fantastic. A lot of people keep coming back, so I get to learn people’s names, and I’m pretty good at that. I don’t know why or how, but I remember people, and I think that also makes a big difference. I like seeing them, I think, just as much as they like seeing me.
SG: The other way of presenting your music to new fans is through music video. Tell us about the experience of making the video for “Sea Blue.”
SB: The video I did with a director called Zack Spiger, and he was in Paris when I was recording my first EP, and he’s a young guy—I think he’s 25. At the time, he was 24. He’s a photographer and an incredible filmmaker. He makes documentaries. He wanted to get into music videos, and he was introduced to me, and he came up with the concept of using photography with a Super 8 video and trying to make it as sensitive and as raw as possible, and I think that was achieved. We found this wonderful French girl called perhaps Leah…I don’t know it was a long time ago. She was nice, though, and she was very cooperative. We made the video for like 100 Euros and we had a lot of fun doing it. We got to travel up to Normandy and go to the cliffs, and I threw a guitar off a cliff, which is perhaps clichéd, but I threw it so fuck you. [Laughs]
SG: You’ve had a very international upbringing - do you think that’s actually something that comes out in your music? That you don’t have a set worldview of “I grew up in this neighborhood and this is how the world is”?
SB: I should hope so. I think that, within traveling to Asia and spending my youth… It was a long time ago. My dad did live in Sri Lanka for eight or nine years, so I’d spend a lot of time traveling over there on Easter and Christmastime. That influences me as a person, but perhaps hopefully doesn’t sort of pigeonhole the music. But I don’t know if the music has been influenced by me going to Sri Lanka. There’s no tablas…
SG: At least not yet… So, where to from here?
SB: The Zuni EP itself did okay [smiles] …it went to #1 on the Singer/Songwriter charts on iTunes… that’s good. I have a very supportive and loyal fan-base right now, and that’s a blessing. The future is just to expand that—to get on as many tours as possible, and in between that, headline some and just expand. To keep writing, to keep recording, to finish the album, and we’ll see. I’m independent right now. I’d love to have an independent career. But the beast has to feed itself and I also need to eat, so we’ll see.
SG: I can’t let you go and not go back to Rob for one final question, but I don’t want to get you into any trouble…
SB: You can’t get me into trouble. I can get me into trouble.
SG: Good point. But I’ll try not to lead you into any trouble.
SB: That’s fine, because I can deflect. I’ve been doing it for years.
SG: I bet you have. You’ve been mates for a long, long time. As surreal as life must be for him, which is up way up there, you have seen that from one step removed, and you have a sense of what that means as you’re an artist on the road connecting with people as well although maybe not quite to the “Beatles running down the street in ‘Help’” thing that he’s been going through. What does that leave you thinking? From what you’ve seen from him, what impact does that have on you? Does that end up being a blessing—you get to see how that can be from a pseudo-safe distance?
SB: If I thought about it and if I dissected it in any way, that wouldn’t be a healthy thing. It just is. There’s no difference in anything I do. There’s no difference in anything he does. There’s no difference in anything any friend I have, whether it be my wife… It just doesn’t make a difference. I’m gonna keep doing what I’m gonna do. Robert Pattinson is going to keep doing what he’s gonna do. Tom Sturridge is gonna keep doing what he’s gonna do. Bobby Long is gonna keep doing what he’s gonna do. Marcus Foster is gonna keep doing what’s he’s gonna do. Angus McNeice is gonna keep doing what he’s gonna do. Anyone I know are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and that’s not changed anything.
Sam Bradley’s ‘Zuni’ EP is available now at iTunes, Amazon and www.sambradley.com