Q&A: Brad Cole

All great things make a comeback. Or at least, they should. In terms of great music, nothing strikes the heart of Chicagoans more than jazz, and nothing inspires artist Brad Cole more than old school, jazz-inspired, Bossa nova. Looking for an outlet to explore the sounds of Bossa nova, Cole started Bossa Blue, a smoky quartet covering a wide range of classic rock tunes and jazz standards every Wednesday in April at The Hideout.

The music industry is no new beast for Cole. As a seasoned musician with strong followings in Chicago, Nashville and New York, Cole has spent many years exploring various genres such as rock, reggae and Americana; and has done so successfully. But as Cole explains after his first residency performance with Bossa Blue, to be truly successful, one has to push boundaries and not shy away from the unexpected.

LLL: Most of your professional music career is based in rock and Americana. What drove you to start a Bossa nova band?

Brad Cole: I basically grew up listening to jazz, mostly an influence from my parents. I really liked it, but when I started playing music, I didn’t really play jazz. I started in a reggae band. I fronted a number of rock bands in Chicago. When I got back at it full time [about 2010], it’s been more of an Americana thing. The jazz thing never really went away. It was a matter of getting back to it for me. I’m very much of an old school Bossa fan. There’s this certain very raw thing in the old stuff in the 60s when it kind of migrated to the States with the jazz scene, and that sound captured me. It’s what I like to do on my own, but I never really felt it was what I was going to do to make a living. I spent a lot of years as a songwriter and that’s kind of been where my head is at. The singer-songwriter thing was fine. I’ve written a lot of songs I am proud of, but I am a Bossa-file. I’m a reggae-file. I am a low-key old soul, old New Orleans’ guy. That’s really what I care for. It’s nice because it’s simple music but it moves. It’s a cool thing. I like that. I like the movement.

LLL: How is Bossa Blue different than your previous projects?

BC: This is a little bit of a different animal because it’s a little bit of a different crowd. It’s a little less intense about listening [to] all the lyrics. It’s about finding something friendly that flows. A lot of these tunes are familiar to people. They’re classic rock covers and a couple of the jazz tunes. I think it’s easier on the listener, and I think it’s super fun, [which is] really the point. What I do as a singer-songwriter is super fun but pretty serious. With a cover song, you got to ask, “what are you doing for the song”, “what does the song do for you”, and “what will the song do for the audience?” You look at these things to help you filter ideas for songs. What does it do for me as a performer? Is the audience going to get off on it? Can we really do something interesting with the song? I, like everybody else, like Bruce Springsteen, but I don’t need to be another white guy doing a Bruce Springsteen song. To me, there are two sides to every story. For example, the Bruce Springsteen song [Brilliant Disguise], when you look at the lyrics, you realize there’s a very dark and bitter infidelity theme in that song. It’s huge and it’s ugly. So, when I really focused on the tune, I felt it was better as a duet.

LLL: You’ll be playing The Hideout every Wednesday in April at 6:00 p.m. Do you plan on sticking to the same set every night?

BC: We are probably going to add in a few different things. I think we are going to take what we think is working, continue with those and then filter in a few more. We have a big list of stuff we want to get to. This venue is very kind. It’s good people. It’s a good vibe. It’s kind of a low key gig so we can try stuff out and see how it all feels. I am a little bit less concerned about filling the room and more about doing cool shit. A year from now we’ll be something different. I think we’re going to be doing more formal shows. Recording is kind of like at the bottom of the list. If I think that radio is interested in what I do, we’ll make a record, but making a record of all cover songs, that’s not on the top of the list. After this month, we’re going to be doing some formal video shoots, so if someone wants to listen to us, it’s going to have to be on YouTube, or on our websites, or at a show.

LLL: You have a pretty extensive touring background. Any advice for upcoming bands in terms of touring or growing as a musician in general?

BC: No matter who you are or how talented you are, there’s risk and there’s not a lot of money in [touring]. That means, if you are a big consumer, you got to check that at the door and be about what you do as an artist. If you’re a music school person, you’re going to find work. If you want to get on the road, it’s a little bit of a different story. My idea is to do things really well. If you make an album, make a great fucking album. If you do a video, do a great fucking video. And you have to hustle. There’s no break. I think the other advice is to find a community of musicians. In terms of touring, it’s really important. When I go to a town and open for somebody who’s got a bigger following than me, that really helps a lot. Therefore, being in the musical community helps a great deal.

LLL: Aside from Bossa Blue, do you have any other musical aspirations you’d like to pursue?

BC: I like Lupe Fiasco. If I could talk Lupe into doing a song with me, that would blow my mind. For me to have an opportunity to work with Lupe or Chance [the Rapper], that would be the shit. I co-produce my records, so I got a lot of tracks. If you listen to what I do instrumentally, I think it’s pretty awesome. I have certain feelings that go along with some of these tracks and I would like to get that stuff trafficked in their direction. Plus, I’m a very passionate campaigner against gun-violence. I’ve written a little bit about that, so for me, to get my tracks to those guys who really care, that would be really great for me. Whatever is contrasting and unexpected, [how can] we do that? The sooner we can fuck things up, the better.

Bossa Blue will be performing every Wednesday in April at The Hideout at 6:00 p.m.

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