Behind The Music: Interview With Brad Peterson, The Dynamic Soul Of “The Ellipsis Album”

09/18/2017 09:07 am ET
Photo Credit: Kim Sommers

The Ellipsis Album drops September 22. It’s from indie-pop singer-songwriter Brad Peterson, who performed with Radiohead and Jeff Buckley before a spinal injury partially paralyzed him, effectively ending his musical career. He retreated from the world, but then, unlike Humpy Dumpty, with the help of doctors and rehabilitation he put himself together again. Brad Peterson is back.

In fact, The Ellipsis Album is all Brad Peterson: writing, playing all the instruments, engineering and mastering. As you’ll see, I asked him about that and lots of other things in the interview. He’s an interesting, thoughtful person with a gracious perspective on life.

How would you describe yourself?

With as few words possible.

What is the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?

I was 'asked to leave' my preparatory high school after a series of stunts and shenanigans. One of the final straws may have been my ad hoc amplifier circuit which I tapped into the P.A. system. It allowed me to broadcast music and commentary throughout the day until Professor Echert traced my wiring. Real troubles, the occasions I've nearly died, seem to have been averted or assuaged such that I'm still here to talk about it.

What kind of guitar do you play?

Though I have dozens to choose from, my favorite might be a customized guitar by Chicago-based Lakland. My friend John Pirruccello (who's also my de facto guitar mentor) is the president/owner of the company. That said, I'm usually not picky and I'll grab whatever is closest.

What’s your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

“Nature Boy”- Nat King Cole's version, because it needs no accompaniment.

What singers/musicians influenced you the most?

When I was between four and twelve years of age, I'd watch the Monkees on TV. You know that part of the theme where they sing 'We may be comin' to your town?’ Well, I believed it. I dreamt of living in a beach house with my band mates. Hell, I'm still dreaming of it.

How do your influences affect and shape your approach to music?

This a good question. For my most current work, I played every note recorded. During my process I'll often ask myself: 'What would Ringo do here.’ My admiration of David Gray, Bono, and others, influence my tastes, ultimately predisposing me to make certain phrasing choices, depending on the style.

Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

Lately and often, they've come to me in dreams. I like to be outside among the trees or in my garden-shed studio with my thoughts and a pot of coffee. I usually 'roll tape' for the writing process. Most of the songs on The Ellipsis Album were the first take of a developing idea and I didn't overthink it. The 'less considered approach' allows for rapid development.

How would you describe your style of music?

How does 'garden-shed rock and roll' sound? Perhaps it's an esoteric amalgam of indie and mid-century pop.

You suffered a spinal injury that left you partially paralyzed. You’re back now. How did your injury affect your music, if at all?

Here I was struggling to get dressed and brush my teeth, my right arm gone and my left was on its way. It wasn't until I was told I'd never get it back, that I probably wouldn't play guitar again, that gravity set in. Getting to where I am now took great effort and focus. One appreciates more greatly those things that are acquired through hard work. My musical abilities haven't necessarily grown, but my desire and gratefulness has. That's the difference.

I really like The Ellipsis Album. What inspired the album?

In punctuation, ellipses are used in place of omitted words. Once I decided to make a full-length record, I dubbed it 'the ... album,’ thinking I'd give it a proper name later. The ellipsis also implies that there's stuff before or after what the current focus might be. This record was recorded in a short period of time and there are common themes throughout. The second-to-last song: 'keep calm (the sea lion sleeps tonight)' reprises a motif of the London Blitz of 1940 where I describe anti-aircraft fire as 'ellipses of tracers.’ I thought: 'why not let the ellipsis stay?’

Photo Credit: Brad Peterson

What is your song writing process? Do the lyrics come first, followed by the music or vice versa?

Bits of everything come at once. In the morning, I tend to be more lyrical, mid-day is my time for rhythms, and evenings are when I'm most melodic. Give me twenty-four hours, and I'll give you a song.

I understand you wrote all the songs on your new album, as well as playing all the instruments. In fact, the entire project was you and you alone. How does one acquire so many varied abilities and the confidence to put them into action?

I have confidence that the worst thing that could happen is the song is no good and I'll just record another one. I suppose that I'm mindful of my limitations to a certain extent, but then I think: 'why not just give it a try?'

What’s next? Another album or perhaps a tour?

I'm currently working to do both. I'll be in the United Kingdom for a month after the record release on September 22nd. I'll also be producing content for a free opt-in experience; it'll be an ongoing series of videos, out-takes, live performances, and stories to be delivered over a few weeks. I hope to follow up with another album in the spring. In a more general sense, I intend to be useful to others.

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