‘Old soul’ singer Brad Mackeson rejects overproduction
These days, you aren’t going to surprise anyone in the world of indie rock by attempting to breathe new life into old folk chord progressions. A quick glance at some of this year’s biggest Grammy winners will tell you that.
But there is a reason that a generation of up-and-coming musicians have been dusting off old Bob Dylan records and finding a use for the harmonicas that were shelved during the ’80s and ’90s. Folk music resonates with people in a way other genres can’t.
At least that’s the way Brad Mackeson sees it. At 23 years old, the singer-songwriter spends his time listening to music recorded decades before he was even a sparkle in his mother’s eye. He is partial to Dylan, Johnny Cash and The Beatles—and he prefers to listen to vinyl if he can.
Some have called Mackeson—who is scheduled to play with Ari Hest at The Crepe Place on Feb. 28—an “old soul.” He certainly gravitates toward an older school when it comes to his art. In an age when Instagram can easily transform any smartphone picture into a Polaroid look-a-like, he prefers the genuine article. He likes listening to full albums, front to back, as opposed to making playlists of his favorite singles, and when recording the album he is currently touring behind, 1945, he avoided any kind of computerized assistance as best he could.
“I’m a fan of getting a real performance,” he explains. There is no pitch-correction or artificial click-track synchronization to be found on any of the record’s 11 tracks, the Nashville transplant says, clearly proud of the fact. He says that a recording’s character can often come from what may have initially been viewed as a mistake—a cracking voice or an overdriven tape. “I think we’re starting to lose that. I think a lot of newer stuff comes off as sterile.”
1945 is anything but sterile. It is a lively album, full of soul. Mackeson’s gritty, passionate voice (which recalls the scratchy croon of Eels mastermind Mark Everett), and his concise, thoughtful lyricism belie his relatively young age.
On 1945—an album dedicated to his World War II veteran grandparents—Mackeson demonstrates that he is not only familiar with the classics, but that he understands them through and through. There are flourishes of early Springsteen working-class rock; the far-off freight train rumble of Neil Young’s distorted and reverb-saturated harmonica lines; and “Positively 4th Street” organ, glowing with warbling, tube-amp warmth.
Mackeson recorded many of the parts on 1945 himself—handling much of the drumming and bass personally. That Mackeson takes such a hands-on approach on 1945 is proof of his obsession with getting things to sound just the way he envisions them.
“Even though I’m not the best drummer or piano player in the world, the songs make you feel something and that’s all you can really ask for,” he says.
Part of that obsession is being completely candid with himself and admitting when his work is not up to snuff. Two years ago, the then 21-year-old decided to pull the plug on promoting his debut album, Nostalgia. He told all the radio stations playing his single to stop and let the record go out of print.
“When I set out to make this album, I committed to making the greatest album I’m capable of,” he says, noting that he wrote about 45 complete songs before whittling the album down to 11. “Not all of them were great songs, it takes a deeper kind of inspiration to write what I would consider a great song.”
Brad Mackeson will share a bill with Ari Hest at 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 28 at The Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $10/adv, $12/door. For more information, call 429-6994.