Bradley Hathaway is a poet turned musician. His thoroughly open and honest lyrics have both attracted and turned away fans of all ages. From my observation, he seems to have one of those “love it or hate it” styles. But the types and amount of fans that Bradley has, might surprise you.
Hardcore kids and swaying indie students alike will sit and listen to his spoken word and music. I fit into neither of those categories – but honestly, Bradley Hathaway’s art and personality have always intrigued me. I’d heard pieces of his live set over the past few years and crossed paths with him quite a few times, but never had the chance to hear his story firsthand.
When I was given the list of artists I could speak with at Purple Door, I immediately jumped at the chance to sit down and chat with Bradley. While talking with him, my cousin and I found out that he’d never played guitar before until he began incorporating it in his poetry. He also told a story of writing one of his newest songs while at a Christmas party, and more. Below is the transcription of our interview. Enjoy!
How and why did you make the transition from a being a poet/writer to becoming a musical artist?
Well, first of all I never really chose to be a writer. I just started writing. And in the same way that I just started writing poems and spoken word, one day it changed into a song. I didn’t play music, but there was a lot more melody. I loved singing along to Johnny Cash, or singing my girlfriend songs. So naturally, words came out with more melody and I added some musicians and here we are. It was a very simple, painless process for me – a natural progression.
When you’re writing, there tends to be a lot of themes. What inspires you to write?
Anything really. At the seminar I just gave earlier today, I said that everything is inspiring in one way or another, whether you know it or not. The pain, the joy, the boring, the ugly, the monotonous, the insanely happy moments – everything is kind of being brought and bundled and jumbled in your spirit or soul or whatever it is that gives you the creative ability. And then it just comes out in whatever way. For me, I don’t set out to write about specific things. I don’t say, ‘I want to write about hope. Or, I want to write about a girl who falls in love with a boy at a bowling alley.’ That’s not how I write. I would all of a sudden have a story in my mind of a girl falling in love with a boy at a bowling alley and it would just flow from there. It’s just a natural thing. I wish I had a more variety of things to talk about though…
Can you expound on one or two songs and tell us what made you write those two?
Well, I’ll give you an example of HOW I write. There’s a song called Mama. It’s on, A Mouth Full of Dust and it was born at a Christmas party with my church group. I showed up at the place, had just kind of had some drama with a girl or something. So I get to the party and as soon as I’m there I get this line in my head that says, [singing] ‘Mama, mama, I met a girl. She came into my heart and she shook my world.” And I was like, ‘I have to write this down.’ So the people whose house it was, I asked them if they had paper and a pen and I went into their office and I sat down and wrote the song in its entirety. Just like that!
Also, there’s a song called Carolina. It’s track 2 on the new EP. I wrote it right outside of Harrisburg actually, in a Motel 6. I was on tour, wasn’t terribly lonely, but the song sounds like I’m lonely. I was in a Motel 6, alone, and the moon was out. I had this idea of getting old and looking in the mirror and seeing what old is. Or I’m not that old yet, but the desire of the wind bringing me whatever I needed. It just happens. It’s almost like the concept comes after, really. I’m not always sure what they’ll be like. The pondering happens later.
You said it wasn’t a choice to start writing – when did you first begin then, and how?
About 7 years ago. I’d seen a poet two months before I started writing. His name is Clayton Scott. He did a poem about pizza. He had a pizza poem and it turned into the world and life and I thought that was awesome. I had no idea at that point that I would ever really attempt anything similar. It happened on a sunny day in January in 2003 or 2004 I guess. And it’s just been happening ever since.
Which scene do you consider yourself in? Christian scene? Mainstream? Neither?
I would say my bread and butter is the more Christian oriented scene. I can play a smoky club bar in any town and I’d have half as many people as I would at an upstanding Church basement that usually has hardcore shows, ya know? So, my goal and my intentions are to be everywhere and do all things. I mean, I play houses, I play churches. Last year I did two or three tours that were all crappy bars where we had lingerie parties afterwards. Well, I didn’t have lingerie parties…It was like, show over by 10 lingerie party afterwards. So that’s’ the random stuff you put up with. It used to really be the hardcore Christian scene but now it’s more both.
It’s so random that hardcore Christian kids took to your music, even back when you first started…
I know. It’s so weird. But so awesome. So phenomenally awesome. It’s amazing, inspiring, fun, interesting. It’s been a trip, that’s for sure. Now a lot of those kids are getting older. At first they were going, “what are you doing singing about girls?!” If they were 14 at the time, now they’re 21. It’s cool cause they’re growing up and now they understand more what I’m doing.
To reference something you said earlier – did you play music before you incorporated it into your poetry?
No. I never, ever played music. When I started doing the songs I went and bought a guitar and started to learn. I’d get a book with chords in it and practice C, G and D. I still have no knowledge of music theory, I don’t know what a bridge is. When you hear my songs with acoustic guitar..it’s very much simple. I just started playing piano. I think I’ll be a way better piano player than I am at guitar.
What do you think it is that makes everyone like your songs/poetry so much?
Haha, that’s a good question! I ask myself that all the time. The recurring theme that everyone says is that it’s so real and authentic and genuine. All the synonyms for that kind of thing. Most people seem to think that a lot of what they’re hearing isn’t from the heart of sincere, or the subject matter isn’t penetrating enough and then they come hear me and they’re like “Woah, that guy just said something about a guy touching himself. What is he talking about?!” And you wouldn’t expect to hear that in this environment at all. It’s different enough but really, I don’t know. I wish more people liked it a lot more. I know that much! I mean, what do you think? Do you have any idea?
I think that it is very different. The authenticity is very relatable. You express your thoughts – whether they’re “acceptable” or controversial – rather than the general, broad concepts that most bands are singing about.