Greatest Hits or Better Than Nothing? Q&A With Brad Sucks
While spinning Ottawa musician Brad Turcotte’s (aka: Brad Sucks) new Greatest Hits album you learn two things once the dizziness wears off. One, this dude is kinda’ ballsy to put out a Hits disc after only three albums and, two, this guy sucks less than a broken pawn shop vacuum cleaner. Meaning he don't, folks!
Despite only three albums under him (which must be uncomfortable when trying to sleep), Turcotte’s been around for 15 years. Over that time he’s developed a fanbase that is as rabid as they are loyal to his work. Early discs like I Don’t Know What I’m Doing (hey, at least he was honest!) were released via places like Magnatune. If you’re not all Millennial savvy that’s where you can snag music for download instead of an old fangled Cee Dee…whatever those are. Gotta be a droid, right?
Anyway, vinyl is all the rage again. It's the recording industry circle of life, Simba. Yup, they're back in all their pressed by hand glory and the man who once was the duke of online distribution has released eleven of his more popular tunes on Better Than Nothing, ready to spin you right round like a…well, you know. And, get this, it's red…like a perfectly circle puddle of cherry Kool-Aid.
He’s busting it all out Friday night at Irene’s right here in his hometown. We bantered with Brad earlier this week. Here’s what he had to say.
Ottawa Life: So, what’s in a name, right? You’re Brad, you call youself Brad Sucks. We’re sensing some animosity here somewhere but are sure the name has to have a story. What’s in the name?
A thing I forgot to do when I picked the name was to make sure it had a good story. I wanted to just call myself “Brad” but it was taken by a Pearl Jam side project. I was looking around for other “Brad” names and a friend suggested Brad Sucks and it stuck. I thought the “amused self-hatred” vibe of the name fit with the music I was writing. Also it never hurts to lower people’s expectations.
Indeedy. Take us wayyyy back to the year 2000. While we’re all dealing with the Y2K fallout in our bunkers you're moseying about recording music and actually giving it away! What sparked these early projects and what do you recall being the most challenging when just starting out?
When people started sharing popular artist’s songs online around 2000 it made sense to me that maybe you could skip the traditional touring, A&R people, labels and distributors — stuff I had and still have no idea how to navigate — and just make recordings and get people to listen to them.
The hardest part other than, you know, crippling shyness and self-doubt was working with early digital recording technology. Holy shit that stuff was awful, especially if you had no money to solve problems with, which I definitely didn’t.
Ok, I admit, I Wiki’ed this. Over in Wiki-land it says you started out with the intention of producing “open source music”. Can you explain what your vision was here?
Way back in 2000, established acts like Metallica, Madonna and Prince were railing against sharing music on the Internet and I was very much on the Internet’s side. The open source music idea was to do the opposite and explicitly encourage people to share my music and also give away the multi-tracks to my songs so anyone could remix and reuse my work.
I mean, let’s face, most are looking for some kinda’ financial gain but you were out there giving it away for free. Then came Radiohead and the pay-what-you-want model of online distribution. Why do you think artists are turning to this way of getting their music out to listeners?
In Radiohead’s case it got them a lot of attention and goodwill from music fans during a time when musicians and fans were getting real adversarial. I think now that musicians have been taken down a peg a bit people are more sympathetic and supportive, they know they’ve gotta support the musicians they love in order for them to keep existing.
So, first album was called “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing”. Really? Come now, you had to have at least some inclination of what you wanted to achieve.
I felt like the dumbest boy in all the land, personally and professionally. I knew I wanted to make music — I’d been doing that since I was a kid, but it seemed like I’d fail for sure. I’m glad I didn’t know more than I did or I woulda' been too spooked to try.
Speaking of titles, your tune names can be pretty wild. Take, say, “Feel Free! Plastic Surgery!” or “Dirtbag” and “Time to Take Out The Trash”. Just reading them gives me this Zappa-vibe. Where do you pull inspiration from?
I steal them all from Frank Zappa.
I knew it!
No, I’m not sure. I like ‘em weird, I guess. I’m always writing down potential titles, phrases that catch my ear or eye so I can try and fit them with music I’m working on. Without a decent title I have a hard time zeroing in on what the song’s gonna be about. Also writing a song with the same title as fifty songs before feels like I’m not trying hard enough.
You’re music has benefited a lot from social media and bloggers promoting it. Do you foresee, as physical media sales continue to decline, that this is the way to get out there as opposed to, say, signing a big recording contract like the olden days?
I think it’ll be a big mix of everything until corporations take full control of the Internet, which they’re making pretty good progress on.
What are some suggestions you have from what you learned starting out that you can pass on to other aspiring musicians interested in following a similar model?
I like calling it a “model”, that sounds like what I did made any sense. I’d say: just finish recordings, put them out and figure out how to get people to listen to them even if you don’t feel they’re your best work. Try to process your shame in healthy ways.
Sharp turn left: I love stripcreator! Hours of entertainment. How did you come up with this idea and how have you seen the site progress since you launched it?
Haha wow, well, I used to do a stupid three panel webcomic strip called Three Reasons in the late 90s. I can’t draw so I used cartoon clip art characters that I Photoshopped dialog and thought balloons over. Eventually I got tired of putting them together so I made what became Stripcreator to generate the comic strips quickly. I showed it to friends and everyone liked the tool way more than my comic strips so I opened it up to everyone and quit comics forever. We just passed 600,000 comics saved on the site.
Take that Charles Schultz! Ok, back to music. How would you describe the Ottawa scene?
It’s been a little quiet and conservative like Ottawa itself, but there are some cool events going on these days. Ottawa Explosion, Arboretum, WestFest, Megaphono and I’ve been to some great stuff at Makerspace North. Feels like there’s more of a scene than there has been in a long time.
So, three albums in and you pumping out at Greatest Hits! What went into the song selection process?
Calling it a “Greatest Hits” makes me laugh. So presumptuous! Some polling was done about what songs to include and then I tried to get rid of as many of the songs that made me cringe as I could. Also I took my Spotify plays into consideration.
For somebody who is known for their online presence, what had you wanting to step it up to ye’ol vinyl?
I’ve had people asking about pressing my albums on vinyl for a while but it sounded like a trick to stick me with hundreds of my own record in my house. This company Feedbands approached me with the idea of doing a compilation of my songs and that seemed like a fun way to test the waters.
You’re tunes have really made it out in the world, right, what with the tv and film appearances and streaming. What is your favorite place you’ve heard one of your songs?
There’ve been some cool ones but early on my music wound up on a VH1 show called Totally Obsessed. My song "Sick as a Dog" played over someone puking while trying to eat a 20 year old box of Mr. T cereal. (He was obsessed with Mr. T.) That was a highlight.
You have a pretty loyal fanbase. What is your view of the typical Brad Sucks fan?
They seem cool except for the mean or scary ones. A common trait seems to be people who feel like outsiders. Also a weird number of them are named Brad. I think their friends tease them because “haha Brad Sucks” but then they get into it.
What can we expect from the coming vinyl release gig at Irene’s?
I’m excited Tara Holloway’s gonna open for us, she’s great and I haven’t seen her perform in a long time. As for Brad Sucks, it’ll be a big ol’ four piece rock show playing old and new stuff. I’ll have Better Than Nothing vinyl there. I plan to remember all my words and chords, it’s gonna be great.
Now that you’ve churned out the Greatest Hits, where does Brad Sucks go next?
Finish recording some damn songs! It’s been five years since my last record so I’m just about due.