conversation with a musical nomad
by Troy Johnson
Bradley Fish is back in the states!
photo by Rökker
Bradley Fish has become the ultimate nomad. It makes sense though, he’s been perfecting it most of his adult life along with his passion, music.
A musical chameleon with a music degree to match, Bradley left his native Illinois for the much more liberal Madison, Wisconsin in the mid 1990’s and literally lived in a tent in a friend’s back yard while giving guitar lessons to local students. He also played many a night on State Street and could always be spotted with a guitar, head full of dreadlocks and a tie-dye t-shirt.
Eventually, the success of lessons, shows and street playing allowed him to set up his own place and live life from music. His solo shows were “one man band” style, and he wore bells, shakers and other noise makers on his legs and feet and play guitar, dulcimer, Chinese zither and whatever other instrument he could find. Bradley is also part comedian and his laugh is infectious. Some of his videos on YouTube feature this “humor” with his controversial song “Jewish Girl Blues.” Totally tongue in cheek, the song pokes fun at the plight of Jewish men who are pressured by old tradition to find and marry a Jewish girl, only in this video, he marries a few to cover the bases.
Besides playing as a one man band/comedian, Bradley has been in a ton of bands. In the mid-nineties, Bradley enlisted the help of a plethora of local Madison all-stars to play in his band, The Aquarium Conspiracy, and record on his first album. After some success it was hard to keep the “band” booked as scheduling of “all-stars” isn’t so easy.
The late nineties put the hippy in Bradley out to dry when he hooked up with Rökker, Philly, Mike McGinnis and Jeff Muendel to re-package the old Aquarium Conspiracy music plus new songs to a heavier format… a ROCK BAND called Bradley Fish’s Electrifried Band. Zany publicity stunts propelled his popularity, but something still seemed missing.
Following his mother’s advice to visit Israel, Bradley sold off most of his belongings, shipped the guitar and Marshall amp to his new home in Tel Aviv where he would work for the high-level audio software company Waves as well as get signed to Sony Records to sell CD’s full of loops. But Tel Aviv didn’t suit him so off to Jerusalem he went where he started a recording studio in his apartment just off the market. But the nomad in him would strike again.
Before he sold off all his belongings and shipped the rest back to the states, Bradley recorded his new album “Time To Rise”. Set to be released on October 12th at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, “Time To Rise” will take Bradley across the country as he promotes and tours in total DIY fashion. You see, Bradley purchased a big, purple van which you can’t miss. Instead of the tent, or an apartment or home, he has trimmed his possessions to the minimum and uses a fusion of old and new technologies to make the “Purple People Eater”, his fond name for it, into a mobile home/office, decreasing his lodging expense.
Bradley also went back to his one-man-band show but this time it’s a complete mix of analog and digital as he uses the laptop to control the layers of his improvisational playing on the many different instruments in his possession. Guitar and dulcimer remain his favorites while he incorporates bass, drum loops and “other” sounds into his repertoire.
Here is my conversation with adventure looping musician Bradley Fish. He is back in the Midwest after his 6 year residence in Israel and touring this fall with a new album.
Maximum Ink: Bradley, Are you a one man show or would you rather mash with others?
Bradley Fish: I love playing in bands. I must have been in a few hundred of them, practically every style you can imagine and have learned from a ton of great musicians over the years. The thing is, bands have a 99.9% chance of breaking up and solo acts are the inverse of that. So in a business that’s already known for being very unstable, being a solo act lets me enjoy a certain degree of stability. Plus, as a solo act, I can decide to rehearse spontaneously at 4 in the morning, make radical changes in a musical direction, or play a freaky gig for naked desert-trance-hippies for gas money and organic yogurt - without consulting or convincing anyone and still keep the act together for years on end.
At the same time, I plan to continue to explore collaborations with songwriters, instrumentalists, rappers, bands, producers, and even music biz stuff as I continue to keep my solo act moving forward. I’m really excited about what will come from all these reunions and new collaborations in the United States.
MI: I’ve seen your looping skills on Youtube and I’m guessing you have a library of riffs, beats, songs, jams, melodies, etc. that are unrecorded. How do you decide what you want to lay down once you are recording in a studio?
BF: If I manage to finish the lyrics into something I’m happy with, that’s a great start. If an audience reacts positively to a song, that’s even better….I have this occasional side gig creating “loop libraries” where I can use my carpet scraps of musical material to create ‘loops’ and ‘one shots’ that producers can work into their music…its like the musical equivalent of how they make hot dogs or gefilte fish, so some of my cutting room floor ideas actually get used. They turn up in the strangest places. You can google search ‘Bradley Fish SONY’ to find some of these loop libraries.
MI: You switch styles from story telling, to hard metal, to deep spiritual instrumentals. You’ve also done a lot of traveling. How has travel influenced your musical stylings?
BF: Traveling definitely gave me a chance to pick up some strange axes and cool influences. Early on it especially influenced me a lot musically. Today it still does, but it’s more about vibe, culture and the ideas from wherever you are at the time. This knowledge is great for lyrics.
MI: So you have decided on ten tracks that you are releasing in your solo album “Time To Rise.” The title of the album is positive and there are a lot of spiritual sounds in some of your songs. You are now back in the United States. Why is it time to rise in 2010?
BF: I spent the last 6 years in Israel. The first year in Tel Aviv which is a beach/party city, and then the rest in Jerusalem, a heavily spiritual, very ancient place. I had this incredible apartment in the center with an amazing view of the city, it was surreal, and most of the songs were written there. I was working as a music producer/session musician and music teacher and it was great. After a while it felt like I was living out my retirement out there and behind the scenes I was getting into this whole trip of looping. Which is basically hooking a bunch of musical instruments to the computer and jamming and going nuts with it. I had to develop this and the only way was to play lots and lots of live shows. It’s all improv - a total tightrope walk - meanwhile, I’d been listening to tons of Wayne Dyer tapes, who encourages me to pursue my path, without excuses..
I did a few early looping gigs in Israel. That country is so tiny. It has just over the population of Wisconsin - crammed into a space less than 1/6 the size of Wisconsin, and well, the neighbors aren’t always very hip to booking Israelis or American musicians. Plus getting musical equipment out there is expensive and can be difficult. So, I just intuitively knew that the USA was the way to go.
Once I made that decision, I got rid of practically all my possessions, shipped me and some music gear back to the USA, and bought and converted an extended length high top cargo van into a kind of RV/Rehearsal studio so that I could live and practice in it while traveling, to keep my overhead low.
MI: A purple van?
BF: It’s totally purple which infuses a really fun, surreal vibe into my day. I also picked up some new music gear for the looping gig. I feel like after a hundred gigs or so I’m gonna start getting really good at this! Just like any band. So every show is just a part of my process, and I hope people will dig that. For me I guess, the rising is just pursuing my own dharma by creating a new musical world and inhabiting it and improving it a little bit every day. For each person it’s different, just listen to that voice inside. I’m really just at the beginning of this process now, and its a long time coming. You can follow this little adventure on my blog at
MI: What’s gonna be going on for your October 12, HighNoon cd release party?
BF: I’m doing a solo show which will consist of a mix of my new looping stuff and acoustic stuff.
MI: Being a man of the world, why did you choose Madison, WI as the location to release your latest album?
BF: It’s Madtown, man. I love that place!
Bradley’s Time To Rise album release party starts at 6:30 PM on Tuesday, October 12th.(6821) Page Views Bradley Fish Online:
CD: Time To Rise Record Label: Self released