about the artist //
“Had he lived one hundred and fifty years ago, Bradford Loomis may have been riding rail cars out west or sailing down the Mississippi on a paddle boat. Or maybe he would have claimed his stake in the flat lands of the Midwest. Perhaps he would have plied his hand on a ranch in Texas.” Those are first lines to Bradford Loomis’ bio on his website and after listening to music, you might have a hard time believing he’s a 21st century singer and songwriter. There is originality to Bradford’s music. And history. Indeed, drawing on his love for gospel music and his admiration for old slave spirituals, Bradford sings with soul and purpose, much like the music that has inspired him.
Like many other growing, hard-working musicians, Bradford has used social media like Youtube to share and spread his music, and with tens of thousands of views, it’s working. In fact, that’s how I first discovered Bradford, on Youtube. It’s interesting then, with a sound and authenticity inspired by days gone by, this artist has embraced new technology so fully. We’re sure glad he did.
This is the first part of a two part series speaking with The Banner Days, a joint collaboration between Bradford Loomis and Beth Whitney. While both are remarkable musicians in their own right, together they blend harmonies and music to tell stories and share
BC // For readers who might not have heard about you or heard your music, talk some about where you’re from and how you got started with music.
BL // Well I’m from a little town about an hour north of Seattle called Marysville, Washington. Sadly it’s kind of been put on the map recently by the Marysville Pilchuck High School shooting that happened a couple of months ago. That’s actually the high school I went to. The high school I met my wife at.
BC // Oh, wow.
BL // Yeah, kind of a crazy time. So I’m from this little town and got started in music. We used to have a pretty good music program in Marysville and I knew right away that music was something special. It was a pretty powerful outlet for me growing up and by high school I knew that’s what I wanted to do for a living but I had no idea how to do it. So several years out of high school, I floundered around with several miscellaneous jobs and tried to settle down and get a real job. It wasn’t until I lost my job and the house that we had bought through a subsequent foreclosure that I really took music seriously and a necessity as a way of breeding invention or, you know, a kind of desperation, so to speak (laughs). So I threw everything I had at music and did a lot of research and figured out some real basic things for pursuing music and haven’t slowed down or stopped, and that was a couple years ago. We go full time with it now and so this is what I do for a living, play music and it’s a pretty awesome way to go.
BC // You’ve been on the road for some time touring for The Banner Days. And then I believe you were doing some touring for Into the Great Unknown for a while as well, correct?
Yeah! So I have a solo record—actually two solo records: Under the August Sky and, the most recent, Into the Great Unknown. And for Into the Great Unknown I had a friend that I just recently met at the time and her husband would come play with me. They’re phenomenal musicians. Her name is Beth Whitney, his name is Aaron Fishburn. They’re husband and wife, and they just play under her name, Beth Whitney. She’s a local musician where we live, but she is a phenomenal talent, a fantastic songwriter and good friend.
So I asked them if they would be my band for my release tour, and they came out and played with me on this little tour and we all just kind of hit it off. It was really easy. It was really fun. We played shows off and on for them, for me, kind of joint shows. Then we started writing together. The first song went really, really well—we wrote it in two hours. It just kinda kept snowballing, you know? We kept writing together and then we decided, well what do we do with these songs? Do I release them? Do you release them? We decided to release them together as two different artists kind of coming together.
I wouldn’t recommend that necessarily. It’s been tough. Like iTunes and Spotify and Pandora—they don’t know what to do with it because there are two different artist names with it. But it was a good first step for us, and we’ve decided to since go by the name of the album, which is The Banner Days. So we’ve pulled our efforts and now we have a joint project where we’re putting the lion share of our work and time into.
BC // I’ve listened to Into the Great Unknown album many times, and I feel like there’s a real—maybe a religious undertone to it. There’s a lot of reference to prayer and to redemption and I was wondering if you could talk about the process of writing that album and how that changed when you added a new songwriter into the mix.
BL // Yeah, um. Well it’s kind of a complicated process in that we get questions from time to time about whether or not I’m a Christian artist or what the deal with that is, because there are a lot of references, but it’s really a roots record.
BC // Yeah, absolutely!
There’s a lot of gospel music in it. There’s a lot of southern music, there’s a lot of bluegrass, blues, soul. There are a lot of those elements to it. Now, from my personal perspective, yeah—I am a Christian, but I didn’t want to write a record that was preachy. But it’s a roots record. It’s just apart of our history as a nation, that there’s a lot of music. If you listen to a lot of the slave spirituals, so much of R&B that we have today is derived from the old slave spirituals, ironically enough. There are a lot of steps on the way. But there’s a lot of soul in that old music, it’s kind of a hallmark of that genre. I try to write my tunes in a way that reflects my personal beliefs, but doesn’t necessarily—its not heavy-handed, hopefully.
But songs are about stories. Ideally, with songs that are narrative driven like that, you can kind of take what you want from it and hopefully, my intent is to be specific enough that a story is being told but obscure enough that you can fill in the details around the story and it can mean something to you that I may not have intended. And I’m totally fine with that. That’s the beauty of music for me. Some of my favorite tunes from another artist mean something really powerful to me and then I find out later that it didn’t mean at all what I thought of it. (Laughs) And that’s fine. That’s the nature of creativity, I guess.
BC // I heard in an interview with Noah Gundersen, who is also a Washington musician, say that he doesn’t like to talk about where he got the inspiration for his songs because he wants that interpretation to exist for the listeners. He wants them to bring whatever they bring to the table when they listen to his music.
BL // Well, Noah is an interesting guy, too, in that a lot of his stories aren’t biographical. A lot of people think that those are his life stories, and a lot of times they’re not. He’s just making that stuff up. He’s just a fantastic storyteller. And that’s the tough thing about writing music. We all kind of resonate with certain stories. What one person resonates with may not be what another person does. Hopefully, you have something that is broad enough that a lot of people can relate to it, regardless of whether or not the specifics are the same, or the world view of the people involved are the same as the person listening to it. But, you know, the underlying story is the powerful part that we recognize and moves us because of our shared commonality, you know?
BC // Yeah, absolutely. What I love most about your music are the stories I find in each of the songs. But I would think, as a songwriter, that has to be hard to do. Especially in a time when music where if you just turn on popular radio, there are a lot of songs out there that don’t have that, right? So in the instance of Into the Great Unknown or The Banner Days, as you and Beth started working on these songs, what’s that process for you? Are you playing music first and then adding the lyrics in, or do you have a theme in mind for the album and then build off of that?
It changes from song to song, a little bit. But also Beth and I just have different processes. For me, that’s one of the appeals. When I hear Beth’s previous records, Yellow and Ukulele, I was blown away with—she’s a fantastic storyteller. Her songs are really powerful and emotive and I really connected with the stories she is telling. And there is some mystery in the songs, you know? I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what they were about. And I loved that. I loved that she captured the small details that draw you in and then obscure references that make you wonder, what’s happening here? It kind of gets your mind moving. Beth is a great poet. And so it was really cool to come together and see how she works.
When we have a little bit of a concept, we kind of think about, discuss, and brainstorm a little bit. What do we want to say with this? And sometimes we have to keep coming back to that because a song will go in an unexpected direction, we’ll come up with an idea that’s a little unique, or a lyric that might take it in a different direction and it causes us to reevaluate. What if instead of this, we try out this? And then we kind of change the direction of the song.
It’s a little different of a process when you’re writing by yourself, of course. You’re not bouncing ideas directly off somebody. I try to accomplish the same thing. What am I saying here? That can be a little bit of a challenge and tends to take me a little bit longer to process through it. As I’m brainstorming the ideas, I play and record it and listen to it several times. I wait a few days. Keep listening to it. Keep coming back to it. It usually takes me a few days to a week to write a song. Sometimes I can do it in a few hours, but that’s definitely a rarity.
BC // Now that you’ve been touring quite a bit, is it hard to find that time to continue writing songs and work on fresh content? Or have you just been focused on The Banner Days tour?
(Laughs) You know the irony for me is that I consider myself a full-time musician, but writing music…I easily spend the least amount of my time writing music. It’s the first thing to go. Because you just get so busy with contracts and scheduling and moving things around. Especially with two projects: a solo career and a joint effort with The Banner Days. We do a lot of coordinating between Beth and I and her husband as well.
I really have found that the creative process is such a right brain, let-it-go and feel-it-out process, but I get nothing done if I don’t schedule it. So I have got to make sure that I have scheduled time on the calendar to go somewhere and write. Sit down and be alone. The problem is that it’s just so easy to neglect writing. It’s just terribly inefficient (laughs again). You’re essentially setting aside this block of time that could be four hours and you might get nothing done. And four hours, I could compile a lot of information and get a lot of emails in and be far more productive that way. That’s kind of the balance you have to maintain, because obviously you can’t keep doing that if you can’t keep writing.
I’m really fascinated with the idea of house shows, which I know you do a lot of, and how they work, and why you do house shows as opposed to—I don’t want to say more traditional, but I think a lot of artists try and stay in auditoriums or try to book bigger and bigger venues. But from the outside looking in it seems like you and Beth, for The Banner Days, enjoy doing those shows. What is it about the house shows that you enjoy?
I’m in my thirties and I have a wife and three kids so it’s just not feasible at this stage in the game to go tour six months out of the year playing little bars in towns I’ve never been in before for nothing. You know, I might make a handful of change if I’m by myself, but if I’m with Beth and Aaron, then we’re splitting thirty bucks three ways. That’s not going to work.
With house shows, there’s a very strategic aspect of playing in areas that you’ve never played before, having someone host you that has seen a video on Youtube or Facebook. Or maybe they heard the record, and they have a chance for you to go place at their house. You know, that’s a pretty unique experience. So then you play for maybe 20 of their friends and you get to have a real connection with them because of the intimacy of the environment, of the evening, and then you do that in a couple cities, and you do that a couple times in a city and before you know it you’ve got 60 or 80 people that will come and see you at a normal event.
The problem with normal venues, though—and I’m from the Seattle area and Seattle is really hurting right now in smaller venues—you essentially have all these middlemen who are exploiting artists. They’re going to take $200 bucks off the top. You might get 50 people in, and let’s say the tickets are $10 bucks, right? You get 50 people there, that’s $500 bucks. You have three bands on the bill, they’re going to take $200 bucks off the top for the venue, not to mention all their alcohol sales. And then you have $300 dollars left over that you’re going to split three ways. Say there are three people in your band, you’ve just split $100 bucks three ways, you each get $30 dollars. That’s not a business model that works for me. Trying to do it as a main career, it just doesn’t work.
It’s so much, in every measurable way, better. It’s more intimate and enjoyable experience. I don’t like super loud music, or people who are obnoxiously drunk shouting in my ear while I’m trying to listen to a band that I paid money to go see. I am there for a reason (laughs), and that way you can really hear the music done the way it was intended. You can hear the backstory to it, it’s just a much more powerful experience. And as an artist, every artist wants your music heard. I mean, you’re writing music for a reason. It’s just a better experience all the way around. And it has the strategic value of being able to further a musician’s career like no other show does. So it’s pretty awesome.
BC // What’s on your agenda throughout the rest of 2015? Are you going to continue to tour with The Banner Days?
Yeah, so Beth and I, we’re working on some things. We have a couple songs in the works. We’ve got a couple tours planned, and we’re laying out the groundwork for a new record. We’ve taken each step in this process as an individual step and felt it out.
We discovered that this music is awesome and we love this music and we’re enjoying this project, so we’re going to have to call it something so that it’s brand neutral and it’s honoring to both of us. That’s been a tremendously exciting experience. Beth and Aaron are the easiest people in the world to work with, so we’re pretty excited. We’re looking forward to getting some scheduling done and getting everything laid out for finishing up the tours and the new record, so we’re really excited about laying that down and getting started on the next subject.
BC // So readers can and should be looking forward to things happening with you and Beth throughout this year. I am absolutely pointing them to videos of you because, in fact, that’s actually how I found you originally. The first video that I watched was Dead Man’s Dance and I’ve probably watched that dozens of times now, it’s just so damn good.
BL // (Laughs) Thanks, man.
BC // And people can follow you on Facebook and Twitter. Before we wrap things up, can you talk a little bit about the pros and cons of being online as an artist? People do find your music through Youtube, and they are able to follow you on Facebook and Twitter, and I imagine that’s great, but also for you as an artist that’s more time away from writing music, right?
Um, yeah, I suppose so. I don’t know if it’s any different than it would have been. I get questions similar to this, but it’s usually related to Spotify and the free aspect of music. It’s a different time than it has ever been. Music has changed so drastically so quickly, and by that I mean the music industry. But it’s a brave new time. Artists have never had as much control or as many tools as they have now than any other time in history. So that’s really a huge benefit to the artist. Musicians don’t have the same amount of gatekeepers.
It used to be that if you didn’t get somebody at a label somewhere to approve your music you were going nowhere. Now, those Youtube videos, for me in particular, have been huge! It’s opened so many doors playing in places I’ve never been before. I did a 19 day west coast tour and the lion share of the dates were places I’ve never played before for people I’ve never met before who had just seen the videos, or who were shown the videos by a friend and said, “okay, yeah, this sounds like an interesting experience, let’s try it.” I hear at almost every show, “man, when are you coming back? Let’s do another one!”
So it opens so many doors that you used to not have. You used to have to try to find a venue. And the venue wanted to know how many people you were going to bring. And so if you’ve never been there before you’re going to have to find a local band that will lend you their audience by playing, and then maybe you could trade with them and when they come to your town, you do the same thing for them. That’s a lot of leg work! And as busy as I am now, that would make it two times worse. That’s a lot of headache. So it’s just a different thing, with Spotify and Pandora and all of these streaming services. More people are being exposed to my music and other people’s music than ever before. Artists may not get a lot of money out of it, but you weren’t going to get a lot of money out of it before.
BC // I think you’re right. It’s a completely different time in the music industry and there are a lot of ways that artists can make a career out of music that might not look like it might have looked even ten years ago. But if you’re really just in it to make music and find community with other musicians and listeners then you are living proof that you’re making beautiful music and making it work.
Like what you’ve read, then go buy Bradford’s music! Also be sure to buy The Banner Days album! Check out his recent tour dates and pay attention his social media; he’s always looking to add house shows and you might be able to host the next one! Also, special thanks to Kimberly Loomis, Bradford’s lovely and talented wife, for the images. Please do check out her site!
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