It’s not false modesty when electro-folk singer-songwriter Bradley claims that the central subject of his recently released MountainTigerWolf “isn’t anything new”.
“Everybody’s had heartbreak,” he explains, on the line from his East Van home.
That may well be true. But not everyone’s picked up the pieces of their heart and turned them into an album as vital as the second solo release from the man otherwise known as Brad Ferguson. According to the soft-spoken producer and one-man band, however, MountainTigerWolf isn’t an account of a single failed affair—more like many.
“It’s continual, man,” he says resignedly. “I always seem to be fighting off that sort of thing, somehow. But it’s therapeutic to do this stuff. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a cure-all, but I feel good. So I guess that’s the answer—and, yes, I am kind of single right now.”
Granted, Ferguson’s day job isn’t all that conducive to settling down. When he’s not wearing his Bradley hat—a bright yellow trucker’s cap, it appears from MountainTigerWolf’s inner sleeve—he can usually be found on the road, playing bass with Ndidi Onukwulu, the Modelos, or the Perpetrators.
You might also have heard him with Colin James, Econoline Crush, Lily Frost, Zubot & Dawson, or Ridley Bent. A fast study, he’s one of Vancouver’s go-to guys when someone needs a bassist in a hurry.
“I started out on bass, and I’ve been freelancing for, I guess, 10 years now, playing with many, many different Canadian acts,” he says. “I do the odd tour, play on the odd album, and do a lot of one-off stuff.”
Songwriting is a relatively recent addition to his skill set, however, and his instrument of choice is not the electric bass. Instead, he’s one of many musicians who have been set free by the computer, which he first messed around with while working with singer Coco Love Alcorn on a bedroom project that would yield a 2003 album called Joystick.
“I’d never written a song before in my life,” he admits. “But at Coco’s urging I kind of learned how to use the computer as a recording studio, and then we just started playing around with beats. All of a sudden we had five or six cool songs, and it was, like, ”˜Wow! This is actually pretty fun and easy and good.’ Directly after that was finished, I started writing that first album of mine [Pink Pill Program], using the computer as a writing tool just because it’s pretty hard to sit on your couch and play bass and write a melody.”
Since then, he’s added guitar to his arsenal of instruments, and a typical Bradley performance—documented on-line at blogs.myspace.com/bradleyonmyspace—finds him strumming a six-string while backed by laptop-generated beats and bass lines.
“I figure using a computer as a band member might be slightly foreign in the singer-songwriter or folk idiom or whatever,” he says. “But a lot of hip-hop acts always use backing tracks as their band, you know. It could be thought of as glorified karaoke or whatever, but I just don’t feel that way. It’s an important part of what I’m doing.”
Sampled rhythms and vintage-style synth tones play a big part on MountainTigerWolf, but the album is also very human. Onukwulu and former Mother Mother singer Debra-Jean Creelman add backing vocals to four tracks, while “Daylight’s Finally Night” and a moving cover of Great Aunt Ida’s “Little Voice” find him backed by one-man orchestra Jesse Zubot. (Zubot also adds a completely crazed scratch-and-squeak soundtrack to the disc’s final song, “Lullaby”.)
“Watching Jesse do these string parts was amazing,” Ferguson says of his old friend, occasional employer, and Drip Audio label boss. “All of a sudden there’s, like, these 15 tracks, and I’m thinking, ”˜Well, he must be trying something out, and then he’s going to come and pick one and build on that.’ But then he just drops his bow and runs in and turns all these tracks on, and that’s it. That’s what’s on the album. I couldn’t believe it.”
Also on the new disc is a funked-up dance-floor-filler called “Fainne”, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the David Bowie/John Lennon cowrite “Fame”.
“Fainne was the name of a girl that I was dating, and I used to joke around with her about her name sounding the same as the song,” Ferguson says. “So that’s basically the story of that. It wasn’t really one that I’d planned on putting on the record, but again I was screwing around on my computer one day and put some beats down, and it just kind of came together.”
Ferguson might want to learn that teasing a lover about her name is one sure way to become an ex. But if that’s what it takes for him to write a song, or an album of songs, why mess with success?
Bradley plays the Railway Club next Sunday (June 13).