Bradley Wik [Interview]


I love music, but more importantly I love songwriting. I am a huge sucker for that beautiful singer/songwriter sound. I am that musically ill equipped sucker who has no artistic ability but has read too many God damned books, and feels like all music should be poetry. Poetry. That’s what it is all about! I’ve never understood some people, even those I respect and adore (I’m looking at you Marc Maron) who can say “I’m not a lyrics guy/lady”. In my brain, I can’t understand that. It’s about the fucking words, man! I want to hear that poetry set to a great guitar sound! Of course, if the guitar sound is not on point, it’s going to be awful. So, I think it all works together. I just put an emphasis on the words that are being sung so sweetly into my ears for my enjoyment.

And that is where I bring in the great Bradley Wik. Sweet shit, this guy is an amazing singer/songwriter. I dare say he is one of the best. I got a bit of flack some years ago for calling Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper “the son that Bob Dylan wished he would have had”, but I dare say that Bradley Wik is tied with the genus if Eric (Again, I’m not trying to offend Jakob or his fans, it’s just a descriptor of talent, I love me some Wallflowers). I just love the idea of storytelling in musical form. And on far too few occasions we are unable to witness such beauty in song told as well as the likes of Dylan, Prine, or Cohen in this day and age. But, I truly believe that Bradley Wik is one of those guys that just fucking gets it. They have that emotional response to the world that should be required for all modern day singer/songwriters. Honestly, when I listen to this man, I want to do my damnedest to try and remove the idea of a “singer/songwriter” out of the equation, and just call them artists. What Bradley does with music is no different than what Ralph Steadman does with a canvas. It’s art that moves you in so many different ways. And it should be looked at as such.

So with that, please enjoy one of the best interviews we have ever had here at Trainwreck’d Society. He had some incredibly heart felt and warm responses during our digital interview, and I could not be happier to have been introduced to this beautiful human being. Buy his album(s), see his shows when he comes to your town, and goddammit love one another, I know this is what he would really want. Enjoy!

When did you first realize you wanted to play music for a living? What were some of your earliest influences? Who were your “guys”, as Maron may ask?

I was seventeen the first time I ever thought seriously about music as a career choice. Up until then, and from a young age, all I had ever done was play and watch sports. Growing up in Wisconsin, all I could imagine was playing shortstop for the Milwaukee Brewers or wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers. I dreamed of getting the final out of the World Series or catching a touchdown from Brett Favre at Lambeau Field. That changed suddenly when I tore my achilles tendon in High School. That helped me realize that I wasn’t talented enough to accomplish those goals. The next summer, when I was seventeen, I found myself working fifty hour weeks at a factory making Harley Davidson parts and accessories. While my friends were out on Friday night partying and being kids, I was going to bed early so I could get up at 5am for work on Saturday. I couldn’t imagine myself doing that for the next forty or fifty years. Music was something I always loved so dearly but wasn’t really an option coming from a town of three thousand people. That fact made me all the more determined to make it happen.

Early on in my guitar playing days, I fell in love with folk and blues music. I could learn three chords and play along to my favorite Carter Family, Woody Guthrie, Son House or Leadbelly songs. My buddy’s mom had learned a lot of those old songs from her mother and was more than happy to teach them to us. A sort of passing of the torch. From there, I found and began my obsession with Bob Dylan and I knew a journey to New York City was in my future. But my big madeleine-dipped-in-tea moment was when I found my mom’s old vinyl copy of “Born to Run.” I felt like Indiana Jones uncovering a priceless artifact, except this one belonged on my record player and not in a museum. I’ll never forget gently removing the album from a stack of old records, blowing the dust off, just like in the movies, and putting it on the turntable with excitement. So much excitement, in fact, that I put in on upside down. So, the first song I heard was side B, track one: “Born to Run.” To this day, I can’t fully explain what happened in that moment, but, needless to say, it rearranged my fucking molecules and I was off into a new world. Like Bruce, I still had to go through my folk music phase, but Rock N’ Roll was always my one true love from there on out.

Your 2012 release, Burn What You Can, Bury the Rest, is still one of those amazing go-to albums that never disappears from my playlists. It’s been a few years, so could you tell us how this record has affected you? Have you experienced much change since the album came out into the world?

I really didn’t know what to expect upon releasing that album. It was our debut record and my first record ever. I was very confident in the songs but secretly I was just hoping we could sell through the thousand or so CD’s that were sitting in boxes in my living room. I know so many talented people who have worked so hard and put all their time, energy and money into an album that sits in boxes, collecting dust in a closet. It’s such a disheartening thing to see. Music can be very cruel as there is no direct correlation between talent, work and success. But, we (with lots of help from my extremely amazing girlfriend) worked our asses off promoting and were fortunate enough to get lots of support for that record in print, online and from radio. The shows very quickly got better (getting paid decent money as opposed to a six pack of PBR and whatever tips we can scrounge up) and we had to get better as a result. The more we moved forward, the harder we had to work to keep it going. It’s sort of cliche, but we had to learn how to be a “real” band instead of four guys who play music, drink beers and do a few shows a month to try and impress girls. But I think the craziest thing was when the record first came out and I was still working at a local paint store, random people would come in and recognize me from the album they bought after hearing us on the radio or my picture on a show poster or article they read, etc. It was weird to be in dirty, paint-covered work clothes and have someone ask for picture. But that will always seem weird to me, I suppose. The album has a wonderful picture of my handsome face on it and someone always wants one when I’m tired and sweaty after a show or something. Go figure.


So, your song “This Old House” is a very important song to me, for reasons I can’t even fully express. Let’s just say it this song hit me at exactly the right moment in my life, and I interrupted it as such. But, now that I have the chance to ask you, can you tell us what this song is really about? What was the inspiration behind this brilliant track?

It warms my heart to hear you say that about “This Old House.” My goal in making music has always been to try and give back, at least a little, of what music has given me. Music has been the backbone of my life and I define chapters of my life through music. The Wallflowers’ “Three Marlenas” was my middle school girlfriend and, subsequently, my thirteen year old broken heart. Sun Kil Moon’s “Glenn Tipton” was the breakup from the first girl I ever loved. Springsteen’s “Racing in the Street” got me through the end of the next relationship. Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah” saved me in my darkest of days. I think my favorite thing about music is how personal it is and how the same song can mean so many different things to so many different people depending on when it passed through their lives and what they needed from it. A relationship with a song can be a very singular and powerful experience. As a songwriter, I’ve always felt that some songs come easy, and you just have to sit down and write ‘em out, but some songs you have to earn. “This Old House” was one I definitely had to earn. As a musician, I could talk about songs, especially my own, for hours on end (just ask my girlfriend…) but I’ll give the Reader’s Digest version. Buy me a couple bourbons sometime and I’ll give you the whole story…

I had been living with this girl for a little over three years. We met in Seattle, moved to New York City together and then headed back west to Portland, OR. We were young. She was just eighteen when we started dating. I was only a year older. She’d had a tough life up until that point but was strong and trying not to show it. We would end up going through a lot together, and the years we spent in New York definitely changed things for us both. Things were already pretty rough when we left New York for Portland and only got worse once we got here. Neither one of us felt a connection to Portland the way we did to New York, and we both desperately missed our old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Our lives were spent looking backwards, which is dangerous. But soon I had a new band and was playing music again. She never got comfortable. The relationship had gotten so bad that I kept hoping she would leave me. But she wouldn’t. We said horrible things to each other. It was obvious to everyone, except us, that this needed to end and we would both be better off apart. Finally, months later, we broke it off and she moved out. I, for emotional (and financial) reasons, had to move out of our apartment. I found the cheapest and shittiest place I could in the neighborhood. I didn’t have a car so I had a buddy help me carry all my shit down the block and up three flights of stairs to the new place. The only upside of the new apartment was that it had a fire escape that I could sit out on and smoke cigarettes and drink while looking out at the city. I never write songs when I’m still very emotionally invested; I want to understand what I’m writing about from both sides. It took months and months to get to that point. But one night, after a couple bottles of wine, I was listening to music and staring at the wall when it finally made some semblance of sense. Looking around, they never fixed anything in that apartment, they just painted over it. I could see nails, holes, painted over outlets, all sorts of damage, evidence of the people who came before me. I started to think about all the life that had happened in that shitty apartment. I wasn’t the first to live there and I certainly wouldn’t be the last… We’d had our good times and our bad times, and like most relationships, it was more likely to end than last forever. We were just chapters in the middle parts of our stories, with many before and many after.

So you are a Portlander. How do you feel about the current state of the Portland music scene? Do you think things have improved over the years, or is the scene dissipating? Also you performed at my favorite spot, the Ash Street Saloon, How was that?

I’ve been pretty unimpressed by Portland’s highly-touted music scene since arriving here. When I first got here, about six years ago, I heard a lot of comparisons to Austin, Seattle and even Nashville, and that simply hasn’t been the case. While there are a handful of nice venues to play, like the Doug Fir and Mississippi Studios (and I could throw Ash Street in here), many have closed down and there aren’t any places you can count on to have quality music night after night. It’s mainly just trying to find out what touring bands are coming through town and cherry-pick those. We’ve found much more success in touring and getting out of town for shows. Portland’s scene has always struck me as standoffish as opposed to accepting, unlike so many other cities I’ve played.

But, I definitely have a lot of great memories from playing Ash Street. We’ve played there a handful of times and it’s always been a fucking memorable experience. Definitely the worst toilet situation from a venue we’ve played (which includes the Satyricon before they closed it a second time) but in a very Rock N’ Roll/charming way. The stage is great, the sound is great and the crowds are always drunk enough to let loose and have some fun. I remember one time, after some heavy rains they were having issues with the power and said there was a chance we would get electrocuted but we could play if we wanted, which, of course, we did. I broke a string during one of the songs and it snapped me in the hand hard and scared the shit out of me. I thought I’d gotten shocked and said to myself, “Well, this is it,” and promptly forgot what song I was singing. Of course, it all turned out fine, and we put on a hell of a show to try and warm up the cold, wet crowd that braved the weather to come out. Another time we played there, I remember I was so sick. I was a mucus-producing machine, was coughing like crazy, was losing my voice and I could barely stand up without getting dizzy. But, we had promoted the piss out of the show and had some great other bands lined up so I didn’t want to cancel last minute. With the right amount of Nyquil, bourbon and tea, I got through it. Can’t say I remember the whole night (I briefly blacked out at the end from exhaustion, and probably in part because of the Nyquil/bourbon in my system) but I’ve been told that I pulled it off pretty damn well. Ash Street always seemed to be a jumping off point for the rest of the night. Rarely did the night end there. There were always places to go, girls to meet, bottles to drink and cops to avoid. I’ll say this, I’m glad my shitty apartment was within stumbling distance. It was always: throw the guitars and amps in the van and see where the rest of the night takes you.

So what is next for you and the Charlatans? I understand a new record is completed, and about to hit our ever-yearning earholes? What can we expect on the next effort?

We learned a lot going through the process on the first album about what to expect, what we like, what we don’t and, most importantly, what the vision for the next record would be. We kept hearing after shows that people wanted a record where we sounded the same as we did when we played live. I love the first record and the songs that made the cut but our live shows were always much higher energy and a little unpredictable. Obviously, there was no way to jump off the stage, dance with the crowd and end up spinning around on the floor, Angus Young-style, during recording, but I really wanted to capture that same feeling the best we could. We found a great studio that was built into an old warehouse building where we could all get in the middle of the large live room and play together, as a band. We’d spent years playing together and months crafting the songs and I wanted the recordings to reflect that. So, we did it old school: one room, live, to tape. We did bring in a piano/keyboard/organ wizard (so many thanks Chris Hubbard!) and did some vocals/background vocals after but most of the record was recorded in that room. Is it perfect? No, but neither are we. Neither is Rock N’ Roll. We’re all a little rough around the edges and Rock N’ Roll wasn’t meant to be spotless, it was meant to be real and to make you feel something. I miss that humanness in modern music. I wanted to make a record that feels like it could have come out in the ‘76 or ‘86 or 2016, and I think I accomplished that.

This could seem morbid, but work with me here: If you were given the chance to give a memorial performance at the wake of any one of your influence, past or present/dead or alive, who would it be? What would you play? 

Morbid as it may seem, it’s not the first time I’ve thought about it. I’d love the opportunity to honor Bruce Springsteen with “Reason to Believe” or Bob Dylan with “Visions of Johanna.” But if I could only choose one, I would go back and play for Jeff Buckley. His voice has carried me through the worst of times. I would cherish the opportunity to make a small gesture in repaying my debt to him. The song I would choose is Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.” I think most great artists struggle with a feeling of inward loneliness that rarely dissipates. It’s hard to reconcile the physical world around you with the world that you live in most of the time. It doesn’t feel like you quite belong to anything, anyone or anywhere. What you see or feel doesn’t match up with what you’re supposed to know. I think that’s the world Jeff Buckley lived in. I think he’s in a much better place now, one that works to understand him, as opposed to here where he tried to understand us.

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Bill Murray singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” like Daffy Duck during a World Series game at Wrigley Field. Bill Murray is certainly one of a kind, and goddamn it, the world is a much better place because of him.


And finally, check out this well done filming of Brad & Co performing the fore mentioned “This Old House” at the Doug Fir in Portland, OR. Nick Kostenborder is the original YouTube poster, and again, he did a great job. Check it! Oh, and be sure to make your way to for more information and updates on the new album and tour dates and what not. Enjoy!

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

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