Bradley Hathaway: Interview

On April 26th, 2017, we called up singer/songwriter, folk, and spoken word artist Bradley Hathaway to talk about the release of his new album, Flesh Eater, and the course of his life over the past several years. Click the play button beneath the photo to listen, or you can read a very short snippet of our conversation below:

Bradley: So where are you at? It said you're in Georgia? Atlanta?
Stephen: Yeah, yeah. I'm just North.
Bradley: Okay.
Stephen: And are you back in Arkansas?
Bradley: Yeah.
Stephen: 'Cause I know you were in Alaska for a while . . . and then North Dakota?
Bradley: Yeah, yeah.
Stephen: You've been around.
Bradley: Um, so I used to own a home here outside of Fayetteville, Arkansas, in a little town called Goshen. And then people stopped buying records, so I don't have the home in Goshen anymore. So yeah, I went around a little bit. I spent two winters in Nahville. I kind of wintered in Nashville, but I would spend six months out of the year in North Dakota. And then I was in Utah. Let's see, I was in Utah for all of—I don't know. What was it? A year and a half ago? I was there, and I was a school teacher at a junior high. And then I went to Alaska for the summer and commercial salmon-fished. Then I ended up coming back to Arkansas. But then I ended up spending the first three months of this year back in Utah, because I went to get my stuff. And then someone offered me a job on the ski slopes, where I just skied and watched kids and made sure they got to their classes. So I thought that would be really cool to do. Anyway, now I'm in Arkansas, and I'm here at least a year and a half until I go to grad school somewhere. But I'm also going back to Alaska to fish again this summer. It's really hard, but it's just to grip the cash in a short amount of time.
Stephen: Yeah, I've heard that. I actually worked with a guy—I guess it was, like, a year and a half ago—and he had done fishing in Alaska for, like, two years. He was always talking about it.
Bradley: It was brutal.
Stephen: Yeah, I'm sure.
Bradley: It—it was brutal. It probably, uh . . . Well, I don't know. I was going to make a Flesh Eater joke, but I don't know wht the joke would be.
Stephen: What even got you that idea in the first place?
Bradley: I mean, doesn't every man kind of want to go fish in Alaska? I mean, isn't that something like, "Oh, man. That would be awesome."
Stephen: I mean, it would be awesome. You know, I've never thought of Alaska. It's always been, like, Canada. My little sister goes up every year, and I'm jealous every time. So you were just like, "Eh, I want to go fishing."
Bradley: Well, it's something I looked into. Being an artist, you kind of need jobs that allow you to just go, to leave. Right? So, with fishing in Alaska, I was like, "Okay, I can go up there for two months; I can make enough money to not have to work for a few more months." And it was just kind of a smart thing to do in that regard. But getting into fishing in Alaska is incredibly difficult. It's kind of a good ol' boy, family, who you know network. But while I was teaching in Utah, one of my coworkers at the school actually owned a fishing business that's been in his family thirty or forty years. And I didn't have a car for part of the time I was in Utah, so I rode a bicycle.
Stephen: Like a Mormon. You fit right in.
Bradley: [chuckles] Straight up. But it was raining or something this day, so I ended up getting on the bus. The transit system in Utah is amazing. But anyway, this guy named Alan was on the bus, and I was like, "Hey, man. So what do you do in Alaska?" And he says that he's got a fishing business. And I said, "Can I be on your crew?" He said, "Yep," and that was it. So it was that simple. The next thing you know, I'm riding up in an RV with him and his family. It takes us seven or eight days to get there. And then the moment I get out of the RV the first time, there's a bald eagle stealing a baby magpie out of a magpie nest.
Stephen: Whoa.
Bradley: And it's literally the first thing I see. I get out of the RV; it's morning; I'm at my new digs; and then that happens. So it was intense.
Stephen: That's crazy.
Bradley: Yeah. That pretty well set up the summer right there. Like, "This is going to be very difficult." And it was. It was brutal, man. I gained seven pounds of muscle. I ate a lot of food, but you had to. You burned so many calories. Sometimes you'd do thirty-two-hour shifts. You just go, and you go, and your hands stop working.
Stephen: Man, that's crazy. I've done some twenty-hour shifts and thought that was awful. I can't imagine another twelve.
Bradley: Nah, it's dumb. But it was like I said: It allowed me to not work another job for a couple months, so I went back up to North Dakota. I had my favorite coffee shop there, down the street from my friend's house. And I just went there everyday for a month to work on some other projects. Then I went on tour with Least of These in November. Then I came back to Arkansas in December and worked at UPS for the holiday. And then I went back up to Utah. And now I'm doing some other gigs. I haven't toured much at all the last few years, but, um . . .
Stephen: Yeah, definitely not the last few years. It was just this last year you did.
Bradley: Yeah.
Stephen: So did they just call you up and ask, "Hey, do you want to tour?"
Bradley: Least of These, we did our first tour a year before. So we've done two tours together. We did one literally one year before. So in 2015, I said, "Hey, I'm going on tour. I'd like to play some shows. Here are the states." Well, Lease of These wrote me and said they could give me a couple shows in Texas. And then I said, "Well, hey. Why don't we just do the whole tour together?" So we did two weeks together back then, and then we did another two weeks in November. But they're my buds, man. They're my buds. It's just so much fun. We just bro down for eighteen days, and I love it. I love hanging out with them. They were my actual band this last time.
Stephen: Oh, really?
Bradley: Yeah, so they played two sets every night—one with me, and then they played their own stuff. It was cool, because it made it way more agressive. I mean, they're a rock band. So we basically did tracks from A Mouth Full of Dust and then some of the chill stuff from How Long. But it was cool, because when I was traveling with a band back in the day, I wouldn't even let my drummer play with sticks. I'm like, "No, you've got to use brushes." Like, I didn't want it to be too loud. But this tour, it's like, "Who cares, dude? Hit 'em as hard as you can." And TJ, the drummer, doesn't know how to hit anything but hard anyway. So it was just loud, balls to the wall, and it was awesome.
Stephen: But, man, that really fits with A Mouth Full of Dust, though.
Bradley: Yeah, it did.
Stephen: 'Cause that's an emotionally straining album, for sure.
Bradley: Yeah! I wish we would have played that loud back in the day, but I had my reasons then. But I don't have those reasons now, so . . . [laughs]
Stephen: So you've been bouncing around jobs, it looks like. I remember seeing—I think it was an Instagram post about you just riding your bike aimlessly almost and just wandering like a gypsy. So when you thought you wanted to record another album, what process did you go through as far as finding studios and all that?
Bradley: Right. Yeah, it's funny you mention that, because the record itself was done very much in that gypsy, wandering way. I mean, it took . . . Um, let me see. So the record's actually, I think, been done for two full years.
Stephen: Whoa!
Bradley: Yeah.
Stephen: I knew it had been done since at least September, because you posted about it and said, "It's coming out February, 2017." It's funny; I was going to ask you why there was that delay.
Bradley: Yeah, so let's go back to the first delay. Basically, I went to Nashville. I wanted to make a record with this other guy, and he told me how much it would cost. I was like, "Dude, are you nuts? There's just no way." And he was like, "Well, I know another guy that would be really interested in doing this record." So that guy would become (or is) Jason Morant. So Jason and I met, and I told him the vision for the record and what the content was. He was just like, "Sign me up. I'm in." Um, so I ended up moving to Nashville to be with Jason, but life just got in the way for a couple of years, really. I would guess that our actual studio time over a two-year period was like three or four full days in one studio and then maybe that same amount of time spread out over, like, a year period. It was dumb. So I would go to Jason's studio, and we would work for an hour and a half. Then he had to go do his life, and I had to do my life. And that literally kept happening forever. So it wasn't mastered until September of last year, but it had been done and mixed for a long time prior to that. And the reason it never came out was: A, money. But B, also, this record had such a bigger vision than what people are seeing now. So there were films; there were art galleries; there were photograph shoots. I mean, there was just this giant universe of Flesh Eater that we kept wanting to do but never were able to have it realized. And eventually, this September, I said, "Forget it. It's got to come out, and it's coming out now." So even the artwork came down to the wire. The artwork that was originally planned wasn't anything that was planned now. The album came out the fourteenth of April, and I don't think we had the actual album cover until nine or ten days before that. Like, literally a day or two before it was released.