Marchelle Bradanini On Releasing A New Album In Survival Mode: 'Underestimate Women at Your Own Peril'
Whitney Moore welcomed Marchelle Bradanini onto our Tower Live Instagram show, who you may know from her moniker Pony Boy (a reference to a character in the film The Outsiders) and from her album Blue Gold. Though her singles have made their way into TV, including appearances on Mr Robot and Gotham so they may already sound familiar! Her next album Only a Woman, is out on July 3rd .
Bradanini called us from LA, having recently had a baby, and wanting to be near family. She laughed that you often spend your adult life fleeing your family, but as soon as you have a kid, you want to be near them so you can do laundry and go to the bathroom by yourself.
In quarantine, she’s been housebound, and in her sweatpants, which is similar to having a baby anyway. As a musician, she often self-isolates to work, so that’s similar too, but it is strange releasing an album without the live performance aspect. It doesn’t feel “real” until you play live, she reflected.
Bradanini’s album Only a Woman, is coming out under her name, Marchelle Bradanini, whereas her previous album was with the name Pony Boy. Having just had a baby, these new songs were often played at home acoustically, so there’s a different sonic space.
She liked the “grittier” side of the Pony Boy persona, but this collection of songs didn’t seem to fit with that. She wondered if she could make a “lyric-driven” record with the least amount of instrumentation. It is strange to “finally put out an album” under her name “after so long”, she said.
Are there any songs on the album about motherhood, a fan wondered? She has a song called “War all the Time” and it’s about how we find time to care about “the small things”. So, while there are not songs directly about motherhood on the album, there are a lot of songs about things she hasn’t “touched on” before, influenced by her new experience.
The album was about “redefining myself as a woman”, she said, but not exactly about being a mother. Though being a mother is also about an identity question. Moore observed that the vibe of “Only a Woman”, the lead song, feels really relevant right now, where women are asked to define themselves by limited roles.
Bradanini said that she approached the question of women’s identities in 2020 with “satire” and “humor” by necessity. The song is a “sarcastic take” on limitations and reflects the need to give women more opportunities. She wanted to play the guitar at school, and since she was a woman, she was told to play the flute instead. It wasn’t until adulthood that she got to grips with the guitar for this reason.
“Underestimate women at your own peril.”, she warned. Bradanini uses dry humor in her work, Moore noticed, and Bradanini said her favorite songwriters, like Bob Dylan and John Prine, did so and she finds that to be an “interesting take”. She asked herself how she could “play around” with these ideas. The idea of “Your Flag Decal Will Get You Into Heaven” by John Prine is one she likes because it’s “biting” in its humor. There’s a Leonard Cohen song, “Don’t Go Home with Your Heart On” which stands alongside “Hallellujah”, and he’s allowed to have that thematic and stylistic range, so Bradanini would like to do that, too.
Moore asked Bradanini about how she addressed the idea of being too “fixed” to musical genres or styles, and she said that she’d like to score music for film or TV, since she lives in Southern California and comes across opportunities. That’s a different mode of work, Bradanini said, but she has had songs turn up on TV shows, Moore pointed out.
Bradanini is a huge David Lynch fan and had some friends whose music was featured in the last season of Twin Peaks. She hopes to someday work with Lynch! Moore has been watching Twin Peaks for the first time during quarantine and is on Season 3 now, she said.
Bradanini watched all of The Sopranos while pregnant and wished that everyone else was watching it at the same time so she could talk about it with others. She loves the mixed tones of Twin Peaks.
Bradanini and Moore are also into 90 Day Fiancee, and Moore described it as oddly “Lynchian”, but these are “actual people making crazy choices”, Bradanini pointed out. Her husband is a comedy writer for TV and brings her attention to the “vapid and ridiculous”, which is sometimes what you need to get through life. “Watch some trash and reset.”, was the consensus of watching crazy TV to console yourself during this time.
Talking about Bradanini’s music videos, Moore observed that the most recent video for “Only a Woman” is a by a woman-led crew, and that was the case on “Oscar Wilde”, too. Bradanini said that as a female musician, it often takes some “searching” to find other women to work with. If you just go along with the “status quo”, it never changes. So, she has sought women out to work with.
For the first video, she worked with Melissa Hunter, who worked on Santa Clarita Diet. A lot of these people were not known for being directors, but had experience in the world of acting. She likes to encourage women to try things they haven’t done before and not be “afraid to fail”, and also not to expect to be an “expert” right away.
Bradanini grew up in an indie band as a “blonde person” and was often judged to be a “suburban valley girl”. She was told by a manager once that her “appearance was a detriment to her art”, shockingly. And this was an indie manager. Saying “Your face is a problem” to someone is hard to take, Bradanini reflected, and she felt a little like Dolly Parton facing assumptions about her ability based on her appearance. She wants to “articulate” feelings that are not all “sunshine and rainbows”. She wants to be Howlin’ Wolf instead of who people seem to think she is, based on her appearance, Bradanini explained. She has a song on the new album called “Drugstore Blonde” which really takes ownership of this idea.
Talking about the “Oscar Wilde” video, Bradanini said that there’s a famous record cover of Leonard Cohen’s Death of a Ladies’ Man with two chanteuses, but their faces aren’t shown. It made Bradanini wonder what it would be like in an alternative universe image, where she was flanked by men. There was a guy who always mansplained Oscar Wilde to her, which is part of where the idea came from for the song. Actresses and actors from the LA comedy world came by to shoot the video, doing improv. Everyone has “been there”, chatting in bars and hearing wild things, so Bradanini felt it would be universal.
Father John Misty’s sense of humor has been a partial inspiration for “Oscar Wilde”, Moore observed and asked more about this. Bradanini has a cameo in the video, she revealed, standing at the bar, while she was pregnant, but you can’t tell. There’s something so “damning” about the narrator’s observations in Misty’s song, so Bradanini wanted to approach the song from the other direction, where the woman was speaking. There are definitely “Response Songs” that need to be written, Moore suggested, to famous songs.
Music should “incite you” to answer things, Bradanini said. “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” would be a good one, Bradanini said. We can “give life” to women “lionized in the canon of music”. Moore would love to hear a response to “Jolene”.
Bradanini has a recent single “The Red, White, and Blues”, and Moore asked if Bradanini could talk about its “affirming” aspects. Bradanini said that a lot of us feel “crushed by the daily horrors of the news”. She feels “paralyzed” by what she sees, but is trying to find ways to “engage in a positive way”. It’s a sense of “yelling into the void”. She wants to “crawl out of daily existence” and “find something to do”. And there are ways to do that by keeping social media open and looking for ways to help with e-mails and communication even if you’re someone who can’t be involved in marching.
Bradanini reminded us that there are lots of ways to “engage” and everyone should find their own. Asked if she was inspired by Howlin’ Wolf, she said that he has an approach of “hit me in my guts” that really does inspire Bradanini. It’s a “physical feeling”, a gut feeling, when she listens to him, and she always asks herself how she can create the same feeling with her music.
Bradanini loves doing basic vocal takes and enjoys “dirt, and blood, and mistakes” in music recordings. The modern ability to endlessly craft and update can be a problem, she feels. She thinks the “mistakes” are what make things valuable.
Moore has heard that people often listen to music in order to change their mood or instead affirm their mood, and asked if Bradanini is trying to do either of these with the new album. Bradanini thinks “either” is possible since it’s a quiet kind of album. It’s not the greatest music for running or working out! But she did that and it gave her a different context for the new album when she did so. The context, she found, influenced her.
The same record can be so many different things to different people depending on their context.
What would be the “ideal circumstance” for audiences to listen to the new album, Only a Woman? Bradanini has always been an “active” music listener, and never has other music or sound on in the room at the same time. She’s not into “background” music. Because so much of the record is lyric-focused, it would be “nice” if people listened carefully. Bradanini once knew a drummer who says that he just could “not hear lyrics” at all, which is wild to her.
Sometimes she goes through “waves” of what type of music she can listen to, Bradanini said, sometimes just “feeling too much” to be able to listen to certain songs. She’s a “sad core” music writer, she laughed, and loves a “slow sad song” as a musician and fan.
Did Bradanini have a tour planned for 2020? She was originally going to wait until her baby was a little older, since it’s not the best circumstances to bring kids on “true indie touring”. Thinking of everyone being at home now, she decided that if she put out a record, she didn’t have to tour right away. It was actually a “weird silver lining” that she could release the record without touring, made in isolation, in order to stay with her young daughter at home. It was the right time to release the album.
Bradanini has “done her time” in the Motel 6’s around the world, she laughed. She wants to do the kind of shows in small theaters where people can sit down and listen. She loves “dirty, tiny rock clubs” where you might get electrocuted, and she misses that. Now, with two small children, she’d need an entourage to tour. This is why a lot of women stop making music, because it is hard to grapple with “family musical life”, and with “traditional promotion” cycles and kids. She’d like to find a “different paradigm” of just touring a couple cities at a time. Maybe she’d go to Europe if we’re ever allowed to go there, she laughed.
It can be a sexist question, “How do you balance work and family?”, but it also is a real issue that women face, and people want to know the answer because it seems like a mystery. “It never feels fair that they don’t ask men that question.”, Moore agreed.
Asked about good or bad habits that she’s picked up during quarantine, Bradanini said that having kids is just being in “survival mode”, so she definitely hasn’t had time to learn a new language or instrument. She’s gotten in the habit of going for a “morning walk” that has “massively” contributed to her mental health. That “morning ritual” has been “lifechanging” for her. Bradanini tried to learn how to cook, and she’s still really “bad” at it, according to her 4-year- old. She’s bought some cookbooks but hasn’t used any of them yet.
Does she think people locked inside will produce better or worse art? Bradanini thinks it’ll be a mix, since people can sit alone and think about their art more, but we’re also dealing with issues of “mortality and civil rights” at the same time.
Moore observed that Bradanini is an “optimist” deep down, in her music, and she agreed, but she laughed that her husband, who is the opposite and British, is a good counterbalance.
Where would Bradanini like the music industry to go next? She thinks Bandcamp is great, with money going more directly to the artists. If we value art as a society, she said, “we have to figure out how to fund that”. She has friends from other countries who get grants from the government to make albums, and that’s not the case in the USA. We need to show what we “value”, she encouraged. If we want all our content for free, that content is going to “suffer”. She’s been buying a lot of merch from friends to support them, and wears shirts and hats for their music.
Bradanini has seen “many talented musicians fall by the wayside” because they can’t live in such dire straits. Bradanini’s new record had a delay to vinyl release, but her dream is to do pink vinyl for this one. It’s been backordered, but it’s on the way, she promised.
What about our Tower Motto, “No Music, No Life” or “Know Music, Know Life”? Bradanini said the first one “sums it up, now more than ever”. Music is her “lifeblood when she can’t figure out anything else”. She’s really happy to see Tower Records back and “celebration and attention to music” happening.
Does she have anything else to share with fans? Bradanini said that if you’re not registered to vote, please go check. It’s hard to engage the system, but it’s what we have right now. In November, it’s about “harm reduction” and we need to think about that and “participate on any level” with the political system. Even if it’s “icky and gross” at times to take on the system, we need to find a way to “engage”. Also, “Remember your humanity and be kind to other people”.
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