Monday, April 8, 2013

A VICTIM, A SURVIVOR, A TRIUMPH: An interview with Charles Bradley

With the release of his second album Victim of Love modern soul icon CHARLES BRADLEY tells ANDY HAZEL about life, the universe and how to look back without breaking down.

‘Oh man, it was a beautiful feeling and God knows it’s way overdue because I’ve been fighting for this opportunity for a long time and I have a lot I still want to do,’ says Charles Bradley, not stopping for breath. Expounding on his second album Victim of Love, the soul singer whose explosive performance was a highlight of last year’s Golden Plains is clearly overjoyed at having another record out. ‘Each album is just a product of these experiences I have and a lot has happened to me,’ he explains. A bigger understatement you’re unlikely to ever read.

His trials and misfortunes are almost unprecedented in any living performer; an unknown father, homeless from the age of 14, near death from an allergic reaction to penicillin, the violent and graphic murder of his brother, two counts of wrongful imprisonment…it’s the real deal. It’s also something that Bradley is very willing to talk about, despite often being brought to tears. In fact, few interviews or concerts don’t result in his breaking down, something he confesses to doing when recording too.

Like Jimmy Scott, Bradley is a performer who exudes the hope that sustains him. ‘Singing is to me a great joy and pain,’ he says in his rich expressive voice. ‘When it hurts, I go to the joy part, and when it’s joyous, I can go the pain part. I’m learning that heartache and pain bring the lyrics out of me, and I’m learning how to do it without breaking down now. I write all of the lyrics, and even though they hurt, I’d rather be able to express myself a little more deeply without trying to avoid the hard parts. This is what I’m learning about myself now, about how to talk about my life and my experiences, which is so hard.’

Victim of Love is, like his 2011 debut No Time for Dreaming an astonishing collection of soul songs, and again features members of the Daptones stable backing him with reflexive proficiency, always keeping Bradley’s searing voice at the centre. “I’m very happy with how it sounds,’ he explains. ‘There are some songs I really love on this record, Victim of Loving You, Love Bug Blues, Confusion; I can really get into them, get nasty with it,’ he chuckles hollowly. ‘I love every moment of singing those.’
Working with bandleader and co-writer Tom Brenneck may seem logical from an outsider standpoint – Brenneck and other members of Daptone Records brought Sharon Jones to international attention - but with a natural distrust of those who offer to help a side-effect of Bradley’s years of rough living, their musical partnership didn’t develop easily. ‘At first it was hard,’ he says slowly. ‘We came from different backgrounds. He’s white middle class, he came from a loving background, and he was trying to help me. I felt very bitter, and coming from living in the hood, I did not know he was being real. I had to learn where he was coming from. I was not use to races living and working together like that,’ he pauses. ‘Tom and I got really into writing and recording, into bringing my soulfulness into the world as pure as it can be. That’s what people like to hear. He chose the name too,’ he continues. ‘When he chose it everybody asked me about it and I am the victim of love. It’s brought me low, it’s brought me up again too, but I’ve never had one true love in my life.’

With hopes to return to Australia later this year, his main love now, he says, is people. ‘By travelling all over the world and meeting so many people, I’ve seen that everybody wants the same thing; all they’re looking for is love and understanding. And that’s what I found, it took a while, but it’s real now.’

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