Q&A: Scott Bradlee On Revamping Nickelback, Taste Hierarchies, And Screaming Words

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During the Nickelback brouhaha that took over parts of the Internet earlier this month, one of the common refrains against having the Canadian band perform at the halftime show of the Thanksgiving Day showdown between the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions involved the selection's implicit slap in the face to Detroit. The city, after all, has been the birthplace of so much great music, particularly that which emanated from Motown—and to honor that legacy with a performance by Canadian arena-rockers seemed like a slap in the face. NYC-based pianist Scott Bradlee got Solomonic and decided to split the difference, reworking Nickelback's signature hit into a soul barnburner and releasing the end result, "A Motown Tribute To Nickelback," in time for Thursday's halftime show. It's not too surprising, since he's also masterminded a gypsy-jazz rework of Weezer's "Hash Pipe" and retrofitted Rebecca Black's "Friday" into an old-time weekend lament—but the end product did raise the eyebrows of people who had assumed that Nickelback's sanctioned crappiness meant that all their songs were completely without merit as well. We emailed with him about his inspiration for the cover, his thoughts on the song, and whether or not five words can actually scream, "Are we having fun yet?"

Scott Bradlee, "A Motown Tribute To Nickelback" (Download it here.)

How did you first hear about the anti-Nickelback protest?

I'm not sure where I first heard it, but I remember being amazed at the anti-Nickelback fervor in Detroit, and the fact that it had grown into a legitimate enough concern to be deemed petition-worthy.

What made you decide to cover one of their songs?

The idea to literally connect Motown with Nickelback hit me the day before the game, and I knew I had to make it happen. We recorded it in my apartment in an hour, and then I stayed up the rest of the night mixing it and uploading it to YouTube.

Did you see it as a defense of them in any way?

One of my tenets as a musician is that there's no absolute "taste hierarchy." "Good taste" is culturally coded, so it's not particularly instructive to point one's finger at something and call it "bad art." I find it much more interesting to examine something considered "bad" and see if I can't transform it into something with artistic merit by changing a few conditions.

I feel like your version of "How You Remind Me" makes the case for it being a very well-crafted pop song. Where'd you first hear it? Did you ever loathe or love it? Were there any other Nickelback songs on the table as far as potential covers?

Before this past week, I had always yielded to the Pavlovian response of changing the radio station as soon as I heard the opening line of that song. After giving it a thorough listening, I will honestly say that it does have some real redeeming qualities. The lyrics unfold in a measured fashion, so that the meaning of the song isn't readily apparent. It's a breakup song with a hint of impotent rage as well as self-deprecation, which makes for a more complex scenario: the protagonist simply doesn't know where to place the blame in the jumble of emotions. That's not to say that there aren't a few awkward bits. For example, the line that goes, "These five words in my head/ Scream, 'Are we having fun yet?'" seems to imply that the five words are each screaming five more words, recursively. Perhaps it was intended to be interpreted that way, however.

A lot of people have asked me to ask you about the tambourine player, who seems very animated in the clip. Is he a secret Nickelback fan?

Tim Kubart, the tambourine player, has his own NYC-based kids' rock band called Tim and the Space Cadets. You'll have to peruse their tunes to determine to what extent Nickelback has influenced his writing.

Did you wind up seeing Nickelback's halftime performance at all? Any thoughts?

I missed it, unfortunately; I was driving out of town. But, I'm sure they did a great job—like them or hate them, there's got to be a reason for their popularity.

How do you think the band's sound would be changed were you to become a full-time member?

That sounds like it would make a good Saturday Night Live skit.

Are you playing any shows this month? Expecting any requests for your "How You Remind Me" cover?

I have two performances at the Manderley Bar at The McKittrick Hotel on December 5 and December 12, where I'll be performing ragtime mashups of current Billboard hits. Also, kind of in line with the Nickelback revamps, I'm doing the music for a genuinely creepy adaptation/transformation of Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical with Rock of Ages' Mitch Jarvis on December 7. I also perform at Robert Restaurant in Columbus Circle regularly. There is also an excellent chance of additional "A Motown Tribute to..." videos in the future.

To stay up-to-date with Bradlee's doings, you can follow him on Facebook.

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I'm guessing that she likes Nickelback.

Mitchina Soli
Mitchina Soli

Since I have already addressed the first issue of musical or artistic "taste" and how I can see right through the condescending "remake" and subsequent interview, the remaining issue of the truth about the facts is all that remains.

First of all, I highly doubt the facts being presented as the number of petitioning Detroit patrons was 55,000, where's the proof? Have a certified delivery of that petition do you? Or was it just an informal petition... on the net = the WORLD WIDE WEB. The entire purpose behind the whole "www." thing is that it includes the entire world, or did you not know this?

Secondly, even if ALL 55,000 were Detroit or even Michigan residence, still, the 55,000 number is all that one makes of it, which happens to be crapola.

Population of the world 6,978,100,000Population of the United States 312,691,000Population of Michigan approx. 10,079,985Population of Detroit 713,777 (which plunged 25% in the past decade)

This only proves that at the MOST it was a measly .077% (approx) that supposedly signed that petition and they have no taste. Good to see the overwhelming majority still does.

Third, out of the previous 6 thanksgiving day games in Detroit, the half time show was performed by anyone NOT a local:  Jesse McCartney, Mariah Carey, mary J Blige and the Goo Goos are all from New York, Bon Jovi from New Jersey, Mellenacmp from Indiana, John Fogerty from Calif and my, my, my... Enrique Inglesias was from SPAIN.

Plus, the ONLY thing that was really local was the "sound" of Detroit performed by OTHER people at the 2009 halftime show, the Motown 50 Medley. Only TWO are even from this country. Vita Chambers and Melanie Fiona were from Canada, Hal Linton and Shontell are from Barbados, Forever the Sickest Kids are from Dallas TX and KEM is from Nashville.

There is only ONE real Detroit local artist in the past 7 years; Kid Rock.  And get how ironic this is... Kid Rock and NB - specifically Chad Kroeger, are good friends - they have even collaborated and performed together. I am surprised we haven't seen the brawly night out on the town of them together like they always do when NB even gets close to Detroit.   Must have been Kid was out of town working or.. playing.

Now, ask those same 55,000 idiots if they are REALLY pissed off after being duped into liking something for the past 7 years that isn't "local". Kinda makes you sit back and wonder, at least it does me, why all the excuses for the hate stemming from them being Canadian?

You cannot deem what I have written here as merely my opinion with all these facts flying around.  Nor can you tell me I am wrong - the numbers and facts do not lie, just the loosers lie... like the so called 55,000 petitioners.  Maybe you and they should just hook up with the OWS crowd and find some ever so slight purpose in your lives.

Mitchina Soli
Mitchina Soli

It's a good thing you were "kind of kind' to Nickelback after THAT rendition of their song. So, yes. It takes all kinds of tastes and talents and there is plenty of both to go around so everyone can "kindly" dismiss what they choose is not to their liking. Why the big efin deal on this is beyond me. There is way too much hate in this world... and lousy renditions like this one obviously made out of the seeds of hate... get over yourselves.   This skit-skat-rat-pile-o-shit sound is not to my liking, but I am sure you please a lot of eggheads and wanna be's.  :)

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