Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits

Scott Bradlee and his rotating cast of singers and musicians redo current songs — from Radiohead to Katy Perry — for a bygone era.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Mon Nov 16 2015

Shaken, not stirred.

No, we’re not talking about James Bond martinis, but the entertaining and imaginatively radical rearrangements of prevailing pop, rock and rap classics by New Jersey-raised pianist Scott Bradlee and musical combo Postmodern Jukebox, appearing at Massey Hall on Monday.

Musically speaking, Bradlee applies the same principle to his renditions of famous tunes that 007 does to his celebrated drink: throws all the ingredients into a metaphorical tumbler, tosses them into a bygone era, and then serves them up with a rotating cast of 60 singers and musicians, ranging from American Idol finalists Haley Reinhart and Casey Abrams to Puddles, a six-foot-eight baritone cabaret singer in full clown costume.

Imagine Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” rearranged as a breathless, banjo-infested ragtime-era hoedown, or Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” reworked as a ’50s doo-wop number. Sometimes Bradlee switches up time signatures or inserts a few bars of another tune in the middle of a song, as he did with Wham!’s “Careless Whisper,” speeding up its tempo and briefly detouring into Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and “Message In a Bottle” by the Police.

You can hear and see them — along with 159 other revamped tunes — on Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox YouTube channel, which boasts 1.6 million subscribers and is updated Thursdays.

Bradlee, 34, says he can retrofit practically any song or style. Witness the first five songs PMJ performed at the Great Hall in Toronto in June 2014, their first live show ever: Europe’s “The Final Countdown,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop,” Swedish House Mafia’s “Don’t You Worry Child,” Kesha’s “Die Young” and the “Gummi Bears Theme Song.”

“Basically, the process involves picking out a song for its lyrics,” Bradlee explains. “I pick apart the lyrics and the structure of the song to see if there’s anything that would suggest it being recorded in an earlier era.
“For instance, ‘My Heart Will Go On,’ everybody knows it from the movie Titanic; it’s a Céline Dion song. But if you look at the lyrics, it’s essentially a ’50s song: it has that flowery language of “my heart will go on” and that’s something you can definitely hear sung by somebody like Jackie Wilson.
“So you’re hearing something familiar in a completely different context and it still works.”

Bradlee admits that some songs have him stymied.

“We never did a cover of ‘Uptown Funk’ because it already has the classic feel of ’70s funk. Mark Ronson is such a brilliant producer and Bruno Mars is a great vocalist; how do you write something new with that? It’s already classic.”

For Massey Hall, the show will feature “four or five vocalists,” a horn section and a tap dancer.

“If you were to go back in time to the Golden Age of Hollywood and you’re going to a New Year’s Eve party, it’s the kind of party that Frank Sinatra would go to,” Bradlee says.

 

Postmodern Jukebox turns back the clock on pop hits | Toronto Star

Postscript: Ironically, Scott Bradlee was the one person missing from the Postmodern Jukebox appearance at Massey Hall that featured Haley Reinhart, Casey Abrams and others. Franchise experimentation, perhaps?

Violinist Lindsey Stirling credits YouTube with meteoric rise

In four short years, the classical crossover sensation reached the top with the help of viral videos.

Nick Krewen

Music, Published on Fri Jun 13 2014

In four short years, classical crossover sensation Lindsey Stirling has gone from anonymity to star stature without the help of the usual star-making machinery.

There is no major label, prominent manager, radio station or concert promoter that can claim responsibility for the elfin dubstep violinist’s meteoric rise to fame. Even her 2010 appearance on America’s Got Talent, which averaged 7 million viewers a night and saw her reach the quarter-finals before getting turfed by judges Piers Morgan and Sharon Osbourne, had a negligible impact on her career.

So what is the primarily catalyst that has allowed the Santa Ana, Calif.-born Stirling, who appears at the Kool Haus on Saturday night, to independently release two best-selling albums (her latest, Shatter Me, entered The Billboard 200 retail chart at #2, debuting the same week on the Canadian album charts at #5), tour the world, collaborate with stars like John Legend and Christina Perri and snag Lady Gaga’s former manager?

YouTube.

Since the May 18, 2011, launch of the California native’s Lindseystomp YouTube channel and her first original song, “Spontaneous Me,” Stirling has amassed more than 600 million views and almost 5 million subscribers with a 64-video mixture of originals, cover songs (her rendition of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” has been seen more than 72 million times) and downright tomfoolery.

It’s certainly an unexpected windfall for the 27-year-old Stirling, who admits her career was in tatters, especially after America’s Got Talent, before YouTube kick-started it into overdrive.

America’s Got Talent has this huge audience around the world, and when I was on the show, I thought it would change my life,” Stirling recounted Tuesday over the phone from a Louisville, Ky., tour stop.

“But after that, the world had completely forgotten that I had existed and I went back to square zero. I kept hustling for six months and doing things like getting really low-key gigs at college campuses, playing at noon in cafeterias.”

Fate intervened when filmmaker Devin Graham, known professionally as Devin Super Tramp, a YouTube viral video maker, reached out.

“He said, ‘Hey, I would love to make a music video for you — I think you’re really talented and I want to put it on my YouTube channel,’ ” Stirling remembers. “I didn’t quite understand what the incentive was for him and I didn’t really know what YouTube was and what it could do for people.

“But we did the video (“Spontaneous Me”) and I was amazed. As soon as he put it up on his channel, my music, which was just sitting around on iTunes, suddenly started to sell. People were requesting more of my songs and they were loving and sharing them.

“I was amazed that putting out that one video on a YouTube channel by some random guy would do more for me and sell more tracks than America’s Got Talent. It all just blew my mind.”

It helped that Graham and Stirling, who both studied filmmaking at Utah’s Brigham Young University, made world-class videos on shoestring budgets.

“For the first year, I didn’t have any money,” says Stirling. “So luckily, I went to BYU and made a lot of talented friends. I helped them on their projects; they helped me on mine.

“Also, I had the skills: I knew how to produce; I knew how to edit. All I needed was a cinematographer and pretty locations. If you notice, the first year of my videos are almost all shot outside, because I lived in Utah, which is beautiful. I’d go to these hiking trails that were 15 minutes from my house. And I’d go with Devin, who was my boyfriend for the first year, and he’d film all my videos for free. Then I’d direct, edit and produce them. So pretty much for the first year of my channel, my videos were all free.”

Stirling’s fan base grew like wildfire, charmed by her self-choreographed vignettes that showcased music incorporating elements of hip-hop, Skrillex-influenced EDM, dubstep and electronica, as well as her charismatic and photogenic personality, as her songs “Transcendence,” “Electric Daisy Violin,” “Shadows” and “Crystallize” began racking up impressive numbers.

Corporations began to take notice and offered to underwrite certain videos.

“Once we started to make a name for ourselves, people started to reach out and offer to fly me and Devin places,” Stirling explains. “They saw us as a team. A travel company paid all our expenses and paid us on top of it to make a video and go to Kenya. The same thing happened in New Zealand. That was the amazing thing — once we were creating such high-quality content, we were able to fund our travels.”

The couple has since split personally and professionally, but the Stirling juggernaut keeps rolling, with videos that alternate among her own originals, covers of pop hits and video game scores. The videos are often tagged at the end with personal endorsements for products provided by her sponsors.

Stirling, who first picked up the violin at age 5, says she has no issue with pushing brands.

“I don’t have a problem with it and my fans don’t have a problem with it, because they all know I’m an independent artist,” Stirling explains. “This is just my way or being able to do what I do, and my fans are very supportive of that. They know that’s the way a lot of YouTubers survive. As long as it doesn’t taint my art, or it isn’t some shameless promotion in the middle of a video, and as long as I can create my art the way I want and I’m not ashamed of the brands I’m promoting, I’m good.”

She may have a point: YouTube income has gifted her with artistic freedom and allowed her to bypass major labels.

“It’s kind of funny that when I was starting out and trying to make it, I went to all the labels and I was turned away,” Stirling recalls. “Nobody was interested. Now that I’m doing it and I’ve been able to prove that it works, they’re all knocking down my door.

“But I don’t need them anymore, I really don’t, because I’ve figured out how to do it by cutting out the middleman, and I love it. I love the fact that I have 100 per cent creative control. I love that I can self-fund everything. I don’t have anybody I’m indebted to. No one colours what I do. It’s awesome. I love it and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“I stumbled upon YouTube because I didn’t know what else to do, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Violinist Lindsey Stirling credits YouTube with meteoric rise | Toronto Star