200 shows every year.
Small towns. Big cities. From the deep South to the Big Apple. What does America look like to a touring musician?
Name: Will Bradford
Hometown: Bangor, Maine
Current Residence: Portland, Maine
Living Situation: Above-garage apartment with girlfriend
Occupation: Musician and lead singer of band, SeepeopleS
Photo caption: This photo is from the music video for the band’s new single, “Blink”, off the forthcoming album, ‘Field Guide For Survival In This Dying World,’ which is due for release in early 2021. (Credit: Chelsea Toussaint)
You’ve been touring America as a live musician for more than twenty years, and you typically play 200 shows annually, in big cities and small towns. You really get to meet all kinds of people. How has the country changed since the late ‘90s?
It’s gotten worse. The racism has always been there; it’s just been stewing for so long. When Trump rose through the ranks as this populist character it was electrifying for people, and it was noticeable that things got worse in 2016. One of the worst things that I witnessed, outside of Pittsburgh, was a fight that I had to intervene in where a Black guy was getting beaten up and harassed in front of two white police officers who had just been sitting in their car watching the whole thing.
Just last week I had a terrifying incident where my girlfriend and I were walking in the woods in rural Maine. We met a double amputee veteran who was armed on an ATV. He talked about eating humans, human flesh, preferring dark meats. He talked about how there is no joy until you cut humans with a machete. We listened to him talk about eating me and raping my girlfriend for about twenty minutes before another person came along, just in time, and we were able to run away. This guy was already on the police’s radar, and he was clearly very mentally ill. It was an intensely scary experience, but I’ve already forgiven the guy in my head. As a double amputee from war, I can imagine he has plenty of things to be upset about, as well as obvious mental illness. These people should be on the path to addressing their mental illness, but now they have been liberated to justify their thoughts and stoke the fires on places like Facebook.
There was a whole portion of the American electorate that was shocked that Donald Trump was elected. Given your travels across the country leading up to the 2016 presidential election, were you surprised he won?
Not even remotely.
2015 and 2016 were two of those years where we were on tour almost the entire year, so we ran into the presidential campaigns all of the time. I went through every state at least two or three times in 2016, and there were Trump signs everywhere. To me, that’s real. It’s one thing to follow him on Twitter, but if someone walks to the end of their massively long driveway on one of these huge properties to put a sign where everyone will see it, they really mean that.
I protested at two Trump rallies. During one of them the cops were removing me for protesting when this little old lady, like an 80 year-old, pushed through a huge crowd of security guards to get up in my face, grab me, and say “Kill the Mexicans.” And I laughed, because I’m half Thai, but she clearly thought I was Mexican. This lady just had to get her hatred off her chest. That’s real. That’s real hatred.
How have you seen the pandemic impacting the music industry?
This moment is hard! There are times in history where certain industries change, evolve, and disappear. America is full of former boom-towns that are now ghost towns. But it’s strange to have an entire industry, across the board, disappear all at once.
I’m lucky because I write my own songs, have copyrights, and my band, SeepeopleS, is an LLC, that kind of thing. But the reality is that most musicians don’t have these things, and they’re slaves to the gig economy. Everyone is used to adjusting their hustle and hustling harder, but nobody was prepared for there not being a way to hustle at all. Facebook Live and stuff like that just isn’t the same; it’s like telling a cupcake baker “Well you can still sell cupcakes, just without frosting! And I’m sure that everyone will love your frosting-less cupcakes!” even though that’s not what you do, it’s not what they’re prepared for. It’s also just not the same paycheck as packing a room full of people that show up, drink alcohol, and buy merchandise.
We’re also seeing clubs and venues closing all over the place. In places like New York there will definitely be turnover, but those places will eventually bounce back. In the rest of America, especially smaller towns, it’s tragic to see these beloved places close down because they’re the only option for their community when it comes to culture and like-minded people.
Photo caption: Another photo from the music video. This new album will be the band’s 8th release. (Credit: Chelsea Toussaint)
What do you want to take to the other side of this?
As doom and gloom as I think things are going right now, I look around and I see massive awakenings happening faster than ever before. I was so encouraged at some of the Black Lives Matter protests I attended to see brave parents who recognized that going to these events and absorbing this knowledge, despite the risk of COVID, is providing their kids with an essential education. If you look at the history of pandemics, what followed was an amazing period of upward social mobility and opportunity. I see a collective awakening and an enormous opportunity that could be revolutionary.