Every now and again, things just work themselves out. A few short weeks ago, Brad Ferguson, the Vancouver solo artist known simply as Bradley, was scrambling to secure a Calgary show. He had Edmonton booked for a Friday, Banff locked in the following Sunday and an empty Saturday slot staring him down. Now, his dance card is fully booked, and as an added bonus, he’ll be joined by highly esteemed West Coast violin juggernaut Jesse Zubot for the do-si-dos in both Banff and Calgary (sorry, Edmonton). How’s that for things working out?
“I’m flying straight from Toronto to Calgary on the day of the show,” says Zubot, calling from a tractor seat on his family’s lentil farm. “It just kind of worked out. Usually, it wouldn’t, but it just kind of did this time. It’ll be fun.”
Post-harvest, Zubot is off to Ontario for a quick tour with his band, Fond of Tigers, before zipping back for the two southern Alberta shows.
The pair has been friends for over 10 years, with Ferguson even playing bass for Zubot’s famed Canadian instrumental-roots duo, Zubot and Dawson. Since then, each have gone their separate way — and in very different directions.
Ferguson, with his Bradley project, exchanged his bass for a laptop computer, a synthesizer and an old Harmony arch-top guitar (“a weird, old, kind of crappy guitar that sounds pretty good,” says Zubot). Zubot, on the other hand, is sought-after producer whose expansive, improvisatorial playing has graced the work of diverse artists such as Veda Hille, Tanya Tagaq, Justin Rutledge and even Raffi. He’s also released nearly 30 discs on his own self-managed Drip Audio label, including Bradley’s latest, MountainTigerWolf.
MountainTigerWolf is a minor masterpiece. Recorded, for the most part, in Ferguson’s apartment studio, it jarringly transitions from spacious, angsty ballads to catchy-as-hell electrobeat-backed pop songs. The contrast of upbeat dance numbers with quiet moments of jaw-dropping beauty works well for Ferguson; this is surprising, especially as just a few years ago, he didn’t even consider himself a songwriter.
“The whole computer thing has changed my life,” he says with a mild chuckle. “It made me switch from playing bass in other bands to actually feeling like I had a creative outlet. I pat my computer on the back on a daily basis.”
And that creative outlet first gave us Ferguson’s project Joystick, created in collaboration with Coco Love Alcorn, followed in 2007 by his first solo disc, Pink Pill Program.
“The computer became my writing tool even before I could play guitar,” he says. “I just kind of taught myself how to play guitar so I could back myself up live.”
Last spring, Ferguson embarked on an extensive solo Canadian tour to promote MountainTigerWolf. And while the tour was considered a success, Ferguson seems to be relishing the opportunity to share the stage with Zubot, who has only played one Bradley show in the past.
And, for a taste of the magic these two are capable of creating, check out MountainTigerWolf’s gorgeous cover of Great Aunt Ida’s “Little Voice” — a beautiful song addressing serious mental illness.
“I had the track with a space that I needed filled… I was hoping for strings,” Ferguson says. “(Zubot) basically just said ‘Loop the song and press record.’ Then he goes in the other room and starts playing all these tracks, like 12 or 15 (of them).”
“I’m thinking he’s just testing out a bunch of stuff, then he’s going to come in, pick one and work on that,” he adds. “I hear him drop his bow and he runs into the room, turns on all the tracks and that’s what’s on the album.”
This might all sound too easy, but Zubot corroborates the story.
“I didn’t think about it too much,” he says. “I kind of like to work like that these days. I try not to think about things too much — just let them happen — and they go where they want to go, naturally, instead of deconstructing things too much.”
That approach, as it turns out, had Ferguson more than impressed.
“It fucking blew my mind, actually. Seriously, all those counterpoints, he had basically heard in his head and played them, one by one,” marvels Ferguson. “Literally, 12 passes through the section and it was all there!”
The duo promises a similar spontaneity when they perform together live.
“My stuff will be pretty much all improvised. There’s a few tracks I’ll probably just copy from the disc,” says Zubot.
“Even if we had a chance to rehearse, I don’t know if I would,” counters Ferguson. “Whatever he wants to do, it’s gonna sound good.”