As a composer, producer and singer-songwriter, there's no denying that D.S. Bradford is a man of many talents. Having just released his new EP Elemental Evolution, as well as composed the music for new video game Saga Of Lucimia, 2016 has quite possibly been his busiest year to date. However, with plans already in the pipeline for 2017, Bradford's showing no sign of reducing his work-load any time soon and kindly agreed to this interview to chat musical inspirations, composing and his thoughts on the positives and negatives of social media.
PopWrapped: You've composed the music for new video game Saga Of Lucimia. What can you tell me about your score for it and the game as a whole? What made you want to get involved?
D.S. Bradford: Saga Of Lucimia is a wonderfully imaginative game based on the four-book series by our creator and executive producer, Tim Anderson. I first heard of the project from my long-time friend, producer Giovanni Martello. As I watched the earliest developments unfold, I thought to myself the one thing I hadn't really seen -- or heard -- was music. We started talking about it, and I put together a quick demo, which was well-received and put me in a position to become a part of the team of the talented individuals creating the game itself. Subsequently, I became a co-founder of Stormhaven Studios, along with the other members who helped to shape the title from the very beginning.
The story-line is well-constructed, and the scenery from the recent builds have been inspiring a lot of musical interpretation. This is new ground for me as a musician and has allowed for me to become more versatile as an artist. The game hasn't been released yet, but there is plenty of information and content on YouTube and on our site to absorb. The community built around this game and the anticipation has been both humbling and astounding. It really is quite a spectacular feat for a team of our size, and the talent is incredible. I'm eagerly awaiting the launch and finally seeing everything come together.
PW: You've also just released an EP called Elemental Evolution, which is a concept alternative prog-rock album. How does creating music in this way differ from the way you make compositions for other projects, such as Saga Of Lucimia?
DSB: The funny thing about art is that you may never know what you're capable of until you try it. Before Saga Of Lucimia, I was writing rock songs. That was something I was already comfortable doing. As I became more involved and inspired by the content and the story, I began to experiment with different elements and learned how to group the different voices from orchestral instruments to express a whole different side of myself. Of course, I was largely inspired by the story and characters, as well as the geographical regions, but I have been given so much creative freedom, and that has allowed for some really interesting revelations.
I've always loved classical music because I grew up in that kind of household, with both of my parents being vocalists. I learned how to read music and played the trumpet before I switched to guitar and became a fan of rock and the grunge of that era. I had no idea that the music and ideas I was exposed to as a young child would still be with me, remaining dormant in my mind until the time when opportunity came to set them free. The connection between that and the direction I went with Elemental Evolution is evident, as it was intended to flow in movements rather than a collection of songs that aren't conceptually connected. Each song has its place in the story, and [they] are tied together with these ethereal, almost mechanical transmissions of sounds and notes. The narrative songs are structured as one might be used to hearing in rock and pop music, but there are the elements that steer away from the contemporary and give off more of an avant-garde vibe. I have the experience of composing to thank for the ability to branch out and create a new sound. The process wasn't the same as writing other albums, and that was refreshing to me.
PW: The EP is based on the pitfalls of the human existence, which I think we can both agree on there being a few of, but, in general, what are the top ones you write about and are influenced by?
DSB: Well, at first, the story begins with the dark side of being human. Some people have demons, and I've had my own. There was a long period of time where I struggled with alcohol, and it took everything I had to turn my life around. I equated that to the grand scheme of humanity as a whole and our urgent need to bring the value back to our morals and being accountable for the way we think and act toward each other. I also write about my excitement and anticipation of becoming a father and being given a second chance at life by being an example to my son, so not everything on the album is about doom and gloom.
The main point of these songs, and the current events that were unfolding as these songs were taking shape, is finding love and beauty, sifting through the horror to find that one thing that can give humanity a chance, and not living in fear of people who are different from you. Every single one of us on this planet deserves to be happy and deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, no matter where they came from or who they decide to pray to, if at all. I was filled with lofty ideas of a Utopian place where no one knew what hate was because we evolved to a point where that idea was finally shed to make way for absolute purity. Now, I know I'm not single-handedly going to change the world, and I'm not naive enough to believe any one thing that a person does can achieve this, but imagine -- for a moment -- if this could happen. It would be nice if every story had a happy ending, but that's up to us, isn't it?
PW: Society is ever-changing, as is the music industry, so how hard/easy do you find it to keep what you write about in your songs fresh and exciting for those who listen to them?
DSB: I totally agree with that statement. We all need to continue climbing up and evolving in order to survive, for sure. As an artist, this is especially important because -- even for my own sake -- to keep it fresh from my perspective, I have to explore different ways to express ideas. I love to connect with lyrics the most because I enjoy writing in general. Being a multi-instrumentalist also allows for me to be able to express the same idea in different ways, and the end result can be interesting because, listening back, another emotion can be pushed to the surface, and another piece is written from that and the cycle continues. I like to explore different instrumentation when it comes to writing rock, alternative, progressive, or however it’s labeled. I mean, I love to play the guitar, and a lot of those songs are driven by the guitar, but it’s the subtle touch of a piano here or a string section there or a quick dub-step drop during a live drum fill -- which actually occurs during “Oceans” -- the possibilities are endless.
We live in an age where anyone can put any instrument into a song. If I want a didgeridoo in a song, I’ll put a didgeridoo in a song. As far as the content goes, my songs develop from an idea, a theme. "Elemental Evolution" was revealed to me when I woke up suddenly one night and had the lyrics to the song being recited loudly in my head. It was really strange, and I know it sounds strange, but that is what happened. The title track was the piece of the puzzle that made all of the other songs make sense and what tied the concept together. Will that happen for every album? Not very likely. What I do know is that I am inspired everyday. Whether it’s a conversation I have with someone, an event that affects the world, how I’m feeling, or a milestone that my son achieves, inspiration comes from everywhere. Being ready with the senses to receive and interpret then communicating it back to you with music is where the success lies.
PW: Have you any upcoming performances you can tell me about?
DSB: I've spent a lot of time this year performing live. I actually have one performance at Parx Casino in Bensalem, Pennsylvania on November 27th. I am also performing at a cancer benefit that my uncle created and has been at the helm of for over 20 years called The Christmas Dogs Of War, in December. After that, I’m focusing on the rest of the video post-production and, of course, the holidays. 2017 is going to be a great year, and there will be more news as everything is solidified. Keep a lookout on Facebook and Twitter, and be sure to sign up for the newsletter via my website for the earliest updates.
PW: As well as being a song-writer, artist and composer, you're also a producer, working on the video for your new single "A Call To The Stars II: A Home In The Sky". How did you come up with the ideas you've made a reality in the video, and is producing in this way something you're keen to do more of?
DSB: I’ve learned to be really resourceful as a D.I.Y. artist, so, if I wanted to do something, I had to learn how to do it. I’m always eager to learn because I want to keep my mind sharp for as long as I possibly can throughout life. It also helps other people because the skills I’ve picked up have resulted in doing graphic design projects, web design, illustration, and sound production. As far as the video production is concerned, I’ve worked hard to learn how to use Adobe tools and used them to create some pretty cool promo videos and images.
I started out as an illustrator first, and I love to draw, which is evident in the cover art for Elemental Evolution. This kind of presentation will always be included in my projects, and I’ll continue to find new ways to explore that creative outlet, as well. The idea for the treatment that is becoming the video came about from the overall meaning of the song and the culmination of all of the songs within Elemental Evolution. It is quite a long song, so there were plenty of directions this could have gone.
Without giving too much away, there will be performance sequences throughout the video. It is set in the future, with a lot of cosmic imagery and surreal special effects to that end. The most important part of the video will be the people holding up the lyrics like signs you would see during protests, only, instead of the negative diatribe one might see -- and I know protests aren’t always hateful -- it will be the lyrics to the song that echo sentiments of human connection, evolving into people that love one another wholly and without question or favor given to one type of person or another. Everyone is an equal human being. That is the idea, and that is the message I hope everyone feels when this premieres.
PW: So far you've gotten your friends Vino Alan of X-Factor USA and Josh Eppard from Coheed and Cambria involved, but who would you most like to see featured in one of your videos and why?
DSB: Yes, I am incredibly grateful that these two gentlemen have graciously volunteered to help make this project something special. Vino is a fantastic person and immensely talented. Everyone saw him on television, including myself -- this is true. After that was all said and done, it was everything he did after that that really made me a fan of his ART. Right now, he is raising funds to launch a tour to travel and provide musical healing to people who suffer from addiction. That’s something that hits close to home for me, and I applaud him for it. His involvement in my project is an honor.
Josh Eppard is the drummer of my all-time favorite band, and I look up to them a lot. Not only is he also an insanely gifted drummer, but his lyrics and delivery as Weerd Science are just otherworldly. And, with all of the success that he’s had, he is still one of the most receptive people I’ve ever met and just a really cool and easy-going person. I feel so much gratitude for the both of them for their help. The reason why I respect them so much is because they create art, and they don’t compromise their characters in order to do so. It takes courage to do that, and I respect that.
As for who else I’d like to see in a video, I’m not quite sure yet. I’ve always been a fan of Serj Tankian because of his music and self-expression within his art, even his paintings. His values and beliefs in humanity come to mind, too. I like to work with like-minded people. Who knows? Maybe someday.
PW: When it comes to creating videos, which other artists, producers and directors most inspire you?
DSB: I could go on for hours about all of the videos I love, but I’ll narrow it down to three. Manchester Orchestra -- “Simple Math” directed by DANIELS. The way that is shot and everything that is going on with the motion and effects between the cut scenes is really incredible. The song is so powerful, as well, and the visuals really compliment it perfectly. I recommend watching it.
The second would be Coheed And Cambria -- “The Broken”, which was directed by WeWereMonkeys -- Mihai Wilson and Marcella Moser. That is such a hard-hitting song with some really powerful animated imagery. It was really well done, and I felt like I was actually immersed in that world, almost lost in it. I love it.
The last one I would say is Michael Jackson -- “Black Or White”, directed by John Landis. That is such a classic video and really well done with the most cutting edge tech at the time, and it still gives me a good feeling when I watch it. It reminds me of when I was a kid and really unaware of racial inequality or any other type of hate or intolerance. Watching it now, the same message still rings true to this day, and it is actually something that I am trying to convey in my own way. It’s very inspirational.
PW: If you had to choose between your impressive career paths, which would you favor most and why? And, with that in mind, how fortunate do you feel to be able to do all three?
DSB: I think if I had to choose one and only one, I would have to go with composing music. I find a really relaxing quality about it that I don’t have in rock music, although I absolutely love writing and performing rock songs. It is just something that I think I can see myself doing for far longer than performing on a stage. I look up to people like John Graham, Sean Beeson, Danny Elfman, James Horner, John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and all of the great composers of our time and all of the memorable pieces they’ve created that I will always remember them for.
Each one of them has, and have had, that “calling card” that, when you heard it, you instantly know who was behind that note in that one scene that made it so memorable. I really feel like music gets lost sometimes, but it gets into the subconscious, and, whether you know it is happening or not, it is enhancing the experience. It is a delicate and intense form of art. I would be happy doing that for the rest of my professional career. Of course, I would love to do everything that I am doing now, but composing music is something that I truly think I could see myself doing for a very long time.
PW: How, if at all, does and has social media impacted your work? To what extent has it helped get your name out there, and do you think it's a useful tool for those in the industry?
DSB: Social media has surely helped introduce me and my work to a vast number of people who otherwise wouldn’t have been reached if I had started my career any earlier. In some ways, it is a great thing. In other ways, it is more challenging to cut through the noise. If you have something worthwhile, though, eventually you can definitely build an audience. Once that happens, continuous engagement is key. It’s not easy to keep up all the time, but you can always tell when someone is making an effort.
Twitter is one of the easiest ways I’ve ever connected with anybody. Whether I’m talking to fellow Coheed And Cambria fans, composers, friends, industry folks, other artists, gamers, people interested in Saga Of Lucimia, and, of course, fans -- it’s where I’m most engaged. I use Facebook mostly for getting longer news out there, and it’s great for getting attendance for events. WhoSay is another one that I was just recently invited to use as a public figure.
Social media has also allowed me to secure endorsements from companies like StayblCam, who are supporting me with equipment to help make my videos even better. So far, it’s worked out pretty well.
PW: Would you also agree there can be a darker side to the internet and social media? Have you had any personal experiences of such?
DSB: I would absolutely be inclined to agree that with everything good, there is always someone who takes that and uses it for bad. That’s true with a lot of things throughout history, and social media is no exception. Unfortunately, it has become a haven for anonymous bashing of other people by people who I think are cowards. Some of the offenders don’t realize that what they say can hurt people, even if they aren’t said face to face. I’m all for freedom of speech, but there is a line that people either don’t see or don’t care to see when it comes to bullying other people, and that has to stop. Some people go through bullying in their actual everyday lives and use social media to escape from that and make friends with common interests, only to be abused online, too. Then where do they have to turn? It’s really sad.
I understand that the social network platforms themselves are taking measures to curb or stop abuse, and Twitter verification comes to mind here, but it doesn’t solve everything. People have opinions and we embrace that because we are all different and we are entitled to those. We are also all entitled to respect. This goes back to the whole meaning behind my album and its message. We need to put aside our differences so that everyone can feel safe no matter where they are. I’m not getting political here, this is just something we need to change as people if we want to advance. I haven’t had anything personally happen to me, but I’m sure I will one day, and the only response I’ll have is one of understanding.
PW: Finally, are there any other projects in the pipeline you can tell me about?
DSB: I’m always writing. My guitarist, Jon Sheairs, and I have things cooking and some ideas knocking about. As time goes by, those will be revealed. As for music for Saga Of Lucimia, there will be a lot more of that in the coming months as we gear up for the launch.
Bradford's EP Elemental Evolution is available now on iTunes.