A touch of Southern gothic with Georgian singer-songwriter James “Pony” Bradshaw
Pony Bradshaw, real name James Bradshaw, is a Georgia songwriter who has written a set of themed songs during lockdown and is releasing them as his second album, ‘Calico Jim’. Bradshaw has said “It is just about being a displaced Southerner, but not regretting it and not wanting to leave”. While this may sound like a concept album Bradshaw says it wasn’t planned that way, rather the songs simply had a consistency due to them being written over a concerted three month period. The songs are not necessarily autobiographical though Bradshaw has conceded he has included parts of himself in the songs. ‘Calico Jim’ was recorded in Arkansas with, as Bradshaw puts it, “less glamour, more nutrients” and have a simpler and cleaner sound than on his Rounder Records debut ‘Sudden Opera’. Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Pony Bradshaw to discuss the South of 2021, how he starts writing his songs, the fact that he spends more time reading literature than listening to music and how his music is influenced by all aspects of Southern culture.
Your debut album ‘Sudden Opera’ was only released in 2019. Did you have a lot of songs ready to record that enabled you to release a fairly quick follow-up?
Well, I tend to write a lot due to the fact that it’s my only job these days. I aim to keep it that way too, but you never know. To answer your question though, yes, I had a record’s worth of songs ready to go. Ironically, those aren’t what comprise Calico Jim. I wrote 7 or 8 of the songs on CJ over a three month period in the middle of the pandemic. We went into the studio fairly quickly after they were written and captured them the best we could. “Less glamour, more nutrients,” was my mantra or philosophy for CJ, and I suspect it will be for the subsequent records I make.
Your new album, ‘Calico Jim’, is it a concept album or just a collection of themed songs?
Calico Jim wasn’t meant to be a concept album, but the theme and content throughout was pretty consistent, which made it fairly easy to frame as a collection of closely related songs. Because they truly are.
The South is experiencing trouble times, particularly in Georgia. How much did today’s issues influence your songwriting?
I suppose current events enter into some folks’ songs naturally and some more overtly. I wasn’t really thinking about the politics and goings-on of my state, or the country, while writing it, but I see now that it might’ve been indirectly influenced by the national shitshow this past year.
How do you write your songs? Is it words first then music or does it vary?
I write lyrics first a lot of the time, but sometimes I’ll write a couplet that I like while playing a chord progression I’m digging. Then I’ll just build it up from there. I have no set structure that I always write within. Whatever works, really.
Who did the artwork for the album and did you provide a brief?
Russell Cook, a friend of mine from Rome, GA, did the artwork for Calico Jim. He’s an artist and art professor there at Georgia Highlands College. I hope we can continue this relationship. I have tentative plans to work with him on the next record as well. I like to keep everything as close to home as I can.
Where did you record the album and who with?
We made the record at Fellowship Hall Sound in Little Rock, AR. Cody Ray on guitar, Paddy Ryan on drums, Aaron Boehler on bass, and Philippe Bronchtein on pedal steel and keys. We cut it to tape over 6 humid Arkansas days in late summer. Jason Weinheimer, the owner of the studio, engineered and mixed the record.
Who are your main artistic influences?
That’s a tough question. It’s really just one big stew of influences. Songwriters, novelists, poets, painters, historians, folklorists, farmers, my children, my wife, and so on and so forth. They come and go in phases and stages.
The rise of streaming services is changing the way listeners consume music. Is streaming influencing you as a musician and if so how?
No. These streaming services play no part in determining how I write or release a record.
Do you think you will ever be tempted to write a novel?
I definitely have been tempted to try my hand at prose, and I’ve written some things in that vein, but I never pursue it seriously due to the fact that writing songs, making records, and touring is a full-time job. One of the two pursuits, music or literature, would most certainly suffer. I believe it could be done, but I don’t like to do things half-assed. Knowing that there could possibly be some quality control issues keeps me from writing anything other than songs at the moment.
What do you hope to be doing in 2021?
I hope to be touring this record (Calico Jim) and seeing the country in 2021. The kids want to get a few chickens for eggs and I aim to build a smokehouse in the backyard this spring. I’d like to fish more than I do and tend a small (successful) garden.
At AUK, we like to share music with our readers, so can you share which three artists or tracks are currently top three on your personal playlist?
I don’t have a playlist but these are three I like:
David Childers – Greasy Dollar
Jake Xerxes Fussell – The River St. Johns
The Handsome Family – So Much Wine.
Finally, do you want to say anything to our UK readers?
I hope I make it across the pond sooner than later. I’d love to play some shows and hang out for a month or so. & thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.