Who would do a bluegrass rendition of “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj, perform a Motown tribute to Nickelback or slow jam the theme song for “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”? Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox, that’s who.
Since 2009 Bradlee, a pianist, composer and arranger, been composing and arranging genre-melding mashups and posting performances of them to his ScottBradleeLovesYa YouTube channel. Over the past two years, though, his “re-imaginings,” as he calls them, have attracted a millions of viewers on YouTube. And he’s about to embark on a two-month, 34-city European tour – the biggest run of shows he’s booked since starting Postmodern Jukebox, an ongoing mashup collective featuring a revolving door of musicians.
But before they leave the States, Bradlee and Postmodern will play a few warm-up shows in the U.S., including a performance next Monday, Jan. 19, at The Birchmere. They’re also doing a run of shows on the West Coast.
“This is such a busy year of touring for us, that I’m kind of just living out of a suitcase,” Bradlee said. “I’m trying to get used to that because we’re gonna be on the road pretty much non-stop.”
They’ll likely play tunes from their latest album, Selfies on Kodachrome, which was released on Tuesday, but they also like to have the fluidity to do whatever they want on a given night. He said he and Postmodern Jukebox, are excited to go back to Europe – they’ve played a 20-show run there before – and he said that the group’s recent success is “an incredible feeling.”
“I started this when I was living out of a basement apartment in New York City and it just kind of a crazy idea of what would happen if we took pop music and re-imagined it in different eras,” Bradlee said. “And to see it take off like it has and have all these people get involved – awesome fans, in every city, that come to watch the videos and discuss them and come to the shows and dress vintage – it feels like we’re starting a movement. And I think it’s just an overwhelming feeling.”
Bradlee, who started out as a jazz pianist, said he was having trouble finding work as a pianist in New York City, but that he saw people successfully sharing their creative projects on YouTube. “And I said, well, I have some crazy ideas,” Bradlee said. “And I was fortunate to have some videos go viral in my early days of doing this and really gave me the motivation to stick with it.”
Although he calls his initial song concepts – arranging hits from the 1980s or 8-bit songs from Nintendo games as ragtime songs – “crazy,” the seed for Bradlee’s concept was planted in fertile ground. The late 2000s/early 2010s were a high-point for mashup and remix culture and the genre Bradlee was trained in, jazz, lends itself to transforming the old into something new.
Even the song that hooked Bradlee in as a fan and student of jazz music when he was 12, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue,” is one that originally melded genres and went on to be transformed by subsequent generations of musicians. “Pretty much every body that I’ve worked with on the instrumental side come from jazz backgrounds,” Bradlee said.
“And with jazz you have that fluidity. You can change things, you can re-imagine stuff, the tradition of jazz, even in the 1930s and 40s, was to take the popular music of the day, which were Broadway songs, and flip them into jazz. That’s essentially the idea of Postmodern Jukebox…taking popular music of the day and putting our own spin on it.”
• For more information about Postmodern Jukebox, visit postmodernjukebox.com.