RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW LA ARTIST BRENDAN BRADLEY
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
Introduce us to your work.
I’m known as the scrappy storyteller because I’m always working at the edge of my own abilities and using new technologies to reach new audiences, often without a budget. As a kid, I’d put my mother’s records on a loop and sing for hours, mostly to folk and singer-songwriters. I earned my first dollar as an artist when I was fourteen by performing a set of original songs at a small restaurant. I was in several groups in my teens that were short-lived and across genres – punk, folk, choir, classical, musical theatre – pretty much anyone who would give me a stage or a mic. I never really thought much about “my sound,” I was always just focused on telling the story of whatever music I was making in the moment.
I hear you have a new single, what can you tell us about it?
Yeah, ‘Reprogram Me’ is the first single from my first original musical, Non-Player Character with the full concept album out later this Summer. It’s a live show in virtual reality where I play an NPC of a fictional video game who sees the Hero die and asks the audience to help navigate the five stages of grief. The single is sung at the moment we first meet the NPC who tells the audience they weren’t programmed to handle the experience of death – because usually everything just starts over. It’s the classic “I want” song but as an electropop dance anthem while I literally pick the audience’s avatars up in my hand and sing to them as I carry them into the virtual world of the video game.
What? How does that work?
Technically? Who knows, man, I’m the artist! Just kidding – I’ve spent the last two years experimenting with web-based virtual reality. This allows almost any device to enter a 3D experience at a web url. So, I wear a vr headset on stage and sing with backing tracks while the audience can join on their own headset or computer or tablet and interact with me. It’s hard to explain, but you can test an example on my website.
Okay, what made you decide to write a musical for virtual reality?
During the pandemic, The Museum of Science in Boston invited me to perform a one-man-show using virtual technologies. Part of the show was me performing live in virtual reality. Afterwards they asked if I could create a longer show completely in vr for their Mugar Omni Theater to allow audience to wear headsets with me on-stage or watch on the giant, dome screen. I really wanted the process of entering and exiting the vr game to be part of the narrative of the show. So I actually wrote the ending first, coming up with a sung meditation to transition audience to take their headsets off and “return” them to the theater. It elevated the entire experience to have a great soundtrack and the raw connection of an actor singing while staring directly into the eyes of the audience.
Talk me through the process to write the music?
I basically put every video game and musical I’ve ever experienced into a blender and began singing melodies into my phone’s recorder app. I’d frankenstein some really weird compilations together and share them with my producer/arranger Maurice Soque Jr. He’s an absolute genius and has a similar appreciation for musical theater history so he’d pick out a scratch track to support my voice memos and we’d stumble back and forth until we found a hook. The single ‘Reprogram Me’ is an absolute bop thanks to Maurice pushing my vision of, “What if Wreck-It-Ralph was on Broadway?”
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the show?
Live performance in virtual reality requires you take on a role of “Actor-Guide,” that I wanted to invert by portraying a character without any agency who relied upon the audience to navigate me through open-world style gameplay. This breaks the show into two contradicting formats – I am improvising entirely with the audience, allowing them to take me where they want to go; and then using the musical numbers I can regain control to make sure we experience a complete journey. This means the songs had to be extremely polished and attention-grabbing so there wouldn’t be an awkward handoff or dropped energy. But that puts a lot of pressure on the music to be high quality and lyrically balanced, offering both instruction for what the audience needs to do next while being emotionally resonate.
What was the recording process like?
Insane. I’ve never been in a studio before. I was just performing the show live all over the world from my living room and Maurice suggested if I could perform anywhere, why not at Fever Recording Studio in North Hollywood? We strategically organized recordings to include some of the raw energy and responsiveness from the live show. The transition to recording also let Maurice and I start workshopping in-person, which accelerated our writing process and allowed us to become friends rather than internet collaborators.
Would you change anything now that its finished?
That’s the fun part, it’s never finished. Any musical goes through years of development and workshop productions. The theater is a living and breathing medium and there is never a “definitive” production of the show. I’m still performing live, both remotely and in-person, at film festivals, venues and private shows around the world and we keep finding new ways to explore the music and story of Non-Player Character. By the time the album comes, we’ll probably we writing new songs and characters based on audience feedback.
What was the most fun you’ve had performing the show?
The best part about the show is the audience. Seriously every single show is unique because they control the adventure. I am literally their sidekick, occasionally stopping us for a flashy musical number. Performing live on an IMAX dome screen with my avatar projected five stories above me was a high I didn’t know I needed. But as a Performer, there’s also a new energy with Non-Player Character that I’ve never experienced before on stage.
The traditional relationship between audience and performer is so clear and familiar. But because a few select audience members are on-stage with me, as avatars, controlling the story… a new relationship forms between the Spectators and those “player” audience members. I’m essentially the bridge between the audience and non-performers who are the star of a show they’ve never rehearsed. It’s the absolute coolest thing I’ve ever experienced – and it’s like falling in love with performing all over again.
What are your plans for the year ahead?
We’ll be performing Non-Player Character next in Palm Springs California and Twin Cities Minnesota. Anyone reading this should invite me to a theater near you or pick up tickets to a virtual show and I hope you’ll follow me for the journey and listen to ‘Reprogram Me’ a couple million times today on all streaming platforms.
Thanks for talking with us today, send this back on a word document and I’ll get it all ready for you.