Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox: The 13th Floor Interview

One of the world’s most popular internet acts is returning to our shores in October.  By giving modern top 40 songs a vintage twist they’ve developed developed a unique style and sound.  They’ve built reputation through YouTube clips backed up by some highly entertaining stage shows. Featuring tap dancing versions of Taylor Swift songs; double act bass playing renditions of Meagan Traenor numbers and even lounge renditions of the Cars’ most electronic of pop hits.  Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox is definitely one of the most unique acts you’ll see this year.  Tim Gruar has a chat to founder and grand ringmaster Scott Bradlee about the new tour and how it all started.

When I call up Scott I’m left on hold for just a little too long. When I finally geI through I joke about the hold music, a Muzak version of Wind Beneath My Wings, was just awful “We should have done it,” “he quips “I’m sure we could get into that if the going gets tough.  We could have done that one as swing tune or a torch ballad.”  He’s right, though any song , done right can be a classic or just plain terrible.  It’s all about the delivery.  Scott Bradlee has made a career out of turning our favourite karaoke material into 1920’s swing or vaudeville or a Frank Sinatra, Edith Piaf or even Serge Gainsborough take.  On camera and on stage he’s the quiet one, playing piano, mostly, in the corner whilst a host of performers do cameo appearances, acting up, dressed in their finest silk dresses and bow ties.

If you haven’t seen his work, then I’d recommend you search out a clip of the 7ft tall Puddles the Clown doing a torch song rendition of Lorde’s Royals accompanied by a small swing band and back up singers in what looks like lush and classy 1920’s Manhattan apartment.

“He was this guy that came along to my house in California where we make the videos and performed the song.  He was fully dressed up in make up, too.  Imagine opening the door and seeing a giant clown on your doorstep. You’d think he’d be scary but not really.  His usual act is at a nightclub, where he doesn’t speak or sing but he gets the audience to help him with ‘tricks’.  Usually he mimes.”  Apparently, Ella really dug Puddles’ vintage take on her hit single

“He’s just one of a group of performers with special skills that they don’t often get to try out.  Every single one of our cast members has unique ‘superpowers’.  She since I started they’ve just been finding me and I get to put together best combination of abilities and personalities to create an amazing experience for our fans.  Things like juggling and tap dancing. In our videos and on stage they all bring something unique.”

Bradley’s referring to the ever-growing collective of performers – of which he has a a roster of over 70 rotating cast members – some who tour and some who perform in YouTube videos.  The tours are immensely popular.  The last time PMJ was in New Zealand, 2016 there was a consecutive tour going on in Europe.  No wonder the shows are popular their videos have garnered upto 500 million YouTube views and have 2 million subscribers.  They’ve performed on Good Morning America, and topped iTunes and Billboard charts

It all started in high school, Bradlee tells me.  “I was living in Pattenburg, New Jersey, and just goofing around.  I had a bit of a party trick.  I’d take current Top 40 hits of the day and re-imagine like they were from my grandparent’s era.  I’d mainly do it on piano.  I like to still do that now.”

In one such remake, Postmodern Jukebox turned Miley Cyrus’ We Can’t Stop into a doo-wop ditty that got over 15.6 million views.  “Last year, we re-arranged Radiohead’s Creep into torch song, which it kinda is if you slow it way down, and listen to the lyrics”. That one also did well, racking up 16.9 million views and named one of the 9 Best Viral Cover Videos by People magazine.  But who’s counting?

Ok, so it’s clear that online media has made this thing the phenomenon it’s now become.  But where did the idea to go online come from? Why not just perform in a bar or in a band?  Isn’t that the way it goes?  Bradlee laughs.  “Yeah.  It should be. I’d moved to Queens, NYC, in 2009.  I was doing a bit of playing and stuff but not really doing that. I posted my first video (Hello My Ragtime ’80s – which incorporated ragtime-style piano versions of 1980s hits).”

After playing and experimenting on stage at his regular downtown restaurant gig he released made the compilation Mashups by Candlelight and even worse (he laughs at this) A Motown Tribute to Nickelback. “That was so fun to do.  We did it as a collaboration with some local musicians which arranged Nickelback’s songs in the style of the 1960s R’n’B.  I think Neil Gaiman saw some of these and re-posted.  It went viral.  And now seven years later, we’ve amassed 2 million subscribers.  The early videos, we all crammed into my little apartment.  It had an old world feel about it.  What you can’t see is how we were all crammed in.  Now I’m in LA and I have better place… ” If you look at the more recent videos, it’s like they are shot in an opulent art nouveau 5th Avenue penthouse.  “Yeah, it’s an old villa, so it is a great place to film.  It gives the right vibe, for sure.”

What’s the craziest style PMJ has taken on.  “Probably Grime or Drum and Bass.  We also do a range of disco tunes, too.  We love surprising our audiences with different variations.  They really have no idea what we’ll choose.  It could be Bieber or Ga Ga.  We want them to experience what it was like to be at the New Years’ Eve show that Sinatra would have hosted in the 40s. We want them to feel the excitement of hearing the greats of Motown live and up close.  A Postmodern Jukebox show is the only place you can experience all of this and more in one night.”

Scott Bradlee’s Postmodern Jukebox NZ Dates:

Auckland – 29 September

Christchurch – 1st October

Wellington – 3 October