Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
Brad Turcotte’s new album is called Guess Who’s A Mess. His two previous albums were called Out of It and I Don’t Know What I’m Doing — see a pattern here?
Turcotte, 35, who goes by the stage name Brad Sucks, is all about laying it out on the line. Personal anxieties, pre-occupations, and inner dialogue have long been fodder for the Kemptville, Ont., computer geek.
He dresses up his downer tunes with disco vibes and clubby beats and that incongruity makes for some tasty tunes.
For example, a song called “Making Me Nervous” from Turcotte’s first album was a dance track about anxiety. The throbbing beats of the song “Dropping Out of School,” from his second album, give a neon-light varnish to a career choice that royally messes up your future.
Turcotte refines his brand of candy-coated anxiety on Guess Who’s A Mess, adding auto-tuned, shiny vocal lines to songs about the vagaries and complexities of relationships in the social media sphere.
The song “Thanks for the Add” sums up the album’s theme nicely. It’s about surface impressions that arise when people who don’t really know each other connect over the web.
When Turcotte received some attention online for his music, he found that all the hangers-on and weirdos came out of the woodwork. The oversharing and false intimacy of the exchange led him to examine the role of digital culture in his life.
“People who add you, they seem to kind of want something out of you, but you don’t know what it is,” Turcotte says. “People project this idea. They want to be part of this thing they see, which is totally a nice impulse, but I don’t know what to do with that.”
Seeking association or approval by click isn’t a new concept, and Turcotte acknowledges this fact.
“I remember [seeking out] artists I liked when I first started doing music. A lot of it was about getting past the fear gap. You’re thinking, if I could get this person to sign off on what I’m doing, then I’m not wasting my time.”
He says that fear stemmed from lack of job security.
“I dropped out of high school to try this art thing. I thought, if I don’t nail this, I don’t know what I’m going to be doing. I don’t know if I can cut it in the real world.”
Turcotte makes his way as a web programmer and musician. Years ago, he wrote his own digital music store program.
Before Radiohead made it fashionable, he offered his music online on a pay-what-you-want basis. This got him noticed by The Economist, Maxim and the BBC. MTV licensed his tunes and the authors of The Indie Band Survival Guide turned to Turcotte when they wanted to know how to make money off internet stardom.
That so-called stardom — the good front one can create via social media — is a central question on Guess Who’s a Mess. Brad cites people such as Lindsay Lohan as the anti-inspiration for that track.
“You look like you’re working hard to appear good, but there’s something inside that isn’t together. Are we not thinking about that at all? You’re at home feeling like a piece of shit and people are treating you like a big deal or like you have a better life than you really do. Are we not talking about that?”
Turcotte wanted to tap into that dilemma and project a sense of irony with his stage name, Brad Sucks. While it may come off as false modesty, Turcotte says he’s trying to tap into a like-mindedness — one that can see beyond the air-brushed aura of celebrity culture and the mainstream music business.
“The name Brad Sucks is kind of goofy,” Turcotte says, “but maybe it’ll tell people that I have something to say or maybe that they’re listening to a real human.”
One with anxieties, fears — and a sense of rhythm. Just like a lot of us.