No One Knows How Long We’re Gonna Be Here: Brad’s Interiors at 25  

Looking back on a deep crate classic from the Pearl Jam multiverse

Brad 1997 (Image: Razor & Tie)

The late ‘80s and early ‘90s was an amazing era for rock bands; it might have been the last truly great era for rock, commercially speaking.

But even in an era where Jane’s Addiction, Soundgarden, Nine Inch Nails, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hole, Alice In Chains and Faith No More were scoring huge radio hits and/or headlining large venues, there still wasn’t enough room for everyone, at least not on the radio and on MTV. There were just too many great bands getting signed to major labels and putting out records. Radio and MTV couldn’t keep up with all of them… and of course, they were also tempted by a lot of next generation bands mimicking the now successful “alternative rock” sound. (I shant use the “g” word here, as most fans didn’t refer to their favorite bands that way.)

Speaking of the fans, back in those $15-a-CD days, most fans couldn’t afford to follow everyone. So, it’s understandable that, some artists didn’t get the necessary traction to headline large theaters and arenas and sell tons of plastic discs. You can point to Screaming Trees, Mudhoney and even Fishbone as examples of this. 

 

 

Another example would be Brad. Initially – and unfortunately – they were seen as a side project of Pearl Jam’s Stone Gossard. But Brad was a band, albeit one that had to plan around their guitarist’s schedule. Their debut album, 1993’s Shame, came six months before Pearl Jam’s sophomore record, Vs.; that was an era when the music industry was desperate for anything new from anyone from Pearl Jam. But Brad was no “offshoot”; while Stone’s presence was obvious when you heard the riffs on “20th Century” and “My Fingers,” the band’s dominant force was (with due respect) singer/keyboardist Shawn Smith. 

Funky and soulful as hell, I’d compare him to Jeff Buckley and (the also criminally underrated) Chris Whitley. He isn’t anything like, say, Eddie Vedder or Chris Cornell. 

But radio programmers and MTV’s gatekeepers were gorging on Pearl Jam and Temple of the Dog and wanted more of that. Brad was much more funk and R&B influenced. That influence came out even more on Interiors, which turned 25 in late June. Four years (and three Pearl Jam albums) since Shame, the band surely hoped to finally be judged based on their own music. Lead single “The Day Brings” (featuring Mike McCready on lead guitar) was a soft piano ballad that you could almost imagine Stevie Wonder, or even Prince (Smith’s main influence), singing. But this slow jam wasn’t done with sarcasm a la Faith No More or Me First and the Gimme Gimmes. Smith earnestly sings, “And see what the day brings/And see what makes you laugh/And see what makes you sing.” It’s a simple but deep and lovely thought, and he delivers it with soul, not snark. 

“Secret Girl” was unabashed arena rock —  the beginning even sounds a bit like Genesis’ “Turn It On Again!” But embracing arena rock was something that seemed to go against the union code of “alternative rockers” of that era.  Interestingly, when I saw Brad on this tour, they covered Van Halen, who were practically a taboo band during that era. (I believe they covered “Unchained.”) Still, “Secret Girl” was so catchy, it’s a shame that it wasn’t the lead single. 

Brad Interiors, Epic Records 1997

“Lift” is very Stone-y (as opposed to Stonesy); it has one of Gossard’s signature funky guitar riffs, as well as his falsetto backing vocals. They bring extra joy to the song, which looks back fondly to an earlier time when “the wintertime you felt was yours to live.”  Likewise, “Sweet Al George” is a full-on rocker, with Shawn singing “Come sweet emotion, show us how to ride/give us a wink… there’s no religion: this is supposed to be fun!” But the album isn’t carefree. 

“Circle and Line” is more somber if vague, and probably would have been a hit for any of the many Nirvana/Alice In Chains wannabes who were clogging up the radio at the time. Meanwhile, the soul ballad “Some Never Come Home”… you could almost picture Prince crooning it. “Candles,” sounds kinda Zeppelin-esque… at least until Smith hits the high notes in the chorus. 

“I Don’t Know” is especially haunting in retrospect: when Shawn sings “No one knows how long we’re gonna be here/no one knows how long until we die,” it’s just chilling. Smith died unexpectedly in his early 50s back in 2019. “Funeral Song” is also harrowing, as Smith sings over and over, “This funeral song’s for you.” 

I’ve often wondered why such an amazing band, which such an incredibly unique singer didn’t get more traction and enjoy commercial success. It certainly wasn’t that they lacked great songs. I don’t have any good answer to that, and it seems unfair that Smith didn’t receive the rock star tributes that so many others (deservedly) get when they pass at a tragically young age. But that’s how it played out: Brad’s fanbase was like a secret club. They were a cult band, for better or worse. 

But hey: do your friends a solid and turn them on to Brad if they’re not familiar, or if they didn’t pay attention at the time. 

 

 

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David Seville

David Seville is a music enthusiast and journalist who has done time at MTV, VH1, SiriusXM and Loudwire, among other places.

3 thoughts on “No One Knows How Long We’re Gonna Be Here: Brad’s Interiors at 25  

  • July 7, 2022 at 3:41 pm
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    I’m one of those folks who tried and failed to keep up with the fifty million alt.rock CDs released in the 90s, and thus missed Brad completely. Reading this piece and sampling the music shows me I need to check them out further, so thanks for this.

    Reply
  • July 10, 2022 at 5:27 pm
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    Buttercup off Shame (look up the story behind why they are named Brad and not Shame) is one of my all-time favorites and it was amazing to here Josh play it with Stone as an opener on the current tour. And if you enjoy Brad, go deeper down the rabbit hole and check out another Shawn Smith band, Satchel. The 2nd album The Family is great!

    Reply
  • July 11, 2022 at 1:41 am
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    Mr Seville, I know exactly

    “why such an amazing band, which such an incredibly unique singer didn’t get more traction and enjoy commercial success”.

    I won’t post these reasons here in a public forum, but if you wish to contact me privately, I clear up the question you ask.
    Randall.

    Reply

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