Have you ever caught yourself in mid-dance gesticulation thinking something like "If only this music had a little swing to it?" The hoi polloi likes its pop, its accessibility, and its simple fun. But what if there was one band to scratch both itches? Postmodern Jukebox is that band. Postmodern Jukebox is your band.
Formed in 2011 by jazz pianist Scott Bradlee, the band has covered material from numerous pop artists like Lady Gaga, Aerosmith, Radiohead, Maroon 5 — you name it — by retooling their songs and giving it a new musical style and flair. The band has reimagined The Postal Service's "Such Great Heights" in the style of the Jackson 5; a New Orleans jazz band sang Oasis's "Don't Look Back in Anger"; and Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" recently got a 70's funk cover. And PMJ posts a new video of each reworked pop song on YouTube. The band is genius.
Bradlee gave CITY a jingle and answered a few questions. Here's what was said. An edited transcript follows.
CITY: How'd you get the idea for this?
Scott Bradlee: You know, it's something I did as a kid. When I was in high school, I loved jazz and Motown, all these old types of music. And I loved pop, and I would play it in the styles I loved.
What are some of the songs that got the treatment?
I did stuff by The Notorious B.I.G., Sublime, Red Hot Chili Peppers — songs that were popular and that my friends liked.
When did you see the opportunity to go pro?
I moved to New York City and I was working as a jazz pianist. I was finding it hard to get work, so I figured I'd put myself on YouTube playing popular songs and playing them jazz or ragtime. The videos started going viral.
So YouTube helped break the band?
It's a big part of it. It's how we got a global audience in the early days. When we saw we had fans all over the world, we started touring. We started putting together these shows that kind of went back to the variety shows. It gradually grew to include all these talented musicians. We brought out a number of singers to sort of bring that universe to life.
Do you prefer working with a rotating cast as opposed to a solid lineup?
It kinda makes it fun. Every show is different. Every show is unique.
Do you still post a weekly video on YouTube?
Yup, every Thursday.
Have you heard from any of the artists you cover? Endorsements? Cease and desist orders?
We've gotten some great endorsements from artists like Beyoncé, Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Celine Dion. Kevin Spacey was at our Paris show and came up on stage.
What makes a song worthy of the Postmodern Jukebox treatment?
In general, it should be something that's familiar to a lot of people, because it's a big contrast when you change it. I look at the lyrics a lot of the time and think, "If this was recorded a long time ago, what kind of song would it be? What genre would it be in?" That usually informs a lot of my choices.
Has it ever not worked?
It's hard to take anything that already sounds classic. A lot of Bruno Mars' stuff has a retro sound to it already, and it's hard for me to make it sound any different.
Have you performed or recorded with any of the original artists?
We haven't yet. But it's definitely possible.
What's one of you favorite Postmodern Jukebox songs?
I don't think I could pick one. That's hard. It's usually what I'm working on at the moment. I guess some of the more popular ones like "Creep" and "All About That Bass."
Any originals on the horizon?
Right now I'm focusing on these songs. I treat them as originals. I call them "originals I didn't write."
Postmodern Jukebox headlines Tuesday, June 27, at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs Street. 8 p.m. $45-$85. postmodernjukebox.com.