Charles Bradley: I always sing like I'm doing my last show

Talking to Charles Bradley is almost as intense as listening Charles Bradley sing. No one knows this better than the man himself. When Gimme Noise reaches him via phone in Brooklyn, before we get into any questions, he requests that we let him "pull the side and park for a minute."

Similarly, it's near impossible to drive, talk, think, or even breathe when encountering Bradley's vintage soul instrument of a voice. Born in 1948, this man's pushing retirement age, but last year marked the release of his first proper album, No Time for Dreaming. The album is autobiographical, but shows that all lives are not created equal. Bradley knows where suffering lingers in his chest, and with the help of some fortuitous scouting by Daptone Records (Sharon Jones, Menehan Street Band), folks outside of Brooklyn can experience his wonderful intensity. Bradley has just finished breakfast with his 88-year-old mother, and is filled with warmth during our conversation to lead up to tonight's performance at the Fine Line. (Update: Read the review of the show here.)

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Mr. Bradley.

I appreciate it and it just makes me want to open up and give more. I've been waiting for this chance for a long time.

Now that people know who Charles Bradley is, how does it feel to do your James Brown that got you signed?

I've been doing James Brown since I was about 16 years old. The more I got into it, the better I did with it. People love to see me do James Brown, because I can do it well. And they love to see me do Charles Bradley. What I say is that it's no different. When I open my soul, I can get my spirit into it the best way I know how.

I wish every person running for the U.S. presidency this fall could hear "Why Is it So Hard?" because it's the best document of what our country is going through now that I've ever heard.

That's really my life story. I don't know how to express it sometimes, because sometimes my words get so deep and emotional that I can't find the lyrics to express it more deeper. Sometimes when my eyes are closed and I look into my spirit, I'm trying to find more ways of meaning to express it.

It's personal, but also universal. Do people come up to talk to you about the song?

Oh my God. Everywhere I go. It's wild. I met this young kid in Canada. I was onstage, and he went to one of the band members and said "Can you please get Charles Bradley to come and talk to me?" So this young guy, about 18 years old, I went offstage and I talked to him. He was standing by the stage door, and he said, "Charles Bradley, talk to me." I said, "What's up, young man? What's on your mind?" He said, "I just lost my mom." "How old was she?" "She was about 50." I said, "Oh God, that's young." He said, "I can't deal with it."

What did you tell him?

So I said to the Lord, "Give me some words because I don't know what to say to him." And I knew that I needed to speak from my heart. I said, "Sometimes in life, a kid can say one word, have one thought, and then God will say 'Your work is done, go and rest.' Your mom has put all of the love she had inside of you. Take that love that your mom gave you and give it to the world, and make it a better place."

This planet has given us everything we could ever want, and we're destroying it. That's why I wrote "The World (Is Going Up in Flames)."

You look at the politics, and I'm shocked because young teenagers are coming to me for love and understanding. That's why I get emotional onstage and open up to them. They're looking for that. Anybody can get onstage and look good, but if you don't feel the depth and love of the music, it's not something you can hold and believe in. I sing every time like it's the last show I'm doing.

Charles Bradley: I always sing like I'm doing my last show
Photo by Kisha Bari

Do you consider yourself to be a political person?

I just sit and listen to the room. In politics and in churches. People today, they don't have a God. All they have is a villain. I listen to everything. I was at church with my mother, and I walked out because I didn't like what they were saying. Know what you carry in your heart is real.

Charles Bradley & the Extraordinaires. With Little Barrie. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 16. Tickets cost $20. Click here.

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