Photography: Daniel Longmore / @prettygrimphoto

On Kinky Om we find Brad Stank in the midst of his search for meaning in the digital age. Joel Durksen speaks to the slow-jam crooner to join the dots on his cosmic collage of spirituality and sexistentialism.

“The past doesn’t exist, the future doesn’t exist, the only thing that is real is right now.”

I’m sitting on my balcony in the sun with a can of Fosters poured into a pint glass. Amidst government-ordered isolation, Bradley Mullins and I are attempting to simulate an afternoon at the pub over Facetime. As the crow flies, he and I are separated by 75 miles, give or take. He pops up on my computer screen with a big smile, the sun pouring in through his bedroom window. A cigarette is poking out from under his 1970s pornstar moustache. It’s nice to see a familiar face.

From his hometown of Chesterfield, where he’s relocated to during lockdown, Brad has been taking time out of his day to read, take long nature walks, and focus on self-improvement. Prior to the norms of the past 10 weeks, he’s also been making sexy RnB slow-jams under the moniker of BRAD STANK since the summer of 2016 – a musical growth which has continued to flower right up to our conversation today.

Despite the circumstances that form clouds on the periphery of our discussion, Brad’s remaining optimistic. “A lot of people want to go out and see each other, and want to go back to living their normal lives,” he says, as we start to chat and the video call hits its stride in focus. With a nod towards his reading, he extols the words of The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. “It’s the perfect lockdown book,” he begins, soft spoken with a knowing Derbyshire inflection. “It’s been a nice thing to read to relax and enjoy the now.” One part a self-help manual, and one part philosophical ruminations, The Power Of Now attempts to help the reader practice focusing on the precise moment that they find themselves in. “All I’ve been worrying about is being in Liverpool and seeing my friends, and playing gigs, but really there’s nothing wrong with being where I am and my actual situation,” he attests, weighing up the benefits of his current situation.

*Come hang out at our Kinky Om listening party with Brad – Gatefold Community – on Facebook Live Sunday 7th June at 6pm*

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Brad has been attempting to reach a sense of enlightenment since our first interview in 2018. On his last record, Eternal Slowdown, Brad flirted with ideas of Eastern philosophy, perhaps most prominently on the closer Maithuna – the Sanskrit word for sexual union. On Kinky Om, his debut full length release, he embraces the concepts more holistically. The track title of Ultrasensual Bliss is taken from Paramahansa Yogananda’s book Autobiography Of A Yogi. “Ultrasensual, as in above the senses, is going higher than the human senses,” explains Brad. The fusion of transcendental ideals with overtly sexy overtones has always been at the heart of Brad Stank’s music. On Kinky Om, the merging of these two ideas take the spotlight.

On the album’s cover, Brad is sat atop an array of photographs, flower arrangements and spiritual iconography, himself sat cross-legged with a Stratocaster in his lap. As The Beatles nod on the cover would lead you to believe, the spirit of Kinky Om is in line with 1960s psychedelia. The sound, however, draws from other sources. He doesn’t entirely abandon his signature white-boy slow-funk, evident on Kinky Visitation or Stanky Om. But he also embraces elements of jazz, like the bossa nova number Sat On The Moon. Additionally, She Was A Tease could be a lost gem from the 1970s; the wailing saxophone transporting you through the fuggy nostalgia of the decade’s unrelenting groove. Swerving in an entirely different direction, when the tempo drops, feelings of existential dread pour out of Kinky Om like a bursting dam.

Watching Brad at ease in amongst his expansive philosophic influences which congeal in his musical aura, I wonder if the mask of ‘Brad Stank’ ironically gives him the freedom to be more honest with himself, and with the world. The penultimate track I Had… is perhaps the most tender moment on the record, equally his entire catalogue. We hear Brad at his most raw. A poignant acoustic ballad where we get to see a clearer picture of Bradley Mullins the man, not just the familiar character fronting a rouge lit, steamy slow-jam showcase.

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The journey of combined musical and spiritual awakening has been in the making for some time. The 25-year-old songwriter began playing music at the age of 15, and bounced around between singing, playing guitar, and playing drums for numerous bands in his youth. “I started off as a drummer really, but I was always writing stuff for myself,” he says of his formative experiences and the roadmap towards the Brad flexing his existential harmonies on Kinky Om.

He moved to Liverpool from his hometown of Chesterfield in 2013 to pursue a career in music. It was around this time he formed bands Asterisks and Sundogs. “I think that was me more figuring out what I was trying to do,” he says. Tracks from this era, like To Be My Girl, were more influenced by 90s alternative rock, citing Pixies and Pavement as main inspirations. However, his tastes shifted towards a more diverse palette in the years to come.

“Then Trudy & The Romance came along and I gave up both projects to join them,” Brad continues. “I was a big fan of theirs anyway, so I was super excited when I got asked to join.” Brad joined the band in 2016 as their drummer, blending 50s rock ’n’ roll with modern sensibilities. Together they, along with Her’s and Pink Kink, formed a scene of misfits. Not banded together by genre, but by mutual respect for freewheeling creativity. “The whole meaning behind genres, it kinda died out,” he explains of his time at the forefront of an exciting new scene capturing the attention of Liverpool four years ago. “They only ever had any cultural meaning if you were like a mod or a rocker. If you were Blur or Oasis.”

“If you can’t leave or you can’t change, then full acceptance of the situation will help you deal with it” Brad Stank

Much like Trudy & The Romance’s self-prescribed label of “mutant 50s pop”, there was similar invention when applying genre tags to his solo project, something which Brad coins ‘sexistential pop’. “If I had any advice for someone who is making music, it would be to give it your own name,” he tells me, aware of its cheeky aesthetic. “That opens you up to a concept in your head, that you can build on that’s fully your own.”

*Come hang out at our Kinky Om listening party with Brad – Gatefold Community – on Facebook Live Sunday 7th June at 6pm*

Though very tongue-in-cheek, sexistential pop can perhaps be looked at as a perfect summary of Brad’s own personal philosophy. The dichotomy of the guru trying to reach enlightenment through sex is not lost on him. His biggest influence artistically and lyrically is that of Jack Keroauc. Perhaps Kerouac’s greatest appeal is his relatability. His exploration of Buddhism does not come from a place of self-righteousness, but of a mere man struggling to find belonging and acceptance in the world. Kerouac drinks, he takes drugs, he has copious amounts of sex, yet he tries to funnel this experience through the lens of Buddhism in order to derive meaning in his life.

But where does our sense of meaning come from in a post-religious, capitalist realist society? Our conversation turns towards discussion of the monomyth, as set out by philosopher Joseph Campbell in 1949. It should come as no surprise that the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) share similarities. Yet Campbell noticed similarities between the story of Jesus and ancient Native American mythology. He argues that there is no way in which these societies could have influenced each other, as European colonisation did not begin until the 1500s. Campbell claims that myths aren’t written by their authors. In fact, they are manifestations of universal cosmic forces that shape the human subconsciousness.

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“All of the religions are pointing towards the same source. The eternal, infinite, unconscious, unmanifested world,” says Brad. The Hero’s Journey or the monomyth is ultimately a cycle. Jesus, Buddha, even Sal Paradise in Kerouac’s On The Road, all follow the same story of their search for meaning, finding redemption and rebirth. The story is not meant to be literally interpreted, but to tell us something about ourselves. In turn, we are all heroes struggling to develop as individuals and to find our place in society. Beyond that, we long for wisdom: we want to understand the universe and our significance of our role in it. “I love you, because you’re me” is Brad’s social media tagline. Like Sal wandering through the American wilderness, or Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree, Brad is the hero of his own personal story, with his own unique cross to bear, one which he carries under the umbrella of sexistential pop. “If you can focus on that silence and you stop all other thoughts, you stop your brain from working in this unconscious mind-way,” Brad opines.

We’ve been chatting for over an hour now and there’s no signs of fatigue as we pore over ideas from the ancient religion right up to the contemporary consciousness. Looking towards the contemporary, the roadmap to Kinky Om is one that started with a number of losses; the loss of a relationship, the loss of a friend to suicide and a loss that is close to home for all of Liverpool.

The tragic death of Her’s last year in a car accident shook Liverpool to its very core. Brad was among the closest people in the scene to the situation. Sundogs, his first forays into music in Liverpool, featured Audun Laading and Stephen Fitzpatrick on bass and drums respectively. Up until this point in his music career, Brad has done everything completely from the confines of his bedroom; writing, producing, and playing every instrument. However, the lush sound of Kinky Om was achieved with the help of producer Saam Jafarzadeh. “That made a lot of sense, because he’d done all the Her’s albums,” he says. “It was cathartic for us both to work with each other.” Brad also chose to release Kinky Om through Heist Or Hit, the Her’s championed label which released both Invitation To Her’s and Songs Of Her’s before their lives was unjustly cut short in March 2019.

“Give your music its own name. That opens you up to a concept in your head, that you can build on that’s fully your own” Brad Stank

There are distinct moments where Brad explores his world reformatted by bereavement on Kinky Om. We see Brad in the midst of his search for meaning, on the road to recovery. Specifically, on I Had…, little incidental noises around the room were deliberately left in the recording, his fingers scraping the guitar with each change of chord shape. The sound of his breath sounds like a man on the verge of tears. It’s an acceptance of the moment, captured on record.  “I think the whole situation last year, just made Saam the obvious choice” Brad appears to conclude.

“When something major happens to you,” he continues, “you kind of identify with that as a part of your own identity in a way. Whereas that is completely false, because it is something that is not happening to you anymore.” In true Buddhist fashion, Brad sees enlightenment not as something to be attained, but a journey in which we are all personally in various stages of. “Your mind is not you, necessarily, the real you underneath the brain,” he tells me as we consider the notion of self within the psyche and the contribution of experience. Each and everyone’s personal journey begins with awareness and acceptance. “If you can’t leave or you can’t change, then full acceptance of the situation will help you deal with it,” he adds, perhaps with a nod to the majority of the nation’s current stasis in lockdown. But ultimately, Brad does not consider himself as reaching enlightenment, but on the path towards it. “Maybe I’m not going to go full enlightened just yet. We’ll see, we’ll see” he mutters humbly.

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*Come hang out at our Kinky Om listening party with Brad – Gatefold Community – on Facebook Live Sunday 7th June at 6pm*

 

Since the religious stranglehold on western society began to wane in the 1960s, we began to supplement our lack of religious identity in other forms. Our sense of belonging came not from our congregation, but in our politics, our heritage, the music we listen to. Being part of a group and sharing a common identity is a need in human psychology. This understanding is processed through Brad’s creations of Kinky Om. In the face of these uncertain times we must not fall into nihilistic patterns of thinking. While nihilism and existentialism both take the viewpoint that the universe is absurd and meaningless, they are in fact they are polar opposites. Nihilism fails, as there is no meaning to be found, while existentialism attempts to derive meaning in spite of this. The philosophy of existentialism that Bradley Mullins subscribes to is one we can learn something from. Through a combination of awareness, free will and personal responsibility, one can construct their own meaning within a world that intrinsically has none of its own.

Despite all this, Brad sees himself as no preacher, and by no means a prophet. The songwriter is wary of coming across as holier-than-thou. “These are all just ideas; just something to think about,” he says, “just something to be aware of. If I reach enlightenment… like, what if I don’t care about making music anymore?” he asks, as we wind up our chat, with the brightness cutting in at lower angle through his bedroom window to offer an enduring metaphor for the here and now. Brad’s journey both musically and spiritually continues on, and in turn, ours does as well. In the face of adversity we must keep moving forward, continue looking towards the sun.

 

Kiny Om is released on 5th of June via Heist or Hit Records.

Join Brad Stank and Bido Lito! for Gatefold Community a playback + chat around Kinky Om on Sunday 7th June from 6pm.

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