Brad Cotter: After a Few Years, the Patient Man is Back, Right on Time

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Brad Cotter

When Brad Cotter came out the winner of Nashville Star 2, winning a record deal with Epic as a result (Patient Man), it was expected by many that a rapid rise to stardom would result. But that turned out to be a dream delayed, as Brad parted ways with Epic and signed with an independent label to produce an EP few are aware of.

It's been a while coming, but Brad is back on the scene, joining forces with co-writer and producer Steve Bogard and One Music Group to release his newest full-length album, Right on Time. If anything, the wait has forced the artist to live up to the title of his first album -- and fans are lining up to eagerly say, "Welcome Back, Cotter!"

How long did it take to put together Right on Time?

That's a tough question right off the bat, because it depends on whether you're talking "literal time" or, you know. I had three years to put it together in my mind and get an idea about what direction I wanted to go. But as far as pulling the trigger and actually spending time in the studio working with the players and arrangements, that didn't take very long at all -- we probably had six months involved in the actual grunt work.

But it's been a long time coming. I've been hearing these songs in my head this way for a while.

It seems like there was a running theme of spirituality and gospel -- not just in the lyrics but also in the arrangements which had a kind of a gospel background sound.

That was something we tried really hard to incorporate into this new project. I do come from a gospel background -- I grew up singing gospel music and following gospel music all my life, and I've always been a big fan of that kind of music. I didn't want to get too far away from it, but in country music you kinda have to do what you have to do to get in the game, so with this record we just broke all those rules. We said, the heck with it. We're not going for airplay; we're not going for the traditional CMT and GAC and radio station stuff, we're just gonna make a record that we would enjoy sitting around our own pool and listening to in our own spare time." If radio wants to play it, or if CMT wants to play a video, then that's great. But if not, then we're still gonna make a project that we'd enjoy listening to, and that's what we went for this time.

So are there videos out there to be seen?

Well, we don't have one in the can yet, but we're actually... I'm gonna meet with a guy this afternoon to talk about shooting a video, possibly for "Let Me Believe." And there's some talk in the works on doing things for some of the other songs -- a couple of songs that really scream for a video to go along with the storyline. But we're gonna talk about that more today, so we'll have something soon.

I'll toss my vote in for a video to "Preacher's Daughter."

(Laughs) That's exactly what we were thinking, man. You know that song just screams for a video, so that might happen.

Now, you're a preacher's kid yourself. Traveling in those circles, was there any first-hand experience with any preachers' daughters?

(Laughs) Well, you know... I don't want to get myself in too much trouble, but... Actually, the presence behind that song for me was the deacon's daughter. There was a girl at our church a few years younger than me that... I'll just say she made it worth getting up early and spending a little bit of extra time in front of the mirror every Sunday. She was something else.

I think everybody that grew up in church like that can relate to that cute little gal that you always tried to sit next to in Sunday school or pull her hair to try to get her attention, or something like that.

Do you have any personal favorites off this album?

Wow... You know, it's tough to say because I want to be partial to the ones that I wrote because I know all the hard work and the blood, sweat, and tears that go into those. But I catch myself wanting to hear "Let Me Believe" a lot. The first time I heard that song, it blew me away, and it just says a lot of things I'd like to say myself and haven't been able to quite get down on paper.

Steve Bogard and Stan Lynch and Jeff Stevens really nailed that one. Plus I'm a big fan of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, so having a song on my record with Stan Lynch's name on it is pretty cool for me.

That one's probably my pick just off the top of my head, but "Preacher's Daughter," I'm really kind of proud of that one, too. I really dig that song. So, I guess those two are probably my favorites, but if you ask me tomorrow, I'd probably have two others.

I notice that when your name appears in the writing credits, it tends to be on the more lyrical love songs, while Steve and the others handle the more rocking-out tunes. Do you find that you lean more toward the softer style in your writing?

Yeah, it seems that way. It's not something that I purposefully do, but as a writer -- I'm sure you can relate to this yourself -- it's so much easier to write something that you yourself are passionate about.

I think it truly comes down to Steve Bogard just being so much further along with his craft as a writer, and just flat out better at it than I am. He's able to get out of himself and write about other things passionately, and that allows him to delve into those places that I tend to write about more selfishly. And that's the reason a lot of times my songs are about love, or love lost, or something that hits close to home like losing a loved one and having to deal with it. I think it has a little bit to do with me just writing selfishly -- I find myself sitting down and writing things that are more personal than maybe I should, but that's the way it comes out. I never know where it's headed. I just say a little prayer and open the door for the Lord to lead the way, and it usually winds up being a love song, doggone it, or a lack thereof.

You have a song on here, "I Sing for Free." I would imagine prior to Nashville Star 2 that song was probably a personal story.

No doubt! Hey, it's still that way sometimes, man. People have no idea -- they hear these figures and they see the money, and they don't realize that it's like any other business: it takes almost all of it just to get the job done. I jokingly named my touring company Split Nickel Tours because, at the end of the day, there's about four or five of us sitting around trying to split a nickel. (Laughs) So it's not as glamorous as everybody thinks.

Was there a big change after winning Nashville Star and does that still help you get in some doors?

Yeah... I'd be lying if I said otherwise. There's a misconception that you win a reality tv show and then all of a sudden you're Carrie Underwood -- and if you're not, then you must have done something wrong.

But that's not the case, and that's not what those shows are all about. They're strictly television shows, and they're only as popular as... when the tv show's over, the tv show's over, and then it's up to you to take your career to the next step.

But I would be lying if I said it hasn't opened doors, and I'm very grateful for them, I'm grateful for the show, and if I had it to do over again tomorrow I'd do it again.

And, yes, things have changed. I've been able to do a lot of things I couldn't do before as an artist. But then again, in the same sentence, I can tell you that I'm still playing and singing and writing every day just like I have been for the last twenty years.

So it did change a lot of things, but then again it didn't.

When I was writing up the recaps on a later Nashville Star season, I took a lot of heat because I said something sarcastic along the lines of, "Welcome to Nashville Star, the series that still hasn't produced a country star while the pop series American Idol made one by accident."

But you know, you told the truth, man. The difference is... and maybe I shouldn't tell this. I hope I don't get in trouble. But, John Grady, the head of Sony Records, told me -- and it's because he and I got to be kind of chummy -- he said, "When I came to work at Sony, I said, 'What have we got to go to radio with?' And they said, 'We got Buddy Jewell. He's next in line, he just won this new tv show.' Well, all right, we're going to radio with that."

And he told me, "This time around, after you won, we sort of knew a little bit more about what we had." So they didn't really have to go to radio with me and do the necessary legwork and necessary promotion that it takes to be on the airwaves on a regular basis, because they already knew that they were gonna sell so many units because of the television exposure.

It's a completely different beast. You can either concentrate on promotions on radio and that sort of thing, or you can concentrate on retail sales. And we sold a buttload of records, so Sony obviously put their emphasis on retail instead of on radio. That's just the way the business works. It doesn't hurt my feelings at all. I don't blame them. If I were Sony I'd do the same thing.

I guess a lot of people, myself included, were thinking, with as many country music listeners as there are out there, that Nashville Star would have paralleled American Idol and the post-show force-feeding of promotions just wasn't the same.

I think a little bit of that had to do with -- and this is just my opinion, I don't have any facts to base this on -- that the USA Network people and the Nashville community, the country music community, and even Sony, didn't quite have the same plan as far as what they saw the winner doing. In other words, for USA Network it was a tv show, the winner's the winner, and we'll move on and worry about who's gonna win next year. With Sony and the record labels -- that's sort of why they changed labels every year, they didn't ever get on the same page, if you will, as far as, "Hey, we've got the winner here, and now that we're getting all this exposure, let's do something with it." There just wasn't any support there.

I remember on the "Original Song" night of Nashville Star 2, you played "I Miss Me," and you brought out that keyboard. Was there any surprise among the judges or others, since most artists seem to rely solely on the guitar.

No, there really wasn't, because I did that from the start. Before I ever even made the show, we had -- I think it was like 250 contestants still competing for the final twenty slots to see who the ten were going to be, and I actually played a different song on the piano during the preliminary. So they were already used to the fact that I played the piano and guitar, and they encouraged us to play any instruments -- Matt Lindahl even played a washboard on a couple of songs.

I was really grateful, because it did show a different facet of my gift that God blessed me with, but it wasn't really that big of a deal. In other words, it wasn't something that we sat down and planned and put a great deal of effort into. It was just, "Hey, this next performer plays a piano," so there you go. The crew and everybody at USA Network working on that show just did a fabulous job with making sure that the artists were comfortable with our instruments and everything went great -- it couldn't have been better.

As a viewer, when I saw you perform on that instrument, I was thinking, "Oh my God, who in country music has used the piano since Ronnie Milsap?"

(Laughs) Well, you know, it kind of became a bigger deal than I expected it to be -- more people talk about it -- but I just didn't really give it any thought. I wrote the song on the piano, and the arrangement was there, so I just thought, "Why not?" you know?

I've done a little bit of research on you before the interview to make it look like I know what I'm doing, and it looks like you're still not married.

(Laughs) No, I'm still single, man. It's hard with my schedule that I keep. I'm not just a singer and a songwriter, but I'm also a performer that has to tour and do all that other stuff, too, so I'm gone -- I'm not in one place a whole lot. It's been kind of hard to find one that wants to settle down with the lifestyle.

You know, it's funny, because I happened to do an interview a couple of years ago with a young lady named Jennifer Hicks -- and I mentioned that there was a lot of flirtation going on between you guys on the show... and she wouldn't tell me a whole bunch about that.

(Laughs) I don't blame her! Heck, I wouldn't admit to that, either.

Jen is a sweetheart. We're still great friends. I still talk to her pretty regularly -- she dates a really good friend of mine, Rick Ferrell that's a great songwriter, and they've got a duet together called Bluefield and they're starting to come on really strong. We've known each other for a long time, and I guess the flirtation probably came across because we have been friends for so long, and there was a comfort level there with both of us. But I don't see any future wedding bells or romance or anything like that involved -- we're just really good friends.

Is there still an existing fraternity between you and the other Nashville Star 2 contestants?

Yeah, as a matter of fact I just ran into Lance Miller the other night. I had some family in town for the CMA Music Fest, and we all went out to dinner and ran into Lance and some of his folks, and they joined us.

I see Matt Lindahl every once in a while. He's hard to keep up with -- he still likes to get in a vehicle and drive north, south, east or west, and just go until it dies and then stay there for a while, so he's hard to keep up with.

I talk to George Canyon about every six or eight months, maybe just through an email or voicemail -- we're bad about leaving each other voicemail, because he stays about as busy as I do.

I still talk to everybody, pretty much. I lost touch with Marty Slayton here about a year ago, because she got married so I'm sure she's probably still honeymooning, but she'll resurface eventually.

What can fans do to raise awareness of the new album, to get it on the radio and get people hearing it?

Man, that would help if they would just bug the crap out of their radio stations -- maybe send them e-mails and request any of the songs that they like. You know, nowadays the radio format is wide open -- they can just about play anything, so tell the fans to request their favorite song on the radio, and by all means, any help that we can get on the Internet, just spread the word. The whole new business model that's changing so rapidly right now, it seems to be all social, viral networking. So hit the MySpace and Facebook and all the Internet sites and talk about our music as much as possible. That's the biggest help we could ask for.