Analogue Music | Pony Bradshaw

Pony Bradshaw

By Matt Conner

Certainty has never sounded so good.

Pony Bradshaw says he's more comfortable than ever in his artistic skin after getting a late start in the music business. It's taken the 40-something songwriter three albums to get to this point, but the well-read artist has a clear vision for who he is (and isn't) and what he wants (and doesn't). That sort of certainty, that settled identity, makes for a great record.

North Georgia Rounder is the resulting LP, the third for Bradshaw and the first since Calico Jim, and it's a stunning and self-assured listen that's rooted in the titular landscape. Bradshaw not only sounds excellent as a vocalist, but his band sounds tight within the beautiful arrangements.

In our latest conversation with Bradshaw, the now-veteran songwriter describes what he's learned about the craft and how he's brought it all to bear on his latest album.

Analogue: The new release comes out after the holidays and it feels like you’re set up well to have a great year in ’23. Was that part of that thought process?

Pony Bradshaw: I don’t necessarily think it's strategy, not on my part at least. I was ready to release around August, but I was doing things on my own and then we teamed up with a distributor to help. The holidays, you never really want to release a full record around the last quarter—at least not with someone like me. So you get into the first quarter of next year and late January seemed like the best moment if you missed the boat before.

Analogue: How far back do some of these songs go? You said you’ve been waiting a bit. Do some of them go back to the pandemic?

Pony: My previous record, Calico Jim, was a pandemic record for sure. I wrote it all in kind of a three-week time frame. But this new one, there are some older songs on there and then the rest was written after Calico Jim and kind of continuing on that theme and mood of North Georgia, which not many people focus in on too much. It feels like it’s mine to work with and there’s not too many people trying to use it in their songs. It’s also my home so that makes sense. [Laughs]

"As Dante said, ‘Our choices make poets of us.’ So some choices you make in the songwriting process make it worse and make people not want to hear it. Who knows the right answer, really?"

Analogue: With the experience of a couple of records before this one, are you used to the process yet?

Pony: Oh, definitely. This will be my third record. My first record was on Rounder Records, which was my first venture into playing music. So that taught me a ton and then releasing Calico Jim all by myself with some help from some friends and my business partners.

Now we’ve moved onto North Georgia Rounder and we’ve got press, a radio team—all those things I didn’t know anything about when I was starting to make music. I think that’s good ‘cause it would have been too much information to start off with, y’know what I mean?

So now we’re in the thick of it and I know how the business part works. I don’t like the business part, but most people who write songs aren’t likely into business. That’s part of it, especially if you want to do it full-time and tour the world, you have to think differently now—not when you you’re creating, but when you have to come up with that business plan.

Analogue: What about feeling more comfortable in your artistic skin?

Pony: Oh yeah, definitely. It took time. With my first record, I was not very confident in what I was saying. I was just really riffin’ and didn’t know what I wanted to say. Then the last one, Calico, was inspired by a moment in my life and came upon what I feel is my life’s work now rather than trying to figure out what I want to do and how I want to say it.

I’m an older guy in this business at 42, especially for someone who is just beginning my career, so my mind is probably more mature than it was when I was 25. [Laughs] I know my morals and philosophies and I’m still tweaking it and things, but I’m still in a better place now as a writer, for sure.

Analogue: When you say that people don’t really use North Georgia as a territory to mine, were you afraid to go there in the past?

Pony: Yeah, the specific details were that way for me. I don’t want to make it regional and only for people around here, so you have to try to go after the universal emotions. Which it’s funny because people around here don’t even know that I exist. It’s only in other states that people pay attention to it. But that’s okay with me, even if it did the opposite of what I thought it might do.

Analogue: When you say that, I think of some of my favorite artists who actually make things very personal by listing specific details that aren’t familiar to me and yet somehow those things make it feel universal.

Pony: Yeah, that’s true. I’m not sure what that is but it’s in the work in the music that I like to listen to or read. They’re usually detailed and pretty specific. It draws you in more, like Faulkner in his world. I think he created his own fictional world out of his community. I haven’t renamed my community. I mention Kane Creek Holler, and that doesn’t exist around here, but there are hollers. [Laughs] But I mention rivers and things like that.

I was reading a book called The Songlines, which inspired the “Foxfire Wine” song. It’s about the aboriginal folks over in Australia, who would walk their country and they’d call it dream lines or something. I can’t remember all of it, but the feeling of the book is what inspired me. They would sing everything they saw into existence. It became more meaningful that way, to not just say the river but the specific river.

Analogue: Who wrote that?

Pony: Bruce Chatway.

Analogue: One track, “Mosquitoes,” I was particularly taken with and I was curious if you could tell the story behind that.

Pony: I wish I could. [Laughs] I’m learning more about songs and meanings every day, and a lot of songs that I write are not sitting down to say, ‘Here is the story I’ve got in mind.’ It’s a flow state. I don’t always finish a song—I never do, really—in one sitting, so I just keep revisiting. Not every verse or chorus even is related to the other verse. It’s non-sequitur sometime and more of a mood I’m going after than a straight linear story.

I’ve got piles and piles of couplets and words and things. If I’m just piddling around on the guitar and I have those nearby, then I can sing it while I’m playing. If it feels good, then I’ll pursue it. If not, I’ll just move on until tomorrow and do something different. I don’t try to force it until it really feels like a song and then I’ll get really detailed and edit and work for a while. However, in that initial part, I just see what will happen.

Analogue: So what have you learned about when to stop that editing process?

Pony: Yeah that’s a tough one. That’s what makes a good song or a bad song. As Dante said, ‘Our choices make poets of us.’ So some choices you make in the songwriting process make it worse and make people not want to hear it. Who knows the right answer, really? You just have to trust yourself and trust more the longer that you do this, I suppose.

VISIT: Pony Bradshaw

Photo: Bekah Jordan