He is, as he describes himself, a man it’s difficult to put labels on. He is an artist. He is a universal citizen. He is a person with fabulous life stories, whom you never get bored listening to. In an inhibited and truly honest interview, Brad Vee Johnson talks about his life in Romania, about music, about his son – of whose existence he found out accidentally and decided to stay in our country, about his sexuality, about love and dreams, and plans for the future.
You left Romania last year, you went to Sweden, then to Budapest, you recently wnet on a holiday in the Seychelles and Cancun… How has your life been in the last few months?
Right now I am sitting in the Dayroom on board of Color Lines Cruise’s premiere ship THE MAGIC. I have been here for about 10 days now with my jazz trio. It has been a great experience and I am thrilled to be singing jazz again in such an upscale environment as this luxury ship.
Yes, I left Romania last year because I felt there was really no point in being in Romania for me. I finally realized that regardless of how much talent, experience and ability I have, it would never be respected in Romania and I finally decided to heed my father’s advice about such things in life when he said “don’t cast pearls before pigs”! (smiles) Not that I consider Romanians pigs, it’s a figure of speech to express not wasting your time and talent someplace where it is not appreciated or respected… Life is too short. (smiles)
I went first to the Ukraine when I left Romania in April of last year, to do a series of concerts in Kiev with a big band that was organized by one my dear old friends. Initially, my plan was to return to Romania after the concerts, but LIFE had another plan for me. Once there in Kiev, I realized a freedom that I had not had for a while, both mentally and professionally, working with musicians who had a TRUE love of the music and real appreciation for my talent and experience. It was a great collaboration.
I then received a call from a dear friend in Budapest who asked for my help with her company for a couple weeks, doing some voice over work on a couple documentaries she had filmed. This gave me another glimpse into my past with theatre and film, all the voiceover work I did in Sweden and Denmark, and it was exhilarating!
I then went to Sweden to fix things with my Swedish documentation and while there, immediately got caught up with performances from all of my old friends who lived there. It was fun for a while, but it became clear to me that returning to Sweden was no longer an option… I had “outgrown” Sweden and could never find my place there again. There’s much to be said about not looking behind you and not being able to go back, but instead moving forward, so I did… I returned to Budapest and began working with my dear friend there and her company, which has proven to be a wonderful decision. So to answer your question about how my life has been, it has been going from good to better on a daily basis. (smiles)
How was your Seychelles trip, you lucky guy?
The Seychelles was a wonderful excursion to Paradise! My dear friends Cornelia Olteanu and Richard Hearrean were married there in a beautiful ceremony attended by just close family and friends, and I was honored to receive the invitation and to participate in the festivities with my voice… What an experience!
Mexico was in conjunction with the company in Budapest. It was a congress that I attended for our company and also a super experience since I had not been to Cancun in a while, plus I was also asked to entertain at the end of the week and this was truly my pleasure to do. Imagine the last night singing and dancing with 100 enlightened souls on the beach in front of our resort, watching the oversized moon rise! It’s the kind of experience that you usually read about!
You said there was no point in staying in Romania anymore. How did you get to feel this way?
I just didn’t feel good in Romania. I felt that basically people were only interested in using me for what advantages they THOUGHT they could get from me and my affiliation with Boney M. I never really felt respected for my years of experience in the music business, my talent and my musical connections, which I was willing to share with people as long as they were sincere with me, which was something I RARELY experienced during my years of being in Romania, sorry to say. I felt like I was dying a “slow death” and I needed to be able to BREATHE again.
Actually, let me take you back a little… You told me you decided to stay in Romania because you have a son here. In our last interview, you didn’t tell me more about it and I didn’t want to insist… Is this still a sensitive subject for you?
It’s not that the subject is sensitive, it is that I simply never found it to be anybody’s business but my own. I know that people always think they have a right to know everything about you and if you don’t let them know, well then you are a snob or you think you are better than everyone else, as I have heard. (smiles) It’s just to me the term “my business” means just that…MY business! (smiles)
For the record, I have a son in Romania, his name is Adrian and he is 25 years now and he is one of the LIGHTS of my Life! I never knew he existed until I came to Romania, which is the real reason I stayed… To get to know him better and I have succeeded on that point. We have made up for the “lost years” and our relationship is getting stronger all the time. He is very musical and is an exceptional rap artist, producer and writer. I have put him together with a couple of DJ friends of mine from London and am expecting some really cool things.
He is a soul with an extraordinary perceptive view of life and people and tell the good ones from the bad ones generally after one meeting. He is very happy that I have left Romania, because he didn’t really like MOST of the people that I knew and socialized with! (smiles) He always tried to warn me about people and I recognize I should have listened to him more and trusted his judgement. For this I have apologized to him and he has forgiven me.
I see us doing some really fun and successful things together in the future. He is currently in school and wants to get his degree, so he will be busy for another year or two, and then after that, we shall see what we decide to do about him staying in Romania or not.
When did you first meet him?
I met my son in 2005, after a Boney M concert in Cluj-Napoca. He was born in 1988… And the rest you know. (smiles) My relationship with him is a strong one. We have had our ups and downs, but we have managed to make it through them because of our mutual respect for each other… A word which I am happy to have taught him the meaning and value of, since it is seldom found in Romania.
Has your family met him?
He met one of his cousins who came to Romania to play basketball for a team in Ploiesti, a couple of years ago, but other than that, no, he has not. Have not been able to get him a visa to the U.S. yet… A long story! My mother, however, is in contact with him. They write each other letters. (smiles) This is her thing, letter writing because she REFUSES to use cell phones or computers! (laughs)
I’m trying to understand is how a man can leave everything behind and make the decision to change his life completely. Was it worth?
Well, it seemed to me MORE that LIFE made the decision for me! If you found out you had a child somewhere in the world completely by accident, wouldn’t you be curious to know who he was, how he grew up and want to be a part of his life? Maybe not everyone would feel this way, but I did. I have always listened to the inner voice which is like my compass that tells when and where I need to be. Just as I knew it was time to leave Sweden, Adrian appeared in my life and I knew this was the meaning for me to stay in Romania to get to know him.
What was great about your life in Romania?
Getting to know my son, meeting some really wonderful people who STILL are dear and close friends and also re-discovering TRUE self which I had lost for a while, living in Sweden.
And what was your biggest disappointment?
The fact that I couldn’t have a bigger impact on the music scene and that people saw me MORE as something to be USED as opposed to being respected and befriended for REAL.
Have you ever had the feeling that you’re too good for this place? I heard you singing live several times and believe me, every time I asked myself the same question: what’s this guy doing here?!
Yes, I did. Every time I got on a stage with a band far beneath the level of musicians I was used to playing with, and I spent the performance working TWICE as much to carry both the band and the performance, instead being allowed to be the ARTIST I am. I was courted by EVERY record label in Romania when I arrived and when I finally signed with Roton, they didn’t have a CLUE what to do with me! (smiles) Then I tried to go over to CAT Music at the request of Dan Popi, whose idea was to pair me off with one of his existing female artists basically to make her “appear” to be international material, and to be told by him, after I recorded a demo with Connect-R, that I needed to sing more “amateur” if I was going to succeed in the music business in Romania! (laughs) Can you believe that? So, yes, I realized I was too good for Romania.
I’ve had this feeling too, that you were never promoted the way you deserved to. Why do you think that happened?
The reason is that the record labels don’t KNOW how to promote an international personality in Romania. They barely know how to promote the Romanian artists properly! They are too busy trying to put everybody in the same musical category and not taking into consideration that there exists something called “genres” and not EVERYBODY wants to listen to “dance music manele style”. (laughs)
Every international singer that has come to Romania to do something has not been handled correctly and has basically ran from Romania screaming! Tiger One and LaGaylia Frazier, just to name a couple. To me it seemed like the record labels liked the “idea” of having a black performer under contract, but had not given much thought to what that meant musicially. I mean I have been sent music by different composers in Romania and not one has taken into account that the music was not suited for someone with my vintage soul voice. It seems to be that Romanian record labels need to focus MORE on the artist they are promoting and creating the music, productions and promotion around the ARTIST, as opposed to their continually releasing the same song, with the same format and same music style with no attention paid to WHO exactly the artists are… It is a tragedy.
Was it hard to make it, financially, as an artist here in our country?
Financially it went up and down… Fortunately for me I have contacts outside of Romania which I could always turn to for performances. And being appreciated while I do them as well. People tried to pay me as if I was a Romanian artist, and I remembered the words of one my dear Romanian friends who came back to Romania after many years of living abroad after the revolution, only to find that things had not really changed: the divine Mihaela Mihai! She told me when we first met: Brad, NEVER allow to them to treat you like a Romanian, because they will if you do! You are an international artist, remember that! I truly loved and respected that lady, she taught me a lot about where I was when I arrived in Bucharest, and was instrumental in getting me established in the business. She tried to start a REAL artists union, but when head to head with the bureaucrats who couldn’t give a shit about artists or their rights in Romania… Defeated, disillusioned and discouraged, Mihaela returned to France where she is living now… happy again.Semnat de Corina Stoica