Brad Corrigan (aka Braddigan) certainly understands extremes. Dispatch, the trio he formed with college friends in the 1990s, became an independent music phenomenon. They spent years building an enormous following of rabid fans through the internet and touring only to break up at the height of their popularity (their 2004 farewell concert in Boston drew an estimated 110,000 people). Corrigan then returned to the drawing board and put together a three-piece acoustic, rock and reggae outfit, Braddigan— featuring Reinaldo De Jesus on drums and Tiago Machado on bass—and began dividing his time between playing clubs all over again and devoting energy to the various ministry and justice causes he supports.
And now, just a few months removed from Dispatch’s sold-out, three-night reunion at Madison Square Garden—for which the proceeds benefited organizations fighting disease, famine and social injustice in Zimbabwe— Corrigan is sitting in a small venue on the campus of St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. He’ll be playing to an audience of 200 students tonight at an event sponsored by Advocates for Drug Awareness and, though he’s played to far bigger crowds, you get the feeling he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Tonight he will get an opportunity to connect personally with a group of young people, play his songs and talk about where his life and music intersect with his deep sense of faith and commitment to justice issues around the globe. Corrigan’s gift for being able to bring a potentially broad and difficult message down to a very human scale is in evidence that evening. The students crowding the room listen intently to everything he has to sing and say and then hang around afterward for an opportunity to meet and speak with the musician one-on-one.
Videos of two songs performed that evening are available here.
BH: It’s very clear that there’s a deep spiritual element to the music you make and the causes you support. Can you talk a little bit about where that comes from? What started that, was it before Dispatch?
BC: Well, I was pretty blessed to grow up in a family where faith was really important…from my grandpa as a singer. I would say music and his faith inspired me from the time I was 5 or 6. I remember being on stage with him for a Christmas play where he’s 6’3″, a big, bald German dude, and he was Gabriel and I was Hark the little herald angel. And the two of us kind of teamed up on the whole thing. So I just have a lot of joy thinking back on growing up in a family that saw the best of times and then the worst of times and our faith only grew stronger. Whether it was a financial situation like my dad faced or health stuff that my mom faced or my sister had a pretty rough ride through high school and college, I kind of watched the Lord as a protector and as a provider and as a healer and I was like ‘well, if you’re real in their lives, I sure hope you’ll be real in mine.’ When I got out of college I kind of stepped up and was like ‘you gotta make yourself real to me and if you don’t, I’m outta here. Because if you are real, I know you’ll step into this openness.’ So, from probably when I was 21 or 22, it was no longer clothing that I was born into, it was more like, it was mine.
BH: How did the Lord show you?
BC: I was angry coming off of 4 years at a liberal arts school [Middlebury] where I wondered why wouldn’t there be a hunger for faith. Why wouldn’t there be a hunger for philosophy and debate? The Christian organizations that met on our campus really were more withdrawn, they met Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m. and that’s not my style. I will never be like that. God called us to be in the world, not of it, but in it. So, I’m not gonna withdraw from the weekend in college in order to try to find fellowship. So I really felt like that wasn’t my family there. And, not making too much of a critical statement, but it seems like that’s a posture. So, when I got out of school I thought ‘alright, Lord, I know you haven’t called any of us to go it alone. And if that’s the case and it’s true, then there’s got to be a group of like adventure-seeking believers out there. And you pretty much have the summer.’
BH: You gave God a deadline?
BC: Yeah. I was like, ‘Lord, I’ve waited too long—4 dry years in school— please bring it.’ I went to a camp and ended up a counselor where I was an athlete and musician. It was a Christian sports camp and I thought, ‘alright, this is it. If I can find even a couple of guys that I relate to, then maybe this will be the beginning of something new.’ There were 20 counselors and I’d say I hit it off with, oh 18 maybe. I kind of found my family in that.
BH: I like what you said about being in the world and not of it. That’s difficult to integrate those things. It is a we deal with a lot at BustedHalo. There’s a sense out there that you have to separate yourself from the world but it sounds to me that your experience of faith has somehow called you deeper to be in the world. Can you tell me a little more about that?
BC: I don’t understand how anyone can look at following Christ in a different way. He went right into the world. He charted the heaviest, most brutal path right into the margins of society where people were broken, where people were downcast or they were excommunicated. Whatever it was, he went to the people that no one cared about. It’s just so obvious to me the more I spend time reading, looking at the Lord’s works and looking at the way he lived his life. His footsteps are not in a safe camp. And I think that’s what a lot of people of faith have done. There’s a heavy tension to be in the world and not of it but it’s a beautiful tension. In a world filled with grace, each time you fail, no big deal, there’s grace. If you’re not living in a world of grace, you want to be in a safe house, in a camp where hopefully you’re not gonna fail and your fear of failure becomes the wall that keeps you from impacting a world that really needs to know the light and the love that God gives us. I can’t identify with a life other than going directly into the heart of where God wants us to bring that love.
BH: It doesn’t sound like you’re interested in making Christian rock. Can you talk a little bit about what inspired you as a kid to play music?
BC: I think I saw that there was really a power in it, that there was a voice in it. I think even from my earliest years if someone would have asked me, I don’t think I really would have known what it meant but I think I would actually have said “I think I’ve been made to do big things.” I’m made to say things loudly, I’m made to make noise. I had this sense of stuff in me that had to get out. Again, through my grandfather being a bass in a choir and my mom loving piano, and thankfully having the support of people around me, that’s why I felt like, I’ll just go in the direction of my dream, wherever that goes, that’s just what I’m supposed to do.
So, it’s a platform I think I identified with from a distance when I was younger, that hey, there’s a stage and there’s a microphone and there’s a way to increase your voice. Well, maybe I’ll have something to say someday. And the more the Lord gave me favor and also broke me into a thousand pieces, the process of me being in Dispatch was me being seduced by all the stuff I swore I would never buy into. And as soon as the spotlight is put on you, you think ‘oh I’m actually doing this for a greater cause’ and ‘I kind of like the way, the light looks on me’ or ‘God’s the one that’s gonna put the food on the table or keep a roof over my parents’ head.’ And then all of the sudden ‘maybe if we sign a big record deal I could buy my parent’s house back for them.’ My identity slowly but surely became like I had something to prove. So rather than having to gaze on the Lord in the freedom of ‘What do you want me to do today, Father?’ It was more like ‘I’m holding on more tightly to this thing that’s kind of picking up speed and there was really a momentum in it.’
BH: There still is a lot of momentum…three sold out nights at Madison Square Garden is a pretty big accomplishment.
BC: Yeah, well, the momentum is healthy now. All three of us aren’t tied to it anymore, so we really enjoy it.
BH: You won’t go back to Dispatch?
BC: Not in the way we ever did before. But I think we’re being protected and we don’t even realize it. If we went full-time with Dispatch, you’d be making a decision that you’re going to live your life publicly for the rest of time. Chad and Pete and I, as much as we love to talk about having a voice, the Dispatch thing is so epic in every way, that I think we can only handle it every year or two.
BH: What do you think touched people about Dispatch?
BC: I think it was really real. I think it was really authentic. I think it was more than an entertainment voice. I think we had something to say and if all that we said is people are made for dreams, you better step into it and do it. Whatever that looked like for the rest of the kids that were getting into our music…I think that’s what they identified with. We were never the slickest. We were never the best musicians. We never had the things that people really think makes that beautiful underpinning, that famous celebrity underpinning that makes being a rock star. So, hanging with people beforehand and hanging with people afterwards, I think, made us very approachable and very real to people.
BH: But it must be tough to realize that there’s this potential cash machine in the form of Dispatch and not allow that to determine what you do?
BC: It’s not that hard to say now, five or six years ago, that was really the crux…it was our friendships or what’s on the other side, the money, the power, the leverage, all the opportunity as individuals. And thank God, honesty, the three of us kind of accidentally followed each other into the right decision. Each one of us confronted our own dark side and like wow, what do you do in the face of this? But somehow the three of us as one, said ‘there’s no way. None of that feels right. We’re pulling back and we’re slamming the door shut. No more industry meetings, no more blank check opportunities, nothing.’ We retreated knowing our friendships were just tattered. We were so tired, we were just flat out burned. And then a couple of years later because of stepping away from that then we had a freedom to return to it and there was no tarnish on our legacy. So, yeah, I know, I really do have a sense of what we can do, what we can generate in terms of awareness and raising money for causes and all that stuff, but, I think the three of us have learned a heck of a lot that we have way more than we need. If you really do buy into our culture, that there’s never enough, then you will always chase down every machine and then those cash machines will run you over. We’re free and we’re happy that way.
BH: That’s a pretty radical decision. The music business is always about capturing the brass ring. For somebody to have the brass ring well within reach but then reject it is counter-cultural in a certain way. Did you get some criticism from people for doing that?
BC: I don’t know, there was like a credibility that was established when we stepped away. And, again, it was not an intentional: “We want credibility, we want to be an indie band.” It was just “this does not feel right.” We have not met the right people that we would trust in our family. We treated our band as a family so the fact that we never found that and that our family became our fans, rallying around saying “you don’t need radio, you don’t need TV, we’ll show up.” They kind of became our rallying cry.