As the guitarist of introspective indie-rockers Nap Eyes and bassist of the softly grooving Homeshake, Brad Loughead has shaped the sound of two of the most beloved Canadian bands of the past decade. Growing up in the town of Truro, Nova Scotia, his passion for music began at an early age, but it would take moving to Montreal in his early 20s and discovering the city’s queer party scene for him to become completely comfortable in his own skin.
“I was only kind of out before I got fully invested in the dance music lifestyle,” Loughead says. “Learning about that world showed me that there is another way.”
The first place that I saw Loughead play was a basement show in Calgary. Among my social circles, his band York Redoubt was the talk of 2009: four skinny boys sing-shouting their hearts out, delivering deliriously catchy songs with the hyper-focused precision of Halifax math-rock. It was the first time Loughead had toured all the way across the country, but far from the last. During the early 2010s, his wiry indie-pop bands Long Long Long and Each Other endlessly criss-crossed cities in North America, playing up to 200 shows per year without the help of a booking agent.
With that gruelling pace of touring, it’s easy to understand why Loughead was ready for a break from life on the road. After moving to Montreal in 2014, he began coming out to his close friends. The city’s late night dance parties, welcoming BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ crowds, provided a welcome respite from the straight white dude world of indie-rock.
“I felt quite burned out on bands and the whole DIY scene,” Loughead admits. “After years of hitting it really hard, I needed to step away from touring for my own well-being. Dance music became a bright light at that time. I started going out of my way to avoid angular guitar music for the most part because it had a lot of feelings of male aggression.”
Loughead credits his aunt, a guitarist and singer who now lives in Mexico, with introducing him to his lifelong pursuit. He was gifted his first electric guitar at age 11, and remembers trading MuchDance and Big Shiny Tunes CDs with his sister every Christmas (when he wasn’t busy playing with her Barbie dolls). By 14, he told his parents that he wanted to pursue music forever. “It took a couple of years for them to understand that, but not too long,” Loughead says. “They were actually really supportive after I left high school about not going to university and wasting a bunch of money.”
At 16, Loughead attended a summer rock camp in Halifax hosted by local shop Music Stop. It was there that he met his longtime collaborators Mike Wright and Nap Eyes singer Nigel Chapman, both of whom were playing in a popular all-ages group called the Dishonest Mailmen at the time. “I want to say they were a pop-punk band, but it was more like a scrappy version of the Libertines,” Loughead says, laughing. Following in the footsteps of Halifax superstars Sloan, who attended the same rock camp when they were teenagers, was a fitting origin story for the burgeoning shredder.
After the other members of Nap Eyes followed Loughead to Montreal, they began touring in support of their debut album, mercifully slowing down from his previous bands’ pace. “I didn’t want to stop travelling and playing music,” he says. “It was more the focus on me being a songwriter that I didn’t want anymore. Being a side person was a bit less stressful.” Yet despite no longer filling the role of a lead vocalist, Loughead’s pyrotechnic guitar solos on songs like “No Fear of Hellfire” pushed Nap Eyes’ music into territories of transcendence.
At the same time as Nap Eyes’ earliest tours, Loughead linked up with Homeshake’s Peter Sagar. Their trip to 2015’s SXSW music festival in Austin, Texas, found Homeshake playing an exhausting 13 shows. The perception of the band’s rising success, though, contradicted their financial realities. “That was right when we were reaching a new level, but we were also super broke,” Loughead says. “Our guitarist Mark [Goetz] was eating one bag of potato chips every day because he didn’t have any money.”
SXSW 2015 coincided with an explosion of popularity for the London-based electronic pop label and artist collective PC Music, who Loughead watched with great pleasure. He sounds like a kid in a candy store when he describes performances from PC Music artists A.G. Cook, Charli XCX and the late SOPHIE. “I was in absolute bliss,” he says. “Listening to SOPHIE at that time was massive and life-changing. Her song ‘BIPP’ changed everything for me.”
At that same fateful festival, Loughead recalls meeting British group Kero Kero Bonito, whose member Gus Lobban performs as the Kanye-spoofing PC Music artist Kane West. When Kero Kero Bonito came to Montreal the next year, Loughead booked the afterparty, setting the wheels in motion to produce his own dance music tracks. On the 2020 debut EP from Time XL, he teamed up with Nap Eyes drummer Seamus Dalton to fuse frenetic breakbeats with starry-eyed Auto-Tuned vocals.
When I reach Loughead on Zoom, the 34-year-old who greets me seems strikingly different from the shy indie-rocker that I remember from a decade earlier. These days, his laugh is boisterous and he shows off a pair of muscular arms in a tank top. On the day we connect, he’s preparing to drive from Montreal to Halifax in his parents’ Dodge Ram with a group of friends and a pair of battery-powered speakers so they can “bring the queer party energy” to Nova Scotia. In his downtime from life as a touring musician, hosting DJ sets in secluded outdoor locations has become an energizing source of joy and togetherness for Loughead’s community.
Thankfully, the past few years of globetrotting tours with Homeshake have also evolved from their unglamorous origins. When I ask about highlights, Loughead mentions shows in Japan, Australia, Brazil, Indonesia, Egypt and, most recently, India in the months shortly before the pandemic. They count Kendall Jenner, ASAP Rocky, and British rapper Skepta among their high-profile fans. “We got to meet Skepta in London,” says Loughead, laughing. “I got way too stoned and drunk on Hennessey at his apartment while we were playing video games.”
In an attempt to expand the audiences typically seen at DIY rock shows, Homeshake now enforces a rule that “no indie-rock bands that are just straight white dudes” can be their opening acts.
“We tour with rappers, R&B singers and all different kinds of people,” Loughead says. “There was honestly a shift in the audience when we started doing that.” As this trend continues, Homeshake shows could start looking very similar to their afterparties. “I sent Peter a drunken text the other night that was like, ‘Next Montreal show I’m flooding the guest list with POC and queers. Nothing you can do about it. All of your straight friends have to pay.’ He just laughed and said ‘Sounds good!’”
After talking about the musical projects that have defined his life for the past decade, Loughead reveals a few details about his romantic relationships. “The first time I really messed around with a dude was on tour when I was in my early 20s,” he says. “Then it started happening more once the gate was opened.” His first long-term relationship ended after three years, just before COVID-19 hit. Loughead found it difficult being away from home for months at a time.
“The lines of communication are never going to be what you want, and someone is always going to be wanting or expecting more,” he says. “When I’m on tour, I don’t like to be texting people who aren’t around all the time. I want to be present, even when I’m sitting in the van. Obviously it’s nice to stay connected to people you love, but it’s a really delicate balance and sometimes it just doesn’t work.”
Loughead describes the only date he went on during Montreal’s COVID-19 curfew, which banned non-essential trips from home after 8 p.m., as “kind of horrible.” After inviting someone over for dinner and wine, he was forced to decide if the night would end early or become a sleepover. “We weren’t really jiving, but they stayed over,” he says. “After that I was like, ‘no more.’”
Following the “hard and heartbreaking” end of his three-year relationship, Loughead had no intentions of dating again, but love found a way of sneaking up on him with someone he met in the dance party scene. “I wasn’t looking for anything new, but then recently something happened,” he says. “I clicked with someone in a way that I wasn’t expecting.”
Homeshake and Nap Eyes’ success have opened countless doors for Loughead, but he remains passionate about new collaborations with pop song craft as their focal point. The project he’s most excited about right now is Cecile Believe, the latest alias of Montreal’s Caila Thompson-Hannant, formerly known as Mozart’s Sister. She earned a new legion of fans as one of SOPHIE’s key collaborators, co-writing and performing vocals on many of the songs from the visionary Scottish artist’s 2018 album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
Loughead and Thompson-Hannant recently spent two weeks recording a collection of songs in a Nova Scotia cabin on the ocean that we will hopefully hear in the near future. He will follow her in a move to Los Angeles this October, where he plans to continue focusing on songwriting and production.
“I love to drive, and I’m looking forward to getting away from the fucking winter,” Loughead says with an easy-going smile, revealing how comfortable with himself he has become. “I kind of just know it’s going to work. Whatever happens, there is icing on the cake.”