GRAMMY Winner Brad Thomas Ackley: From Paris to Carmel
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This month, Carmel Monthly is pleased to feature GRAMMY-winning composer, producer, mixer and instrumentalist Brad Thomas Ackley on the cover. Ackley and his family moved to Carmel from Paris, France, in 2021, and though he’s a new resident, he has family ties to Carmel that go back to the ’80s and ’90s. Ackley won a Grammy in 2021 for Best Global Music Album with Angelique Kidjo (“Mother Nature”) and performed live and toured with French artist -M- (Matthieu Chedid) for the 10 years prior to his move to Carmel.
Ackley’s extensive artistic resume and array of talent are just a couple of reasons we wanted to feature him — he’s a cool guy who’s looking to integrate within the community, along with his family, while continuing to evolve and create from the Midwest.
The Making of a Multi-Dimensional Film/Music Artist
Before moving across the pond to Paris, Ackley spent several years in California developing his career. His journey begins in the Midwest, where he was born [Cincinnati, Ohio]. His family moved to Texas and then to California [Orange County], where Ackley was immersed in the surf and skate culture of the 1980s while playing a variety of sports and rocking out to Gun N’ Roses and the rap-rock fusion of Run-DMC and Aerosmith as a teenager in the 1990s.
Feeding his growing passion for collecting and playing music, Ackley picked up the electric guitar [a black Stratocaster copy] at age 15 and put his first band together, jamming to rock classics from bands like Black Sabbath and Soundgarden. At age 18, Ackley earned a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
“I basically grew up in southern California — all through high school — and it was cool, but when I turned 18, I was like alright … let’s go see the rest of the world,” Ackley said. “I went to Berklee in Boston, and then coming out of [Berklee], I went to L.A. and jumped right into the mix of everything.”
During his years at Berklee College, Ackley explored his interest in every aspect of music, including producing and recording. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2002 after spending four years in recording studios and synthesis labs, producing, mixing and studying a variety of genres before heading to the West Coast to pursue his dreams.
“When I went to Berklee, I decided I didn’t want to just be a good musician by taking lessons from some of the best professors or whatever, so I took a lot of music engineering courses, and I had a band. I also took a couple of music business courses, but the real education was just listening to as much [music] as possible that you could never find anywhere else. I mixed with a lot of different people and played in a country band, hip-hop, and some ‘Radiohead’ type bands. I was trying to find my path, so after Berklee, I moved to L.A. and started working at recording studios to see what was going on there. It was a way to be involved and have a job, even if it was fetching coffee or whatever weird request they have out in L.A.”
Ackley got his first job as an audio engineer on the film “The Matrix Reloaded” at Cherokee Studios. Although he appreciated and enjoyed the experience he gained while working on the film, he knew he wanted to explore more of his creative passions, and he joined the electo rock group UltraViolet Sound in 2007.
Fellow band members included Sarah Hudson and Sami Diament [LSDream/Brillz]. Together, they released an independent album entitled O.C.D. [Obsessive Compulsive Dancing], which garnered a total of 135,000 downloads and sponsorship from Adidas Originals. UVS played a 35-city U.S. tour with Family Force 5 and shows with DJs Kill The Noise, Treasure Fingers, Ludachrist, SebastiAN, Kavinsky and more. They also played several one-off shows with Lady Gaga; an SXSW performance on a bill with Robyn, N.E.R.D, and Katy Perry; and shows with many other top artists.
Additionally, Ackley produced a rap record with Limp Bizkit drummer John Otto for Jacksonville duo Red Rock. He co-wrote and produced the platinum single “Galaxy” with Richard Vission for Australian artists Jessica Mauboy and Stan Walker. He also played in bands such as Uh Huh Her, JC, The Memorials with Thomas Pridgen [Mars Volta], and OWL with bassist Chris Wyse [Ace Frehley, The Cult] and drummer Ryan Brown [Zappa].
Ackley added, “I got to work on the music for the main fight scene on the stairs in ‘The Matrix Reloaded.’ It was an interesting period of time. So many cool things were happening, and there was a lot of money in the [music] industry back then too. There were different ways to digest new music, and I love crossing all of the genres. Anytime [artists] could blend over and make something new, I thought it was cool and super fresh. I felt like it was our music and not just our parents’ music.”
Following a Unique and Creative Path
The early 2000s were transformative years in the music and film industries with the onset of technological advances and specialized computer software that completely revolutionized how movies and albums would be produced.
“I always wanted to be on the creative side if I could,” Ackley shared. “I’ve been super lucky to be around really talented people, and I always try to be around people who are better than me so that I can get better and learn more.”
A Skip Across the Pond From L.A. to Paris
After nearly a decade in L.A., a longtime friend and collaborator, Dorion Fiszel, introduced Ackley to the French artist -M- (Matthieu Chedid). The meeting proved fortuitous. By the spring of 2012, immersed in Parisian life, Ackley was writing, producing, recording and mixing on -M-’s 5th studio album ÎL. The album peaked at number four on France’s album chart and went double platinum, selling more than 200,000 records. The sale of the album was bolstered by the popularity of the single “Mojo,” of which Ackley co-wrote and composed the classic opening guitar riff. The song was the second-highest charted single for the French artist.
Ackley joined -M-’s world tour in the fall of 2012. After two years of sold-out shows and performing for more than 500,000 fans, the tour earned the Victoire de La Musique, the French equivalent of a Grammy, for the best show and tour of 2014.
“We started doing these small shows [in the beginning], and then we went from club shows to all of a sudden, we’re performing in arenas, and I was like ‘OK, this works,’” Ackley shared. “I ended up playing with -M- for 10 years. We had just finished a tour and had new shows and festivals coming up and they kept getting postponed because of COVID-19. And then the next part of the tour got canceled. So, it was like alright … we’re kind of like at a break, and I was working on movie scores at that point, which I can do from anywhere.”
A Pandemic-Inspired Pivot
Although the entire planet was deeply impacted by the 2020 pandemic, Ackley’s description of life in Paris with his wife and three small children, holed up in an apartment, paints the picture of a challenging time for his family. Ackley set his course for the U.S. and decided to begin his next chapter as an artist, husband and father in Carmel, Indiana.
“It was really strict over there [Paris]” Ackley recalled. “You had to have permission slips to go places and couldn’t really go outside. Paris is beautiful, but in a pandemic, it’s not. We were going to have to move at some point, and I wanted my kids to have the school experience in the States. My parents moved to Carmel about 8 years ago to live close to our family that has lived in Carmel and whom I visited all the time when I was growing up. My cousins went to Carmel High School. And I saw how the city has been growing, so we decided to make the jump and moved to Carmel. And it’s been great! It’s a lot more mixed than it’s ever been — all kinds of people from everywhere. There’s momentum, and that’s exciting!”
Ackley added, “Yeah, there’s a bunch of roundabouts, which I’m happy for … I’m used to those. But it’s a special place, and it’s amazing. Not many cities can take out the middle part of their city and start over, you know.”
While Ackley is working to make connections in his new community, he continues to work from his studio and is working on mostly foreign projects currently. Ackley recently arranged all of the music for the biggest French film of 2023, which was just released last week on Netflix in the U.S. It’s called “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.” Ackley composed tracks on the soundtrack for Hawaii (Warner Bros France), in theaters now in France, and also composed and produced music for advertising.
“My work right now is pretty much still foreign, but I’m looking to connect with people around here and talk,” Ackley expressed. “Maybe we can help each other out and do some really cool stuff. I hope to inspire and connect people while getting creative and growing their creative sides. I have knowledge of quite a few areas of music, and if I can help share that with people in the community, then we can get better as a whole [community], and that’s good for everybody.”
For more information on Bradley Thomas Ackley, visit his website at bradthomasackley.com.
Hawaii – Original film soundtrack (Warner Bros), May 10, 2023
Astérix et Obélix: L’Empire du Millieu – Original film soundtrack arranger [Pathe], Feb 4, 2023