John Bradley Plays Music, Eats Plants, and Kicked Cancer's Ass
John Bradley has been a human for 28 years. He's been a serious musician for 9 of them, vegan for 6 of them, and my friend for 4 of them. First as part of Dads and then as a solo artist, John has toured both domestically and internationally. He's about to embark on yet another run of the northeast alongside Kelley Bader of I'm Glad It's You. I called John at his New Jersey residence to talk about eating vegan in Europe, nap machines, and his recent battle with cancer.
POF: So, where are you from and where do you currently reside?
JB: I was born on Guam and currently reside in Piscataway, New Jersey, which is where I’ve been for most of my life.
POF: You’re also a touring musician- how long have you been playing music?
JB: I started playing music when I was very young; my father had a little community band with his other Navy friends. They’d all play guitar or bass, and I had a little toy drum kit that I would play. Fifth grade was the first time I remember being like, “I want to learn an instrument and take it seriously,” and now I’m 28. So, math.
I started doing “band stuff” in my freshman year of college and that was when I was like, “Oh, you play shows,” and “Oh, you write songs and record them.” I learned everything as I was doing it, so it was a “you learn from the mistakes you’re making” thing. I think the first time I was in a serious band that was like, “We’re gonna tour and we’re gonna write and record an album,” was probably when I was 20.
POF: And how many tours have you been on since?
JB: I wanna say I’ve done 5 or 6 full U.S.’s. And then one European tour. And then random small runs of the west coast, and a ton of little runs of the northeast and the east coast in general.
POF: Cool. So how long have you been vegan?
JB: What year is it, 2018? Uhh since 2012. So almost 6 years. I went vegan April 2012, I forget the day.
POF: And what was your impetus for making the transition?
JB: When I was younger I was in the hardcore scene. And it’s very hard, especially in those days, to be part of the hardcore scene and not have PETA pamphlets thrown at you. I remember being in middle school and seeing a PETA pamphlet and being like, “Oh shit, I should really pay attention to this and worry about where my stuff is coming from.” And at that time, I’m essentially eating what I can– I don’t have money, I don’t have a car to buy groceries. I remember trying Morning Star veggie burgers and being like, “These taste like cardboard. This is weird.” And as soon as I was like, “I need to grow the heck up and be mature, and cut this shit out of my life and do my part,” I went vegetarian. It was after I read Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. It was structured like, “I’m not yelling at you to stop eating meat; I’m just giving you information in a conversational way. So hey, maybe think about this next time you pick up a chicken or piece of steak.”
I read that right before I took a road trip in 2011 and thought, “I don’t know how to eat vegetarian or vegan while traveling, so I’m gonna eat normally but keep an eye open for options when we stop for food or gas station snacks.” I came home from that trip and was like, “I’m going vegetarian.” In less than a year, I was like, “I’m going vegan because I can’t stand eating all this cheese.” Not only was it gross after learning more and more about what cheese and milk were, my body would slow down and just become a NAP MACHINE.
POF: I like the idea of a nap machine. Did you find any good vegan spots on that road trip?
JB: No. I ate like trash. I was a trash compactor of a person. For the longest time, I would have bad heartburn or digestive problems and I always was like, “What medication can I take for this? What can I do to stop this from happening?” I didn’t realize until I went 60-80% raw vegan that the food that I put in my body affects how my body operates. You read that, but you never really apply it to yourself until you have to. I saw GI doctors and each time they were just like, “Take more medication.”
POF: What was the process of going vegan like when you finally decided to label yourself as such?
JB: We [Dads] had just started a tour and played our first show. We kind of looked at each other and were like “Hey we’re both vegetarian and we both have talked about wanting to go vegan.” We figured if you can do it on tour, you can definitely do it when you’re home. So we decided to go vegan for the entire tour. We were at a diner and about to order, and we were like, “Alright let’s try ordering vegan and see how this goes!” And from there I’ve been vegan.
POF: Were there any points of difficulty along the way? What was your greatest challenge?
JB: When you first go vegetarian, you realize there are different things that you didn’t know had animal product in it. When going vegan, I think the hardest thing for me was adopting the entire lifestyle– it was more clothing, like the leather aspect of it. Now I wish we could take away the idea that leather is a luxury item. But back then I was just like, “Hey I like leather boots. And I’ll get pleather or [thrift store] leather, I’m fine with that.”
POF: Yeah, I think it’s definitely a learning process that continues over time.
JB: I think it’s important to tell people that if you can find yourself able to do one part, then do it. Maybe you can’t go completely vegan because of xyz. It can be expensive, it is a privilege, and it can be hard to do for a lot of different diet needs or cultural aspects. But if you find a difference you can make, that’s awesome. I think as you keep going– especially with vegetarianism and veganism– you realize that while you might not be able to do everything, you do what you can.
POF: That’s really valuable. You mentioned you’ve also toured internationally, so have you found any more favorite vegan spots abroad?
JB: So when we were on tour we had a driver because obviously we couldn’t drive in Europe. And it was harder to make those [food-related] decisions. I also got really sick when I was over there because it was winter– you would get really sweaty from playing a show and then immediately go outside and it’s 20ºF and wet in England. But there were a couple things I noticed: hummus and baguettes are readily available everywhere, and there were healthier options. There’s punk vegan and then there’s healthy vegan, where people are just doing it because they’re healthy, and they realize how smart it is for their body– that’s what I saw in Europe. England definitely had a bunch of stuff that I was very blown away by. Just great food.
POF: A couple years ago you were diagnosed with cancer. Can you talk a little bit about how it affected your life and specifically your diet?
JB: It was actually funny because I had friends and family members being like, “It’s so crazy that out of everybody we know, you’re the one that got it, because you’re the one that’s health conscious.” But, I also had a history of bad eating, and it wasn’t even an eating-related cancer. There were definitely a lot of things I had already started doing. You know, you mess with spirulina, and you mess with kale because you hear it’s got great cancer-fighting properties. When I got the diagnosis, I was like, “Alright what can I put in my diet to help?” But I was also Stage 1 and not riddled with tumors, so I didn’t need to eat a crazy diet of like raw vegetables and powders to fight it. But it’s definitely something I thought about.
I also wanted to relish in the idea of comfort food because it was mentally tough, and a lot of my love is food. There were a lot of dinners where we would try to eat something nice and go to different restaurants in our area that had vegan options to have fun and keep the mood up.
POF: That’s good for morale; food is so emotional.
JB: Yeah. For recovery from one of the surgeries, I had to eat a low or zero-fat diet because my body couldn’t remember how to store fat. So if you ate too much fat, it would just create fatty deposits. And that was kind of a struggle being vegan because there are things that are low-fat, but then you’re not getting much protein. I just remember eating a lot of Boca burgers that are like 1g fat.
POF: So you’re in remission from cancer now, right? How long has that been?
JB: It’s been two years. I had my final surgery in February 2016, and since then I’ve had completely clean scans. Just recently, my doctor has been able to say I’m completely cancer-free. But I think up until 5-7 years [later] you’re still at risk.
POF: Is your diet now different from your diet pre-cancer?
JB: Not because of cancer reasons. It’s essentially the same. If anything, I’ve changed certain things for fitness reasons. Even before that, I got really into hippie raw vegan shit and I was super into supplements and powders. When I got diagnosed with cancer, I already had this wealth of knowledge.
POF: I know you were dabbling in vegan keto this past year. What motivated that shift and what’re your overall thoughts on it?
JB: I’ve always had weight problems where I yo-yo and I love food a lot. So I’ve always had these body things, whether it’s body dysmorphia or something, where I’ve always looked at the scale or the mirror differently than what it is in reality. I did a super low fat, high carb, high protein diet while working out. It was fine for a while, but I was on it for a long time, and it felt like torture to be missing peanut butter and avocados. I was doing like 30g fat a day so I could barely have anything. I got very close to my goal weight and started seeing more stuff about keto. I was like, “How can I do this vegan?” I’m sure if you talked to an expert they would say I wasn’t doing it right, but I went as far as buying keto strips to make sure I was in ketosis. It was cool. I enjoyed it. I lost weight quickly. It took me months to get near my goal weight, then I did keto and [the rest] just fell off. It felt like, when I would cheat or have “bad” food, it didn’t affect me as much as it did when I was doing low-fat / high-carb. I’ve since stopped, but that’s more because I wanted to add muscle.
POF: So what does your current diet look like?
JB: I’m in a caloric deficit because I’m about to leave for tour and am trying to shed any “winter weight” I can to ease my mind into being on a stage in front of people. I do less than 1.5g of carbs per pound of bodyweight. I do so much math it’s stupid, but I obsess over everything I do. I translate my weight from pounds to kilos, and then I do 1.5-1.8g of protein per kilo. And then the fat is whatever is left. I still want a decent amount of fat because I noticed that my body worked better when I had at least 50g per day.
POF: And what’re your favorite/ staple products at the moment?
JB: I eat the same stuff almost every day. I’m a sucker for Vega– I’d love to get sponsored at some point in my life [laughs]. I love their sport protein. I’ve been messing with the Follow Your Heart vegan egg. I probably eat that daily. I love the Sweet Earth Bacon.
My favorite thing is going to Whole Foods and buying all this stuff and somebody asking, “Hey, is that good?” And I’m like, “It doesn’t taste like bacon, but it tastes great.” I feel like mushroom bacon is the closest you can get to that bacon taste. I’m also big into soups right now because it’s winter. I love a good tomato soup. I’ll stock up on the Imagine brand creamy tomato basil and make it each night. I’ll mix in a Field Roast sausage or TVP.
POF: So you’re about to begin tour. What are you most looking forward to, food and otherwise?
JB: I’m touring with my friend Kelley, who’s in I’m Glad It’s You. It’s his first time touring the northeast with me, and I love to show people restaurants and coffee. Since it’s in the northeast, I feel like I have a decent handle on it.
In NYC, everybody goes to Champs because it’s such a thing. We’re also staying in Manhattan, and there’s a new Dunwell Donuts in the East Village. We might do pizza because he’s from California and I have to give him good pizza. You’re gonna show us the good Philly spots– I’m guessing Blackbird.
POF: Oh yeah, we should totally go to The Tasty too. They have great baked goods and chikn and waffles.
JB: I’m down. I love any sort of chikn and waffles.
POF: Cool. So, lastly, what do you see for the future of veganism? We’re coming off Expo West right now and so many cool products have just been unveiled.
JB: I feel like every time I’ve gone on Instagram I’ve gotten so much hungrier than I was beforehand. I’m so excited for more options. I feel like we’re making “fun” products, which I’m really happy about. People who aren’t vegan see these products which aren’t exactly health-conscious, and that brings them to the table. It’s a way to show people that we’re not eating just cardboard burgers. We also have some terrible stuff that tastes amazing.
But more than any of that, I’m excited for more availability and accessibility. I can go into one of the crappier grocery stores in my town and find brands like Earth Balance and Follow Your Heart. I get so excited to see things like Beyond Burgers at Target– I love to see these brands expanding to regular stores.