A Chat with Peter Bradley Adams
J. Scott Bugher
Mr. Peter Bradley Adams––the man, the myth, the legend––thanks for taking time to chat with Split Lip for a moment. Now, our readers are dominantly made up of writers, musicians and artists, so as junkies for learning about other artists, could you begin by letting us in on your creative process? How do you get in gear to write? What triggers your ideas? The music? The lyric?
It seems like I'm always in the process of wrestling songs to the ground. They're kind of like these wayward step children that I'm trying to bring home. I get a first chunk of a song really fast, and then the wrestling begins. It's lot of trial and error––a lot of editing. And then finally, hopefully, it gets there, and suddenly you can't hear all the sweat that went into it.
Continuing on the creative process, and for our reader's frame of reference: You are a solo singer-songwriter who hit the scene after departing East Mountain South, a duo project with Kat Maslich Bode. Could you explain the benefits and downfalls of writing alone versus collaboration with another songwriter?
"Be Still My Heart" Official Music Video
I don't do it very often, but there's a small stable of people I write with. Mostly with my friend Caitlin Canty. We have a duo project called Down Like Silver. I'm really proud of the songs we've written together. They feel like true collaborations, where each of us bring something totally vital to the mix. Those songs would never exist if we hadn't met. That's such a cool feeling to have. On the other hand, I guess a possible danger of co-writing would be that you somehow dilute your own voice as a writer, but I know a lot of writers (and sadly i'm not one of them) who can wear two hats. They have their more personal work, and then they can go into these blind co-write sessions and treat them as an exercise and really enjoy it.
You're probably accustomed to questions about your musical influences, but I'd like to narrow that question down. Bypassing the influential greats like Jeff Buckley, Leonard Cohen, Elliott Smith and others, who among your contemporaries are making an impact on what you're doing now? Why?
Ah, such a hard question to answer. I listen to so much music in wildly different genres, but if I had to grab just two, I'd say Gillian Welch and Arcade Fire. Why? Mostly because the songs are just so good.
Coming from a musical family myself, I noticed on the trustworthy Wikipedia that you give props to your grandfather for being your earliest influence. How did your music and upbringing mingle together? Were you encouraged to take the path you're on now?
Yes, my grandfather gave me an immense amount of encouragement right up until he died. At that point I don't think he or I knew exactly what I would end up doing musically, but there was still a great belief in music which he had instilled in me. He had spent a brief period of his life playing clarinet professionally in big bands (a la Benny Goodman and Pete Fountain). And all of his kids got the music bug, so there was a lot of singing and playing when the whole family gathered. There was a Hammond organ and an upright bass in the dining room. As for my immediate family, I'd say they tolerated my musical pursuit more than encouraged it.
Now, how do you feel about others who want to embark on the "road less taken" and make a living as an artist today? Cynical veterans tell young and aspiring artists to be practical and get a job in real estate. Some, on the other hand, feel it's important for young artists to move forward according to their creative convictions. What say you?
I'd say it definitely requires taking a risk, but if you truly love what your'e doing then you can't imagine not taking that risk. So there's really not a choice.
Artists who've studied their craft as an undergrad do tend to think about moving on to earn a Master's degree. Given you got a Master's in Music Composition, do you have any strong opinions about art and academia?
It all depends on what you want to do. If you want to teach music and/or stay connected to the academic world, then I'd say go for it. In my case, getting a Master's hasn't helped much with what I'm doing now. At least not with the songwriting. But it does help me talk to players and tell them what I want when recording or playing live, and it also really helps with arranging and producing. I keep threatening that one day soon I'm going break out the manuscript paper and write some instrumental music.
Well, I think that covers it for me. I really appreciate you spending some time with Split Lip.
Sweet, man. Thanks for the discussion.
Find "Be Still My Heart" and other great songs on Peter's record Between Us. Check it out in iTunes HERE.