Peter Bradley Adams knows how to convey a sense of space. His music speaks of both vast, wide openness and close, personal, interior places. His songs are subtly stated, but point to a deeper well just below the surface.
His recent album, The Mighty Storm, is sparse and measured. It is a collection of gritty and soulful songs full of aching, longing, and wandering. Each song is beautifully, carefully orchestrated, perfectly matching a voice that carries conviction.
NYMM: Tell me a little about the new project.
PBA: I recorded it with some my favorite musicians. I’ve always worked with other people, but I’ve also always been very controlling. I opened up this time and made it a big group effort. Everyone was co-producing and everyone was playing. We recorded at RCA Studio A, which is a historic studio. Some of the songs were re-cut and some new ones were added while we were there. That’s often the way I work, which is unfortunate because it’s not very economical to keep doing stuff over again. This was just one of those records that took me a long time to get it right. Eventually, you just have to let it be.
NYMM: It has a lot of variation, but is also very consistent. What themes are behind these songs?
PBA: I get a chunk of initial inspiration very quickly, and after that, I try to let the song write itself, to let it follow its own thread. New Orleans is about a drive my dad used to take from Boston to New Orleans in a Ford Fairlane 500 back when he was courting my mom. This was before there were interstates running south and it was all turnpikes, so it’s about this long drive straight through the night.
I will periodically draw from struggles in my life, or things I see, but I try not to make it entirely confessional. I don’t think that my life is all that interesting to the rest of the world.
NYMM: How is this different than your previous recordings?
PBA: Even though some people may still find it mellow, it has a lot more muscle than my other stuff. It has a little more swagger. That comes from the way it was played. There was a lot more live tracking.
Even though it’s very simple and stripped down, I put a lot of time into arrangement and deciding where a space should be. Even if it’s very transparent, that’s the compositional part of my brain. Everything that’s playing has to be there for a reason. It has to be adding and have a value. That can make it a little tedious for people working with me, but I can’t really help it.
NYMM: What is one of the most important things to you when songwriting?
PBA: There’s a certain use of language that is poetic to my ears. It comes from a more antiquated way of speaking from the past. Some of that has worked its way into my writing, just in the rhythm of the words.
NYMM: When writing that way, how do you manage to stay away from cliché?
PBA: Usually when you sing it, you can just feel that. If it keeps bugging you, you’ve got to change it. It’s literally the way it feels in your mouth. You have to follow your gut. Sometimes you can think so much about it that you don’t let yourself say something because you think it’s too simple or cliché, when actually you just need to say it.
NYMM: What has been one of your best moments as an artist?
PBA: My first really high moment was when my first band, Eastmountainsouth, got signed by Robbie Robertson of The Band. He is one of my idols, and it was mind-blowing that he would like our music and want to support us. Also, working with him and he was really supportive of me when I was scared and insecure about what I was doing. He helped me tremendously. I think back about that a lot whenever I get discouraged.
NYMM: Have you done a lot of performing?
PBA: When I was in my last band, Eastmountainsouth, I got thrown in the deep end. We got a record deal quickly and went on tour with Tracy Chapman. I had never really performed before, so I had to overcome stage fright. Even after I left the band, it was another step because then it was just me on stage. I have put out a lot of music, but it feels like only now I’ve started to hit my stride as a performer.
NYMM: How do you see where you are right now?
PBA: I feel like I’ve been slowly finding my voice. If you do that, I believe the success will come. That’s what I’m always thinking about, the next thing. I’m just trying to write and perform good music. I’ve had some discouraging moments, but quitting has just never been an option. I don’t know how to do anything else. Hopefully, that’s a sign that I’m doing the right thing.
Photos by Jon Karr
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