Behind the Music: Interview with John Adams

‘If you open up to me, be careful as you may just be on the next album!’

Describe your music style in no more than 5 words: What my heart would say.

Where are you from?  I was born and raised in South Wales in a small village called Cwmaman. It’s actually where the Stereophonics came from. They showed that you can actually get heard from this small town. How inspiring! 

Who or what influences your music? I‘m a huge fan of the way Passenger tells a story and I’m a sucker for a real good voice such as Sam Smith, Emeli Sandé and James Bay. These are my musical influences and the artists I try to emulate, but because I write songs from a personal perspective, I guess I’m influenced by everyone around me. I’m quite sensitive and pick up emotions from those around me and put them into my music. If you open up to me, be careful as you may just be on the next album.

Who else is involved in your music? I have a big network of people that lend me their talents and as I get more successful, more of the tasks are taken over by somebody else which means I get to focus on the parts that I love the most. I’m afraid to start mentioning names in case I miss anybody out.

What does a John Adams recording session look like? It’s really not glamorous at all. We dress for comfort so look like we should be at home watching Jeremy Kyle and there will always be biscuits. Hobnobs being the out front favourite! There’ll be lots of loose paper with chords in different transpositions, instruments laying around in places they are likely to get broken and far too many half drunk, no longer warm mugs of coffee. The atmosphere is jovial but deadly serious all at the same time.

‘If I hear a new song I like, I try to get an understanding of why I like it.’

Where is your go-to place for writing new tracks? I pretty much write all of the time. If I’m in the cinema or at a concert I’m noting down lines to inspire me at a later date. If I’m driving I’ll record voice notes to come back to and generally I find myself latching onto particular phrases in a conversation or something I’ve seen on a bus stop. When I eventually get time to sit down with a guitar, most of the pieces are already there and I just start putting them all together. The place doesn’t seem important but the time does. Most of the magic happens after dark when I’m left alone with my thoughts.   

Do you prefer performing live or recording in a studio?  Definitely live! I know for sure that I over analyse and critique my studio vocals and some of the natural quirks and emotions are lost as I strive for perfection. I’m contemplating doing my next album completely live as a result. I think that’s why the artists of yesterday built such a connection with their audience. It was so real.

Do you have any releases and/or performances coming up soon? Well. I’ve just released a new EP called No White Lies and I’ve just got home from a 16 date tour around the UK. I have a few jobs to do and then I’ll be cutting myself off from the world for a while to start writing and planning the new chapter. 

Quite a lot of your tracks have a luxurious orchestral sound to them. How does this sound transfer to a live performance? To get the orchestral drum sounds we use a drum sample pad and for the larger shows we added a string section. It was gorgeous and sounded almost identical to the recordings. I was really pleased with our sound on the recent tour. 

Listening to your live ‘Cover Sessions’ Album it’s clear you can transform a track and make it your own. How did this album come about? Are there any plans for future cover albums? Thank you. I think that’s the journey of every artist. You start covering songs, then you cover them in your own unique way and then you’re halfway towards knowing what type of music you’d like to write. If I hear a new song I like, the first thing I do is learn how to play it and try to get an understanding of why I like it so I can transfer the ideas to my own music. I release regular covers on my Spotify to keep my listeners engaged between albums. 

Why did you become involved in music? I just enjoyed it! I’m a big fan of good movies because for 2 hours you’re engrossed in the storyline and you don’t give a second thought to who is around you or what jobs you have to do. It’s like as if all your senses are switched off bar one. Music is the same for me and it makes me terribly late for meetings because I get on the guitar and all sense of time is lost. That’s my excuse anyway! I was also quite happy to watch people draw and play sport but something about music forced me to get involved. 

‘Always make time to do the part of music that you enjoy the most.’

What is your first musical based memory? It’s not music as such but when I was a young boy I would try to mimic sounds. I remember I could do the telephone, the old fashioned kettle boiling, certain species of birds and the autotune effect on the radio that Cher used! I think this just extended to singing and so on. It was on all my school reports and I don’t think I’m any less annoying now. I’ve recently discovered that I can whistle a tune and hum the harmony at the same time to get a really weird vocoder effect. Such a waste of time! 

What has music enabled you to do? There’s a saying “If you find a job you love, you’ll never work again” but I’ve found quite the opposite and I think it should be “If you find a job you love you’ll work every hour available to you.”  It sounds ridiculous, but when you come home from work you usually do what you enjoy. I work hard for so much more than money. I love the feeling of progress, the songs act as therapy and hopefully the harder I work the longer I’ll be able to live out this dream. I was a Mathematics teacher before I did music and as much as I enjoyed the sense of purpose, the feeling of working six days and having one day to do my laundry and food shopping felt like a life sentence. Music freed me from that! Maybe temporarily but fingers crossed! 

What are your three pieces of advice for those trying to make it in the music industry?

  • Do it yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, someone will be more likely to help you if you’ve already demonstrated some drive. If no one ever helps, it doesn’t matter because you’ve already done it yourself.
  • If learning an instrument is going to take years, then you’d best start now.
  • Always make time to do the part of music that you enjoy the most.

And finally… You are told you can collaborate with any artist. Who would you choose and why? I would LOVE to write with Passenger. I’m in complete awe of his writing and live shows and I know from listening to his stories and lyrics that we’d have so much in common. If a co-write wasn’t on the cards I’d be happy with a beer!

Thank you for helping me get my music out to more ears! 

Follow John Adams on: Twitter and Facebook
Listen to and watch John Adams on: Spotify and YouTube
Find out more about John Adams at: Track Review: John Adams: Million Lives

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