PETER BRADLEY ADAMS has had a pretty storied career. His break into the industry came as part of the folk rock duo Eastmountainsouth, in which he experienced some considerable success and did some high-profile support tours.
Since the group disbanded in the early 2000s, Adams has been on his own - releasing a string of critically acclaimed and brilliantly produced albums and composing for others along the way.
Adams’ music has been featured in dozens of films and television shows over the years, including shows like One Tree Hill and notable films like Elizabethtown.
It’s a testament to the caliber of his songwriting, which makes his intimate show at the Roasting Room on May 18 something not to be missed.
We spoke to Adams ahead of the gig about his career so far.
How did you get into writing songs and playing music?
Adams: I started playing classical piano when I was a kid, and ended up going to grad school for composition and then going to L.A. to write music for film and TV. But I think all along I was kind of writing songs, but sort of secretly writing songs. That’s what I really wanted to do, I think, but I just probably didn’t think I could or was too scared to do it.
I’m really primarily a songwriter. It took me a long time to figure out how to be one, and to actually have the guts to do it. I’d messed up this job for this company I was writing for, and realized I needed to stop doing that [laughs]. It was like soul crushing writing. So I just decided I was going to try it, and then very quickly met Kat Maslich and we started Eastmountainsouth. The whole thing just happened almost too quickly. I hadn’t performed before, so I just kind of hid behind her.
When that ended, I kind of started over again on my solo stuff. But I’ve always been poring over songs. Even as a little kid I was on my playschool record player, listening to all of these old records.
Because Eastmountainsouth happened so quickly and on such a large scale, do you feel like it was maybe a primer for you as far as feeling comfortable enough to do your own thing?
In some ways it was, but in other ways it wasn’t. I was always singing with Kat, so I didn’t have the experience of just getting up there by myself. I’m still figuring out how to sing, to be honest. It’s been a long journey - I think my songwriting was way more developed than my singing [laughs].
I had to kind of start over. We were doing these big tours, and then I got a different booking agent and started doing these smaller tours - just getting up there and sucking, but sometimes doing okay. I finally got to the point where I could do it. So it was helpful, but it was also sometimes like having training wheels on, you know?
So you’re doing your own thing now, which makes you an artist. Do you still feel like you’re innately a songwriter, though?
Yeah, I’m sometimes a songwriter. I don’t know - I live in Nashville, and co-writing is kind of a thing here. I do co-write, but I’m not hitting the pavement every day trying to get cuts. I’m basically doing my thing, because that’s what I’m good at. I’m not trying to cross genres, etc.
But I also think that all of that classical training did something to the way I listen and has somehow informed my writing and producing. A good example would be, I was asked to write a chamber music piece for this group called the ALIAS Chamber Ensemble. I was asked to do this, and I wrote a bunch of instrumental pieces. It was okay, but it wasn’t anything I would’ve wanted to listen to. So I ended up writing a song, but a song that had string parts that were more than just a string arrangement for a song.
We performed it at a concert, and I’m just finishing up a studio version of that. It’ll be kind of the first time that the two sides of what I do have come together.
You mentioned before that your experience composing has informed you as a songwriter and producer. When you go in to make a record, do you typically work with producers or do you really have the vision yourself and know how best to execute it?
Well, in the past I’ve been extremely involved in production. The record I’m working on now, though, is the first time I’ve brought in someone that I’m letting kind of lead the ship. I’m still involved, but he’s trying to get me into a different sound. So it’s been hard to let go - there’s a lot of good tension between us. We’re buddies, but it’s just a good creative tension. He’ll go, “Nope, we’re not going to do that again. You’ve done that on every record.”
How would you characterize those newer, outside of the box aspects on the new record?
It's going to be a little less soft. Even the soft stuff isn't going to sound so clean, and the more energetic stuff is going to be a little tougher sounding.