Peter Adams is a singer-songwriter from Cincinnati who writes, arranges, and records lush orchestral indie pop songs. His second album, “I Woke With Planets In My Face,” was released in 2008, and certain bloggers/prep-hop superstars listed it as the second best album of the year. I recently got a hold of Peter, and asked him a few questions about his recording methods, the pluses and minuses of letting music fans decide what to pay for music, and why he doesn’t care if the Smashing Pumpkins wants to make songs Nickelback fans would like.
Peter Adams: I started playing violin when I was 4, and music theory soon followed. So yes, I am a product of the classical system. But guitar was something I taught myself, as was singing.
Peter Adams: I don’t really think of them as favorites. They have different purposes – I’m most adept at violin, which gives me the best ability to improvise and some up with melodic lines. Guitar is a my main songwriting instrument, but since I can’t do much on it beyond playing chords, it never plays much of a starring role in my songs.
Peter Adams: There’s a period of anywhere from a week to a year where I’ll formulate the basic structure of a song by playing it over and over again on guitar. During this time I’ll sing nonsense lyrics to get an idea of a vocal melody and rhythm. Occasionally some of the nonsense turns into lyrics worth using, but usually the next step is to sit down and really hammer out the lyrics. This is my least favorite part of the process. It’s very time consuming and there’s no way to rush it. Next step is to actually start recording, which again can take a very long time. This is where the song actually begins to exits outside of my head, and all the imperfections become painfully clear. There’s usually a lot of rewriting and reworking of things that sounded good when I imagined them but turned out not to be effective in reality. Sometimes, even after a recording is completely done, I’ll be unhappy with it and start the whole process over.
Peter Adams: I would keep it to those three you mentioned, with the addition of the entire Elephant 6 troupe (Olivia Tremor Control, Of Montreal, Elf Power, Apples in Stereo, etc), the sloppy beauty of the Flaming Lips (specifically their album The Soft Bulletin), certain aspects of classic rock like Led Zeppelin – specifically the grandiose themes and musical drama, the inspiration of the DIY, seat-of-your-pants style musicianship of early punk rock, along with their anti-authoritarianism (Dead Kennedys, the Clash, X-Ray Spex, Minor Threat, Bad Brains, the Adolescents), the wittiness and childlike quality of geeky bands like Devo and They Might Be Giants, the vaudeville mania of Tom Waits, the rhythms and microtones of classical Indian ragas, the romantic minimalism of John Adams, the folk-inspired energy of Bartok, the synthetic soundscapes of Bjork, DJ Shadow, and Sigur Ros, and dozens of other artists and composers whose impact on me is harder to place.
Peter Adams: It’s actually all wrapped up in the same process. I wish I could say that I sit down, write a song, get it all planned, spend a day recording the parts, and then spend another day mixing and editing, but it’s not that pretty. The writing and recording of a song is the same thing for me. Some composers write a piece by notating a score – I use physical sound recordings instead of notation, but the end result is the same.
Peter Adams: Ronald Reagan has become increasingly deified since his presidency, and considering the vast array of failed ideologies he represented and his general arrogance and hypocrisy, I can think of no one more deserving of a sucker punch.
Peter Adams: If it’s a weekday, savory. If it’s a weekend or a holiday, sweet.
Jeff: Ever since Radiohead went through with their “name your own price” method for selling In Rainbows, more and more bands have adopted this method for releases, including you. What made you decide to offer digital copies of your album like this, and on average, how much do people end up offering?
Peter Adams: It was actually my manager’s idea, and at first I wasn’t sold on it. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. I’m not anywhere near the level of a group like Radiohead, but the fans I do have tend to be dedicated, and I was confident they would donate a fair price for all the work I put into my music. I haven’t actually crunched the numbers, but I would guess the average donation to be around $5 or $6, which I am more than happy with. For so many people music has become something to be had for free, so I appreciate the fact that people are willing to pay for my music even when they don’t have to.
Peter Adams: If I had a chance to do some conditioning for it, I think I could give him a run for his money.
Jeff: What bands are you listening to right now, and what was your favorite album last year by an artist whose names doesn’t rhyme with “Shmeter Shmadams”?
Jeff: Between your first and second albums, you assembled the Nocturnal Collective so you could actually perform your songs live. Describe the process you went through to find the right people for that band.
Peter Adams: Cincinnati has a world-class music conservatory, and I snapped up students from there who I knew would be talented and knowledgeable about a wide variety of styles.
Peter Adams: Planets felt like a lot more work, and I got more elaborate and creative with it, but the process was largely the same. Since recording Planets I’ve begun working on new tunes, and aside from some random improvements like a new keyboard (which I didn’t have for the first two albums – all the synth work was input manually with the mouse) it’s still the same. I don’t think there will be any change until I come into some big bucks. Maybe I should start working on some singles. . . .