Andrew Adkins' songs have been hailed by critics from No Depression and Maverick UK as "one of the most original styles in the last decade" and "a breath of fresh air" because of their unique sound and blend of influences. Those truly unique sounds can be heard on his latest release, December’s Glass Castles. Written and produced by Adkins, the thirteen insightful, well-crafted songs are steeped in a myriad of influences from Americana, Blues, Country, Folk and Rock. Adkins kindly took the time to talk about those influences, the album and more.
Being that your music might be new to many, give us a little background. Was music something that you always wanted to pursue professionally?
Honestly, my memory doesn’t go back far enough to remember not being obsessed with music. At thirteen years old I started playing in bands and at seventeen was playing in bands with older guys who would get me into the bars to play. Senior year of high school all my friends had typical jobs while mine was playing four-hour cover sets on weekends, which was so cool because I was making as much money as my friends who were working four or five days a week. After high school, I moved to Nashville, and everything sort of took off after that.
You mentioned that you have been involved in other bands. Is Glass Castles your first solo record?
I have been in bands throughout the years, but this is technically my fist solo album and my first foray into an album with an acoustic element. I’m such a music fan with such an eclectic blend of influences, that if you look at my stuff, you’ll notice that it’s hard for me to stick with one type of music. One of the bands that I was in was a roots rock endeavor. I shared lead vocals with another guy who had a deep baritone and one journalist described us as Jimi Hendrix meets Waylon Jennings, which was a perfect summary of it. After that, I played in a band that was more rock and grunge and last year I did an album that had a folky element along with rock and synthesizer. I think though, that folk and blues have really been the foundation for anything I’ve ever done in my life; it always goes back to those two elements.
The album merges many of the styles that you mentioned. Does that represent what you were listening to at the time or did you just pull from elsewhere?
That’s what’s weird about it. You would think I would be listening to John Prine or Townes Van Zandt, but when I was making the album I was listening to so many things you wouldn’t think of, like Ennio Morricone, who is a composer of a lot of spaghetti westerns and just won an Oscar, as well as the Buena Vista Social Club, which is Afro-Cuban music. I listen to music strictly for entertainment value, I don’t listen to turn around and write a song. For me, it’s all about emotion and what’s going on in the inside. What’s going on on the outside has no effect whatsoever (laughing).
Many times with a first solo album an artist will say they had a lifetime to write it. Are these songs new or ones you had around?
A couple had been around a year prior to the record, but the funny thing is I had seven or eight more that didn’t make it. I had written them a few years ago but felt like I needed to replace them because I’m in a different place now. I believe music has to be a product of time. I don’t think it’s fair of me to say, ‘Here’s a brand new song I wrote two years ago.’ I change month to month and want my music to reflect that. I know I’ve written songs about ex-girlfriends or old relationships that I know I don’t want to sing about for the next ten years. I want to keep up to date because I want to sing songs in the foreseeable future that I enjoy singing, rather than songs that bring up parts of my past that I don’t want to revisit anymore.
In addition to writing all of the songs, you played almost all of the instruments on the record too.
Yeah, I wrote them all myself and for the most part, played all of the instruments as well. The guitar is my foremost instrument, but as I got older I realized depending on other musicians isn’t really best. A musical relationship is no different than a romantic relationship - you have to be committed and sometimes it doesn’t always work out. So out of necessity, I learned everything from engineering to playing the instruments.
I did have some talented musicians come in and play on this record though. Tim Roger and Tommy Butler played pedal steel, mandolin by Patrick Dufffy, banjo/strings by Clint White, additional bass by Gordon Emma, Daryl Wayne Dasher, background vocals by Jessica Schlosser and additional piano from Josh McCleod.
Glass Castles has an almost philosophical, positive, and hopeful overall tone which is a nice change of pace from a lot of singer-songwriters.
It’s funny you picked up on that. I was having coffee with a friend, asking him what he thought of the record, and he commented how making the record went really well for me. Usually, I almost have a nervous breakdown every time I make a record because they come up around a time when there is something going on in my life, and making records was my way of distracting myself from it. But this one was the easiest record I ever made. I was in such a positive head space and it comes through in the vibe of the songs. There was no stress other than putting together what I wanted to put out. I definitely can say I had a great time making it.
One of the songs on the album, "Glass Castles," is also the title. Is there any specific reason for choosing that one over the others?
The hardest thing in the world for me is to write an intimate ode to someone, but the songs on this record are very personal. I really felt vulnerable; I put myself out there, like ‘Wow, I can’t believe I said that’ kind of thing. Glass Castles is a metaphor for that; it’s about moving forward with confidence, but at the same time knowing you could shatter into a million pieces at the drop of a hat if you’re not careful.
The accompanying album artwork is incredibly cool.
I fell in love with the artist, Ellie-Rex. Her pieces…it’s like she lives in the 1970’s and comes to the future for her artwork. The cover reminded me of someone like Herbie Hancock or a really cool find in a record store. It played really well with the Glass Castles theme and I just loved it.
One song that fits in with that overall positive theme is the joyous “Jubilee (Land of the Free)” which closes out the album. Any particular reason why you chose to close the album with it?
In the age of iTunes, people listen to albums for songs, but I grew up listening to albums as a whole, front to back, taking away things when I was done. I like to listen and think about the last song as a final scene, so I wanted to leave the album on positive, celebratory note.
It definitely accomplishes that.
So, what’s ahead for you? Will you be doing any touring to support the record?
I will hit the road for a little touring in March, but I also just finished another EP that I hope to have out sometime in the summer. It’s a side project I did with a songwriter friend of mine, Jeff Brown. I would also like to release another album by next year. I go through my phases where I’m really crazy about writing an album and I can feel that coming up again. I shift into gears where I’ll lock myself in a room for a few days and see what happens. I love playing out, seeing people’s reactions to the music and meeting people, but my heart lies in the studio. I’m just looking forward to doing whatever comes next.
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