Early in June Adam Holmes & The Embers, our featured Artists of the Month for May, will officially launch their second album Brighter Still (read our review here), the follow-up to the very well received Heirs and Graces. Adam has been busy touring as the singer in John McCusker‘s band whose album Hello, Goodbye is also a featured album this month (review here).
Adam Holmes & the Embers are about to embark on a short Scottish tour before a summer of festival shows. So this seemed the perfect time to distract Adam, before rehearsals start, and ask him a few questions about the new album.
I’ve enjoyed seeing Adam and the band play live, and see the music progress since Heirs and Graces. There have been changes in lineup, and the live audience have been able to preview some of the songs from Brighter Still. So the first thing I wanted to ask Adam was whether this lead-in has made the transition from stage to studio smoother for the new songs. It’s refreshing to see that Adam still views live and studio performances as very different…
“It’s hard to say as the recording processes were enjoyable in completely different ways. I think maybe just the process in general was smoother for the second one as I had more of a realistic idea of what making a record entails. I don’t know if that was anything to do with us playing gigs together. Making a record feels different to playing a gig for me”.
So recording Heirs and Graces was just as important in terms of providing insight and experience?
“On the first record I had to almost create a band sound to underpin the songs I had written in a way that felt right, whereas on the new record I had a lot of those elements available to me and wrote with that in mind. I guess it was easier this time because I know more about what instruments I like the sound of and the way I like them to be played”.
One of the most immediate impressions from Brighter Still was a lessening of the folk influences that were part of Heirs and Graces. Was this a planned progression or natural evolution?
“To me natural evolution generally involves a great deal of thought in both life and music so it’s difficult to separate the two and say it’s one or the other specifically. I write from the heart about my experiences so the dialogue has remained the same but maybe the tone I use to speak that dialogue is different. I’m not the same person I was when I made Heirs and Graces. I don’t think in the same way or live in the same way so I felt I needed to reflect this in my music”.
Adam went on to explain that, despite his songs coming from the same viewpoint, it isn’t always immediately apparent what direction the end result will take.
“The way I wrote the new material is the same way I wrote the old material. I never thought of Heirs and Graces as a folk record. It’s just a collection of songs about my life and its pleasures and challenges. I have always loved soul, blues, hip-hop, reggae and folk in equal measure because to me they are all folk music it’s just we are too close to a lot of it to know it yet”.
No matter how personal the inspiration, though; any artist has to move forward, has to develop their skills and find new approaches to self-expression. Was that an important aspect of moving on from Heirs and Graces?
“Yes in so far as it is between any two albums. It’s just progression in terms of my craft and experience as a person and a musician. You learn things every time you make a record and it drives you to try the things you forgot to try on the previous one. For me that’s true both in terms of writing and production. We live for a relatively short space of time and recording an album means spending a great deal of that time thinking about something and putting all of your energy towards it so I don’t want to do the same thing twice. Working with different people as much as I can is very important to me”.
Nadine is a track that really stands out. I saw it as much more of a departure than any other track. The reaction to the song from Adam’s live audience was very enthusiastic and I wondered whether this encouraged him to be more adventurous with the song?
All I ever want to do is play music in the way that feels right to me. If I can’t do that I might as well go back to the building sites.
“No not really. I try not to think about what other people like or don’t like about what I do as I’ve always found that whenever I do that I end up making music I don’t enjoy playing. I actually feel like Nadine is the closest in terms of the writing to something off the last album but maybe it seems more obscure because there’s distorted electric guitar on it. The treatment we gave it was what I felt right for the song and the record”.
That makes perfect sense, above all else, the music has to feel right.
“All I ever want to do is play music in the way that feels right to me. If I can’t do that I might as well go back to the building sites”.
Not only has Adam been busy writing and recording his own album, his draw as a singer has given him the chance to collaborate on other projects. Touring with John McCusker’s band throughout April and May must have been a rewarding experience?
“Very much so. I’ve learned a great deal from it and met some new friends and I feel sad to see the end of it. I grew up on the records that John made so it was a true pleasure to be somewhere within it all adding my textures. It’s been an adventure that I’ll always be able to look back on with fondness”.
In terms of live performances, Adam’s no stranger to Scottish trad music, of course. Since 2010 he’s been a member of the highland band, Rura. Their mixture of powerful songs and lively tune sets seems to come from a different direction than John McCusker’s more mellow compositions, and I asked if he enjoyed the different outlook. Adam was quick to point out, though, that the music doesn’t differ as much as one might think.
Music’s purpose in my view is to bring people together and help them feel less alone
I always love playing with different people. I don’t really think the outlook on trad is that different between the two bands. It’s part of a language that we all think in, as people raised on old songs and tunes but everyone is trying to find their own space. John writes a lot, the same as everyone in Rura. Everything was new at one point and everything will be old eventually. What will be trad in 1000 years? What was trad 1000 years ago? It matters and it doesn’t matter. Music’s purpose in my view is to bring people together and help them feel less alone”.
As I mentioned in the Brighter Still review, as well as a string of award nominations, Adam’s also enjoyed some fascinating collaborations since Heirs and Graces was released. So to finish off, I asked if he had any other plans. It looks like Adam has enough to keep him busy for a while.
“I recently worked with Martin Green (Lau), Aidrien Utley (Portishead), Becky Unthank (The Unthanks) and Dominic Aitchison (Mogwai) on an album of music for a theatre show called Flit. We are touring it in October this year. There will be more soon I’m sure. I’m keen to start a band with some of the guys I used to make hip hop with and put a live show together. I’ve been doing some bits of writing with Heidi Talbot and John McCusker. Me and Jack Badcock from Dallahan have been talking for ages about starting an acapella vocal harmony thing so hopefully that too”.
And finally, Adam reaches out to Grammy nominee Feist.
“I would love to sing with Feist but that’s fairly unlikely. Feist, if you’re reading this please get in touch with me I think you are amazing”. Well, if she’s good enough for Peter Gabriel…
It’s been fascinating to hear more of Adam’s thoughts on his music, and especially refreshing to have my own preconceptions challenged. The overriding impression is that he doesn’t like to get too analytical about his music – it comes from the soul and it certainly touches the listener. What more could we ask for?
Adam Holmes and the Embers will be touring in June, with the official album launch at Glasgow CCA on the 9th. Full details, including Adam’s Edinburgh Festival shows with Flit, below.
Brighter Still is released June 10th
Exclusive Signed CDs Available to Pre-Order via Adam Holmes & The Embers website here.
June 3rd – The Ceilidh Place, Ullapool
Tickets Available Soon
June 4th – Brew At The Bog Festival, Inverness
with Blazing Fiddles, Blue Rose Code and many others
June 8th – The Blue Lamp, Aberdeen
June 9th – Brighter Still Album Launch, CCA, Glasgow
June 10th – The Tolbooth, Stirling
August 25th to 28th – Tonder Festival, Denmark
with Roseanne Cash, The Avett Brother and many more…
Information and Tickets
August 31st – Green Note, Camden, London
September 1st – The Convent, Stroud
Tickets Available Soon
September 3rd – Trelawnyd Memorial Hall, Trelawnyd, Wales
September 4th – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Tickets and Details Available Soon
September 9th and 10th – Shetland
with Rachel Sermanni
Tickets and Details Available Soon
Dates for Flit
August 10th and 11th – Edinburgh International Festival – EICC
October 22nd – Cambridge Junction
Tickets available soon
October 23rd – Sage Gateshead, Gateshead
October 24th – Buxton Opera House, Buxton
October 26th – Colston Hall, Bristol
October 27th – Barbican, London
October 28th – Lighthouse, Poole
October 29th – Howard Assembly Rooms, Leeds
October 30th – Brighton Dome Concert Hall, Brighton
November 2nd – Mareel, Shetland