Interview Episode number seven is here and we have another Twin Cities musician, Adam Svec of the band The Glad Version. No only is Adam an active/critical member of The Glad Version, but he also has a solo album available under the name “Adam Svec” (big surprise) called Enemy Swimmer. Enemy Swimmer has received some wonderful attention on City Pages top 10 albums of 2008. Please go to the Glad Version myspace page and listen to 893 and love it, then check out everything else he is doing. On to the questions….
FFTB: Any background on the album title ‘Enemy Swimmer’?
[a] Enemy Swim is the name of a lake in northeastern South Dakota. ‘Legend has it’ that the lake got its name from a late night confrontation on the water’s edge between two warring American Indian tribes. As the defeated tribe attempted to retreat by swimming across the lake, many of them were shot in the back. When the sun came up the next morning, the lake was filled with the bodies of dead enemies still swimming away from the fight.
I thought Enemy Swimmer would be an appropriate title for a record released by a dude from South Dakota who never seems to retreat from problems quickly enough.
FFTB: What are some of your non-musical influences and why?
[a] 1. Chili / Espresso / Jameson. If you are what you eat, than I am mostly made of chili, americanos, and a certain phenomenal Irish whiskey.
2. Walking. I walk about four miles a day. I spend a lot of my time thinking about phrases, melodies, and concepts on my long walk home.
3. Ben, Brenda, and Ryan. I currently have six roommates, and I spend a lot of my time discussing matters of great importance with these three.
4. Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences. Since I started the Audiology graduate program at the University of Minnesota in the fall, I’ve been inundated with completely incredible information by the SLHS department.
5. Minneapolis. It’s the city I’ve called home for a while… it’s where everything happens.
FFTB: Think of the last song your wrote; what were the steps taken to complete that song?
[a] Well, the last song I finished is called “Bellingham.” It’s a reflection on a fantastic night that I had with my friends Andy and Hannah in Bellingham WA during the winter break. Usually, if there is something about a day that really strikes me, I’ll write it down. I don’t necessarily write in a journal format, because usually the most interesting things about a day are not necessarily the places or the things that happened. More likely they are abstractions of a conversation or an observation. The first line and the melody hit me while I was on a walk… “I’m having issues with a singer that I’ve never met, we share the x’s.” Then, I expanded on that idea with some more of the things that I had written down about that night in Bellingham… discussions of doctorate programs… details of our surroundings… subsequent romantic boundaries… you know, the usual. I didn’t actually figure out the guitar part until the song was already done. That happens more often than not. I’m definitely more of a singer than a player. My guitar playing is pretty simple and sloppy.
FFTB: You have two projects going one at once, your solo stuff and Glad Version. How did this come about?
[a] The Glad Version has been around in various forms for a number of years. Chris and I have been playing together since 2000, and we’ve been playing with Tor and Travis since 2005 and 2006, respectively. In 2007, I started playing solo shows to try out new songs in front of an audience before bringing those songs to the band. I really enjoyed the experience, so I kept booking solo shows. I decided to put out a solo record last year because of the amount of b-sides and extra material that didn’t make The Glad Version’s last record, Make Islands. It’s also a little bit simpler to book out-of-town shows as just one guy (as opposed to four guys, and four-guys worth of gear). My friend Michael Morris was able to book five shows for me on the west coast this past January, and I had a great time.
FFTB: Do you find yourself writing lyrics in common themes to other songs you’ve written?
[a] Absolutely. As a person who is chained to daily routines in an almost obsessive way, I find myself revisiting themes constantly. Consequently, one of the topics that gets a lot of ‘coverage’ in one way or another is my inability to break habits. Other popular themes that creep up to the surface in choruses all the time are: adoption, selfishness, foolishness, failed relationships, and the upper Midwest. I feel the most free to break from these issues when I’m writing a story in third person.
FFTB: What is the primary instrument do you use to write music with?
[a] Honestly, most of the time I just write the music by singing it while I’m walking around, and then add guitar later. The only time that I come up with an instrumental part first is when I’m playing piano… poorly.
FFTB: What creates a better song one fiction or non-fiction?
[a] That depends. Some would argue that a real-life/non-fiction situation generates more true emotional attachment, stronger feelings, and, therefore, a stronger song. I don’t completely disagree for some songwriters (e.g. Elliott Smith seemed to be at his best when singing in first person), but I would argue that a fictional story can have just as many elements of truth and honesty as a real-life situation (e.g. Tom Waits… amazing third-person songwriter). Besides… by the time you slap all that information on a melody, you still just have a pop song. Lyrically powerful or not, you are bound by the infectiousness and appropriateness of the melody and musical pieces.
FFTB: How important is a good band to a good songwriter?
[a] That also depends. A good rhythm section can be irreplaceable to a band like Spoon. Britt Daniels is a fantastic songwriter, but holy hell… without those drum and bass parts, Spoon would be edgy guitar over soggy cereal. Contrastingly, I think a songwriter like Stuart Davis is much more palatable when he is playing by himself. When I’ve seen him with a rhythm section, it’s seemed a little forced. Personally, I love playing with Travis, Tor, and Chris. I benefit to no end from their skills.
FFTB: What is the best concert you’ve ever been too?
[a] I saw Smashing Pumpkins at the Sioux Falls Civic Center in 1995 when they were touring behind “Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness”… that was pretty rad. Although, I would say seeing The Postal Service at The Entry in 2003 was quite a treat as well.
FFTB: Any advice for young aspiring musicians and songwriters?
[a] First, write a lot of songs… loads of them. I know that quantity does not equal quality, but really practicing your skill at songwriting will immensely improve your output. Spending time at the piano or on the guitar and just plunking through new ideas is one of the most important things you can do. You may write ten songs in a row that sound really similar… great! Take the best one, and move on. Touring, recording, playing out… all great things to do, but if your songs are not high quality, none of the previously mentioned things will matter.
Second, go to shows. Listening to records gives you a good idea of what that room sounded like on that day at that moment, but going to a live show gives you an interactive experience that cannot be replicated.
Third, enjoy yourself. When I started writing songs, I felt like I was trying to write for a style. Don’t worry about the style… write what you like, and the form/fashion will come later.