Updated Wed, Mar 14, 2012 3:32 pm
My introduction to Adam Torres was a song called "Neptune," which appeared on a 2005 CD called Girl With No Name: A Benefit Album for Troy Gregorino.
I thought it was OK. Maybe a notch above your average local singer-songwriter material, but really it was just another track on a good local compilation. After that, I saw Adam play a couple of times at the old Front Room at Ohio University. Again, he seemed like a promising new songwriter.
Then in 2006, he released Nostra Nova. I remember listening to the album's 2nd track, "The Butlers and the Maids," and thinking, "Wait...this is Adam Torres?"
Nostra Nova was an unexpected, beautiful and haunting collection of songs, and it quickly became a personal favorite. I thought it was the best album ever released by an Athens musician.
In 2008, Adam curtailed his musical activities and went back to school at Ohio University. Although I saw him play live a few times during the next couple of years, I wondered if he would make another album.
Fast-forward to 2011. Adam has just released a new collection of songs, called Demos: Home Recordings and it's teriffic.
As the title might suggest, it's a sparse affair, with voice and guitar on a mix of lush-sounding and lo-fi recordings. Even though Adam now resides in Austin, Texas, and is not technically a local musician, this album may knock Nostra Nova from the top of my "Best of Athens" list.
This week, I talked with Adam about the album and his life since leaving Athens.
GIBSON: Nostra Nova was released in 2006, so it's been a while since we've heard new music from you. What have you been up to since then?
TORRES: When Nostra Nova came out, I was spending most of my time playing with Southeast Engine while attending classes at Ohio University to complete my degree in Audio-Music Production. In the Spring of 2007, Southeast Engine was signed to Misra records and I decided to drop out of school to pursue music full time.
In summer 2007, I went on a solo tour with Leo Maymind, the lead singer of the band Spanish Prisoners. That fall, Southeast Engine put out A Wheel Within a Wheel and we were privileged to play festivals like CMJ in New York and later South By Southwest in Austin. In early 2008, there was a film screening for the music video of the Nostra Nova song "Breakneck Jane's Fifteen Minute Escape" that was produced by filmmaker Brian Wiebe. Taking part in that music video was such a fun time and I feel grateful for that experience.
However, I decided to stop playing with Southeast Engine that winter after losing my day job and becoming disenchanted with the path of playing music for financial support. I started seeing my girlfriend Caitlin Kraus (now my fianceé), went back to school at Ohio University, and after playing at the 2008 Nelsonville Music Festival, I decided to take a break from playing shows for a while.
GIBSON: I remember there was speculation among some local musicians that you were calling it a day.
TORRES: Looking back on it now, I think some of my friends thought that I'd given up on music completely, but that was not the case. During that time, I was going through a process of critical reflection in terms of what I wanted to do with my life and music. I continued to write songs in private and I found that it was that step of the creative process -- the basic space of initial expression -- is what I valued most.
All considerations of audience, criticism, promotion, marketing and branding took a back seat to the simple act of individual expression. It was liberating for me and I continued to write songs from that perspective from that time until the present. In that time, I've written around 90 songs, although some of them are unfinished rough sketches or ideas of melodies that still need to be reworked.
GIBSON: You didn't completely disappear during that time; I saw a few of your performances.
TORRES: In 2010, I started a band called The Love-ins with Caitlin, who sang, played guitar and piano, and my good friend Evan Lilly who played drums. Our music was a mix of songs that Caitlin and I had written. We played a handful of shows and were privileged to play at the 2010 Nelsonville Music Festival.
Starting in June 2010, I lived in Ecuador for a little over a year, teaching English, cooking for a café, and working for an NGO that focuses on alternative forms of community economic development in Latin America. I was awarded a fellowship to attend the University of Texas at Austin to work on a Master's degree in Latin American Studies, so Caitlin and I have relocated here to central Texas. I'm still writing songs and collaborating with Brian Wiebe on the soundtrack to his short film Possessions.
GIBSON: Let's talk about your new collection of songs, called Demos: Home Recordings. It's very stripped-down, especially compared to Nostra Nova. I have this image of you sitting in your living room with a guitar, a microphone, a tape recorder, and not much else. Is that accurate?
TORRES: These songs are not entirely new. "Song of November" is probably two or three years old, recorded in Athens. Like you said, it was a simple one-mic setup for both acoustic guitar and voice. I later put it on my computer and tweaked levels and effects. That song is an adaptation and translation of Federico García Lorca's "Canción de Noviembre y Abril." All of the other songs were recorded in Ecuador this past year with a similar set up. I took a couple mics down to Ecuador and had software on my computer to mix the tracks. Some friends there helped me with cables and mic stands.
GIBSON: While listening to the album, my first impression was, "This sounds like Nick Drake, produced by Robert Pollard (Guided By Voices)." Do you have any affinity with those musicians?
TORRES: I'm really influenced by both Nick Drake and Bob Pollard. I really can identify with some of the feelings that Nick Drake expressed with his music and I think I'm greatly indebted to him in how I imitate his style and ideas through my own work. When I first heard the album Pink Moon I listened to it repetitively.
I didn't really know much about Guided By Voices until I was hanging out with Leo DeLuca from Southeast Engine. After Leo lent me the documentary Watch Me Jumpstart, I became obsessed with the song "Club Molluska" and I started to understand and appreciate the band a lot more. Then I got into Bee Thousand, Propeller, Vampire on Titus, Alien Lanes, etc. etc. Listening to those records really changed things. No longer did I conceptualize interesting music as having to be slick or lush. I realized the power of capturing honest moments in recordings. It seems like Pollard is a master of that, however bizarre those moments may be.
GIBSON: Adam, thanks for checking in with us and congratulations on a great set of songs.
TORRES: Bryan, thanks so much for this opportunity. Hope I haven't rambled too much (ha).
Demos: Home Recordings is being offered as a free download at http://adamtorres.bandcamp.com.