I had the incredible chance to speak with Adam Watts! Adam is a very talented individual. He really does do it all. He’s a songwriter, singer,music producer and film maker. Be sure to checkout his album Murder Yesterday and his music video Reckless.Give it up for Adam Watts!

Behind The Scenes Interview with Adam Watts:

ZanaD: What’s your name and where are you from?

Adam:My full human name is Adam Matthew Watts. I was born in southern California at Laguna Beach hospital and grew up in nearby Mission Viejo.

ZanaD: How old were you when you wrote your first song?

Adam: If quality doesn’t count, I think the first song happened when I was maybe nine years old. I wrote the music on this cheesy Casio keyboard. Even though there was a baby grand piano in the house for some reason I was on the keyboard. Maybe I needed to be behind closed doors with my nine year old angst! I recall the lyrics being written in this funny journal book that had a this little brass lock on it. Don’t know why I had that thing!

ZanaD: What inspired you to become a musician, songwriter and producer?

Adam: Even though I’d occasionally plunk around on the piano and on my dad’s old Gretsch acoustic guitar, I started out primarily as a drummer. Like everyone else I absolutely loved music and great songs, but I was really drawn to the drums. I just felt like I would know what to do with them. My brother plays guitar and he had a band that rehearsed at our house. I snuck a few beats in when no one was around, and I was instantly hooked. My brother loved the band Rush so of course, that was the music that I cut my teeth on as a little guy. I was around ten years old. Got my first drumkit for Christmas when I was eleven.

For the next eight or nine years I was all about drums. You could probably say I was obsessed. As time went on I had this growing interest in writing music parallel to that. I was passionate about the magic of a song and it’s recording. For me that was where a song lived, on recording. So when I started writing it was always with the goal of recording it. I loved how emotional timbres could be. How changing the eq could affect the emotion of something.

With writing, first it was kind of co-arranging with bands in high school, then it quickly became sequencing keyboards and recording on a four track. I’d record drums over my weird instrumental, fusion meets soundtrack songs. I was also starting to sing along to CDs in my car. Never thinking I would be a singer, but I really remember loving how it felt to sing. I was testing the waters. Sting was a big initial influence on me. I loved his voice and the way his melodies could be so surprising, with those big interval jumps he does. I didn’t think at the time that singing would eventually become so important to me.

Anyways, after high school I started drumming with a guitarist, singer-songwriter named Gannin Arnold. He was getting deep into singing and writing songs. I started having strong opinions about his songs and he eventually encouraged me to write my own songs. Probably to get me off his back! He was right though, my opinions were there, and so intense because I needed to be writing my own tunes. One day I borrowed his ADAT and recorded my first real song with vocals. Gannin would show me the ropes on guitar. He’d be like, ‘Umm, put your finger here, and now it’s an actual E minor chord”, stuff like that. Just guiding me as I was figuring things out, flying by the seat of my pants. I loved the process of discovery. Finding my own way through trial and error.

Writing and recording that first song was a profound, life changing experience for me. I’m pretty introverted and suddenly I had a safe place to just let things fly, and yet also be artistic about it. The lyrics, music and the recording  were all equally important. Production was never separate from the songwriting, it was always the same thing to me. I began to feel this big shift from being a drummer to thinking of myself as a singer-songwriter.

ZanaD: Tell us about your new album Murder Yesterday.

Adam: It’s been a long time coming. Since my last album in 2006 I’ve written and recorded at least six or seven albums worth of material. Since I wasn’t touring, I was just creating pretty much constantly, which I love. I really needed a reason to finish something. I didn’t want to just do it to do it.

For some reason as I was writing these new songs, I suddenly knew I was making an album. I have this idealistic old school idea of what an album should be: unified and connected, yet with songs that stand on their own. I decided it was time for me to fully attempt that. I had always felt like my previous album were a little all over the place, more like a collection of songs than a unified work. “Murder Yesterday” is more of an album in that sense. Also, I had this feeling like part of me wanted to erase everything I’d ever done and have this be ground zero. That’s part of the reason for the title. I wanted to start fresh.

ZanaD: Do you believe you have accomplished some of your life goals?

Adam: In music, any goals I’ve had have always been short term. Or just to be able to wake up and do what I felt like doing, to be able to be as productive and creative as constantly as possible. I’ve never been one for goals or plans beyond today’s song, tomorrow’s session or maybe something on my calender a few weeks away. Even that kinda freaks me out. Plans kind of depress me and goals seem impossible to stay on track with! I guess I sort of subscribe to that  ‘tomorrow never comes’ mentality.

For some reason, I’m always relating everything to death or dying. I know that sounds morbid, or is morbid. It’s not like I’m freaking out all the time. Well, maybe sometimes! It’s just a reality that I find myself thinking about a lot. I just feel like whatever I’m doing right now should be something that is bite size enough to finish fairly quickly, within days, and meaningful enough to be worth doing if I die next week.

That’s why songs are perfect medium for me, they can be these little self-contained worlds of meaning. Frozen thoughts and emotions. Little communication time capsules that somehow stay the same and yet can also change depending on how you feel when you listen to them. The best songs take you somewhere and let you take them somewhere all at the same time.

ZanaD: Where do you see yourself five years from now?

Adam: Dead! No, I don’t know. I don’t see myself anywhere. Mostly because five years ago I’d never imagine being where I am today. And five years before that It’d be the same. It’s unnatural for me to project out like that.

I guess thinking about all that just makes me feel really blessed. Like even though I’m thinking short term, it seems Someone’s looking out for my long term. I’m really thankful to God for the life I have. I’m just trying to live in the now, man! haha

ZanaD: What can you tell us about your work with Walt Disney Music Publishing and your work with Andy Dodd?

Adam: Andy is a great friend and a super talented guy. We’ve both been writers for Disney for the last seven years and counting. It’s been such a great ride for us. The chance to write and record songs that tens of millions of people hear and enjoy is an unbelievable privilege. To be able to share all of that with a friend is super cool.

ZanaD: What advice would you give people who want to break into the industry?

Adam: My first piece of advice is to take all advice with a grain of salt! Really though, I remember what it felt like to have nothing going on, yet feel deep down that I could do it. So I have lots of advice! I’ll just rattle off ideas and concepts that have helped or continue to help me.

Take a good honest look at yourself and really feel your potential. Know it as a fact and don’t let anything or anyone poison that pure feeling. Yet let constructive criticism in and better yet, be able to criticize your own work long before anyone hears it. Be honest with yourself and hold yourself to the highest standards possible. To the same standards you hold others to. There’s a tendency to be so stoked that we actually made something out of nothing that we can kind of go crazy and forget that it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any good! Or you have the opposite problem and you hate everything you do. Either extreme is counterproductive. Being aware of those two things is important. Be aware of what makes things good and why and apply that to your own work.

Work hard and be passionate and intelligent about it. Understand your right brain and your left brain and learn how to toggle between each one at will. It’s an essential skill I think. In the music industry you have to a free spirited artist one moment and an astute businessman the next, yet somehow never both in any one moment. Toggle. That way you can create from a pure and subjective place, then judge what you’ve done from an objective one and do both jobs.

I believe enthusiasm is the fertile soul of creativity, so try not to be a hater, of yours or other people’s work, even though it’s tempting to be! Have low expectations and high hopes. Try to be absolutely confident, yet simultaneously humble. You never really arrive (and you shouldn’t!) so find a way to love, enjoy and embrace the process. Oh and did I say work hard?

ZanaD: What song inspires you the most and what musicians would you say are your biggest influences?

Adam: Oh wow, one song huh? If it has to be one then it would be a piece of score written by Thomas Newman from the movie Road To Perdition, it’s called “Road To Perdition” and “The Farm” same song two different cues. No vocals on that stuff though, so as far as vocal songs go it’s always changing. Some favorites have been “Mad About You” by Sting, “Disappearing One” by Chris Cornell, “Hark The Haralds Angels Sing”, “It Came Upon A midnight Clear” the Frank Sinatra versions. The old country classic, “She Thinks I Still Care” is an awesome song, Teddy Thompson’s version is amazing. “The Sword & the Pen” by Regina Spektor was an inspiration to me earlier this year. Sorry, I can’t choose just one, obviously!

Thomas Newman is a big influence. He’s written some of the most transcendent and beautiful music I’ve heard. Other influences are Sting/The Police, Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright, Chris Cornell, Sam Phillips, Blind Willie Johnson, Vinnie Colaiuta, Stephen King, C.S. Lewis and Jesus Christ.

ZanaD: Tell us about your work with Daniel Chesnut with your upcoming film production company MiNDFRAME CREATIVE.

Adam: Nice attention to detail with the lower case “i”! I met Daniel last year during the making of the “Poison Soul” music video for my previous band FALLBORN. We really hit it off and have become great friends. We have similar sensibilities which makes collaborating a blast. I’ve been interested in photography for a while now and that is starting to carry over into film. Also, I’ve written a couple of screenplays this year and have discovered a hidden desire to get into film as a writer and director with Daniel. He and I have done a couple short films together so far, and we also co-directed my recent music video for “Reckless”. We plan to make a feature film together next year. I can’t wait. I guess that’s a new long term goal! What a hypocrite!

ZanaD: Tell us about your work with Jeremy Camp.

Adam: Andy and I met Jeremy back in 2001. We produced this six song EP for him, which helped pave the way for him to get signed to BEC Recordings about eight months later. Jeremy being the awesome guy he is, pushed hard to get Andy and I hired as the producers once he was signed. We were a couple of no-name-dudes from Orange County so it wasn’t too easy. The label liked our work on the EP so they chanced it. That really was the start of our careers as producers. Both of the albums we made that year went Gold. We made them in my little bedroom in my parents house. It was a fun time. Andy and I we were kind of like his band and his producers on those first couple albums. I played drums and Andy played guitar on most everything. We were just barely experienced enough to produce those records, but we squeaked by. Since then we’ve worked on lots of the stuff Jeremy has done. Beyond all the musical stuff, I consider Jeremy a friend. He’s a really cool person.

ZanaD: Tell us about one of your past bands Fallborn?

I had been playing with the same three guys, Nic, Jules and Matt for years and finally at the end of 2008 we all decided that instead of it being my solo thing, we’d make it a band. I still wrote all the songs and produced the recordings but when it came to arranging and playing live we made it more collaborative, which was really fun for awhile. We were beginning to operate like a band in some ways so it seemed like a good idea. Make it an ‘all for one and one for all’ four musketeers situation.

In the end though, it wasn’t the best fit. I think my creative process is so personal that I found it difficult to open up fully to a democratic environment. That was never the point of making my music, it was always more about getting to the truth of whatever it was I was expressing, from a personal place. The song, the arrangement, all the parts and the production are all part of that. So a band thing just didn’t quite suit me.

Those guys are super talented and I love hanging out and making music with them, but in the end a full blown partnership wasn’t the best thing for us all. We all had different goals and ways of getting to those goals. So, things started to unravel and eventually it fell apart. It was a bummer to see it end, but it was for the best. Thankfully, we’ve remained friends, which is what I care about the most. I love those guys. In fact, when it came time to start doing some shows around my new solo album, guess who I called? Ironic.

ZanaD: Tell us about your production company Red Decibel.

Adam: Red Decibel Music Group is Andy and I’s company. We started it back in 2000. It’s the home for everything we do together. We have a studio in Brea, CA and one in Nashville TN. where Andy now lives. We write songs via Skype now. Which to our surprise, actually works fine. You just can’t jam together while writing because of the slight delay in the signal. Other than that it’s great. And if I get annoyed I can just shut my laptop on him. I’m kidding.


ZanaD: How did you end up writing music for Jesse McCartney, Kelly Clarkson and Switchfoot?

Adam:Without Jesse McCartney my career would look very different. Andy and I were members of this great little company called TAXI. They do independent A&R. You pay them some money to join, and they critique your music. Then if you’re lucky, they send it off to people in the industry looking for songs. We got lucky and TAXI hooked us up to Jesse’s management. Soon after, we wrote a song called “Beautiful Soul” which we thought might suit him. Long story short, that song became a worldwide hit for him. It topped the charts in the U.S. and all over Europe and Asia. The music video did great on MTV and the song got thrown on a bunch of soundtracks and compilation albums. It was crazy how much it blew up. We were stunned not to mention very happy!

That one song kicked open the door for us. We got signed to Disney Music Publishing and had a chance to write for a bunch of things they were developing at the time, which included High School Musical and Hannah Montana. We had never really planned on focusing on that kind of pop music. We had dabbled in it, but now we had to really do it.

I was really into Jeff Buckley and Chris Cornell at the time, and this could not have been more different. But Andy and I both enjoy a big variety of stuff. In some ways, it’s a lot of the same skills dressed up in different clothing. It’s a fun challenge to really dive in and find out what works within a given genre. It’s like a puzzle. Still we were flying by the seat of our pants, and just grateful for the opportunity. Thankfully it worked out. We had no idea those things would become so huge, selling so many millions.

Those big projects opened more doors. A few years later we wrote a song (with Shanna Crooks) called “Can We Go Back” which Kelly Clarkson recorded and was later covered by a well known Japanese artist as well.

The Switchfoot thing was really fun. We connected with the singer, Jon Foreman as we were both writing and pitching songs for the same movie The Chronicles of Narnia Prince Caspian. We came together and made two songs into one, which eventually became “This Is Home”. We’re all stoked on how that came out. It was a great experience. Jon’s another classy dude. It was fun to put that song together in my backyard studio, then watch the band make the rounds on all the talk shows performing it.

ZanaD: Tell us about your musical background and families musical talents.

Adam: My parents are both musicians. My mom plays piano and accordion. Her mother played Steel Guitar and ran a little music school, with a small staff, back in the 50’s and 60’s. My dad plays guitar and sings. My brother Ryan plays guitar and my sister Jenn sings her butt off and produces her own stuff.

My parents really supported what I was doing, seeing the drive that I had. Without that support I don’t know what I would’ve done. They let me live at home longer than the average dude so I could develop my songwriting and producing without having to worry too much about rent and stuff. I was drumming in cover bands a few nights a week, which was a great thing musically and it covered my car payment and other things. The fact that I didn’t have to worry about rent for a few years really gave me the opportunity to focus in on my art with a lot of intensity. That was a pivotal period of time for me. I’m really thankful I had that. Just the ability to write literally hundreds of songs and record them in a little bubble.

There’s this book by Malcom Gladwell called “Outliers”. Very interesting book. He talks about how studies have shown that if you can clock in 10,000 hours doing your chosen trade you can cross over into this other level of facility with it. Without the kind of parental support I had, it would’ve taken me years longer to put in those kind of hours. By the time these bigger songwriting and producing opportunities were coming my way I had probably put in that many hours, so I felt somewhat prepared.

ZanaD: Tell us about your solo projects and what it was like being on tour?

Adam: The music I make solo is an important of my life. I start to get grumpy if I’m not consistently writing and recording songs that express something personal. It’s something I’m just built to need I think. It’s like, food, water, sleep, songs. It’s one of the essentials. It’s like my hard drive gets full and if I don’t download my computer starts to glitch and I run the risk of crashing. That’s how it feels.

When I even semi-accurately express something through a song, there’s this epic relief I feel. And if other people connect to it, it makes it all twice as cool. This record “Murder Yesterday” kinda feels like I just ripped eleven pages out of my life and stapled them together. Even though the stuff is personal, my greatest hope is that people make it their own and forget about me. That’s the best, when you can hear some music and feel like it was created just for you.

Touring can be a lot of fun. It’s nice to be able to share the music in an immediate way with people, that instant connection is super cool. But I find it hard to fully embrace the fact that you spend 95% of your time just cruising around getting to the show, dealing with travel and hotels and downtime. When I’m home I can spend 95% of my time being in a creative zone, being productive. But I certainly enjoy both. They’re completely different things though for the most part. There’s a certain beauty to the fleeting nature of live performance, but creating the definitive version of a song on recording is something I’m kind of addicted to!

ZanaD: What song did you produce that went platinum?

Adam: The first thing that went platinum is Jesse McCartney’s album “Beautiful Soul” back in 2004. Since then quite a few of the things Andy and I have worked on have gone platinum.

ZanaD: Is it true the songs you’ve written with Andy Dodd have appeared on over 45 million albums worldwide?

Adam: Yeah, it’s true. And the craziness of that number is not lost on me. I can’t even fathom it really. It so easily could have not happened! We’ve been very fortunate. There are plenty of writers and producers out there who do great work and just haven’t had things align yet. It’s something I think about a lot. I try to be a good steward of the blessings I’ve been given.

I just realized that I think I do, and have had, one major overarching goal! I always want to be increasing the amount of work I do in music that I feel has real meaning. I hope this doesn’t sound corny or cliche’ but I want to make music that has some kind of positive affect on people. Track two on my album is about that actually, it’s called “When Everything Else Is Gone”. Also the song “Blink” has a similar theme but more from a perspective of life in general. I wrote that one after attending the funeral of one of my mom’s close friends, Ellen, who died of cancer. That song is dedicated to them.

When your career is also your passion, the trick is balancing those virtuous desires with the reality of just making a living. Finding that sweet spot is a fun challenge. I’ve been realizing lately that I’m in a unique position and I don’t want to waste it. I’ve had a fair amount of success in the pop music world, which is affording me the opportunity to make personal music that is uncompromising, both artistically and personally. At the moment I just want to share this new album with people. I put everything I have into it.

I really appreciate the opportunity to share this stuff. Thanks for having me on your blog!

Links

Adams Official Website

Myspace

Youtube

Red Decibel

Itunes

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