Interview: Adam McBride-Smith

Interviews, News - Published: 16 May 2012

Adam talks human pyramids, ornithology and French crowds ahead of his second show at Cité de la Musique

Adam McBride-Smith has been a busy man: The release of his new album; a tour through Italy and another on its way; a gig at the Bob Dylan expo at Cité de la Musique in the 19eme under his belt and another performance there to come.

‘Traveller’s Moon’, just a handful of weeks old, is the singer and guitarist’s second album. And, like Good and Gone, its country-folk predecessor, much of the new album sticks solidly to his homegrown roots musically, lyrically building on characters straying from home. It’s certainly something close to heart for a guy who grew up in Oklahoma to a Texan family, spent time living in New York, and is currently settled in Paris.

The sound is classic country, coupled with some beautifully dark lyrics and a good smidge of rock ‘n’ roll. Inspiration from the great old time songwriters is quite evident throughout, notably influences from the bluesy, jazzy father of country music, Jimmy Rogers and country folker Townes Van Zandt. And there’s still the glint of more modern times, no doubt inspired by the setting in which the album was recorded, the very same attic studio in which the Violent Femmes once recorded demos.

The tour – an impressive gig-a-night two weeks in Italy, saw him play everywhere from Sienna to Verona, and then some, alongside Cory Seznec, a Franco-American whom McBride-Smith calls ‘an amazing natural musician’, and a formidable force to be reckoned with when it comes to stringed instruments. The two also collaborated together at the Bob Dylan expo in early April.

Feet firmly back on the ground in Paris terrain – at least for now, and preparing for his next performance at Cité de la Musique, McBride-Smith managed to grab a few words with Gigs in Paris:

How did you find playing at the Bob Dylan expo?

AMS: Strange, but kind of cool. They actually put us in front of the display cases of the early Spanish guitars, which was fitting. The acoustics are pretty good in there.

Do French audiences differ much from American or British ones?

AMS: I think there’s always the language barrier in France and that can create a problem for the audience. In spite of that, audiences tend to be very respectful. But you do feel like you are being both heard and understood when you are in the US or the UK. When you play the US you always get ironic cover requests. I mean does anybody really like ‘Free Bird?’ Europeans tend to shout things like: ‘Play some Mississippi John Hurt’, so maybe they are smarter after all.

 Have you always wanted to be a musician?

AMS: Actually, at one point I wanted to be a preacher. I strayed from the faith at the age of 15 and started to play guitar around the same time. I can be a very obsessive person, so writing has always appealed to that side of me. When I was younger I thought I would write novels. Writing songs seemed more interesting to me though, because you get to perform them for people – and with people, so the communication is more immediate and direct.

How do you get into a creative mindset?

AMS: Walking and driving in the car. I don’t know how many lines for songs have come into my head while walking around in one city or another, or driving somewhere. Late nights as well. Stained glass windows. And ‘The Guidebook to North American Birds’. Seriously.

What can we expect from Traveller’s Moon, and how did the collaborations in it come about?

AMS: You can expect the new album to be a good companion on sleepless nights. It will also be there the next morning. The musicians are all friends. Marisa Frantz, who sings harmony on the record, is one of my oldest friends from Oklahoma. We grew up together which is really helpful when it comes to singing together. Paul Defiglia and Malachi DeLorenzo; former roommates from New York and good friends to this day. They played together as the War Eagles with Langhorne Slim. Abe Streep is another friend from New York. All of these musicians played on my first record, so making this one was like a reunion in a way. David Moore was the new kid on the block this time around, but since he plays banjo and piano, he’s really like two musicians in one. Like Donnie and Joey, if they had musical talent. 

Is there anyone you have your eye on for future collaborations?

AMS: At the studio today Cory and I were saying we wished we had the budget to get some New Orleans horn players in to play on our tracks. The Treme brass band, or the Soul Rebels—those cats are amazing. Gillian Welch on harmonies. Ry Cooder playing slide. Amy Lavere on bass. Levon Helm on drums.  The musician’s equivalent of fantasy football. But actually I don’t think I’d trade the musicians I’ve had the good fortune to play with for anyone.

What do you count as your greatest achievement to date?

AMS: I once convinced a room full of French people to make a human pyramid at a party.  I’m still very proud of that.

Adam McBride-Smith plays the Bob Dylan expo at Cité de la Musique on May 19 and his new album Traveller’s Moon is out now on Wild Honey Records.