Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Local Music Spotlight: Wilder Adkins

Ryan Adams once sang, “when you’re young, you get sad.” He must have been speaking about songwriters such as Wilder Adkins.

“I used to make up song parodies on the playground back in elementary school. I thought I was going to be the next Weird Al,” Adkins said. “Then something happened in my teenage years and I got sad. Now I write sad tunes, and songs about flowers.”

Adkins is a Birmingham-based singer/songwriter with a flair for fingerstyle folk. He came to study at Birmingham-Southern College and started playing shows around town at venues such as Urban Standard, The Red Cat, Moonlight on the Mountain, and Bottletree Cafe.

He draws from a well of rich influences.

“C.S. Lewis used to refer to George MacDonald as his master. I suppose my masters would be Richard Thompson, Bruce Cockburn, and Dougie MacLean. Of the younger set, I like Elliott Smith and Ryan Adams. I'm also into Indian classical music,” he said.

Lyrically, Adkins focuses on the fleeting nature of life (“Brevity”), nostalgia and simple memories (“Bright and Beautiful”), faith (“Mecca”), and the idea of home (“Georgia Breeze”). He says that songwriting is about finding a balance between “overt” and “cryptic,” an idea that is explored in the song “Hope and Sorrow.”

“I think in life you get a choice; either to recognize beauty or not. I try to appreciate simple beauties in life,” he said.

He has self-produced and recorded two albums of original compositions, Nightblooms and Nativity. He also has a live album, Live at Eddie’s Attic.

Adkins is currently working on his third release, Oak and Apple. “I started working on it in January, as a collection of hymns played fingerstyle on a classical guitar,” he said. “The project has kind of transformed, in a good way, to be a more collaborative effort, and has a mix of original songs alongside some of the old hymns.”

These collaborations have also affected the way he views the performance of his songs.

“I've never had a band because I don't like telling people what to do, but I have had the opportunity to try a few songs out 'full band' lately, and I think I may be ready to start doing some gigs like that,” he said. “The vibe is a lot different, and it's harder to be improvisational, but it's nice to have bass and drums helping to fill out the sound.”

You can connect with Adkins via Facebook, Twitter, and Bandcamp.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Local Music Spotlight: War Jacket

Birmingham-based photographer Caleb Chancey discovered two vital elements for the songs that would eventually make up his musical project, War Jacket.

The first was the collaborations and friendships he had made through Grey Haven Community, a local music collective that he helped found back in 2008.

The second was the discovery of a baritone ukelele at Homewood Music.

“As soon as I picked it up, it was like one of those things where you find what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re supposed to be doing it, and something just clicked and the songs started coming after that. It didn’t take very long to write these songs that were on the record,” Chancey said.

The recording project, engineered by Corey Scogin, began as a casual venture between musically inclined friends, but soon began to take shape as a full album.

Chancey’s major influences, which include songwriters such as Damien Jurado and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden and bands such as Fleet Foxes, helped him develop a mixture of ukelele-driven folk and what he calls an “ambient room sound.” He also says he has found inspiration from the musicians featured on the record, which include Birmingham’s Joel Madison Blount, Seattle’s Dan Phelps, and New York’s Brian T. Murphy.

The lyrics showcase a blend of personal emotions and thematic storytelling, exploring the “dark beauties” of life, with song titles like “Remember You Used to Love Me,” “White Picket Cross,” “Part of the World That I Like,” and “You Were My Sunshine.”

The title of the full-length record, Live Like You’re Going Home, comes from the final song, “The Core” (which was also featured on a tornado relief album Chancey produced a few months back).

“After listening to the songs, there was a kind of nostalgia feeling to the record, where the idea is a lively purpose. A bunch of these songs are kind of sad things, but they’re worth it in the end. The idea is walking from this sadness to this inspiration of living very purposefully,” Chancey said.”To me, ‘live like you’re going home’ is this goal. Everybody knows what it feels like to go home and for a lot of people, there’s a sadness in that. Like if you come from a broken home. But you know what the idea of home and this sense of belonging is, no matter where you are.”

Chancey began a Kickstarter campaign in June to help fund the pressing of the record. The digital release has already been scheduled, but he wanted to give listeners (as the aptly titled campaign states) “something you can hold.”

“The idea is that I love handmade and tangible things. I’m fine with mp3 releases, but to me, I love vinyl. I love special things that you can put into people’s hands,” he said.

The campaign offers a wide variety of pledge packages, including the vinyl record, lyric art, limited edition photography, videos of live performances shot by Birmingham’s Stephen DeVries, and the chance to book house shows. Only three days remain for the Kickstarter campaign and it will only be funded if all $6,000 is raised by July 22.

Through this project, Chancey has said he has grown “immensely” as an artist.

“I’m getting to the point where because of the collaborations and the friendships that I’ve been experiencing through the project, they have lifted me up to where I can say I’m a musician because I’m standing on their shoulders. I am extremely moved by that and very proud to call myself a musician now, but the only way I got there was through other people’s help. That’s the way I want to stay there,” he said.

You can see War Jacket, The Clay States, and Lauren Michael Sellers play at Bottletree Cafe this Thursday, July 21 for $7. For more details, click here.

For more information on War Jacket, visit

Friday, July 1, 2011

Interview with Justin Cross

1. First things first, how did you get into playing guitar and writing songs?

I actually taught myself how to play after finding my dad's old guitar at the fire station he works at. I guess he tried to learn but gave up and put it away. I found this dusty old guitar in a closet and asked him to teach me something. He showed me a G chord (which was the only thing he knew) and I just went from there. I couldn't get enough of it.
As far as writing, I have been putting down my thoughts to paper for as long as I can remember, so I guess after picking up the guitar, the most natural thing to do was to write down what I was thinking or feeling and put music to it. Writing songs just felt like the next step after learning to play.

2. Who or what provides your biggest influence when it comes to writing?

I would have to say that my biggest influence is a man named Bill Mallonee. He is a fantastic singer-songwriter from Athens Georgia. He has been playing since the early 90's and is just the most honest songwriter I have ever heard. Every time I write, it is my goal to be as transparent as he is in his songs.

3. What lyrical themes do you find yourself coming back to?

I am a very introspective writer, so, if I accomplish my goal of being transparent in my writing, I write a lot about my failures, fears, hopes, and love. I am actually a recovering cynic, so a lot of the songs I am working on now have themes of brokeness or hurt, but are centered around hope. But really, each song to me is a snapshot of who I was when I wrote it, so the are kind of like journal entries in a way.

4. You're originally from GA. How did you arrive in Birmingham and how did you get into the music scene?

. I came to Birmingham for school originally, but got into the local music scene after taking a break from school to pursue music. My first show was at my friend's apartment and I played to about ten or fifteen people. I loved performing songs that I had previously kept to myself so I played more and more. I was introduced to Caleb Chancey, one of the founders of Grey Haven, by my friend Corey after recording a demo in Corey's home studio. After getting in with Grey Haven, I met most of the guys I play with now and have had a lot of great opportunities to play at some great places with great musicians.

5. Describe the inspiration behind the name "Listening to Ghosts" for your first record.

"Listening to Ghosts" was really just something I started singing while playing one day. The album is definitely a break-up album, and I wrote the song as a closing statement to a relationship that ended in a way that really affected me deeply. I remember letting go a lot of hurt and bitterness as that song was being written. It was my way of saying "I'm over it." I felt it was a fitting title to the album because of what the song meant to me.

6. How were you able to get on with the Birmingham SXSW crew and could you describe the experience?

I actually wasn't with the Birmingham crew in Austin. The label that put out "Listening To Ghosts" got me the sets for SXSW. I remember getting the call that I would be playing in Austin for SXSW and having to sit down... it was a bit of a dream come true. Austin during SXSW is unlike any other place I have ever been. There is so much talent and influence in a five block radius that it can feel completely overwhelming at times. It was a great honor to play though, and hopefully I can go back next year.

7. What are some of your plans for the rest of 2011?

I am getting ready to start work on a new project this year. I wrote most of the songs on "Listening To Ghosts" when I was in High School, so I have written all of these songs that are much more new and exciting to me that I cannot wait to get on record. So, I will be working on that, as well as playing as much as possible.

8. How would you say you've progressed as an artist over the last few years?

Oh man. I don't know where to begin. I have grown a lot as a songwriter and performer in the last few years, and I would say that it is because I made it a point to surround myself with and take in great influences. I listen to music now to study other artists crafts as performers, lyricists, and musicians. This has been my main source of growth. Determining who I wanted to influence me. What I wanted to sound like. Another way has been being able to play with and for great musicians and artists here in Birmingham. It is an amazing center of untapped talent. Birmingham's music scene has more of a sense of camaraderie than most other cities, and I think it is because we know we have to work together to get Birmingham noticed as a legitimate base for a huge number of up-and-coming artists. I am very proud to be a part of it, and it has influenced me in deep ways.

9. Any shows lined up that you would like to promote?

Yes! I will be opening for my hero, Bill Mallonee, for the second time on July 6th at 8:00 pm at the UCF House. I am very excited for the opportunity, and really want a lot of people to come out and discover what I discovered four years ago. Bill's performances are second to none. He has a way of truly feeling every word and note that comes out of his mouth, and it is truly an amazing thing to see. Can't wait to see everyone there.