Adam Landry (Podcast Interview #1601)
Adam Landry made a ton of records that I love, and several that we featured last year. As the first person who primarily works as a record producer that we have featured on Country Fried Rock, I did not even know that I liked his work until the middle of an interview last season, when it suddenly dawned on me that he was a recurring theme! From #CFRalumni Lilly Hiatt, T. Hardy Morris, Hollis Brown, and Rayland Baxter, to records we have played in our radio show version of CFR, like Diamond Rugs, Middle Brother, and DeerTick, Landry has been the force behind the scenes, helping the songwriters make the records they have inside them.
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Originally published at countryfriedrock.org.
Sloane: My guest today on Country Fried Rock is Adam Landry, the first time we featured someone who’s known for things way beyond just his own recording. Welcome.
Adam: Thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Sloane: I’m not totally sure I’ve ever had the opportunity to be chatting with other folks so many times and suddenly had this dawning in the middle of interviewing someone else of “Oh my God, I’ve played every single record this guy’s produced in the last couple years.”
Adam: Yeah, I remember listening to your interview, I believe, with, it was either with Hardy or Rayland and you mentioned, “I’m having an Adam Landry year.” It made me smile, I was very proud at that moment.
Sloane: Seriously, it’s kind of a crazy — Hollis Brown, Hardy, Rayland, Lilly Hiatt. I mean, it was like I didn’t mean for that to happen, but apparently I like what you’re doing.
Adam: Cool, cool.
Sloane: So I’ve been listening to stuff that you’ve worked with, both for other people as well as things you put out on your own. And I discovered your record from maybe 2012-ish, El Scorpion.
Adam: Oh, yeah, that was a rare case of me making music. I was going through an interesting — I won’t call it difficult, because everybody has difficult times — but I was going through an interesting period of my life. And decided that I’ve always been a songwriter, I’ve not so much been a performer, and still not, but, I decided that I was going to make this record that I had inside me. Just to intentionally no fanfare, I just wanted to make it for my friends. I had some friends help me with it. Yeah, I’m real happy with it. It’s very off-the-wall. It’s not representative of anything but the time period I was going through at the time.
Sloane: Sure, like a snapshot at any given moment.
Sloane: I like the grungy-fuzzy sounds and the little psychedelic tints and all that sort of stuff, which I hear through a lot of the stuff you’ve worked on lately.
Sloane: How do things morph into you doing what you’re doing with producing for other folks and then there’s Cosmic Thug Records and y’all have some projects there.
Adam: It’s been really a whirlwind the last couple years, but I started… I won’t bore you with a bunch of boring details. Essentially I moved to Nashville from Portland, Maine in 1997 so I’ve been here for 18 years now. I came down here because it was Music City, USA, and I was into roots music, if you will. I’m one of those guys that came by roots music via British Invasion stuff. I was always obsessed with the early Stones and Beatles records and the British take on American roots music really opened the door for me to find the original stuff, and Nashville was the place to start.
I came down here with the intention of just immersing myself in music and I didn’t really have a clear goal as to what that looked like professionally. I kind of fell into road gigs, playing guitar for people. I played with Allison Moorer for quite a while, and band led her. It just became apparent really quick to me after I was a professional musician that recording, the recorded music was where I wanted to be.
Sloane: Do you have a particular type of recording that you like to work on? It’s not just the digital versus analog, but everybody has different methods and help people find their own voice.
Adam: Yeah. I prefer analog tape. It’s funny, even when you’re recording in digital, there’s a vast majority of that recording is analog. Analog just means the signal in which… it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re recording a tape. The end result, the end medium that I prefer, is tape due to just the limitations. If you only have X amount of tracks to fill up then you’re way more conscious and purposeful from a creative standpoint as to what you’re going to put on there, and how you’re going to do it. So there’s just more intention involved.
It’s real easy to just play lists ten vocals and pick the best one, or make a combination of them. The listener can feel that. I can feel it. I know that people that aren’t professional musicians can also feel that disconnect of personality and human element. The human element is absent.
Sloane: Just as a fan, you can tell when that soul is gone.
Sloane: It’s funny, when I first started doing this program — I come from a radio background — I really honestly didn’t know what a producer did. I’ve since learned that it totally depends on who you’re talking to, it’s different for everybody.
Adam: It is.
Sloane: But it first dawned on me how a producer can really help someone find their own voice best in a backwards way. A band whose name I won’t give produced their own record. They’re a well-known band, they worked with every name you could imagine and they were like, “Yeah, we’re going to do it ourselves.” And it was so overdone it didn’t even sound like them. It wasn’t like going in a new direction, it was like plastic. It was like they lost themselves in the opportunity to keep redoing and redoing and redoing.
So when you work with people in those limitations that you were just describing, how does that help you pull it out of somebody?
Adam: Honestly, I really like to get to know who I’m working with prior to actually working. A lot of times that happens in the process itself of, maybe, I hate to call it preproduction, but you know, just kind of the hang and getting to know because everybody’s different.
I come from the philosophy that I’m supposed to help produce in the very literal term the record that the artist has inside them, that they want to make. A lot of times I am a filter. I have a lot of tricks of the trade as far as like — I’m a high-class cheerleader, is what I am a lot of times. Sometimes I’m a therapist and sometimes you know … it’s hard, it’s really really hard because a long time ago, a good friend of mine who you may know, and I’m not name-dropping him because he was in my wedding. This is a good friend of mine: Dan Baird from The Georgia Satellites. He’s such a knowledgeable kind of dad figure in my life. I don’t get to see him much anymore, but he always said, “When art and commerce intersect, you’re going to have a lot of issues.”
I think part of my job is to navigate those issues, to help the artist feel safe in that they’re making art. That’s hard, because I also make my living at this and they are too. You have to skirt and navigate the idea that we want this record to be accessible and commercial, if you will, or at least accessible to their fanbase.
But you also want to make the best record. You want to make a record that is true to the artist. To their voice, to their lyrics, all that stuff. It’s tough. It is tough.
Sloane: So I’ll put some words to that. As a listener and a fan of a record where to me, I felt like you very much accomplished that. That would be with Lilly Hiatt’s record Royal Blue because it was a definite leap forward from her previous record. It pushed the sound that I think people know her for, but it was still her.
Adam: Yeah. Lilly is such an amazing human being. Taking all music aside, she’s just such a great person. She’s so genuine and loving and kind and sweet. I don’t think she’d mind me saying, a little bit neurotic at times, so it’s great to see the wheels turning in her creatively. She’s always got something going on and always doing something great. It’s always centered in her creativity and from her soul.
When Lilly came to me to talk about doing a record, she really was into the Diamond Rugs’ record, the first one that we had done and Deer Tick. And just was like, “I’m a rock chick. I’m a rock chick. I want to make a rock record.” That’s what came out of it. I’m really proud of that record, I really love that record a lot. It’s funny, of all the records that I’ve made, and this is not to say that the other ones aren’t good, it’s just that one I always go back to when I’m just chilling and listening to music myself. It touches me in some way. It brought out some really great stuff in her.
Sloane: I agree. I really liked it from a fan perspective, because it was like I felt like she — and I don’t know that this is true, but this is how I felt — that she was being herself.
Adam: Yeah. She really did. It was tough because the conversation did happen, this is not technically Americana. It is, but it isn’t. She’s strong enough to hold that up. Some people aren’t, and that’s fine, and that’s really none of my business. But when it comes to Lilly, she was and is strong enough to make that statement and to back it up and hold it up. I know that her label loves it and the people on her team love it. That’s what’s most important.
Sloane: That’s very cool. It’s neat to hear from your perspective about a conversation that I’ve had directly with her. To hear both sides of that, and our listeners have heard. It’s cool.
How did the Cosmic Thug Records develop, and along what timeline?
Adam: Well, that’s a brand-new LLC as we call it. It’s a brand-new company. The idea had been shaking around for quite a while, and it’s still taking shape. None of us, when I say “us” I mean my other partners in the label. Which are Justin Collins, he’s an often-partner-in-crime with me on many records as co-producer. I also play in his band Justin and the Cosmics.
Sloane: Which I like that record too. I found it on Bandcamp.
Adam: Yeah, the Schooly Dreams record, it’s great. And Marchelle Bradanini, who goes by Pony Boy as an artist. The three of us actually put the plan into action this past year. So 2015 it was founded and our first release was a Christmas release single.
I think the plan behind it ultimately, grand-scheme, was an outlet for… we have this huge stable of artists that we love and trust and vice versa. Oftentimes they might have one song that they don’t want to put on a record, or one song that they want to try something experimental with. So the idea is kind of to start off with split singles just to represent the style and the sound that we’re doing over here. We’ve got some exciting releases, split single releases lined up for 2016, which is really cool.
Yeah, it’s just kind of like an artist-driven content idea. I don’t know any other way to put it, other than like we may not always be able to get together artists as artists. The money or the resources in general to do a full-length and promote that, but if you got something going on that you want to be a part of — I don’t want to call it a collective, but just a part of a certain sound. Come over and do one with us and it’s cool. I’m excited.
Sloane: Are you having any issues getting those pressed?
Adam: We’re going with Gotta Groove right now. Their great plant gentleman Matt Earley is working with us on our releases. So far, so good. There is a backorder, it takes a little time. Vinyl is up, which is good. People are buying actual vinyl records. I love this. Not just because vinyl is cool, but because vinyl is extra cool. It’s like, you get artwork, you get vinyl, music…
Sloane: You can touch it.
Adam: Yeah, you can touch it, you can… For all you 420ers out there, I am not one of them, but you can lay it out and roll a joint on it. You can look at the artwork. It’s just the work that goes into vinyl, there’s so much more care taking.
Sloane: How did you and Justin connect? Because y’all worked together in a lot of different ways.
Adam: Yeah. In 2006, I got a phone call to play on a record. That record ended up being Justin’s very first solo record, it’s called Hangin’ Out in My Body. It was being produced by a gentleman — well, by Justin and another guy Chad Brown, who I’d known for years. We hit it off creatively and I started playing in his band.
Then I built a studio, which is my studio that I still work in that I’m sitting in right now, Playground Sound, in 2007. I was doing a very brief road gig playing guitar for Ray LaMontagne. I got off the road and we had bought a house and I built the studio and I told Justin, “Hey, look, if you ever want to just come over and write and make music, do it over here.” And we started doing that and through a whole bunch of long nights, just being creative and experimenting and stuff we just kind of formed this creative bond.
Then in 2009, Justin called me and he said, “I’ve got this girl. She found me on MySpace. And she wants to make a record. She’s from New York, I don’t know if she’s ever made a record before. Are you interested in co-producing it?” I said, “Absolutely, let’s do it.” That girl ended up being Nikki Lane.
Sloane: Oh yeah.
Adam: Yeah, so that was the first record we ever co-produced together. Then we did British artist Pete Molinari. We just kind of snowballed into there. The first record that we did at my place that really blew up in our world, in our indie world, was the Middle Brother record. We did that in 2010.
Sloane: Got it. And you’ve overlapped with a lot of those guys in different ways.
Adam: Yeah. It really formed the relationship that I have today with John McCauley of Deer Tick. He is in Nashville. He and his wife Vanessa are here with their baby Sidney.
Adam: Yeah, it’s just John and Vanessa and Sidney are very important to me. They’re like best friends. Sidney calls me Uncle Adam, well, she can’t speak yet.
Sloane: But she will.
Adam: She will. I’m Uncle Adam.
Sloane: That’s awesome. It’s nice to be able to have people that are not only friends but also creatively push and collaborate, that back and forth. That’s so hard to explain to people until you have it.
Adam: Absolutely. Some people might call it a blessing and a curse. I just call it a blessing. I don’t know any other way than to be close and personal and friendly with my artists. Some people might disagree, and my bank account disagrees every now and then. But I’ll tell you, I need to remind myself often it’s worth the tradeoff because the amazing relationships that I have today are a result of that. They’re a result of being vulnerable alongside my artists.
Sloane: Have you been working on anything that has not been released yet that you can share with us?
Adam: We’ve been doing a lot of hard, hard work. I would call preproduction on a new Deer Tick record.
Sloane: Oh yay.
Adam: Yeah. Very exciting. I can’t really reveal much more than that. Other than a new Deer Tick record is being worked on.
Sloane: I’m glad to hear that.
Adam: Yeah, I’m very excited about it. Then, I’m trying to think here. I mean, we’re always busy. A lot of things that come up that aren’t out yet, either that don’t have homes, or they don’t know what’s going on so I don’t want to say too much about that stuff. I get a little superstitious about talking about things before they’re done.
Sloane: What sort of other — I mean, it’s been a pretty exciting, or I guess expansion maybe is the right word — but with the recording studio? And then the label, and the Pony Boy record that came out this last year, the Justin and the Cosmics record that came out this year.
Adam: This past year, 2015, has been a really, really interesting year for both music in general but for music in my personal life. Last year, 2014, was I came up for air in July to go to Maine for vacation for two weeks. Other than that I don’t really recall having a full day off. It was Lilly Hiatt, Diamond Rugs, to T. Hardy Morris Audition Tapes — not Audition Tapes, sorry, Drowning on a Mountaintop; Rayland Baxter, Vanessa Carlton, Patrick Dennis, Shelly Colvin, Pony Boy. It was like, it was just nonstop. So that was just a full year. All those records came out this year.
But this year has been very much less stressed, much more open year for expansion. It’s not so great on the almighty cash flow, but sometimes I get stressed about that. Sometimes I don’t. It’s just one of those things where it’s not why I got into it. I don’t really worry about it too much. Sometimes you worry about it, sometimes you don’t, if you catch my drift.
The facts are, this was a great year I think. 2015 was a good year for music in general. A lot of great records made and that came out. I’m excited. I forgot the initial question now.
Sloane: So what else are you listening to lately?
Adam: I don’t want to tell on myself, but I’ve been listening to a lot of electronic music lately.
Sloane: Like what kind?
Adam: Well, a lot of instrumental stuff. I’m not this like Brian Eno kind of guy, although I love Brian Eno. I’m going through this very mellow vibe right now. Which is great because T. Hardy has a bunch of new songs that he’s been sending me iPhone demos of and they’re like mysteriously lining up with where I’m at in my life musically right now. I’m excited about that.
I’m just kind of in this very mellow, borderline trippy, psychedelic music phase right now. So I’ve been listening to that stuff. As far as like what’s current and going on, I love Sturgill, he’s great. I love Tame Impala. I think they’re a great band. I love the Courtney Barnett stuff. She impressed me before this new record came out. I love Ariel Pink. He’s a total weirdo. I love his stuff.
There’s just a lot of — it’s kind of all across the board. Then of course the full catalog of years gone by that I often am just way into, steeped into old music. I’m kind of slightly obsessive-compulsive where it’s like if I haven’t heard something from 20 years ago, I feel like I have to know that before I can listen to something that came out two days ago. I’m never going to run out of great music. Listening to a lot of Beethoven right now. Go figure.
Sloane: Go figure.
Adam: I suppose if anyone wanted to get in touch with me, I’m managed by a gentleman named Rishon Blumberg, with Brick Wall Management out of New York. Awesome guy, awesome awesome guy. You can go to Brick Wall Management which is brickwallmgmt.com to find him.
Sloane: What do you use?
Adam: I’m using analog tape. I don’t always do — like, Rayland Baxter’s record Imaginary Man for instance, I did not record here at my studio. I recorded that with Eric Masse at his place called The Casino. That was a digital record. It’s always an artistic choice. I hate to be bound by rules in general. When in Rome.
So it depends on just the creative choice and what we want to do. Like I said earlier, I’m into electronica music as well. So that stuff isn’t really conducive to analog tape because you’re doing a lot of editing. You’re creating like a collage of electronic music you’re creating a collage of things. It’s more that medium.
But here at Playground we have an Otari MTR 90 8-track one-inch tape machine. It was funny, even regarding the Lilly Hiatt record, someone from the quality control person from the label had called and said, “Hey, I got the tapes. I’m in the vault. The track listing’s only 8 tracks. Where’s the rest of the record?” And I said, “That’s it. You’re looking at it. You got it.” And there was a mass of confusion. There was a mass of confusion, but from Middle Brother to both Diamond Rugs records, T. Hardy Audition Tapes, which is the first one. To a myriad of records done in here. Eight tracks total. Oftentimes we are less than eight tracks. So it can be done. Pet Sounds was four. I think it can be done.
Sloane: Well, Adam Landry, thank you so much for your time and for talking and my stupid questions and all that good stuff.
Adam: Thank you for asking them. I appreciate it.
Sloane: Take it easy, appreciate it. Bye bye.
Adam: Take care. Bye bye.
Hey, this is Adam Landry. Go check out my new label with partners Justin Collins and Marchelle Bradanini at www.cosmicthugrecords.com.
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