IMAGE CREDIT: Joanne Jones
EVERY time a review or interview comes my direction…
you get, now and then, a fascinating backstory from an artist. If I had to compile a list of the least-likely success stories; John Adams’ might be very near the top. Not to say his ascension is out of proportion to his (meagre) talent. The man has enormous aptitude and songwriting chops – it is just his beginnings would not indicate someone who could rise to the levels he has. In addition to performing Damien Rice’s Cannonball on X Factor; the singer-songwriter-busker is a treasure nestled in the South Wales Valleys (Abadare to be precise!). I talk to the young artist about his hometown and the opportunities, few as they are, available to him. He discusses recent single, Things That Make You Beautiful; the hot-off-the-press See You Again (both officially released 17th March; available now) and the E.P. they stem from – the much-anticipated, Dandelion Wishes. In turn, Adams provides his views of reality T.V. ‘talent shows’ and how he has grown since his debut album, The Pavement Is My Stage. Adams goes on to explain how incredible Spotify download figures make him feel; the singers and works he is inspired be and what we can expect from the Welsh wonder in the months to come.
Hi, John. How are you? How has your week been?
Hi. I’m great, thank you. I’m over the moon at the response the new music has received so far. To be honest, I would love an eighth day to the week – to get all my jobs in.
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
In a nutshell: my name is John Adams and I’m a singer/songwriter/busker from South Wales.
You hail from Aberdare in the South Wales Valleys. I can imagine there isn’t much of a music scene there. Was it difficult trying to create music and follow your passion in Aderdare?
Yes, unfortunately, you’re right. There’s a pub-circuit that love the covers but there’s not a lot of opportunity to perform your originals to an attentive audience. This was one of the main reasons I started busking. It’s not all doom-and-gloom though because the people are very supportive and always get behind me.
Wales often gets overlooked when it comes to great new music. Do you think the country gets ignored a lot?
Yes, I guess it does. It really winds me up when artists announce their U.K. tour and there’s no Welsh date.
I don’t think it’s just Wales, though. I guess London is the music capital and the further away you are the harder it is. I have thought about making the move, but for now, I’ll just put in the hours on the road.
I’m from the same village as The Stereophonics, so that gives me hope.
You performed Damien Rice’s Cannonball on X Factor in 2011. What was that experience like and what did it feel like (helping to get) that track back in the charts?
When I entered the show, I‘d never sang in public or had any aspirations of becoming a singer so it was MENTAL! There were so many people watching and I had no idea what I was doing. The reaction from the judges and the public led to my first feeling of “maybe I can do this as a job”. The coverage also meant I could quit my job and have more time to focus on my music. If it wasn’t for the push of the show I don’t think I would have been brave enough to take the leap – so I guess I have a lot to thank it for.
There will be many – I am in the camp – that do not like talent shows and feel their time is through. Do you think they help or hinder new artists? Many of the artists that win the shows lack longevity. Is this a problem do you think?
I think the problem here is not the T.V. show but people’s perceptions. If you view them as talent competitions – or part of the music industry – then you’ll be forever questioning the decisions and getting frustrated. It’s an entertainment show and all their decisions will be based on what’s more entertaining. If I auditioned for Hollyoaks and wasn’t successful I’d see it as not being the right person for the part – and I think that’s how everyone that enters these shows should think because it’s not entirely a representation of talent. In this scenario, you’d continue acting and building up your C.V. because Hollyoaks is only one TV show in a massive industry.
PHOTO CREDIT: Haus von Trower
I have met so many people that think reality T.V. is the only way to be a successful musician. I think, as long as a new artist knows this, then there’s no reason why they shouldn’t expose their music to millions of people. I don’t think you’ll ever beat the musical connection you can get with someone when they are in the same room as you. When you gain a fan organically, the support seems to last a lot longer – they invest in you as a person and not just one song or for a duration of a show. I think that’s the reason why they may have a shorter lifespan. Plus, they are probably at the complete mercy of their record label.
Things That Make You Beautiful is your recent single. What was the inspiration behind the song?
When I was writing this song, I was planning my wedding and I set out to write a song that we could use as our first dance.
At the grand old age of twenty-nine, my wife-to-be was starting to come to terms with the fact she was thirty this year – and was worried that her “looks may fade“. I know it sounds cliché, but I felt strongly, that after this length of time of being together I was very much in love with the present and not the wrapping paper. When I started to think about the Things That Make You Beautiful, there wasn’t any mention of any visual appearance and it was all characteristics that were “inside” – and ones that wouldn’t change over time.
The video is really powerful. Who came up with the concept and what was it like to make?
I came up with the concept with a friend, Rhys Davies (that also shot the video). I tried to mirror the lyrical Idea in the music video and try to question our first impressions that are always based on appearance. When we were shooting the video, the dancing was so beautiful and matched the song really well. Getting the frosted contact lenses in, on the other hand, was a nightmare. We had everyone on set trying to get the lenses in just to prove it was humanly possible.
See You Again is the new, and second, single. Both are taken from Dandelion Wishes (out in June/July). What can you tell us about the E.P.’s themes and subjects?
In this new music, I have tried to combine a minimal electronic production with the organic sound that I make in my live shows – to make it a little different to your usual one-man-and-his-guitar style. It’s really brought out the emotions of the songs and I think I’m going to really miss the production when I perform them acoustically.
Your voice recalls bits of Sam Smith and David Gray; a lot of personality and passion. Who are the singers that have inspired you most and how difficult has it been creating that voice?
Thank you. I like both of those. I guess, if I counted up all the hours I have spent singing, it would sound like I’ve worked my butt off but I have always loved to sing. It feels like the ability has just been gifted to me. I’ve always been lucky because my tone is quite unique, but the difficulty has been creating a sound that suits it. Sadly, I’ll never become a rockstar. I’m enjoying my sound at the minute, but even the songs I have written since recording the album feel that little bit closer to where I eventually want to be.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Trower Photography
I have about four-hundred half-written songs because I always want to hear the next one I write. Stupid, I know!
I think people will see a huge progression from my debut album. The songs you release can become a bit like fashion choices: when you look back and wonder what you were thinking.
The Pavement Is My Stage was your debut album (released in 2011). You funded it by busking around the country. Do you feel proud looking back at how far you’ve come and do you worry new musicians, and the financial pressures they face, might have to adopt a similar funding approach?
I am very proud to be one of the lucky ones that can earn a living doing something I enjoy. I still go busking and it’s my favourite part of the job. There’s something really calming and satisfying about singing to complete strangers outdoors and the generosity always amazes me. It’s a great way to practice with little pressure and to travel around. Busking is hard work, though: some days you can be moved on from pillar-to-post; battle the weather elements and have very little interest or financial gain. I’m sure there are lots of busking amps gathering dust after a few uses.
Since your busking days, you have worked with some of music’s big names and racked up incredible reviews; huge streaming figures on Spotify and incredible recognition. Can you believe how far you’ve come and does it all seem real?
I have, haven’t I. Thank you. Sometimes, I’m so focused on the next goal that I forget to look back down the mountain at how far I’ve come. So much has happened already but I feel like I’ve only just begun. I purposely haven’t reached out to management/labels yet because I knew I wasn’t ready; I had no music to represent me that I was proud of. I’ve worked hard the last few years on my live performance and writing. I view this as my first proper release. You don’t get a second chance at first impressions – hopefully, now, I can make a good one. That’s my aim for 2017.
If you had to choose the albums that have meant most to you which would they be and why?
It has to be Passenger – All the Little Lights.
When I was really new to the industry, my music tastes were very much drip-fed by radio and T.V. The type of songs I wrote were very rarely heard. When I discovered Passenger at a gig one day, his music contained everything I’d been striving to achieve. The lyrics had depth and meaning; every song had a story; the melodies were beautiful and the music was simple just like the songs I’d previously written – that I thought would never cut it. There was a room-full of people captivated by him and it really inspired me to keep pursuing this path. I bought his album that day and I played it to death. But I remember getting a saddened feeling that he wasn’t as successful as he should have been and maybe I did need to be more ‘mainstream’.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Trower Photography
A few months later, Let Her Go started to gain popularity and all of a sudden he was everywhere. It was so reassuring and I think, if it wasn’t for the success of this album, I would have wrongly gone in another direction.
Since then, I have discovered so many great songwriters with fantastic careers that will be around for years (that a teenage girl or your mum may not know). This discovery really opened my eyes to ‘The Music Industry’ as opposed to ‘famous musicians’; since then, I have stayed true to the music that makes me feel something – and hopefully it will reach others too.
Are there any new artists out there you’d recommend we check out?
We toured last year with a young guy called Dan Owen. His live performance was like nothing I’d seen before and his songs were so well-crafted for someone so young. Since then, he’s been popping up everywhere and is definitely one-to-watch.
What advice would you give to any new band/performer coming through?
Oh God! I don’t feel I’m in a situation to give advice on how to succeed in this industry but these are a few thoughts that may keep you sane if you give it a go:
- Choose it as a career because you enjoy the music and not for fame and recognition. Nobody can take enjoyment from you or tell you you’re not good enough to enjoy it.
- Don’t lie to make yourself look successful. Long-term, you’ll look like silly. Lying to yourself hurts: you won’t make any music friends and real success will speak for itself.
I sound like my dad!
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can each select a song (not one of yours as I’ll do that) and I’ll play it here.
I was very much brought up with an “education first” policy and my burning desire to pursue music – or “waste time” on a musical instrument – followed me right until I became a mathematics teacher in 2011. As I slipped deeper into the nine-to-five and the responsibility of adulthood; the short amount of time I could spend listening, playing and being involved in music became more like a drug and more of a pull.
Just as I was contemplating my resignation to pursue music, one of my idols, James Morrison, released a song called One Life as some sort of sign.
I was looking for any sort of guidance at the time.
Follow John Adams
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Trower Photography