Photo courtesy of Me’Lani Santos of IamZormak Photography.
Listen closely, and the soulful serenades of the Jason Adamo Band can be heard riding the trade winds out of North Carolina by way of New York, and reverberating across the country. As an artist who left the big city of Manhattan for a Southern cultural epicenter, Adamo crossed the Mason-Dixon with his smooth, sugary vocals and crisp rock intonations, and is quickly fashioning a niche for himself in the urban reserves of the Piedmont. After forming a band and establishing an identity, he’s been riding out the passage rather steadily. A six piece group of low-key, highly talented musicians, the band released a new EP earlier this year, and have been touring the country over the last several years, performing with the likes of Ben Harper, Martin Sexton, Jack Johnson, Corey Smith, and Hootie and the Blowfish.
No small town sensation, the love for this rising act spreads from New York to LA, with even the music elites of New Orleans gladly feeling their jam. With emerging success upon them, Adamo tells BTR, he’s game for anything.
BTR: North Carolina’s music scene has really emerged in recent years, particularly since the rise of Merge Records and other independent labels. What’s your experience been like in Raleigh?
JA: For me, I moved here from New York City. I grew up in a small town down in Blacksburg, Virginia, where Virginia Tech is, so [Raleigh] is kind of a mid-level scene between Blacksburg and New York. I moved here in 2004 to pursue music, and try to get a fan base going in a smaller city other than New York; I’d have better luck with getting more exposure on local radio, local TV and stuff like that in a smaller sized city, but still bigger than a small town.
BTR: How would you describe the process of building an audience?
JA: It’s a long process: a lot of shows, playing a lot of shows networking… Mainly, just trying to get exposure just by doing it – full time- just going crazy. Raleigh has a great music scene, and it has ever since I moved here. And even before I moved here, there were some great bands that have come out of her – Ben folds and those guys, Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams. Especially since I moved here, Delta Rae is a really great artist that just signed with Warner Brothers, and they’re starting to break out a little bit. It’s really good for the scene whenever anybody, any of your friends start doing some thing.
BTR: How did the Jason Adamo Band get together?
JA: The current band is a long time coming – I always tell people I’ve played with so many musicians in this area, but I found the right guys to play with back in 2009.
BTR: What were you looking for?
JA: Well, besides talent – just people who were dedicated. You know when you’re an independent band, you’re really trying to make it happen. It’s more or less a passion project for some of the professional musicians around here because three of the six guys play other gigs as well with other bands to pay rent as full-time musicians. This is something we’ve all come together to pursue together really. Besides that, they’re more or less my brothers.
BTR: You have really great vocal range. How did you learn to sing?
JA: I never took any lessons; I took a few guitar lessons. But as far as singing goes, my mom really influenced me… because she’s very passionate about singing. She actually tried to do a little semi-professional acapella singing group when I was growing up – they would do old-time Civil War kind of era harmonizing. They’d play at old Civil War festivals… stuff like that. My dad sang as well, but he never pursued it. There was a lot of music growing up in our family, and a lot of singing as well.
BTR: Were your parents excited that you wanted to pursue music?
JA: I think my mom was really excited. Neither of them had ever discouraged it. I mean ever since high school this is what I wanted to do. They’ve kind of just sat back and watched as I pursued it. They’ve been to a lot of shows, and they’re very supportive, but they never pushed me in that direction.
BTR: What has been the most encouraging moment for you?
JA: There have been several things that I’ve set out to do that I’ve accomplished which is great. Just opening up for some of the people that heavily influenced my music, for example Martin Sexton. When I first heard his stuff, it really changed the way I was trying to sing. In the early 2000s, I was – in my own description – I would say I was trying to do a little too much of the, I used to call it the “Christina Aguilera effect.” Just trying to hit so many notes, like a white boy soul kind of thing – being impressive on that end… Listening to Martin Sexton, and starting to see what he was doing, I started finding my own voice, I think. He’s such an amazing singer – there’s no way you’re going to be able to sing like him – but he helped me find my own voice. I set out to open up for him one day, and a few years after, I joined the street team and started promoting his concerts whenever he was in town. Eventually, he gave me an opening spot for him. For me, that was the first time I ever set out on a goal and accomplished it.
BTR: What goal are you working on now?
JA: Right now… Again, I’ll compare it to Martin Sexton. He’s calling the shots in his career. He was on Atlantic Records for a couple albums, now he owns his own label where he puts out his own stuff and tours and lives comfortably off his original music. That’s a lot of work on his end, I’m sure, but it’s worth it to live completely and comfortably off the stuff that you write, and tour the country.
BTR: How would you describe the state of rock music now?
JA: In 2012, it’s kind of everything’s been done. The people – kids are growing up listening to this and that – it’s all these influences coming together. They interpret it and put it out into their own style. You have alt-country, you have country rock, all sorts of blends… People just put out good music, and if it’s labeled as rock, that usually means there’s electric guitars involved… When anybody asks what we are, it’s so hard to answer that question. We’re a little bit country, a little bit blues, a little bit soul, a little bit rock.
BTR: Do you have any non-negotiables as far what you will or won’t do with your music?
JA: For the longest time, I would never consider singing somebody else’s songs. I always wanted to write my own stuff. But in 2008, I met Doug Casteen, who’s our lead guitar player, and I started opening myself up to singing other people’s songs. On our last record, Doug wrote three of the songs, so that was very new to me…I’m more open to trying new things, ultimately just getting stuff out there, whatever helps open up those doors. Not everything – but this business is a game and you have to play along in some aspects.
BTR: Your most recent work is the EP Bricks & Mortar – what was the inspiration?
JA: Right now, I’m currently separated from my wife so “Foundation,” that was probably the first song that I wrote; it’s the record that was about our marriage and trying to get together… The other songs are kind of about my marriage – what it was at the time, what I wanted it to be, what happened already – it’s pretty much all about that.
BTR: Does your wife know that you wrote about her?
JA: Oh yeah, definitely. Well, I never outright said, ‘This is about you,’ but… “Foundation” is pretty focused in that direction.
BTR: Is it hard to write about yourself?
JA: I think it’s the best way to do it – just be honest. When I was first writing, I would just pick a topic or pick an imaginary scenario about two people in love or whatever, and just write about it. Back then, it was more make believe because I was a kid. Now I can put life experiences into a song and it really makes it – makes people, in my experience – gravitate towards it.
BTR: When you were little, who did you want to be like?
JA: Oh, hands down, Elvis Pressley. He was a guy with a guitar; he got the girls in all the movies. When I was a little kid, I was like, “That’s it. That’s what I want to do.” He also was a groundbreaker.