Written By Jordan Reisman
Photo courtesy of Aaron Adair.
High school has always been the enemy of music. It’s where every successful rock musician was “misunderstood” and was the “outsider,” and it’s inspired such songs as “School’s Out For Summer” about the joyous occasion of high school ending. Even though most early ’00s radio-friendly pop-punk bands cultivate their lyrics from high school experiences, they only did so as a means to make the time go by faster. Basically, it never seemed like any musician would want to return.
Aaron Adair from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, is a prominent groove-based soul musician who just so happens to teach English at a high school in Saskatoon. He recorded his debut full-length, AANALOG, in the time he has between grading papers and during a sabbatical he took to receive his Master’s degree in Curriculum Studies at the University of Saskatoon. BTR was able to grab hold of Adair during his break from teaching, at an hour that stands as another enemy of the musician — 8:30 AM.
“[My students] caught on right around the time that the album was coming out,” Adair says about having two identities as a musician and teacher, and where they intersect. “A few of them didn’t know but then a buzz kind of started and yeah, there you go.”
The students even had a hand-in promoting the album too, amongst each other he said. Adair says that there was word around the school about his music and so the teachers let the students use their phones to watch YouTube clips of Adair’s songs. The Canadian government has a history of being very supportive of its citizens’ artistic ventures, and musicians are no exception. Case in point, Adair received a grant from a local Saskatoon radio station to create the album.
The fact that this type of help is unheard of in the United States bewildered Adair, which really just goes to show the place that the arts hold in Canadian culture.
“I didn’t know that didn’t happen in the States as much. Actually the government of Ontario yesterday just announced that they’re setting aside like $45 million for the music industry there. I don’t know the details on it but there seems to be a lot of funding here and there, you just gotta be able to access it.”
Simply being Canadian is a huge part of what makes Adair unique. He says that just by being inside all winter because of the snow helped him hone his music craft. However, he doesn’t consider it his defining characteristic.
“I’d say that it’s uniquely Canadian because it’s unique. It’s like Canadian food, I don’t think that there’s like a typical Canadian food out there because it’s such a diverse place. I don’t think any two artists or bands really match up here either.”
Adair’s looks strike a bold resemblance to the likes of Mayer Hawthorne, which is interesting because they also create a similar style of music. They’re both riding on the fringes of neo-soul. Adair says that he grew up on ’70s soul and likes to incorporate it into what he does, and “make it his own.”
A common thread to a lot of neo-soul is that the lyrics take on an anachronistic quality – never feeling quite at home in the present day. Adair doesn’t subscribe to this genre dilemma though, as he said AANALOG is very personal to him in the now. He thinks that the music of the record is very ’70s soul influenced but not at all in regards to the lyrics.
Adair’s wardrobe decisions, however, are a different story. If you peruse his website or Facebook page, you’ll see that he is very fond of wearing suits. Really well-fitting suits too. If no one told you he was a musician, you might guess that he was a talk show host. He admitted that his fashion sense is subject to conscious decision making. On one hand, his self-imposed dress code is a throwback to his favorite musical decade; on the other hand, he acted on advice received from a run-in he had with B.B. King.
“One piece of advice he gave was ‘Always make sure you’re dressing up, no matter if there’s three or three thousand people, you always gotta dress up.’ That stuck with me a little bit.”
His newest record, AANALOG, which came out in March of 2012 really showcases Adair’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. The title itself has some significance as well, the two A’s in it are Adair’s initials. But, beyond that, analog refers to an antiquated style of recording which many champion to this day. Adair doesn’t really buy into the nostalgia of neo-soul so much but he admits that the title does refer back to the older days of recording albums.
“We were talking about throwback approach and feel and analog is a throwback term for that old way of recording,” said Adair. “Everything on the album is made with live instruments, there’s no sampling or stuff that’s been created on computers. We did record under a digital medium but all the instruments were analog instruments in a sense too. I think it’s that throwback that I wanted people to get.”
Though he may not write his lyrics with nostalgia in mind, Adair finds freedom in using an older more organic approach to arrangement as a tasteful caveat to having to releasing such music in a digital format. After all, is that the musical trope that has best outlived the era in question? Live instruments and no-nonsense recording?
With the modern convenience that allows us to make music sound how we want, Aaron Adair is taking that freedom and running with it for AANALOG. For all the talk about freedom in the States, Canadian musicians enjoy subsidies that help them spread more distinctly Canadian culture and music besides just their national anthem. Hats off to the North!
You can listen to the tracks from AANALOG on Aaron Adair’s website.
Check out an interview with AA and songs from his debut album on Discovery Corner on BTR!