Why are we drawn to stories of degradation and humility more than tales where everything comes easily? Is it because it humanizes the protagonist?
On his latest EP, Bad Lungs, Twin Cities singer-songwriter Adam Svec takes on the role of the protagonist and battles his inner demons via songs about addiction, love, and violence — all while struggling with faulty breathing due to chronic asthma.
Stripped down to merely Svec's voice and a guitar, Bad Lungs tells tales of fragility, gently and simply. The album is full of mourning — sad, crooked laments — and Svec's vocal delivery brings the story to life as much as his words do.
Ahead of his Bad Lungs release party Friday at the Warming House, Svec talked with City Pages about what he's been up to since the debut of Camp Dark, his project with local drumming ace Graham O'Brien, and the writing process behind Bad Lungs.
City Pages: What have you been up to since the Camp Dark release last year?
Adam Svec: Oh, nothing really ... just re- examining my relationships with daily life, Minneapolis, and the United States. The racism and violence aimed at people of color in this country has weighed heavy on my heart for the last few years, and I think all of us in this community have been wondering exactly what that means for the future. We could talk about that all day, but it would send me down a rabbit hole of despair.
In other news, I finished my Ph.D. in Audiology/Speech-Language — Hearing Science at the University of Minnesota last summer. I've been working in research and development for a hearing aid company since then.
CP: When did you start writing for this album, and how did the writing process roll out?
AS: The first track is the newest, and the last track is the oldest. I’ve had a rough year in the dating realm, and the listener can treat “Archers And Arrows” as a reflection of a precipitating event last September.
“Famous When You Die” outlines my interactions with a musician who probably should have gone to rehab when we first met, and when he eventually did, his life improved tenfold. The song also takes a swing at how humans seem to celebrate the wrong characters in certain stories. For instance, we — and by “we,” I mean “I" — love to read books about the lives of serial killers, which is bizarre. Who deserves less celebration and attention than a serial killer?
“Blasphemy Is Easy” is probably my favorite song on the album. It’s a cautionary tale regarding making assumptions about a person’s faith. Life is hard, and sometimes relying on a possibly imaginary force in the sky might be what gets a person through the day. There’s more complexity to the discussion, but I’ll let the song do the rest of the talking.
During the last couple of years, I’ve had bouts of chronic asthma that have affected my singing. You can hear that my voice is a little rough around the edges on these recordings, so I thought calling it out in the title might allow for some hand-waving when it came to the aesthetic of the vocal performance.
CP: This solo album seems a lot more stripped-down than anything you've done. Why did you decide to do it this way?
AS: After completing the first Camp Dark album, Graham [O’Brien] and I thought some palate-cleansing was in order. I caught Big Thief at The Entry last November, which led me to check out a duet record by two of the band members, Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek.
Almost immediately, the song "Jonathan" demanded my attention. The simple beauty of that track blew me away, and I told Graham, "I would die a happy man, if we made something that sounds like this."
I don't think we accomplished the brilliance of Lenker and Meek, but we definitely captured some special moments by keeping the recording process relatively simple. We constrained each song to have, at most, a guitar, a synthesizer, and vocals.
CP: Was there any collaboration, or did you do all of the writing yourself?
AS: Per usual, the writing process was a solo affair. I like to work through a melody and story line by myself, but I’ll often run a verse or chorus by my musical colleagues to see whether or not that idea resonates with them.
CP: Your music is very serious compared to your personal demeanor. Besides going Weird Al, how do you think you would add more light-heartedness into the music?
AS: Both humor and music are ways in which I tend to deal with internal and external darkness. I haven’t been able to mix them very artfully, with the arguable exception of “Breaking Strings” from Rarefaction circa 2010. But when I figure out how to do that, I’ll call up Scott Aukerman to see if Comedy Bang Bang is in the market for a new musical director. I’m hoping the forthcoming video for “Famous When You Die,” directed by John Paul Burgess, will do a little of that legwork for me.
CP: Why did you decide to have your album release at the Warming House?
AS: I heard about The Warming House through a friend, and it sounded like a brilliant idea, so I sent a note to [local singer-songwriter/Warming House co-founder] Brianna Lane back in March to ask about possibly setting up a release show. Not only do I respect Brianna as a musician, I think her vision for the space is an important addition to the paucity of venues in Uptown and the Uptown-adjacent neighborhoods.
As an elderly man of 36, I love the idea of playing a 50-seat listening room with a start time of 8 p.m. I’ll be joined by Chris Salter [Camp Dark, The Glad Version] and Matt Leavitt [Emot, Moon and Pollution, Camp Dark] for the evening. We’ll be playing songs from Bad Lungs, songs from an upcoming full length — fall 2016, fingers crossed — and a few new things.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri., July 15.
Where: The Warming House, 4001 Bryant Ave. S., Minneapolis
Tickets: $10, more info; here.