Adam Svec searches for the music inside

Adam Svec, on the verge of another creative maelstrom
Emily Utne

The French impressionist composer Claude Debussy once wrote about music: "There is no theory. You only have to listen. It is a free art gushing forth, an open-air art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea. It must never be shut in and become an academic art."

Debussy had a point. Like any creative process, the art of songwriting is a balance between technical skill, knowledge, and inspiration. Attempts to over-theorize and explain away musical technique can overshadow the creative element of composition. Truly gifted songwriters, it might be said, are born with the music in their bones, with melodies coursing through their bloodstream.

Like local songwriter Adam Svec. Svec has been studying music since childhood, but it wasn't until he moved away from his rigid musical education and found a creative niche that he was able to embrace his talent for crafting songs.

"I've been in choir since I was in second or third grade," says Svec, who continued his studies at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and earned degrees in theater and dance, with a music minor in voice. It wasn't until after college, though, when the chief songwriter in his band, the Glad Version, dropped out to pursue other projects, that Svec felt compelled to pen his own tunes and perform them with his band.

Since then, the Glad Version have released three albums (two of which feature Svec's songwriting prominently), and have gained attention locally for their poppy melodies and Death Cab for Cutie-esque indie appeal. Once he started writing, Svec says, his creative output kicked into overdrive. "I wrote songs all the time. Those songs started to take things over. I stopped running because I was playing guitar, and I didn't make time to date anybody because I was playing guitar, and I lived by myself, so I stopped making as much time to go out to dinner with people."

His new solo album, Enemy Swimmer, is a collection of songs that didn't fit in with the Glad Version aesthetic. Stripped-down and intensely personal, Enemy Swimmer is the work of a writer who has found his voice and is mastering his technique as a craftsman.

"Does it look like I quit surviving under these lights and computer screens/I haven't been breathing," Svec sings in the opening lines of "Too Pretty," and it's the perfect introduction to an album of introspection and self-discovery. Svec's voice is nimble and crystalline throughout the disc, recalling Ben Gibbard of Death Cab, and he slides with ease through the complex routes of his vocal melodies.

Though he says his college training doesn't come into play during the songwriting process, the melodic structures and complex chord changes that bind Enemy Swimmer into one coherent, captivating album speak to the musical background of someone who is more than proficient in theory and composition. At the same time, however, the songs swell with a rich emotional maturity to convey something deeper than just a diminished chord change or a perfectly constructed chorus can.

Highlights from the album include "747," an all-too familiar tale of a head-over-heels love affair that ends unrequited. It's the kind of song that demands immediate stillness to take in its most intimate nuances; the kind of song that encapsulates two of the most powerful and universal emotions, love and loss, in a simple and familiar narrative story. "In My Blood" features one of Svec's more meandering melodies, set to an acoustic guitar and a tambourine, and starts out with the line, "I've got my father's in my blood/It won't give up/You can see it in the music."

Svec says he wrote the song about finding his birth parents and attempting to trace his love of music back to its roots.

"I'm adopted, and none of my adoptive family is musical," he says. "And I found out that my birth mom, on my birth certificate, had said that my birth dad was a basketball player. And I went through the motions, when I was 18, to meet her, and to talk to her about things and see what she was like. She wasn't very musical, either. At the time, she had written down on the birth certificate the guy who was her boyfriend, but she had actually driven to a different town one night and slept with the singer of a band."

"It was heavy," he says. "I can't seem to shake certain things about that person that I've never met." 

ADAM SVEC will perform a CD-release party with the Daredevil Christopher Wright and Michael Morris on FRIDAY, JULY 18, at the KITTY CAT KLUB; 612.331.9800

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