Proofreader.: This is the most laid-back project we've ever done

Adam Svec
Adam Svec
Photo courtesy of the artist

Indie singer-songwriter Adam Svec is super brainy. For one thing, aside from the whole music part, Svec is in the final stages of completing a Ph.D. in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, and he regularly slips phrases like "well-vetted" and "why-esque" into normal conversation. Maybe that's what makes the music of his new band, Proofreader., so interesting: the songs are conscientiously intelligent, embedded in a vibey electronic landscape with a soulful backbone.

Proofreader. started with beats that Casey O'Brien and Graham O'Brien had created together -- little ideas that needed words and a vocalist. A relationship had already been forming between the O'Briens and Svec, who are all members of the indie/hip-hop improve group Coloring Time, since early 2011, when Graham remixed "Wolves in Milwaukee" from Svec's sophomore solo album Rarefaction. The two were together again for Svec's third release, Weaks in the Waves, and Graham was already having thoughts about another partnership.

"I was interested in doing stuff with Adam because he has always been in these singer-songwriter projects, and he's always been in such a different genre," says Graham from across the table at an Eat Street spot. "My basic thought was to take Adam and remix his normal sound. We want to take him out of indie-rock and put him in more of a hip-hop, down tempo, soul thing.... The interesting thing about Adam is that he does have this sort of R&B thing to his voice, so we kind of keyed in on that."

"When I came on board, a lot of the instrumentation was already done," says Svec. "I was charged with the task of trying to fit something over the top of this structure that already occurred... It was a great challenge in that way, and also lyrically. I hadn't written the lyrics. We'd book a day in the studio and I'd come with ideas but not necessarily anything solidified, and we'd start to record and we developed a life while we were recording it, which was sort of a fun way to do it."

The debut EP, Zero Squared, from Proofreader. is a neatly condensed 7 tracks, spanning just over 23 minutes, and while the sound isn't totally out of character for Svec, it definitely shows him in a new light. Zero Squared flows like a smooth, sly electronic groove, and Svec's powerful vocals give it an atmospheric vibe. Everything about Zero Squared feels easy -- the coolness of the beats, the soft impressionist lyrics, the clean transitions. It's the kind of debut that feels very well-planned--which is an excellent achievement, since, according to everyone involved in Proofreader., nothing was planned at all.

"Graham and I just kind of threw everything at Adam to see what he liked, things we hadn't used for other projects," says Casey, grinning lazily at his cohorts. "He just kind of picked the ones he liked and that he felt comfortable with. We kind of just went from there. We had no preconceived notions going into what it was going to be... It was just kind of like, 'Adam, do you like this? Yes or no?'"

Together, the three guys make an interesting party. Svec has the look of someone who has been in school for a very long time, and he has a way of speaking that is almost textbook -- good thing, too, considering his degree -- while the O'Briens have a sneaky, cynical humor that comes slinking out of dark corners to throw punches here and there. You would never think to put them at the same table, but then the entertainment is so good that you're certainly glad for it.

"This is the most laid-back project any of us have ever done," continues Casey as his bandmates nod. "I mean, it's taken us like a year and half to get this EP out, and no one's ever been like, 'Oh my God, we have to get this finished!' It's like, 'Yeah, hey, can you get together next week? No? How about next month? No? All right, I'll see you when I do.' That's kind of how the whole project has been. Easy. It's really, really easy. Like, we get together to hang out and all of a sudden we have a record."

Easy though the partnership is, it's obvious that Proofreader. has brought out the best in its members--though they'd be hard-pressed to admit just how that happened. For Svec, it's a tinge of back-to-the-basics, as he draws on his earliest childhood musical loves.

"Honestly, singing with these guys has made me think about my history for listening to music," explains Svec. "The first record I ever bought was Michael Jackson's Thriller, and after that, I almost exclusively listened to Michael Jackson and Boyz II Men, until I bought, like, Ride the Lightning."

"Can you picture little 12-year-old Adam jamming out to Boyz II Men?" asks Casey, snickering. Everyone shares a good-natured laugh before Svec gets the conversation back on track.

"Proofreader. has kind of made me trust myself a little bit more," he says thoughtfully. "I often think I need a period of time to make something worthwhile, to make melodies and lyrics that are well-thought-out, but you generate different things if you're challenged to come up with them right now. And a lot of the times, it's bad. But when it's good, it's interestingly good, and it wouldn't have happened otherwise. I think that Proofreader. has challenged me to trust that I may come up with something worth keeping in a moment between a synapse and a synapse, and I'm never going to get that thing back." Proofreader. will be playing the EP release show for Zero Squared on Saturday, May 25 at the Amsterdam Bar and Hall in St. Paul. Doors at 9:30. Free. 21+. Details here.

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