Staying in and stretching out
When the COVID shutdown hit, Adam Spry had been working as a full-time touring musician for many years. “I’d played in a lot of different bands,” Spry said. “Some of ’em were mine, sometimes I was a sideman, but they were all great fun.
“Along the way, I was also battling the depression that came on when I was a teenager,” Spry said. “When everything stopped during the pandemic, I started thinking about my path in life and began writing more personal songs.”
A few years earlier, Spry connected with Trevor Brooks, known for his work on Ezra Furman’s Twelve Nudes. He became his friend, collaborator and producer. They’d previously teamed up on the mini albums Spry made, One Dimensional, a solid folk rock outing, and the Americana influenced Bonanza, which found him moving in a more progressive direction.
“At first, I didn’t think what I’d been working on was usable,” Spry said. “I’d never released anything that I’d recorded myself and didn’t have confidence in my engineering. I started sending the demos to Trevor, and he thought they were great. He said we should use them as the basis of an album.”
As soon as they were vaccinated, the duo got together at the studio Brooks owns, Oakland’s Coyote Hearing. What they put together there became Slightly Off Kilter, Spry’s debut album.
“Trevor has the best ear,” Spry said. “If I have a vague idea, he knows how to process that information and recreate it. He mixed the record, co-wrote one song and played countless instruments. He’ll tweak arrangements, add an intro or cut out a bridge. He pushes me out of my comfort zone, and the song usually comes out the other end better. At the end of the process, my drummer, Scott Wright, came in and laid down the live drum tracks in two sessions.”
Slightly Off Kilter takes a deep dive into the physical and emotional world that recently surrounded everyone. “Cruel Dream” rides a loping country beat, highlighted by a twanging lead guitar line that could have come from a Spaghetti Western. Spry’s terse baritone describes the loneliness of walking deserted midday streets. Long ambient sustained synthesizer chords give “Coming To See Me” a cinematic feel. Spry slips into his high tenor range, augmenting the longing of desolate lyrics like: “Are you still coming to see me? I don’t care if it kills you.”
Spry’s slide guitar on “Creatures Of Habit” brings to mind the concise lead lines of George Harrison. It’s a short meditation on the compromises necessary for an intimate relationship. The album closes with “Circles,” delivered simply by Spry’s acoustic guitar, as he asks forgiveness for the ways he avoids intimacy.
Spry released the album last month on his website, adamspry.bandcamp.com, and the usual digital providers. He said he’s planning to stay at home in San Francisco, writing songs and enjoying family life, until he resumes touring in the fall.
He was born in Fort Stewart, Georgia, but his father was in the military, so they moved around the country when he was growing up. “We lived in Virginia, Minnesota and, finally, various homes in Sonoma,” he said. “We moved 12 times after coming to California. I was always the new kid, wearing a mask all the time, trying to get people to like me. Music was the place I could lose myself a little. Songwriting was like a diary. You could put a feeling down and move on from it, as best you can.
“My parents weren’t musicians,” Spry continued, “but my mom turned me on to all the classic rock stuff, and my dad loves country music. My songwriting definitely reflects that.
“I picked up a guitar when I was seven,” Spry said. “My grandma and mom were taking a guitar class at the local junior college. I learned everything they were working on in their class and was hooked. I took guitar lessons for a long time with Paul Christopulos, an amazing player, and studied music theory and jazz at Santa Rosa Junior College, but I dropped out.
“I’ve been writing songs since I was 13,” said Spry. “They weren’t very good at first, but they were part of the process. After I moved down to San Francisco with my partner, now my wife, I began to play in bands.”
Being an independent artist has its challenges, Spry said, but he’s happy with the path he’s chosen. “You can go as far as you take yourself, which is difficult but invigorating. When things don’t work out, there’s nobody to blame but myself. I’m the manager, booker, publicist, songwriter, bandleader, engineer, driver, accountant, the marketing person who runs the social media accounts and so much more.
“I’m just trying to have fun, enjoy the journey and let the cards fall where they may,” Spry concluded. “I’m making the records I want to make, touring with my band and enjoying being with my family. Hopefully, I can keep doing that for a long time, and everything else will take care of itself.”