Adam Washburn: Musician In Transition

The first time I saw Adam Washburn perform with his new band, The Elements, was at the Halifax Urban Folk Festival this August, and I was blown away. They have a feel good, folk-pop vibe, that relies as much on electric guitars and bass, as it does on acoustic instruments, and their energetic mix of original tunes was balanced nicely by a cover of “Red Heart” by East Coast power group Hey Rosetta!. I met up with Adam Washburn at the Economy Shoe Shop in Halifax, which, for those not in the know, is not, in fact, a place to buy footwear, but a restaurant by day, and a music venue by night.

Adam works at the Shoe Shop part-time, but today he was in full patron mode with a mug of coffee in hand. Working at the Shoe Shop, in addition to being a musician, keeps Adam close to the industry; not only does he get to hang out at great shows every night, but he has also served some of Canada’s great musicians and entertainers.

“I’ve served half of Hey Rosetta!, which was pretty cool. I served Dallas Green, which was freaking nerve-wracking. I’ve served Gord Downie, too. He just got soup. I’ve seen the Trailer Park Boys here and, just a few weeks ago, I saw Kenny Hotz just walk by outside. I wanted to run out, but I was working!”

Adam’s shyness shines through at some points, including his disclaimer beforehand that he’s not good with interviews, but when he’s talking about his song-writing process and being on stage, that shyness disappears altogether to be replaced by a sense of passion and excitement.

“It’s a constant struggle,” says Washburn. “You’re battling with what you want to do and how the world is set up to do that, but you’ve got to keep moving and get through it. Music is hard; it’s tough. There are a lot of times where you get kind of down about it, but, in the end, nothing is better than being in front of a crowd playing music. It’s the best thing in the world to play music.”

“I just want to write a freakin’ good song; a freakin’ catchy song; good hooks, good transitions, you know? I’m talking catchy hooks, just stuff that sticks in your head.”

Adam recently moved from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia, and, even though he’s been in Halifax for about a year, he was fortunate enough to receive nominations at the New Brunswick Music Awards this fall. He calls the nominations ‘strange’, but was very eager to talk about his transition to the Haligonian music scene. He has a lot of praise for the culture here, but voices some concerns about finding his place as a performer.

“You just don’t want to play too much in the same town, even Halifax. You want to hold out on your shows. You want to make sure the shows are legit shows, which is kind of hard, because you want to play all the time, and all you want to do is play. It’s hard to break into the scene; to be playing every week and have a good show. It just takes time. You move to a new city and you’re like, ‘I have no connections’. You’ve just got to get yourself out there. You’ve just got to keep doing it.”

Adam explains that one of his challenges is coming into a place that already has many well-established success stories; bands like Signal Hill, that have had Sunday nights in Halifax locked down for years. Other names like In-Flight Safety, Alert the Medic, Wintersleep, and Joel Plaskett come to mind. As an East Coast musician, there can be a sense that you operate in the shadows of these East Coast giants, and there is, of course, always the possibility that you’ll be lumped in with them, not because your music is similar to theirs, but because you all come from the same place.

On the whole, Adam is flattered to be grouped in with other East Coast greats, “I’ve been compared to Tim Baker [of Hey Rosetta!]. I’ve had people say that I have a very Hey Rosetta! sound. It doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t compare myself to them. I listen to them and, I mean, Hey Rosetta!’s a big influence. I love them. I want to play with them. Do they need…uh…a guy to do…something? Maybe, I’ll ask them. I’ll play the triangle and just rock the shit out of it.”

Another part of being an East Coast musician is learning how to take inspiration from everywhere, while still maintaining that East Coast feel. Halifax works to maintain a global feel, while still creating a community that holds its own, and, sometimes, all it takes is the creation of arts-oriented projects to enhance that feeling of support.

“I just flow. I have my principles, like three or four main ones. Just, every day I want to do something productive musically, whether it’s writing a song, posting something, emailing somebody, etc. My goals are to get an album out as soon as possible and then do a tour in April. We have a show at the Carleton on April 16th, and then we have Canada Music Week in May, so we’re going on tour in between that.”

“You’ve just got to keep moving; just keep doing what you want to do. As long as you’re doing it, you can do something with it, but it’s harder if you don’t. We’re just taking it one step at a time.”

While having released a solo EP in 2013, titled Beautiful Things, Adam’s most recent efforts will be his first full-length album with his recently formed band, The Elements. The yet-to-be-titled album is being recorded in both his adopted province of Nova Scotia, and his home in New Brunswick, “We’re writing it. Personally, I have a lot of songs on file, but I’m doing the album with the full band, so it’s taking it song-by-song, and trying to work it out with them. We have about ten new songs that we’re going to throw on the album. We’re playing it out right now and working on finding the funding. I’m getting grants in both provinces because I’d like to record half of it in New Brunswick and half of it in Nova Scotia, if I could. I don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a weird transition right now from New Brunswick to Nova Scotia.”

Adam Washburn (Photo courtesy of Jenna Knorr)
Adam Washburn (Photo courtesy of Jenna Knorr)

It’s clear that Adam’s true passion is music. His folk-pop sound holds its own within the East Coast music scene; there are definitely great things ahead for him. His dedication and drive is apparent by his promise to himself that he’ll set a goal for himself, or for the band, every month, and then do everything in his power to achieve that goal before the month’s end. That drive doesn’t seem to be dying out and his new album will definitely be on the radar, as we transition into the New Year.