A Songwriters Life: A Conversation with Adam Hill
by Terry Mathley
After hearing “Smoke Trees” by Adam Hill, I knew I had to interview this guy. One of the best albums you’ve probably never heard. If there is any justice in the music world, that won’t be the case in 2011. As Benny Smith, a Knoxville, TN radio personality put it, “Adam Hill has the passion of Westerberg, the emotions of Townes, and can take you as high as the hills of East Tennessee where he was raised.”
I had the opportunity to interview Adam over the last couple of days. We talked about his influences, the ups and downs of being a songwriter/musician and why he keeps coming back for more.
T-Bone: At what age did you realize that music was “it” for you?
Adam Hill: I don’t know that I’ve ever said that or realized it. I love music. It fell on me as a kid. Lyrics just pummeled me. Sound was like a mountain. It consumes me but there’s always a ton of guilt with it. I have a Protestant Work Ethic and this sort of overwhelming sense of responsibility. So I never looked down the road and saw a time where I could play or make music. When I was in college I wanted to play, I wrote songs in class in my notebook, I ran from class to come home and make demos, I loved my band. But once we were successful enough to be offered something I got really scared because of the unknown. Traveling or making money or being able to take care of my rent and all that. I spiraled into a terror of fear and quit. I clung to the responsibility of having to finish school because that’s what I was supposed to do. So I decided to write the great American Novel. I figured I could write and keep a day job. Have a safe life. When all my friends moved away I started writing songs again. I felt bad to because I had quit music and felt like they all would hate me if I wrote anything new so I did it in hiding. Then I started playing again. I had no idea why. I had no plan. I had nothing. Just play gigs. Drink beer. Try and meet girls.
I was buying tons of records and playing in a little apartment I had making demos. I just played dive bars and stuff in Knoxville. I remember playing The Longbranch a few times. I just wanted to meet a nice girl, settle down and quit. I figured once I found love I’d quit the music thing. I met a girl. We moved to New York. I went up there thinking I could start fresh on that scene or get a real job, whichever happened first. One good thing about moving was it taught me that I could travel. I could leave home and the earth wouldn’t spin off its axis. But New York City, music and I didn’t jell. I couldn’t meet anyone. I had no music friends. I worked with a bunch of guys at a furniture store who were from the Bronx. They dug rap. So I got into rap. I never went out. I was too scared. I recorded demos. I played in my bathroom on my acoustic and made tapes. I pushed the tapes through the mail slot at the Rodeo Bar with a piece of paper taped to it with my phone number. That’s how I tried to get a gig. I never talked to no one. I played an open mic once. So I decided to move to Nashville and try to be a songwriter. That way maybe I could write a hit and make a ton of money and be okay financially so I could feel okay to spend my time working on my songs. I was still terrible at meeting people. I stayed in the apartment. I’d go out sometimes and drink in a corner. I went to the Americana Fest one year and sat in a corner at 4 bars in 1 night. Never said Boo to no one. I met with like two Publishers in four years. Both said I was like Bob Dylan, probably not because I am – but because that was the closest thing they could think of. Both said I was way too artsy for anyone to cover. I had a few tunes I could hear as hits but no one else heard ’em that way. I finally made a record but I made it on my 4 track. I think Nashville thought it was a joke. At least anyone who heard it. I just couldn’t see spending money unless I knew I’d make it back. Didn’t feel like I deserved it. Well then I was done with it all again. I ended up living in Chelle Rose’s basement. She was always real good to me. Elizabeth (Cook) and Tim (Carroll) were nice to me. So in the basement, I had 30 or so songs written and I did the demos for them and decided to call it quits. So I quit again. But then my friend Greg needed a guitarist. He met a drummer named Shannon. I figured I’d play for fun. We got paid in pitchers. Then in 2008 I had songs again. This time I made a record for real in a studio. I melted my credit card and took some cash I had saved. So here I am now, but I have a wife and a family and feel really like I don’t need to be playing, like I’m too old and need to just focus on something worthwhile. But I can’t seem to help it. I love writing. I love playing and I figure for the first time in my life I’m going to try hard enough to see what happens. So I can’t say I ever knew a time that I thought music was it for me and I let myself think I could ever have it. Make sense? Music and I fight all the time. It hates me. I hate it. I still don’t even call myself a musician. I always joke that I play the spoons if someone asks me what I play. That was supposed to be an easy question wasn’t it?