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Soul-searching time well-spent for Adam H. Stephens

Author: Scott Iwasaki
08/05/2010 | Deseret News | www.deseretnews.com | Feature
Adam H. Stephens started writing songs when he was 11, while listening to the Seattle flannel-punk of Nirvana.

"That's what started me playing music in the first place," Stephens said in a interview from his house in San Francisco. "But I fell out of love with a lot of punk music, and I started listening to old-time traditional blues for five or six years."

Stephens, the second half of the duo Two Gallants (which he formed with Tyson Vogel), said music was just a way for him to try to travel.

"I wanted to go see all these places where (the blues) came from," he said. "And there was also Woody Guthrie's songs about traveling, which instilled this desire in me to get out there to see these things."

When Stephens comes to Salt Lake City, he'll be coming as a solo artist, touring on his full-length debut solo CD, "We Live on Cliffs."

"I guess I needed to do something different," he said about taking a break from Two Gallants. "I was still enjoying the music a lot, but it was a very particular style. And I was stuck with the limitations.

"After a while I felt like my songs were bumping up against each other," Stephens said. "I wanted to have the ability to try something where anything goes. And I've never done that before. So for my own mental health, I needed to try something different and have a new outlet for songwriting."

At first Stephens didn't know what he was doing, he said. "I was playing with Jen Grady, who was playing a cello, and I was on acoustic guitar, but it didn't feel like what I wanted. It took a little more time than I anticipated to find my sound."

Stephens changed from the acoustic style to louder music, he said.

"At first, I thought what I wanted was to do more mellow and quiet and more acoustic-based music," he said. "But after a while I found it was clear that I couldn't do that too long."

Even as loud as the music can be on "We Live on Cliffs," Stephens said it is more mellow than the live versions of the songs he is playing now.

"The album is definitely tamer," he said with a little laugh.

Still, Stephens is happy with the album and credits working with producer Joe Chiccarelli, who has worked with Tori Amos, U2 and Elton John.

"He's pretty amazing," Stephens said. "But it was an awkward thing for me. While Tyson and I worked with a producer before in Two Gallants, this was the first time I had to deal with someone else's own interpretation and rearrangements of them.

"It took me a while to get used to it, but I think, for the most part, we agreed on pretty much everything."

Stephens liked the fact that Chiccarelli had so much experience from which to draw.

"I put faith in that," Stephens said. "This was only the fourth record I was involved in, but his 50th, or something like that. It was hard for me, but it was an edifying experience for me. I learned a lot."


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We Live on Cliffs

We Live on Cliffs

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