April 11, 2010

We spend all night painting pictures that disappear when morning comes

adam h stephens

Tonight I am happy to share a bit of heartfelt enthusiasm that I received from my friend Katie, who DJs a marvelous Friday afternoon radio show at the college where I work. I have come to regard her as an eerily prescient musical twin, and I found her written narrative of a recent show she saw with Adam H. Stephens (of the San Francisco band Two Gallants) to be worth sharing.

Hers is unvarnished joy in great new music, and well — it sounds like I should take a listen. She says:

People ask me how I can have 15,000 songs in my iTunes and love so many musicians and still be able to pin down my favorite band, favorite album, and favorite song. My favorite song is on this aforementioned album by the very same band. Since the 10th grade (four years ago), I have held the conviction that “Jesus, Etc.” is my single favorite song that I’ve listened to in my life. I find other songs catchier, more lyrically intriguing, more musically intricate. The essence of the song, however, is completely indefinable. It is this sense of quality that Robert Pirsig spends two novels (Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Lila) hopelessly pursuing. That immeasurable but glaringly obvious sense that what you’re touching, seeing, hearing shows human artistic genius at its finest. In essence, art is a way we remind ourselves that we are human; we make art, therefore we alone are unique, and a song that gives me chills every time I hear it must embody this principle.

But I digress. I’m contemplating this today because yesterday, I saw a live performance that left me speechless. Adam H. Stephens opened for Rocky Votolato, and although I (as expected) enjoyed Rocky just as much as the first four times I saw him, the opener was the progenitor of those feelings of awe. Often, during an opener, I find myself feigning interest in the music in an effort to keep up my façade of being a concert snob while secretly wishing the band I paid for would just get on stage already. I can try to articulate exactly what made the Adam Stephens performance so incredible, but I’ll end up coming back to the same dilemma I have every time I hear Jesus, Etc. Technically, I loved how uncannily he sounded like Conor Oberst when he sang, comfort in the unknown territory of new lyrics and melodies. The bassist picked up the cello for the last song and she played it beautifully… The keyboards, barely discernible over Stephens’ technically impressive guitar playing added that essential layer of complexity and emotion to the songs. The drummer, like any lovable percussionist, bounced in his seat with unrestrained intensity. Yet none of this explains why I know that this music means something.

When I heard these songs, one after another striking me in a wholly new way, I felt, sincerely, just as I did when I listened to music like my first Radiohead or Wilco albums, that this music was why I was proud to be a part of this human race. Why I knew that if only some LPs could stick around, the aliens who inevitably stumble upon the remnants of our civilization might not think we were so worthless after all.

This all may sound ridiculous, but I know what I heard and more importantly, what I felt. I wish I could give you an mp3 and let you judge for yourself. But, in the silence after Adam introduced himself and his band (failing to mention his last name of course), I yelled out, “Adam, how do we get your music?” His coy reply, “Well, we don’t have any, but we do have t-shirts”. As an afterthought, he added, “We just recorded an album, but I guess until then,” while pointing at the stage, “this is how you get our music”.

I returned home, doubting the truth of this statement; who goes on tour without any released recordings? There had to be an EP. Despite all my best efforts, his statements proved true and all I could find were two lo-fi, acoustic demos on his myspace page – absent the complexity of his full band. I’m signed up for the email list, and until he finally releases music, I’m content to watch and re-watch youtube recordings of live songs.

All I can say is that if in three years I’m not saying, “Adam H. Stephens? Oh, I saw him before he even had an album, opening at the Hi-Dive for a $13 Rocky Votolato show,” all while waiting in line to see him play the sold-out Seattle Paramount — then, I have lost all faith in my musical instinct.

There is indeed precious little audio floating around from Adam to share with you, but he just went into Sunset Sound studios in Los Angeles this past September and began recording his debut solo record with producer Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, The Shins, White Stripes). Stay tuned.

And thanks, Katie, for making us listen.

[top photo credit April Votolato]


  • I think everyone waiting should get their hands on some Two Gallants records!

    Zooey Glass — April 12, 2010 @ 6:20 pm

  • In November of 2008 i drove a couple hundred miles over to Arcadia to catch Adam playing in a little bar (with Jen Grady on cello). I’ve always loved Two Gallants, but it was excellent to hear Adam show a slightly different side.

    Heather…. I have his Vile Affections EP, sold at the show, if you’re interested in hearing a few of his songs.

    joe — April 12, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

  • Once again, great writing from you and Katie. I’m so happy to find out about Two Gallants and Adam Stephens. Keep up the good work!

    thrashingtiger — April 12, 2010 @ 11:58 pm

  • I love two gallants. Thank you for this. Katie wrote a wonderful post, truly inspiring. Can’t wait for the album.

    Guyha — April 13, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

  • Tinges of ignorant elitism in that last paragraph. Two Gallants have accomplished a whole lot; boy’s hardly flying in under the radar.

    Also don’t agree with your comparison to Conor Oberst in the least. Stephens exhibits far less of that forced melodramatic styling Oberst seems to be so fond of.

    Other than that, I’m glad you enjoyed the show. Jealous he hasn’t played near the Midwest recently. I’m excited for his new album as well.

    Andrew — April 20, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

  • I waited in line for this show only to be turned away because it sold out. Its good to here that Adam opened up some new ears to his music.

    Steve — April 21, 2010 @ 11:15 am

  • i’ve got a smallish load of solo adam stephens live recordings, if you’re interested. eliminatethefaucet@yahoo.com.

    molli — May 20, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

  • Adam H. Stephens? Oh, I saw him before he even went by his own name. (Early 2002) And I have every album he has ever released (including some non releases…vile affections being one of those) There are at least 8 albums with his name or two gallants name on them. 4 of which are easily accessible through Alive Records and Saddle Creek. Plus a couple of 7 inches. Buy them all. He gets better every year. Hell, he gets better every show and I have seen almost 100 of them at this point. Yes…I am a devoted fan.

    Texx — July 29, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

  • can someone please post me how to get the previous solo recordings from Adam H. Stephens? thanx in advance!

    dago — August 13, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

  • Desde tierras lejanos os saludo, tuve el honor de poder ver a Two Gallants tres veces en España (Madrid’07, Malaga’08 y Granada’08), intento escuchar los nuevos trabajos de Adams Stephens y me parecen maravillosos, hacen falta mas musicos asi y menos basura-musical, las tres veces salude a Adams y con mi poco ingles le dije “Gracias por tu musica”. Saludos desde España

    Indalo — August 30, 2010 @ 6:01 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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