Think of light on lakes, sharks cutting through waves. All created by one man: soft-spoken, brown-haired Peter Adams, a 23-year-old innovative musician from Mount Adams.
Adams' musical background runs deep. When his father, a professor at UC's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), brought several instruments home, 3-year-old Adams chose violin. Later, instead of parties, he played in orchestras on the weekends. After oceans of music theory and private lessons at CCM, writing Pop songs comes naturally.
"I got the full benefit of a classical education," Adams says.
At 13, he dove into guitar, learning from old-school Punk bands such as Bad Brains and The Dead Kennedys. For his style, he credits bands that embrace creative freedom, including the visionary Radiohead, the startling Neutral Milk Hotel and the raging Nirvana.
Adams' one-man home-studio recordings are professional and flowing, with a liquid, emotional complexity that breathes out from classic string sections.
"I'm most at ease on the violin, the most fluid," he says. "What would normally be a lead guitar line, I did it on violin."
Overall, Adams plays guitar, bass, violin, keyboards, accordion, melodica and more, using virtual synthesizers for drums when he records on his own.
"Usually, I'll get the chords and melody down first," he says. "The recording starts with rhythm, the vocal take, then drums, strings, keys, etc. I eventually get to a point where I have to cut things out so that it doesn't become just a wall of sound."
After graduating from Oberlin College with a degree in Art History, Adams returned to Cincinnati, posting three songs on garageband.com.
Quickly reaching the Top 10 in 2004, Adams gained the attention of his current managers, Nathan Quinn and Rich Buttigieg (formerly of Sony Music in Toronto), as well as Nashville-based booking agent Alex Berry.
Adams' first self-released album, 2004's The Spiral Eyes, is a moving composition of unified songs that reflect back to the album name, which came from his childhood idea that cartoon characters with spiral eyes represented imaginative individuals. Constructed singly by Adams, the result is both reflective and visionary, maintaining an intimate feel, calling up names like Peter Gabriel, a layering master.
Despite the acclaim for his recordings, Adams' first live performance wasn't until January 2006.
"I had to find a way to perform the work live, which is still a work in progress," he claims.
Originally, he played with drummer Greg Nicholson, bassist Brian Bruemmer and keyboardist/guitarist Eli Maiman as Peter Adams and The Nocturnal Collective, a combo that sparked the interest of Nashville engineer Chris Grainger (who's worked with acts like Wilco and Viva Voce). The other band member is a sequencer loaded with string parts. Recently, Adams decided to revamp his touring band.
"With that lineup, the basic songs came across, but a lot of the subtlety was lost," he explains. "If we have a percussionist and two or three people that play multiple instruments like violin, stand-up bass or anything besides guitar, that'll flesh out the live sound."
For now, he and Maiman are playing local acoustic shows as a duo. Adams is seeking multi-instrumentalists from the Cincinnati area to get a fuller live sound.
Nearing completion, Adams' much-anticipated new album is expected in late August.
"The new album will have the same feel but be better in every way," the songwriter says. "We experimented with a real studio setting, and we weren't happy. It felt like there was something missing."
Creating an intricate Rock orchestra, the solid song structure is also Pop enough to get you, hook, line, sinker. Perhaps that's why crucial Indie music magazine Magnet labeled Adams one of the "Top Ten to Watch in 2007."
Even more evocative and smoother than The Spiral Eyes, the new album definitely a keeper. One new song, "The Seventh Seal," can be downloaded from Adams' Web site (peteradamsmusic.com). With a passionate, playful vibe, it's a breathy track that fully represents his vocals. Steadier and less falsetto than Thom Yorke, he sounds whispery, honest and understated in a good way.
Raw and boyish, there's no need for fancy tricks. The vocals rest easily on the surface, complementing the music, like a carefully placed laser pen bleeding onto paper, in the moment before the first stroke.
In terms of lyrics, Adams says, "They're more about imagery or evoking meaning in the listener. I think the best songwriters are cryptic enough so that you might not get a song on the first listen. Instead, you might get a line stuck in your head for a while before you understand what they're trying to say." (He mentions as an example Radiohead's "Like Spinning Plates," a song soaked with hidden, back-room politics.)
The attention from the music industry hasn't over-excited Adams to the point where he'll just sign on the first dotted line to cross his desk.
"The trick," he says, "is to be able to make a living and maintain creative freedom, like The Decemberists. They were on a smaller label and recently had their major label debut. They had a chance to develop their sound. They found a small, dedicated audience, created a history and they could move on to mainstream and maintain their integrity.
"I'm looking at the labels that work with you to develop your sound, rather than dropping you if it doesn't sell. At this point, we're just trying to get any kind of interest and distribution."
As Adams finishes songs, he sends them out to various A&R division representatives. Among others, Record Collection, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, and Island Def Jam Records are pursuing his work.
"I guess I do it for the feedback," Adams says. "It's like anything: Sometimes I question it, and other times I get feedback that the album meant a lot to someone."
With string waves and vocals that hold a depth beyond his years, Adams' songs are solid, seeming to compete against each other, feeling full, real and wisely crafted. Here sound swims, drifting into a wet, mood-altering symphony.
PETER ADAMS performs at Kaldi's June 8 and at the Taft Museum of Art June 14 with Eric Diedrich.