For a little band out of Athens, Ohio, Southeast Engine did well for themselves in the indie rock circuit (circa mid-2000s) and their success wasn’t confined to the Buckeye state. One of the band’s guitarists, Adam Torres, had kicked around the small-town college scene as a singer-songwriter and in 2006 released Nostra Nova, an intimate collection of mountain folk-based songs. The album had limited distribution and despite it’s lush beauty, remained an undiscovered classic until Misra Records (managed by Torres’ former Southeast Engine bandmate, Leo DeLuca from 2010 – 2015) re-issued the album earlier this year.
This past weekend, Torres – now living in Austin, Texas – played multiple sets at the Nelsonville Music Festival and continues his run of dates in Ohio on Wednesday with a show at Spacebar (with She Bears and Jesse Remnant). Before he headed out on the road, Torres took some time to answer some questions I emailed him.
Let’s get the plug out of the way first. I was at Spacebar recently and saw a show poster that advertised your upcoming performance as a “full band show”. Do you typically tour as a solo artist and, if so, why a full band tour this time around?
When I recorded my album Nostra Nova, most of the people on the record were in the band Southeast Engine and, because Southeast Engine’s music was prioritized back then, I couldn’t get anyone to tour with me. For years I’ve been performing solo. Planning shows and tours has been a lot easier as a solo performer so it’s been more out of convenience. I’ve always wanted to have a band perform with me with my songs and I’m really happy and lucky to be doing it this time around. I’m really happy to be touring with my friends Aisha Burns on violin (who is a singer-songwriter that performs under her own name as well as the violinist of the band Balmorhea), Dailey Toliver on bass (of the band Cowboy Crisis and Molly Burch) and Rodolfo Villarreal III on drums (of the bands El Campo and Carry Illinois). I’ve met these friends while living in Austin and seeing them play in their own bands.
You’re also doing Nelsonville. I saw you posted a picture of St. Vincent and mentioned you had played a show with Annie in Athens. Is she high on your list of “must sees” at the festival? Any other artists you can’t wait to see?
When I opened for Annie and John (Vanderslice), it was back in 2007 and she was touring off of an EP called “Paris is Burning”. Her Beggars Banquet debut hadn’t come out yet so she was relatively “under the radar”. Most touring bands that I’ve opened for usually don’t speak to me, let alone compliment me or my music. I highly regard Annie because of her kindness and generosity from the night I got to open for her. I haven’t seen her perform in concert since then, actually, so seeing her play at Nelsonville will be special to me. “Must see” artists for me are Michael Hurley, Merle Haggard, Sarah Neufeld, and my good friend Mike Elliott. I’m bummed that I’m going to miss Ryley Walker as well as my friends in the band the Summoners.
Your record collection and mine probably don’t share too many similarities (that’s not a bad thing, by the way). Listening to Nostra Nova, the reference I would make is to Jeff Buckley. From an aesthetic perspective, who are artists that you identify with, even if their influences aren’t readily apparent in your music?
My favorite artists are ones who have unconventional voices, whether singing or writing. My favorites are Karen Dalton, Ted Lucas, Fred Neil, Vic Chesnutt, Ed Askew, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, Robbie Basho, and lots of others.
Nostra Nova was originally released in 2006 and has recently been given the reissue treatment. And though I didn’t hear it for the first time until recently, I’m glad it’s being given the opportunity to be heard by a new generation of listeners as it certainly doesn’t sound nearly 10 years old. But, that being said, what’s in store for you from a musical output perspective? Any new music on the horizon?
I’m really happy that Nostra Nova has been reissued but it’s also really frustrating to be bringing attention to songs that are so old. I’ve written more than 100 songs since the songs that are on this album. My musical life is so distant from where it was when I printed Nostra Nova back in 2006. I am recording a new album this Summer and I’m eager to focus my time and attention to it. One of my heroes, Jerry David DeCicca (formerly of the Black Swans) will be producing it and I couldn’t be more thrilled about him guiding my music into a new direction.
Your Facebook artist page lists multiple cities as your hometown. I believe I read that you’re currently living in Austin. Do you have a hard time settling down or have different opportunities led you to these different locations? Is there a common element that all the cities listed have in common (ie – a good art scene, a good academic scene, a good gourmet coffee scene) that make you feel like you’re “home” even when are just getting settled in?
My family has moved several times as I grew up so I’ve always felt ambivalent as to where I am “from”. I think I have more of a hard time settling down than me being an opportunist or thinking about different scenes that a place offers.
Southeast Engine dabbled in some moderate success and name recognition outside the Buckeye state. As you’re touring the country as a solo artist, do people ever recognize you from that band and/or tell you the reason they came to see you live is because of your past affiliations?
It doesn’t happen very often but when I was touring the Southwest and L.A. in March/February, I met a few die hard Southeast Engine fans.
What did you learn as a musician in Athens that you’ve carried forward? What were some of the more memorable shows that you performed in Athens (and/or Columbus) – any one or two shows in particular stand out?
Athens is where I grew up, musically, and there are lots of people that I admire who play music there today. They are my musical family. I started playing the Nelsonville Music Festival in its 2nd year. Back then it was called the Hockhocking Folk Festival. Each year, those shows have stood out in particular.
I always feel like I might be hurting a musician’s feelings when I say this, but I mean it as a compliment. I’ve been listening to Nostra Nova a lot just before I go to bed as it helps lull me into slumberland. Listening to music has become my security blanket, so to speak, and if I don’t fall asleep with an earbud in one ear, I spend an hour or two just tossing and turning. Do you listen to music when going to sleep and, if so, any particular artists you favor that serenade you? If not, what artist(s) would you listen to if you needed something to relax to at the end of the day?
Some people think her music is really sinister, but I frequently used to listen to Clara Rockmore before bed. I stopped listening to music before I went to bed a while ago though.
I’m going to be honest … I don’t believe in an afterlife but if by some chance I’m wrong, the first thing I’m going to do after I leave this life and go forward into my next one is stop by grandparent’s house and eat a bowl of my grandma’s homemade “everything in the pantry” soup. Then I’m going to go see Kurt Cobain and Shannon Hoon (of Blind Melon) play a show together at Stache’s. If there’s an afterlife, what’s the first thing you’re going to do?
I don’t believe in an afterlife either but if there were a next life I would want to be a different animal rather than a human.
You’ve already answered a question about the Spacebar show but, in closing, you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in Ohio in the very near future. Any final thoughts about your return to the Buckeye state? Any friends you are hoping to see? Any restaurants you’re hoping to eat at? Etc.
I’m hoping to see a lot of friends that I haven’t seen in years. I’m going to be playing a lot of new songs at the shows on this tour and I hope they are well received. In Athens, I can’t wait to get back to Casa Nueva. That place is my favorite restaurant in the world.