Interview: Abracadabra


Will Shenton

Despite splitting most of his time between St. Louis and Chicago, Adam Obermeier’s dreamy, languid, unpolished sounds have all the hallmarks of coastal sunset-rock. But where some bands fall into the trap of trying so little that they collapse under the weight of their own apathy, his solo project, Abracadabra, manages to embrace a lack of structure while still being thoughtful.

Abracadabra’s eponymous debut is an exercise in immersion. Without feeling too repetitive, the EP builds and quite artfully maintains an enveloping, introspective atmosphere from start to finish. The mishmash of synths, acoustic and electric guitars, percussion, and understated vocals bring to mind an Atlas Sound with more lo-fi approachability. And though Obermeier himself refers to the record as “basically a bedroom project,” it’s put together with a degree of professional consideration that promises great things to come.

I recently spoke with Adam on the phone (after a few predictably futile attempts with Skype) and asked him about the origin of his stage name, the beauty of words as objects, and translating experience into relatable lyrics.

ThrdCoast: Tell me about your musical background. Are you self-taught, or do you have any formal training?

Adam Obermeier: When I was really young I was always drawn to the piano in our house, and I became sort of morbidly obsessed with The Beatles. I had a crying fit at school when George Harrison died. I had to be taken out of class. So I guess I’ve always had a pretty fervent relationship with music. Then I started guitar lessons when I was ten or so, but other than that I’ve mostly just taught myself keyboard stuff and did jazz band in high school. Nothing too formal. I don’t really like to approach music from a very stern, formal perspective. It kind of kills the magic. When I was taking guitar lessons I learned some music theory, and I did some clinics with professional jazz musicians, and it was a total killjoy for me. The approach of, “well, this sounds cool because it’s using this particular scale” totally takes the magic out of the whole process. So Abracadabra is kind of my effort to rediscover music from a truly emotional, artistic perspective. I’ve found that writing music is very visual for me, and I’ve been trying to go in a more intuitive, associative direction. Sorry, that was kind of a rant.

TC: Don’t worry, nobody reads these interviews to hear me talk. Anyway, is Abracadabra a totally solo endeavor?

AO: Yes, it is. I sing, I play all the instruments, but I don’t want to say I produce it because that sounds super pretentious. I mostly just add reverb.

TC: Where’d you get the name?

AO: It took a while for me to find a name that felt really pure and true to the music. I played around with a bunch of names like “Gems” or “Emeralds,” things like that, because I wanted to have the name of the project really engulf you in the world of the music. I felt like Abracadabra managed to do that with its connotations. And when you view the word as an object, written out, it’s really beautiful, and there’s a really nice phonetic ring to it. I don’t know, I guess I just fell in love with the word, and it felt obvious when I finally thought of it.

TC: It seems like it ties in with that whole concept of “keeping the magic alive,” too.

AO: Exactly, yeah. It has a lot of magical connotations. And it’s kind of archaic, in a way. It’s not a word that’s used much anymore, so that adds a little layer of dust to everything, which I like.

TC: Who are some of the artists who have inspired you and shaped your sound?

AO: Brian Wilson from The Beach Boys is one of my heroes. I guess I really admire that mad genius sort of persona in music. That’s sort of an underlying foundation that’ll never fade away. There are some other people I’m super into now, like this Brazilian singer Astrud Gilberto. She’s kind of bossa nova, but it’s basically just like pop music. It sounds very trancelike to me. There’s this one album she has with this organ player, and it creates this sound that makes you feel like you’re in a corridor in a dream or something. There’s no vibrato, it’s very trippy. As far as other pop people, there’s Roy Orbison. I would say just the song “In Dreams” has had a pretty profound impact on my life. And I really love psychedelic music, like the British band Broadcast. I’d say that they’ve inspired me a lot. Bands like Animal Collective that just constantly put out really idiosyncratic, amazing music pretty much every year. It’s incredible to me that they can be themselves all the time and be so prolific.

TC: How about your lyrics? Are there certain stories you like to tell, or is it more impressionistic?

AO: I wouldn’t say impressionistic, but it’s definitely along the more abstract route. Growing up I did lots of poetry workshops, so I don’t really like to have much of an underlying narrative, per se. But the lyrics are all very personal. They’re abstract in that I don’t say exactly what the situation is. Everything comes from an experience, and then I translate it into something that people can put their own imprint on. There’s no inherent, objective meaning. I really appreciate things that are, you know, tastefully cryptic, like Bob Dylan. You can totally put yourself into his lyrics because they’re not overly specific. I also just love the sounds of words, and the sensuality of that. I think Astrud Gilberto is a great example of that, because she sings in Portuguese and I have no idea what she’s saying [laughs]. But it makes you realize that the sound of the words themselves can be an instrument, not just the melody of the vocals.

TC: Are you working on any bigger projects at the moment, like a full-length album?

AO: Yeah, I’d say so. A lot of the songs I recorded on the EP were written in my senior year of high school, and I didn’t really know how to make a whole, cohesive record. They were just sort of a backlog. It’s the same deal with the two new singles, too. I just created the songs and immediately uploaded them, because I got so wrapped up in the feeling of completing them and figuring out the cover art and everything. Putting music up on the internet is, strangely, a really gratifying experience. It feels like I actually did something [laughs]. But I have four or five really rough ideas for songs that I’ll be working on, and I definitely want to use those to create a more formal album in the very near future. I always have songs that I’m working on, so it’s a matter of finding a group of them that feel like a family.