Adam Karch is no stranger to the Montreal Jazz Fest with his soulful, blues guitar. He began touring at the age of 18 accompanying none other than Jeff Healey. Not bad for a little Quebec boy from a L’Acadie farm! He went on to perform at Jazz Fest in 1998, 2008, 2011, 2015, and is back again this year giving a free show on the Bell stage and on the heels of his new album, Moving Forward. Much loved, I asked him a few questions about his most recent album and about performing more generally.
Rachel Levine (RL): On your albums, you’ve done a number of covers, and on the latest – Night Moves and Werewolves of London. Also City Boy by Keb’Mo. Blueprints is an album of covers… Focusing on Moving Forward, why did you pick these songs in particular about of the thousands if not hundreds of thousands of covers you could do? What is like to perform a cover, as opposed to a work of your own?
Adam Karch (AK): I listen to a lot of music and I know when I hear a song that I’ll be able to make it my own and I really listen to see if I can play the song finger style or in a fingerpicking version. Once I realize I can, I’ll dig deeper and try to make it my own version as much as possible. I could cover hundreds of songs, yes, but some feel at home to me and I know the instant I hear them I want to adopt them into my repertoire. Playing cover songs can be personal and almost feel like they are my own. I won’t cover a song just because I like it or I think people will like it. I’ll cover a song because I feel a part of my originality and song writing comes out once I’m done with it.
RL: Do you primarily consider yourself a songwriter who favors the instrument or the lyrics of your songs? Both are strong in your own work, so I’m curious if when it comes to process you begin with words or with instrumentation.
AK: I think both are important but I’m a better with the music part of it. The lyrics need to match the mood of what I’m writing for it to be something I’ll want to share with everyone. If not, I’ll start over or even finish the song, but never play it live. It can sit there for years and maybe come back to life someday, once I see it in a new perspective. I write with a friend,James Stadnky, and I’ll write a bunch of music and hum him the melody I’m hearing and then we’ll both write lyrics and James will polish what I want to say in a way so it well written. James and I also collaborate another way where he will send me full songs (lyrics) he’s written and explain what he envisioned when he wrote the song. Sometimes it works for me and sometimes it doesn’t. I wrote a few songs on my own on the album which were very personal to me and then realized how much easier it was when I wrote simple to the point folk songs that spoke about my experiences.
RL: Some musicians prefer performance to writing songs, and others love the process of being in the studio and perfecting a piece. Is there some element of the song creation process that you prefer – whether it is the idea, the development of a song, the studio recording, or the live performance?
AK: I’m someone who will write a song, complete it, but always leave room for change in the song. Essentially the songs aren’t 100% done until I play it in the studio and improvise a part or sing a part I never though I would do but it happens and I decide to keep it. Once I get that, I stop tracking the song because I know that moment won’t come again for a while. That’s when I know I have a take. I try to keep the tension of playing live into the studio. It’s a good tension where I’m always on my toes when I play and anything can happen. Some people perfect their songs and polish them. I kind of jump in and go and wait until the moment happens by improvising.
RL: How did you meet with your occasional band-mates, Marc André Drouin and Bernard Delauriers? Do they regularly tour with you/play with you/jam with you?
AK: I’ve known Bernard for almost 20 years, he played on my first record, we’ve been in touch off and on ever since and Marc Andree I met a couple of years ago. He’s a friend of Bernard; they play together here and there. We play together whenever we can or have gigs, but these days with the music industry the way it is I’m almost forced to play solo because of funds. I’m ok with it and I’m comfortable playing and travelling alone. I’ve been doing it pretty steady for eight years now. We have a nice bunch of trio shows this year so it will be fun to share the stage with the friends that helped make this album happen
RL: I’m also assuming you write far more songs than actually appear on the album. How do you decide what goes on the album?
AK: For this album I didn’t have a whole bunch of songs. If I started writing a one that I didn’t feel was right I’d put it to sleep and carry on. I maybe had two other songs that I completed but didn’t feel they belonged or were strong enough to have a place on the record
RL: A song like Did You Get the Latest News would be at home among the country genre while other songs are more solidly folk or blues. Somewhere in El Paso is entirely acoustic. Is crossing genres something that comes about naturally or is it a more conscious decision to reach different audiences?
AK: Yes crossing genres is something natural for me. It’s more a natural way of playing and writing for me. I grew up listening to blues, country and folk so I won’t shy away if a song leans more towards one of those genres. They all have a similarity to them anyway and those genres get along nicely if you’re into roots music overall.
RL: Now that you’re three albums in, what can you say about the overall experience of being a singer-songwriter?
AK: I’m four albums in and I think I’ve been able to really let myself go in my original music more especially for this album. It’s the first album I’ve written original songs based entirely on my life experiences in the past year and a half. I fell in love with an amazing woman and was separating at the same time. It was a double change for me and as the relationship grew, so did I, as far as being more conscious about how I felt for Veronique and how it made me become more unafraid to portray those feelings and experiences in my songs. I’m eager to play my originals live these days. I really learned essential and simple life lessons writing these original songs on this album
RL: How does it feel to be back at the Montreal Jazz Fest this year? Is there anything in particular for you that’s exciting about participating?
AK: It feels great and I feel so ready to play this show on the 4th of July. I think the most particular thing about participating this year is playing with my trio and playing every song on the album for the one-hour show. I’m playing the blues stage but the show will be a nice blend of overall roots music and Americana sounds.
Adam Karch is playing the Bell Stage (De Montigny and Clark corner) on July 4 at 7 p.m. at the Montreal International Jazz Fest. Free. Information HERE.