Adam Wright

It’s Alluring and Maddening

Adam Wright sits down with Cristy Zuazua for The Writer’s Share. Wright, a Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, talks about his history in Nashville, the mechanics of songwriting, and his current projects.

The Writers Share: Can you tell us a little about how you came to be in Nashville?

Adam Wright: Before we got to Nashville, Shannon (Adam’s wife) and I had been playing around Atlanta and the southeast, including Nashville, for years as a band/duo and individually. We were writing, gigging and making records on our own. I had friends and family in the music business in Nashville, and eventually all of the “why don’t y’all move to Nashville?”‘s finally sank in and we loaded everything in a U-Haul and made the move. We had spent enough time there that we already had a pretty good feel for the city, so we settled in pretty quickly and got to work.

TWS: What do you think is the most challenging part of the songwriting process?

AW: Every song is different. They all present their own unique challenges. With some, it’s finding the idea that’s challenging. With others, you have a good idea, but you just can’t put it all together in a satisfying way. It’s one of the alluring, and also maddening, things about songwriting. If you built cabinets, it seems like once you got really good at building cabinets, you’d pretty much have it licked. You just crank them out the same way every time. With songwriting, you’re not only building a totally different thing every time, you’re having to scavenge for the materials. But, writing songs is a lot less strenuous than building cabinets, so I guess there’s kind of a trade off. Being in the music business, and writing for a publisher, can also be challenging to the creative process. It’s tricky sometimes, and maybe impossible, to silence the internal editor that’s telling you to change this or that to make it more palatable for your pluggers, or A&R people, or some producer or artist. I like to think I’ve gotten better at knowing which songs need to wear shoes and which ones can go barefoot, but who knows. People usually gravitate towards the last thing I would expect them to. I’ve been doing this professionally for a long time, I’ve written thousands of songs, and some days I still feel like I have no idea how to do it.

TWS: What made you decide to go into songwriting, and how do you think Nashville compares to other places and genres?

AW: I started writing songs as soon as I became aware that some person, somewhere, sat down and created this thing I was hearing on the radio or record or tape or whatever. It wasn’t a decision, it was just like sitting at a table and seeing people eating and so you just start eating. Playing instruments was the same way. My grandfather was a piano player, my dad is a piano player, I saw them playing and just started playing piano. I will say moving to Nashville and sitting in rooms with seasoned, professional songwriters was like going from playing backyard baseball to practicing with the Braves. You learn pretty quickly how much talent, craft and effort goes into being a professional songwriter.

Nashville’s songwriting community is pretty unique, I guess. A lot of LA writers are here now, and I don’t know if they’ve rubbed off on us or vice versa, but some things have changed and some things may never change. At the end of the day, somebody has to have the experience to know whether the idea is any good and, if so, how to pull it off. Otherwise it just becomes busy work. I write by myself a lot these days, so I don’t deal with the pros and cons of co-writing as often as I used to. I think there’s probably too much co-writing going on in Nashville. It dilutes the voice of each songwriter. I like songs with strong thumbprints. I like to hear the writer in the song. And although I’m in Nashville, I don’t really consider myself a country songwriter. I don’t really even know what that is anymore. You write a song, and if a country artist cuts it, I guess it’s a country song, but when you write it, it’s just a song. I mean, if a guy paints portraits and you hire him to paint a landscape, is he a landscape painter? I don’t know. I feel like a writer who is lucky enough to get a lot of work in country music, but I don’t feel like a county writer.

TWS: How do you choose your setlists when you’re playing a show?

AW: When I’m putting together a set list, I usually choose songs I’m excited about at the moment. I like to try new things and see if they sink or float. Some things go over better in certain environments, so you have to take all of that into consideration. Sometimes you start a song and you know immediately that you shouldn’t have played it, but you have to plow through to the end. It’s not a cool feeling.

TWS: You and Shannon are both singer/songwriters – how has that affected your writing process (if it has), and what do you think are some of the unique things about being married to someone in the same industry?

AW: Shannon and I used to write together a lot. We have two young children now, so we don’t get as much time to write together as we used to, but we always play each other what we’re working on. Shannon has a really good ear for songs, and I trust her completely when it comes to that. She’s really good at production ideas, too. She’d make a great A&R person and a great producer. I think we need more industry people who are writers, players, singers, etc. It’s helpful a lot of times to have a partner who is sympathetic and knowledgeable about what you’re doing. We write very well together. We don’t always agree, but we write very well together. Our songwriting values are very similar.

TWS: Can you tell us a little about your experience at the Writer’s Share and why it’s important?

AW: People like to hear songwriters. They like to see what’s behind a big song. They saw the blockbuster, now they want to go read the novel. Sometimes you don’t really get the full intention of a song until you’ve heard the songwriter sing it. Sometimes something gets lost in the translation from intimate writer’s room to demo to master to radio. Writer’s Share gives people a chance to hear and discover not only the songwriters that may have written one of their favorite hits, but songwriters who are artists themselves and have a unique voice to share. Max is a real music lover and a player and singer. He takes care of the writers and artists. It’s a good thing.

TWS: What are some of your current projects?

AW: When my grandfather died recently, I drove 300 miles to Newnan, Georgia, to his empty house, sat down at his piano bench and recorded a handful of songs I’d been working on for a new album. It was a good way to say goodbye. He was a piano player, and they’re all piano/vocal songs. I have the piano in my office in Nashville now. I’m mixing the songs and I hope to put them out soon. I’m also co-producing a bluegrass/acoustic album on a great young artist named Dani Flowers with producer Frank Liddell. I’m writing and playing some guitar for another great new artist named Aubrie Sellers whose album is done and will hopefully be out soon. I’ve been lucky to have met some really cool and talented people to make music with. The world is full of them and I’m glad a few of them have come my way.

TWS: How do you think songwriting will change in the future?

AW: Songwriting looks much different now than it did ten years ago. And it probably looked different then than it did ten years before that. Parts of it will always change, but parts of it will always have to remain the same. You still have to say something that moves somebody. Either to dance or cry or laugh or think or just to feel connected to another human. You have to find a way to touch some part of them. The technology will change, the business will change, but you still have to connect with someone who doesn’t know you and may never know you and whose life may be very different from yours. You still have to find the things that connect us all and show them to us in a way that gets our attention. That will never change.