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Eastmountainsouth finds its direction

By Dan MacIntosh, November 2003

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Another striking song on the group's album is called "Still Running." It was inspired by the work of writer Annie Dillard.

"I was briefly exploring the idea of me being a Nashville songwriter," Adams says, when recalling the song's genesis. "But it was not the right place for me. I wrote that while I was there, never intending to pitch it to an artist. I wrote it and came back to LA after that and recorded it with another singer. Two years later, when I played it for Kat, it fit her voice beautifully. I was actually thinking of writing a whole song cycle using Annie Dillard's words."

The original Dillard story is called "God in the Doorway," and it's a fascinating personal remembrance that mixes God, Santa Claus and other childhood memories into one poignant moment. Adams is attracted to such multi-layered writing, and one can also find such lyrical layering in much of his own work.

"I like the subject matter," he says of Dillard's style. "There's intensity to how she writes, which can be heavy at times, so you kind of have to slog yourself through stuff sometimes. It's very inspiring. The meter of how she writes - and she's even said this about herself - it's sort of like verse. Even though she's writing in prose, some of it sounds like it's got a meter to it. Apparently, she'd read the Psalms - not for the subject matter - but for the way it sounds. Sonically, she was really into that sound."

"My dad gave me one of her books 8, 10 years ago, and I just became kind of obsessed with her writing and read everything I could. I wrote a choral piece, actually, using some of her text back when I was composing stuff."

Naturally, he looks forward to meeting his literary hero someday. "I got a little note from her once because I sent her a recording of that choral piece I wrote. But I haven't spoken to her since this song ("Still Running") came out on the record. But I'm hoping to meet her one day."

Although Eastmountainsouth's album isn't found in the country section of your local CD store, there is nevertheless a strong country influence on its music. Adams points to Emmylou Harris, Buddy & Julie Miller and George Jones as just a few of his particular favorites.

"I think Cat would say that Vince Gill is a huge thing for her," Adams states. "Not as a songwriter, but as a singer. She had a chance to sing with him once that was really funny because he had no idea who she was. We were playing a show in San Francisco, and she went over with her boyfriend to hear him play at the Saratoga Winery. We were (on tour) opening up for Tracy Chapman, and she went a day early so she could hear him sing. She was out in the audience with her boyfriend, and he was playing, and it was a quiet moment in the set, and she screamed out, "I wanna sing with you!" So he said, 'Come on up.' So he had her come up and sing - and to him, she was just some random fan. She couldn't remember any of his songs to sing, she was so freaked out when she was up there. I think she ended up singing 'Ghosts' (an Eastmountainsouth song), and he just sort of listened and chimed in with some harmonies."

But because Eastmountain-south doesn't think of itself as strictly a country outfit, it also has a number of non-country musical influences as well. "James Taylor is really huge," Adam says. "Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan - those are some of the top ones."

These influences don't just show up in the original music Eastmountainsouth makes; the group also enjoys covering some of its favorite artists in concert.

"We do a few really reworked traditional songs that are sometimes almost unrecognizable," Adams notes. "Sometimes we do John Prine's 'Angel from Montgomery.' It's a song that I'm always a little wary of playing because it's such an iconic song."

Adams may have an extensive background in the visual media, yet he wouldn't describe himself as a particularly visual songwriter.

"Lyrically, yeah," Adams explains. "But I don't think of sort of telling a...I don't think of music videos," he says, laughing. (And just for the record, the group hasn't made a music video yet. DreamWorks probably won't foot the bill for a video unless album sales warrant it).

Although Eastmountainsouth is writing for the next album, Adams is not sure when that next project will actually be released. Being that the music this group makes needs extra time just to find its audience, Adams and Maslich has taken the approach of letting the current release take its own course.

"It's kind of what we expected to happen. We can always hope that it will be some smash hit, though," he says laughing.

Eastmountainsouth doesn't necessarily have its faces smiling from posters on every teenager's wall these days, but the impact it does have on its devoted listeners is of a far more personal variety.

"We get some really, really beautiful and intense emails from people," Adams says. "The music seems to really resonate and really touch people - the people that get it. It's not necessarily an easy listening record for people."

Since so much traditional music is faith-based, spirituality is a theme that strongly runs through Eastmountain-south's songs. And in the instance of one particular writer, it was incorrectly assumed that the group might be some sort of a rootsy new Christian group.

"There was this Christian music reviewer that was reading all this Christian imagery into it," Adams recalls incredulously. "He wasn't saying we were outright writing Christian songs, but he was reading some interesting Christian analogies into some of the stuff. Some of the stuff obviously is (spiritual) because it's traditional; they're gospel tunes."

Strangely enough, Eastmountainsouth ends up sounding fairly organic - even though a former punk rocker and a reformed film music artist create its music. The pop-rock side of DreamWorks has released its album - even though it's a whole lot more country sounding than much of that label's Nashville wing.

But as the aforementioned Christian music reviewer's perspective exemplifies, Eastmountainsouth's beauty is wholly in the eyes of each individual beholder. Thus, rock music fans are refreshed by its simplicity; religious folks might be heartened by its imagery; and country fans can dig on its unique usages of traditional instrumentation.

Before signing off, Adams asks honestly, "Do you think country audiences will embrace this record, or do you think that they'll be a bit mystified by it?"

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