Two years ago, after 15 years, the Juno-nominated, Victoria, B.C.-based band Jets Overhead quietly stopped playing together. My friend Adam Kittredge, the band’s former frontman, has since started Thieves, a new musical project with an EP slated to be released in the coming months.
Earlier this summer, I asked Adam if he would be open to talking with me about his music career up to this point. Last week, we sat down for our phone chat, and, as in many of the conversations we’ve shared since our early twenties, covered a lot of ground.
Whether you know Adam personally, are a fan of Jets Overhead or Thieves, or are simply intrigued by the process, struggles, and insights of another creative human, I hope you’ll settle in with something to sip on, and enjoy the read. I sure enjoyed the chat. xx ~C.
Q + A:
The video for Never Meant to Know, one of the songs you’ve released with your new band Thieves, starts with a quote by Farley Mowat: “It is in our nature to travel into our past, hoping thereby to illuminate the darkness that bedevils the present.”
Why this quote?
It’s amazing how much that says with so few words. I have to give props to [friend and collaborator] Nick Stanger. We were looking for quotes for the video for the Child and Nature Alliance fundraising and Nick came back with his hands in the air, and said, “I couldn’t find anything, but I liked this Farley Mowatt quote.”
It pertains to the theme of the video which is loss of innocence, darkness of the past. Even as a child you can be dealing with those issues. The quote sets the tone.
Do you find yourself reflecting much on the past, to shed light on current experiences or emotions?
I would first say that I think everybody is a victim of their past, and some people just don’t actually process it or think about it. But subconsciously we’re all carrying around the good and the bad from however many years of our life that we can remember. I don’t believe anyone can leave the past behind. As far as associating it with current situations and drawing parallels and ways to learn from it, I’m definitely a reflector, sometimes to a fault. Some people are good at it, to a fault, not even acknowledging those feelings or thoughts. They are buried, they don’t think about them, don’t draw on them for wisdom. I think that’s what makes someone wise, is thinking about what they have learned from past experiences, being able to draw on those and therefore have something they can tie to their current situation.
Does reflecting on the past go into your own writing process?
I have never been very good at writing fictitious stories, making up characters. More typically I write in vague allusion to real life experiences. But I’m not very good at writing about specifics experience-wise. I like to write with the use of specific imagery, but not necessarily moment by moment.
It’s been two years now since Jets Overhead stopped playing together, with no official announcement ever made. Why was that?
I don’t know if I even know the answer. It’s probably for one a business move, to in some ways just keep people interested in our existing library of music, not make people go oh, they are of no interest to me because they have stopped making music. I suppose there’s also the chance that we could one day, say hey, let’s get into a room and try writing some music together again and see what happens. That’s not out of the realm of possibility.
Do you think if you had made an official announcement it would have changed the process of moving forward?
It might have helped me move forward faster if it had just been like yeah, we’re done, it’s over. Some of us more than others felt like we needed to keep some part of the dream alive.
Is getting together to play again something that’s been talked about amongst the band members?
It’s never been discussed, that’s purely me in my own mind. I don’t know about making another record, but I would be open to the idea of getting into a room and trying to play music together again and seeing how that felt. It would be fun to play those songs again.
The Jets members played together for over a decade, some of them since you were in high school. A lot of bands don’t make it past the first year. What do you think kept you together?
I think we kept getting better at what we were doing, so we felt like there was a reason to continue to do it. We kept getting better at making records and getting better at marketing our brand and making ourselves known. With that comes a feeling of okay, it’s worth it to do this. Unfortunately with the final record, we were proud of it, but it didn’t shake down the way we hoped. For various timing reasons and decisions that were made, we didn’t set ourselves up for the next level. But we also had extenuating circumstances that limited our ability to do that for a while.
Jets dissolved shortly after the release of their last album, Boredom and Joy. Some would say that’s an unlikely time for a group to go their separate ways. What do you think ultimately led to the split?
I think it was a bit of a lukewarm reception to Boredom and Joy, and that we for whatever reason didn’t seem to make a record that was greater than the previous record in terms of reaction. It didn’t reach out to people to take it to the next level of success. Tons of bands have that happen and say, oh well, and make another record. But we had been doing it for so long, for 15 yrs.
It’s almost like a rung on a ladder and it didn’t propel you to keep going up. Perhaps if that had happened five years earlier, you might have still had the momentum to keep going. After 15 years, do you think people were tired of the whole process?
Yeah. I am still very proud of that record, and in many ways it did exhibit that we grew and got better, but it was a different flavour of art, and for whatever reason the way it was received was not any better, or even arguably not as great as on the previous record cycle. That was tough to take at that state in our life. We were trying to make sense of what the point of it all was, working so hard on something and not getting paid for it.
And you were older, too, reaching different places in your lives.
Yeah, most of us wanted to have kids, thinking in those terms, and we didn’t want to barely be able to pay our bills when we went on the road again to tour, and thinking about starting a family in the next year or two. We put a lot of eggs in that basket and that basket didn’t hold water.
You’ve said in the past that being in a band is like being in a relationship with multiple girlfriends/boyfriends at once. What do you mean by that?
You’re always negotiating pretty heavy relationship duties with all the members in your band. Especially when you go make a record or go on the road, you’re with them as much if not more than you might be with your partner. You’re spending eight hours a day driving in a van, every meal you’re sitting down across from each other at a table, every evening you’re sharing hotel rooms and going to bed beside these people. It’s like being in a relationship of an all consuming kind that just doesn’t have the sex. You’re constantly having to make conversation, think of things to talk about, because you’re always together. Or the alternative is you shut yourself out by putting on headphones. That’s the easy way out.
So what have you learned about navigating these relationships through your time with Jets Overhead?
Learn how to do it yourself, and do it all. (Laughs.) I’m just kidding. Joking aside, I’ve learned that making music with other people is fantastic and it’s full of hardship. There are very unpredictable challenges with any artistic collaboration, and it’s particularly tough when it’s a musical one where you have to travel to sell your art.
The studio is a blast with band members. At this age, and why I’m doing it this way with Thieves, it’s really nice to be able to walk away and say ultimately, I’m calling the shots, that guitar part’s not gonna be in the song, or that bridge needs to be shorter, and I don’t have to ask permission from four other people.
We are still collaborative, and I ask everyone to contribute and they give their opinions and advice, but ultimately it’s nowhere near as much of a negotiation. Being in a band like Jets Overhead where it was five people trying to create together all the time lends itself to an exhaustive amount of negotiation. You have to be an incredible politician to be in a band and be creatively collaborative and not just leave it up to one or two people.
So, you started Thieves. Has it always been clear then to the other members that at the end of the day you’ll make the final call? How did that role come to be, and how is it accepted by the other members?
It’s such an early phase of the band. It’s in its infancy, still so young, so it’s kind of like asking me if I can ride a bike without training wheels. I still don’t know what the band is going to be, and if I can steer this ship. The bottom line is yes, I started the band, and everybody looks at me as the leader and aren’t too involved emotionally with the music. They like it, they enjoy playing it, but they aren’t attached to it like you become attached to music if you’re all in creatively.
So you’re writing all the songs and bringing them to the band?
I’ve written all the songs except for one that we’ve started playing live and recorded. The genesis of that song was a keyboard part that our keyboard player wrote. I wrote the melody, chorus, a bridge and lyrics, but it started with his melodic idea on the keyboard.
I imagine that’s quite freeing for you. You’re getting the songs made that you want to make, and you have a band to back you up on them. It feels like it would be a more efficient process, and less stressful.
It’s definitely nice to be able to call the shots and be in control more than I have ever been, but I do miss the ability to hand off a task to somebody else. It’s all up to me, and it’s also up to my pocketbook, because I have to pay for the studio time, the producer, the mixer and the engineer.
Your bio for Thieves includes this insight into your process: Melody is a mysterious butterfly: sometimes static and drab, sometimes dancing and rich with colour. “THIEVES” is the name I have given to the net I use to capture the dancing melodies.
Is this net a new concept for you?
The net is a new concept for me in terms of a way of describing the mystery behind melody — why certain days nothing comes and other months you can’t stop having melodies pour out of you. Thieves is just kind of a cool word with a lot of depth and meaning. I think some of the meaning can be negative for people, but it can also be a positive thing. People steal you heart, to feel like you’ve been swept away by something is a form of thievery, that’s a great feeling sometimes. Music can do that for me, it can steal me away. Great music is a bit of a thief; time disappears.
How would you describe the musical style of Thieves?
Every song is quite different from the next. I have never been one to write a lot of music that sounds the same. It’s not a certain style, there’s quite a few different styles. A melting pot of pop alternative rock.
I’ve never been very good at being focused on one thing obsessively, so I don’t think it’s that different for me to be putting time and effort into other endeavours. I don’t like that about myself. I wish I was more studious at one thing — the Malcolm Gladwell 10,000 hours personality, where I’d obsess and not put my guitar down for 10 years straight. In my life I have only written 50 songs probably. Other artists doing it for 15 years might have 500 songs. In some ways I wish I was a bit more obsessive and tunnel vision, but I tend to be a bit scattered and get pulled in various directions.
You have to go with your nature. I believe that.
Yeah, but sometimes I can’t help but think that if I had been more obsessed with just songwriting, the success of my musical career might have been greater. I’ll never know I guess, that’s just the way I am.
So you’re in a place of ‘that’s how I function.’ You’re the type of person who needs to have different things going on.
The main reason for starting a business [Superbath] that’s not related to music, and is related to the service industry, is it’s far less subjective. Art is so subjective and so hard to count on in terms of reaction. And the disappointment that comes with sharing art, even just hoping people will notice it, let alone pay for it…the amount of times that is just a complete and utter letdown is not something I want to rely on solely for my a. happiness and b. financial security. So something more objective, like a car wash, where it’s simple and straightforward and you don’t have to convince people that they want one…everybody likes a clean car, but not everybody is going to like the first Thieves EP, and that’s just the reality of being an artist.
I think there’s a lot to be said for what you’ve done having a side business that’s completely unrelated to music. It creates some space around the creative stuff. It’s not so weighed down, because you have this other thing that’s giving you security. I think that could help with the creative process because you can approach it in a lighter way. There’s not so much depending on it.
Yeah, but at the same time there is something to be said for the stress and push and drive that comes with being solely reliant upon your own art. But I’m over that. I don’t want that roller coaster.
If you could tell your 16 year-old self something about pursuing music professionally, what would it be?
I guess I’d say, practice more. I think I could be a better musician than I am, that’s for sure. But maybe that just isn’t what I was meant to be.
You’re so hard on yourself. In the eyes of anyone who knows you, that’s exactly what you are, is an amazing musician.
Well I’m an accomplished musician to a degree that isn’t the greatness that I wish I could have been at this point in my life. I probably would tell myself to try to focus on one thing.
So you haven’t totally accepted that part of your nature.
Attention span issues have always been a problem for me. If there is a way that me saying something to myself at 16 could change my attention span and make it stronger, than I would say that.
You and Antonia have a baby on the way. (Due Oct. 31st!) You’re in the same bands together. How do you anticipate juggling parenthood with writing and performing?
It’s over. (Laughs). I’ve got six weeks to finish an album and be a rock star and then it’s daddyhood.
But would you like to tour with Thieves?
Honestly, it’s the last priority right now. I’m over the idea of being a touring rock star. I just want to create music that I’m really proud of, that can make me feel emotionally fulfilled and hopefully touch other people.
(Adam, thanks so much for taking the time for this interview, and for being so open.)
Their first EP is slated to be released in late 2014 or early 2015. Listen to two songs from the upcoming album here.
Photo + artwork credits, top to bottom: 1. Al Smith Photography, 2.Lindsey Blane Photography, 5. Emmet Stutt, 7. Al Smith Photography, 8. Alain Champagne, 11. Norm Lebus, 12.Lindsey Blane Photography