Adam Ness Has A Mission Statement: Find Out Who You Are
Written by Vocalo Radio on October 21, 2019
Adam Ness is effortlessly mysterious …
He can be shy, solitary, a loner, and yet, simultaneously, a diva, a star, deeply in touch with the feelings of those around him. He is quick to note that he has a pop mind, even if his sound doesn’t necessarily fall into a strictly pop spectrum. Adam likes to keep you on your toes in conversation. While he may seem withdrawn, or introspective, that belies a mature understanding of perception and image that lies at the root of his work. He exudes a quiet, self-derived confidence. One that feels authentically built on genuine self-love. Once he warms up, Adam’s sartorial elegance gives way to an overwhelming charm and warmth.
Suffice to say, we had a great time getting to know the 30 year old singer/songwriter who has toured with Noname and released collaborative tracks with Jamila Woods. His single “Pretty Boy” prompted our very own Jill Hopkins to dub him “Boyonce” and it’s easy to see why… Throughout his discography Adam’s powerful vocals and clever songwriting are evidence of more than natural talent, they are also marked with the thoughtful air of a hard worker.
We sat down with Adam at the Hoxton Hotel for a talk that spanned indie labels, queer identity and the importance of being yourself …
I like to start off with just an opportunity for you to kind of talk about yourself in your own words to say who is Adam Ness.
I’ll say free spirited, “R” rated, urban, black, queer, evangelist. Just spreading my own gospel of truth, you know what I mean. The church has been so enforced on me that, ironically, I formed my own damn thoughts and opinions, but I do think they are more concrete than what I was taught as a Christian. But that’s neither here nor there. I am just feisty, and I’m quiet and what else … any more adjectives I can pull out of the air?
You were brought up in Detroit?
Yeah. I never really lived anywhere else until I grew up and moved away.
What was it like growing up in Detroit?
I really did like Detroit a lot until I hit my 20s and I just realized that they didn’t have what I needed. Growing up in Detroit was very family-oriented. Being around my cousins a lot. My grandma raised me for a large portion of my childhood and I really wouldn’t change anything. I have fond memories. Very black memories. The family reunions with music and food, potato salad, just certain things that ring out family.
Soulful moments, dancing, talent shows. One side of my family wasn’t very artistic but, even though they weren’t artistic, they were still doing little talent shows. It was a great place to foster total support. My family supports me. They think everything I do is great. So nothing that I do is a shock to them. That definitely keeps me super humble. When I get an opportunity it’s just like okay… time to make the best of this moment.
I do feel like I’m very ready. Industry ready. I think I have a pop mind too, even though I don’t do pop music, I think I have a mind of universality. My upbringing definitely has a lot to do with where I am now, with who I am, with my cool, my vernacular, socially, everything!
Let’s talk about your influences…
Growing up I was mainly focused on my female big diva vocals: Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, some Brandy… Um, so I really wasn’t listening to a lot of males, you know, I loved all things femme. Now I have more of a palatable taste for male vocals, obviously, but I love the female voice.
You have deep relationships with Chicago music makers it seems, how did you find that network after moving to the city?
I kind of got inducted into the Chicago music scene all at one time. There was this thing called “The Gala” going on, it was like this open mic. I went to a barbecue one night and all of the people from the gala were there. There was this huge community of people: poets, musicians, rappers, singers, dancers, everybody that just did The Gala. And they were at the barbecue. I was singing there and they went “You’re totally one of us” And I knew that’s exactly what I needed. I met so many amazing musicians that night, too many to name really.
From there everything kind of spread out, you just kind of know people then. I could never have guessed that Noname would slide into the DMs and ask me to be on a song. That’s still pretty much the highlight of my musical collaboration life. It’s crazy. And then to tour with her?! She’s great, that was great. I still think about all those moments. It’s probably gonna happen again soon, she likes to tour when no one else is touring. When it’s cold outside.
That’s why I like Chicago. I kind of grew up here, basically, in my adult life, twenties to thirty.
What role does fashion play for you and your artistic expression?
Well maybe one reason people say that I’m like Prince is because I do get a little elaborate. I like things to be flowing and drapey on stage, long things, things that come low, things that reveal. I feel like I’m very masc/femme joined together. You can see right now I’m in this flannel and these leather pants. It doesn’t sound very masc but it’s the most masc I’m getting. I just feel like fashion and music go hand in hand, because if I weren’t able to express myself visually with how I look, and if that didn’t match up with my voice and my singing, it would just really like not be for me, in my pop mind, brandable.
That’s why I’m saying my main mission statement is for people to find out who they are. Because things like finding something to wear for an interview or a photoshoot won’t be as taxing. It’s such an easy and hard lesson at the same time. I just remember when I used to feel so insecure. That’s what fashion is for me … a place to express myself equally in the same way I do with my voice and my music. You know, I feel spicy all the time. I feel quiet and introverted all the time. I feel, you know, stylish and mysterious a lot too.
You’ve been very open about being a queer artist, that’s coming forward as being an important part of artistic identity today. Why have you chosen to be open and vocal about your identity in that way?
Funny you ask that … Because I used to say I wasn’t going to involve people in my sexual identity. I wanted to keep people out. It was fear shrouding the idea that I could actually be myself and not care or not have to be scared. It’s more of an empowering thing.
Because there’s so many stigmas attached to queerness, like now I’m going to be attracted to every guy or something, and that obviously isn’t the case. Most of you are unattractive! And you know, I hate misogyny. That’s what I see when I see guys who aren’t in touch with their sensitive sides, guys that don’t realize they came from a woman. I can pinpoint that and it’s very unattractive.
What I really hate about the queer thing is people will try to tell you that you can’t do things as well or that things won’t be received as well. Fortunately I have always felt cool and that goes a long way. Just be yourself! That’s what I’m all about. That’s my mission statement. Be yourself.
So if people are getting that “be yourself” vibe from me, mission accomplished. If you can look past my gender identity or my sexuality and just appreciate the singing or that I’m cool as hell then that’s great. Which is pretty much what always happens. I haven’t had anybody say I’ve made them feel uncomfortable with what I’m saying in my music. Like “oh he was talking about a man in his music, or wait he said girl this time … I thought he was gay?” I like everything! So I want to sing about everything and I just want people to feel as comfortable as I feel. It hasn’t been a struggle yet. So this must be my true calling.
What have you been reading or looking at or thinking about lately, just generally?
I’ve been reading comic books lately. And I’ve been thinking about how to make myself, even though I do feel like I’m put together, I’ve been thinking about how to make myself “a thing.” I’m still experimenting with sounds and music. I feel like my writing and my voice and style of singing is the thing that makes me cohesive with my music. I still want to, dare I say, be packaged up and put together … in a way that is truly authentic to me.
I think that may come with someone working very personally with me, like a marketing person or something like that. That’s what I’m thinking about doing myself. How do you get your identity across in ten seconds? That’s what I’ve been thinking about. How to make my identity clear quickly.
I’ve been thinking about the state of the world as well. I don’t feel as safe as I did before. That’s a shame because I used to walk around, almost clueless if I can be honest. Everyone equal right? We’re supposed to be!
But, you know, the things that are happening I just cannot get behind. And obviously, I’m talking about the recent injustice with the young man killed in his apartment when he was just singing. I don’t even want to go there right now. But that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Just kind of how to live without that in my heart but just be aware that it has happened. I feel like the world is taking like 60 steps backwards into 60 years ago. I like to stay in my home a lot. I say this all the time: I’m saving money, and I’m saving my life because, you know, I mean, I feel like I’m safest there.
I’ve also been thinking about being more self sufficient. Playing bass, teaching myself music theory, which is a headache because I hate to focus on anything that’s not right in the moment. You know, with music theory I gotta sit there and really figure it out. It’s not immediately gratifying, though it is in the moment.
I don’t know what’s gonna happen. I feel successful now. I feel like my dreams are coming true now. I definitely don’t work I just only do music. I sing in a corporate band and that’s the source of a lot of my income but it’s still making a living in music. I still get to sing. This is a good direction. I could never work, I’ve always been fired from jobs. We really weren’t made to be working like that. Keep it up kiddo, on the right path! ‘
What does the future hold for you?
A more immediate future I can see a booking agency like sniffing around my door. I just want to be with a booking agency and stay independent and continue to travel and sing and work on my music. I could see an agency like Paradigm or CAA scooping me up. I can see me building myself up from their belief in me. An agency will put me in the right places. I don’t want to book myself for shows, it’s a headache, and so many people to go around. I’m never in a rush to book a show. I’m never in a rush to even do a show period. I don’t want to oversaturate myself at all in any way shape or form. People attach mystique and mysteriousness to my identity because I’ll pop out for a moment and then I just go back and I’m chillin. But I’m chillin with good cause, because I gotta make some music that’s worth something to me. I know that the world loves simple stuff right now, and I have tailor made my music to a more mass appeal from “High Places” to where I am now with Vol. 2 … All the spice. I’m interested to see how all this is going to play out, the next project is going to come out in January I hope. I hate giving hard dates cause I’m so independent but I am aiming for January. It’s a good time to release music. I still have so much work to do, but I’m aiming for January.
Maybe some collaborations, maybe jumping on someone’s tour. Staying independent, I like that route. I would go with a label if it came with the right deal and the label is more small and connected to the source. I love indie labels like Jagjaguwar and Sooper. They’ve heard my music and there’s been some talks. Not directly but I’ve heard there’s some interest in a song they heard collectively at a summit. It was “Pretty Boy” so I feel really happy about what’s happening! Even to have people think about me just a little bit is okay, that’s fine with me! You know how I feel, back to my house, back under my rock, it’s good!
Follow Adam Ness Here
Interview Edited for Length and Clarity by: Seamus Doheny
Shot by: Lili Fang