‘I love it when people really go for something. Not hide behind cleverness, or a plan, or tried and true tricks. It doesn’t matter all that much if it lands, I’d rather see something interesting than something boring. We’ve definitely made a point of embracing that idea, and having a good time while we do it.’, says Adam Morrow of Speckled Bird. Among other things, that led them to making a wonderfully beautiful dreamy jangle pop ep, Trout Fishing in America.
How did this record come together?
Speckled Bird has been a bit of a rotating cast of characters since 2019, with the two constants being myself (Adam Morrow) and Jamie Sego. Jamie runs Portside Sound, which is located in the old Studio B of Muscle Shoals Sound’s final location, right on the bank of the Tennessee River. We spent a lot of time together in the studio, working on ideas and chasing sounds. As the pandemic settled in, obviously that all slowed down quite a bit. The initial lineup also kind of blew to the wind; folks moved away, moved on, etc.
What really got things going again was Drew Kellough (drums) and Austin Motlow (keys) asking me if I had any fresh songs to mess with. A day earlier, I had dreamed a melody and the start of a song and woke up in a rush to finish it. That is not a common occurrence, so it feels sort of wild that they happened to reach out when they did. That song was “21st Century Ghost,” one of the tracks on the EP.
We kept playing together, and recruited Spencer Duncan (bass), and now we’ve been a steady five piece lineup for a couple of years. The EP is really the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what we’ve written and recorded, but it is a cohesive set of songs with a through line and arc. That includes the Dylan cover choice, too. It’s really about moving across the American landscape and trying to make sense of it in these post post-modern days, or whatever term you want to apply to the amorphous reality we’re living in.
How do you decide when a song is finished and ready to be recorded?
One fun part of living in a town known for its studios is that the line between “finished song” and “ready to be recorded” can get really blurry. I suppose that’s also the dangerous part; it can be easy to get bogged down. But we indulged that a bit this time, and wrote in the studio instead of formulating the songs for a live setting first or worrying about what “done” meant. Our process usually begins on my small setup at home, in Logic, and then that file gets passed around through the other guys’ home studios until we’re all at Portside, making notes and adding on parts. It can get chopped up and rearranged, and as the songwriter, I make it a point to avoid being precious about things as much as possible. I believe in our collective power. I love that it has to go through multiple checkpoints.
I have to be proud enough of something to send it to the band, and can usually tell immediately if they’re into it or not. If they are, folks start thinking about parts and we work on the puzzle together until it feels complete. Jamie helped me finish the lyrics to the choruses of “Trout Fishing In America,” and Austin pitched in a few phrases for “Lousy Island.” Vocals went on last. No one else touched this EP at any stage. We engineered and mixed it together, and Jamie mastered it. That can be a little iffy, it can be easy to lose perspective, but it worked out for us this time.
As an artist, you choose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
I’ve spent way too much time wrapping my head around this. I’m certainly not a guy who can stand up and loudly draw the attention of a room. I don’t really have a problem expressing my emotions in lyrics, but I do think I’ve learned to accept being much more direct in both how the songs are written and how we produce them. Part of it is honestly just growing up and having experience as a helpful guide.
Letting the vocals sit out front, not loading the tracks down with endless guitars and synths or drowning it all in reverb. There’s certainly a time and place for all of that, and I love a lot of music that’s done that way, but for us right now, the biggest thing is distilling the song down to its essential parts, deleting the rest, and building from there. Sometimes it takes a bunch of layers before we find the right thing.
That’s fine, we may be attached, but we know whether or not they’re honest and worth keeping, so they usually get deleted in favor of the one thing that really works. Nothing is precious. I also think allowing some vulnerability is a strength. Honest writing, clear vocals, taking chances on stage; that feeling of humanity, or that something could really go wrong, I love that when I’m in the audience. I love it when people really go for something. Not hide behind cleverness, or a plan, or tried and true tricks. It doesn’t matter all that much if it lands, I’d rather see something interesting than something boring. We’ve definitely made a point of embracing that idea, and having a good time while we do it.
How do you balance experimentation with commercial appeal in your music?
I want people to like the songs that I write. There are melodic hooks for a reason. We spend a lot of time making it sound as good as we can for a reason. A huge part of that is self satisfaction, but we also want to invite other folks in to what we’re doing. We want more people to listen, we want more people to come to the shows as the months and years go by. But there is absolutely no pressure or expectations on us, so we’re completely free to do what we want.
But it is 2023. I don’t see experimentation as something that would keep us from finding more of an audience. An indie rock band is in no danger of getting on the radio or shooting to the top of streaming playlists, so being as truthful to our vision as we possibly can be seems like the best path forward.
The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?
Success at this point is just getting to continue making music, and maybe reaching a few more folks every time we put something out or go play shows. There’s been a bit of freedom that’s accompanied the pandemic and getting that much older; I’m in my 30s, I’m still doing this, and a global catastrophe hasn’t stopped me. I think the rest of the guys feel the same way. We’re all thankful to be healthy and alive, so I guess we’ll keep going.