Adam Torres's "Nostra Nova" was recently reissued on LP to wide critical acclaim - The Onion A.V. Club calling it a "cult classic." His 2006 folk-rock masterwork is now being celebrated by a national tour and a stop at the 2015 Nelsonville Music Festival.
Those living in Athens in the mid-aughts may remember Adam's peculiarly powerful voice. On the surface, he was young, almost meek, but his music tapped a strange strength. In 2006, at age 20, Torres had aligned himself with an age-old paradox: "In our weakness, we are made strong."
Now, I'd be remiss if I didn't note that I played drums and percussion on "Nostra Nova," and I recently aided in its reissue. I can only say: "My aim is true." Like many others, Adam's curative music forever touched my days - he simply entrusted me to adorn "Nostra Nova" with certain instrumentation. My only hope is that still others will hear these beautiful songs and, likewise, be altered. And, because I was in the trenches while he created the album, I suppose I can speak to it all from a relatively singular angle.
There was certainly a time and place for "Nostra Nova." Adam and I were young and mostly sad and living together in a small dank house: 189 Grosvenor. Adam's voice softened the sadness. Our backyard was lush and overgrown and, during heavy rains, the back wooden deck would develop a dangerously slick veneer; inside, the moisture caused empty envelopes to seal themselves.
Our living room had an old exposed stovepipe protruding from one wall, and the rooms were all cut up in a hasty manner. Baseboard paint splotches peppered a once beautiful wooden floor. Our Southeast Engine friend and band-mate Matt Box lived in the basement; I lived on the main floor; Adam lived in the attic.
We'd walk up the stairs to Adam's attic bedroom - a sort of thrown-together den dreamt up by our drunken slumlord. Ephemera poured from his closet: old photos, a painting of his Mexican grandparents, clothes from a bygone era. The room was decorated with half-empty glasses, an oscillating space heater, an unmade bed. It was a strange place. Something happened in that room.
Down the stairs, Box and I would hear Adam sing:
Voices from the top of the mountain
Voices from the valley below
I am ready to join them
I am ready to go
And time stood still for a little while. We were all caught. But Adam found his way out through these songs.
Adam gracefully submitted to a recent interview…
Leo: When did you start playing music?
Adam: I started playing music as a boy, probably 10 years old as part of a school ensemble. I learned how to read and play music with the alto saxophone.
What artists have had the biggest influence on your life?
I used to be obsessed with Outsider Art, so I would say people like Adolf Wolfli, Henry Darger, Jean Dubuffet and Alo se Corbaz influenced me in how I thought about art when I was younger. Musically, I am influenced by singers who have unconventional voices. For me, this includes Karen Dalton, Nina Simone, Leonard Cohen, Vic Chesnutt, Robbie Basho and many others.
How has Ohio shaped you as an artist?
I lived in Athens for several years and that is where I learned how to perform, write songs, and observe musicians and bands that I admired. Athens is a pretty encouraging place to do these things for the first time - people who live there year-round are kind, laid-back, and show appreciation to others who are creative and help you catch your dreams that are floating in the air.
What does the future hold?
My band and I are out on tour for the next month. Other than that, I've been keeping busy with the next record, playing in a garage-soul band called Inner Suns back in Austin, as well as playing bass in my wife's band, Besos de Lobos, also in Austin. I love and miss so many people in Athens, Ohio. I can't wait to be back!