Better Angels, out now, is a genre-defying, soul-stirring blend of musical sounds and styles that wholly encompass it’s creator in all of his hopeful, old school glory.
From Tulsa’s Route 66 to the Scandanvian fjords, Adam Douglas’ list of inspirations continues to evolve over time. The striking Norway-by-way-of-Oklahoma musician has never left a piece of his personal puzzle out of his music. His equally grand and refreshing sound embraces the ups and downs of his life as he ponders aloud in his songs and provides warmth with his unique amalgamation of intricately crafted music.
Douglas spent years working on his craft, searching for himself, and looking for a place to call home. Since his move to Norway almost 15 years ago, the reflective performer has found all of that and more. He won the country’s Battle of the Stars in 2017 with his own original song, he’s toured in and around the glacial country, and has bared his soul to the people in the way he knows best – through music.
Adam Douglas’ home country and the rest of the world are continuing to catch onto his electric, lifelong talent – and just in time for what many believe is the star’s best work to date. AQ virtually sat down with the kindhearted, spirited musician for an early morning chat about the magic of Better Angels.
We’re mere days away from Better Angels being released out into the world. What do you hope most for this record’s release? Is it a message of hope and growth and curiosity? Is it the shedding of traditional genres and opting for the blending of sounds? There are so many layers to uncover in this album, so I’m wondering what you want people to get out of it?
Absolutely. I think you just touched on a lot of it right there. It’s kind of all encompassing in a way – at least, we tried to be pretty thorough as far as reaching a lot of people and including a lot of emotions within the sounds. The underlying themes are posing big questions to myself and to others, searching for answers, but at the same time, doing that in a positive way. To me, it would be typical and easier, perhaps, for me, to sort of create a dark sounding record with these questions in mind. That would be the first thing that I would originally jump into, but that was the whole mission: to make it sound, for lack of a better term, positive or happy. Hopeful, mostly. That’s the real word. That was the whole point – including songs that are dealing with really heavy themes or dark, even political ones. I wanted to sort of focus on the acknowledgement of that stuff, but being able to move beyond it and grow past it. Growing as a person and growing together is a big thing; that unity that everyone is sort of missing these days.
Yes, like I said, I myself found a lot of that while listening to the record. It also seems like, because you did put a lot of different themes in it – some are filled with highs and some have lows, but they all answer these same kinds of questions of hope and coming together – did you pay a lot of attention to the tracklist? Because I found that the album flowed flawlessly.
Yes. That’s the worst part of it for me out of the whole thing. I hate doing it. The same with concerts. Making a setlist is the worst. I hate it! I usually try to send it to somebody else for their help, but yeah, that’s a long answer to a short question. It was on purpose, because I was hoping for that sort of flow and something to tie the whole story together in that way. There are a lot of ups and downs, musically and thematically, so that was our goal. I’m glad to hear that it at least resonated with you a little bit.
100%! Now, this is your third full-length record to date and from listening to your catalog, it sounds to me that this is possibly your most mature and cohesive record. Do you agree?
120%, yeah! In every regard, it’s about maturing. I’m a middle-aged man, if you want. It’s about maturing, and in that case, it’s only natural that it sounds that way. It’s about growth and I’ve grown as a human and a musician, so I want that to be reflected in this record for sure.
Do you think that your approach to music has changed since you first started out?
Most certainly. WIth regard to what I am paying attention to and what is important to me as a musician and a writer have changed. I am searching more and more for that connection that you can have with an audience, whether they are listening to a record or sitting in a seat looking at the stage. That’s what I’m after, that interaction. I want to move somebody. There are different ways to do that; whereas as a young man I might have been, I don’t know, really concerned with maybe trying to sing every note that I had and play every note that I had, I was just trying to throw it all out there at once. As a listener, it’s exhausting to get a record where you’re bombarded with things the whole time. So, trying to tap into the right delivery to be able to deliver the message is it – we still can be technical, sing some cool stuff, and play some cool stuff, but at the end of the day, what’s important is getting the message across. Whether that’s through the lyrics or through the melody and the whole vibe or, hopefully, through the entire package. My priorities have changed. I’m not trying to impress anybody, I’m trying to connect with somebody.
With music being such a palpable form of expression, that’s surely the most important part.
That’s exactly right – especially for this kind of music. I mean, like you touched on, it’s kind of a soup, a stew, a blending of styles that is swimming in various eras of American roots music and a lot of blues and soul music and gospel and rock and roll. Those are very emotionally driven styles of music. They touch people for a reason, that’s what they’re all about. That’s part of my sound and my goal.
I love the overall tone of this album. You said it’s a bit Americana, but still with some groovy soulfulness and a bit of a bluesy vibe within the singer-songwriter style. For people who don’t know you, it must be so interesting and unique to hear this song coming out of a guy from Norway. Where do you pull these influences from? Because I know that you were born and raised in Oklahoma, but have traveled around since there. Are you going back to your youth and pulling influence from there? Or from some place, something, or someone else?
You can certainly say that. It’s very natural being in that part of the country. It’s sort of this melting pot of a place. It’s famous for country music, but also famous for a lot of other stuff. Back in the 1950s it was a jazz hub, like Route 66 through Tulsa was known for that. [Sings] “Oklahoma City looks mighty pretty!”
It’s very natural that things get thrown together in that soup there. That’s what I grew up listening to, that’s what I grew up seeing when I went out to see live music, it’s what I grew up playing. In a way, that’s just what comes out naturally now. It’s my own mix of those things, for better or for worse. That’s hard for some people to understand, to a critic or an appreciator here, in Scandinavia. They really want to place everything – maybe more so than others – in a specific genre. That’s their right, of course, but for me, this kind of mixing makes total sense and it has a lot to do with my upbringing. Plus, I moved around a lot when I left Oklahoma, so I’ve kind of had a taste of a lot of different local vibes. It’s kind of strange to get this sound over here in this part of the world, but it’s the only thing I know and it’s kind of the language I speak.
It’s working out really well for you, though, because this album is superb. I love it, so no matter where you’re from or where you’re pulling inspiration from, it’s still coming together beautifully to create this music. It doesn’t matter if you can’t pinpoint a sound, because what matters at the end of the day is if you enjoy it.
Exactly. I totally agree. That is for sure what is most important. If anything else, maybe I’ll have some luck and sort of introduce someone to a different style that they didn’t know they liked in some way.
You never know! I was wondering, how is where you are living today shaped you as a man and a musician? Like you said, you grew up in this Midwest America melting pot, but then you left. Has it affected the way you carry yourself or the way you make music?
As much as I appreciate having grown up in Oklahoma and growing up within that vibe and way of life, it never felt like home to me. It never did, even as a little kid, so I was always hunting for something else, always searching for it. That’s one of the reasons I moved around a lot, chasing gigs and –It sounds really cheesy, but chasing a home. Nothing really sat right with me. It was not until I came to Norway, which was also kind of a happy accident, that I really sort of had this connection with a place and with the people and the culture. It felt really right. It’s hard to describe it really. It felt so natural, and I’m using that word a lot, but that’s what it did. It finally felt like home, even though there were, of course, cultural differences and food differences and I couldn’t speak the language at all the first few years. It just felt really good, though. The sort of, not anti-social, but a-social and introverted person I am, plays sort of right into the way of life here. My personality fit right in. This probably had nothing to do with it, but my family is Scandanvaian from pretty far back. Maybe there’s something to that, who knows? Biology or whatever. I really don’t know, but because of landing here and finding that sort of homebase here, I was able to sort of establish who I actually am. I could focus on me and those sorts of things. As of recent, being able to focus on my own mental health and mental awareness, which I had never contemplated at all until it really smashed me inthe face. Now I am very much aware of that existence, the existence of who I am, and the decisions I have made previously in my life. Since I have that sort of foundation here, where I am comfortable, I feel like I am at the right place. Now I can start to confront those demons and whatever and feel ok with dealing with them wholly.
A lot of people wonder why the hell I would end up here and why I would want to be here, and that’s quite often the question I get from Norweigen press and other Scadanavian press. They’re like “Why would you want to end up here?” I love it. I’m never going back. I’m very proud to be where I am from and I am still a citizen and I still take my family there, because I do have extended family in the States, but this is where we’re going to be. This is where we, I, am supposed to be.
That is so special. I am so glad that you found that home and your place in the world because of it, since a lot of people don’t. They don’t feel comfortable somewhere, but they choose not to explore that. I’m glad you did.
Thank you. I am, too, and I encourage others to do the same. That’s a big part of this. That’s another underlying theme in the record, too. It’s about starting that journey, and people have used that term all the time: finding yourself. For me, it was physical. I needed to get in the right place so that I could get my mind right. I encourage anyone and everyone to do the same. But, you’re right, not everyone has the opportunity or takes that chance.
They need that push or that inspiration. Maybe, hopefully, they can find that within this album. Better Angels could be that.
Who knows? I had a lot of fun making it, so if it moves anybody in any sort of way, then I’ve done my job.
You know, Adam, I wanted to ask you about “Build A Fire.” I love that song. Before I even realized that it was one of the singles of this record, the thought of it being something special from or for this album actually crossed my mind. It’s just so soulful and heartwarming and melodic. What made you want to release as a single alongside the three others releases dropped ahead of your album release?
Thanks, first of all. I’m glad you really like it. I dig this one, too. I really loved it before it even had words to it. Why did it become a single? I don’t know. It has always felt good, so before we even put the lyric on there, I felt that I wanted it to be strong and that this could really be something. It sort of fell out of me in a way. It came up really organic and really fast. The whole thing was just “Bam!” and then there it was. It felt like it was meant to be in a way, so regardless if anyone ever heard it, I liked it immediately. That’s always a good sign, I think. It was very natural, too, and to be honest, the few people that I played some demos for were really into that tune. Then we said, “Ok, let’s go all in.” We went for some pretty big production there, with strings and horns and really worked hard to arrange it appropriately. We wanted to stretch it out a bit. We tried, and I really appreciate that somebody else really appreciated it, so far. Thank you.
Of course! Once every person has the ability to hear it on this record or out in the world as a single, I know they’ll adore it in all of it’s fantastic robust glory, as well. Actually, your music has had wonderful support from streaming platforms, including the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. So as a musician who has been sharing his talents with the world for some years now, on “Build A Fire” and everywhere in between, what do you think about this digital age of writing and releasing music? Is it overwhelming that seemingly anyone can put their music online? Is it wonderful that there’s been a global expansion of talent?
My answer is all of the above. There’s obviously positives and negatives to it, though. I’m kind of one of those old soul people who wishes they were around in the sixties. I’m kind of an old school guy in general and especially when it comes to music. At the same time, we have no choice but to embrace the new platforms, etc. Like you said, there are a lot of positive things in how anybody can now release a song. Anybody can get online and learn stuff, even just as an instrumentalist and as a guitar player. NOw you can get on YouTube and to get a headstart on just about anything. Not just releasing music, too, but just technology as a general, worldwide platform. It’s also that sort of globalisation thing. Now we have the ability to release to a wider audience and we can do it independently, whereas before we might have been more reliant on a huge label to promote yourself or whatever. It’s really hard to find those channels, but they’re out there and it’s possible. It’s possible for me, here, to talk to you, there, about this, for example, and to reach more people. I have mixed feelings about it. I long for the golden age of recording, so to speak, but at the same time, I’m here now and I’ve embraed who I am and all of the surroundings I’m in.
BETTER ANGELS, ADAM DOUGLAS’ THIRD ALBUM, IS OUT NOW!