Adam Jasim is an indie guitarist, songwriter, and producer who’s been working the grind every day in music for now a decade. After four long years since his last EP release, he’s clocked hundreds of hours in the studio learning how to be a better producer and an engineer — and in the process, has come to peace with the choices he’s made on the way. This is his story.
Tell me about how you ended up where you are now. It started about nine years ago — very simple, very slowly. I was seventeen and had recently come back from being in Europe for a year. After being exposed to so much culture in Europe in my conservatory there, I realized that music was something I was passionate for. I was terrible, especially compared to the people there, but I thought I was pretty good.
When I came back, I got really into this artist called Owl City, who nobody was listening to yet at the time. I started dabbling with a lot of the programs he was experimenting with, and stopped doing homework. I was in grade eleven. I don’t recommend not doing homework in grade eleven. I spent that time staying up until 2 or 2:30 every morning just writing songs, just like an outlet for my emotions and all that fluffy stuff.
One of the things I wish I knew then that I know now was about consistency in producing things, and releasing things, and with album art and stuff. I just went with it. I played little tiny shows — you know, coffee houses at school, stuff like that. I kept that up and ended up having to choose between going to school for music, or going to university. Knowing how competitive it was, I decided to go to university.
I know I’ll get flak for this, but I really like the new Justin Bieber album.
In university, music really slipped under the radar for me. At one point, a year and a half had gone by in between writing a song. I wanted to quit school and do music full time, but I wasn’t going to have any of the support I needed financially. So I just kept going until I was done school, and then I could focus on Discover Atlantic again. And that was a couple years ago.
Discover Atlantic has taken a lot of forms. There’s been synth-pop, acoustic music, some heavier rock, and piano ballads. The new record has electronic pop, EDM or whatever, and some heavier songs. I like the artists that make different things all the time. Staying true to yourself is super important. If you pick up a guitar and something feels raw and organic, and you bang out the song on six things and a wooden frame, that’s the way it’s gonna come out. That’s the way it’s gotta be. Making it something else isn’t true to what it was supposed to be, at least originally. I like organic music.
One of the challenges is labelling Discover Atlantic. I don’t know how to label it. To make it “easy,” I’ll throw four terms in there: “acoustic pop rock indie.” I don’t know. That sorta creates an idea.
Now, I’m trying to be a little more consistent and professional about releases. Unfortunately, music is a business. Nobody has overnight fame. You’ve gotta put in the effort. The way things are, the last Discover Atlantic record came out in 2012. The goal is definitely to put out music more consistently than I previously have been.
I really want people to connect with the music. At a show a couple weeks ago, this kid came up to me and told me he had one of my songs on his iPhone, and it carried him through his relationship. That was surreal. That made the rest of my week.
So cool. Tell me about the new record a little bit. When’s that coming out? I think I started writing it at least three years ago. It was supposed to come out in 2013! Didn’t happen, clearly. The first record was all about how I was changing as a person as a young man moving into my twenties, how my life was changing and how I was seeing things differently.
In this new record, it finishes off that line of thought and grabs a new theme about choices, just the big choices you make in your twenties. It’s a natural evolution. The newest song is the first song I’ve collaborated with my live bandmates on, which is great.
It’s going to be out this winter, which is what I said, but we’re definitely in winter now, and maybe it’ll be a bit later. Depends on how production goes.
Do you think the album reflects some of the choices you’ve made as a musician? I would say so, yeah, primarily the choice I made not to pursue music full time. My goal was to give myself something that, if music completely failed for me, then I had something. I think some of the new music speaks to that choice.
Do you regret not doing music full-time? That’s a really hard question. I’ve been thinking about it a lot the past month, and it’s always on my mind, especially since I’m in the studio so often.
I don’t think I regret it, but I’ve definitely gone through times when this topic has depressed me. I mean, there’s always the “what if?”, right? I think there’s always going to be that thought process that people go through. So I think about it, but I also think it pushes me to be better as a musician.
With your first record, you’re not really looking to make a profit. You just want to get your music out there.
So you’re more stoked about having that extra time in school to hone your skills? Yeah, totally — and that’s the thing: it’s not that I stopped music. I was always producing, working on sound design. I knew there’d be a time I could do this more, and I didn’t want to be dabbling with how to make it sound good at that point. Writing and recording is a lot of work, and I really wanted that recording and mixing part to be, at least to an extent, ready so I could focus on putting the music out.
The last time you put out your record, I remember getting it on disc. Now you’ve got streaming options galore, in addition to iTunes and all that, and most people aren’t buying discs. In this climate, what’s your barometer for success? Well, I think with your first record, you’re not really looking to make a profit. You just want to get your music out there. You sell them at gigs, to your friends and family, whatever, just people who knew me and met me would buy it.
But while we’re talking about it, iTunes still dominates. iTunes and Apple Music are, I think, both totally critical to a successful career. This time around, as much as I loved holding my first record in my hands, I think the tendency is to go digital. Spotify, Apple Music, even Soundcloud.
Soundcloud is huge, I love it. I think the fact that you can super easily connect with people, comment on tracks, share what you’re working on and get feedback, it’s so amazing.
It’s the best place to find underground musicians in any genre. I one hundred percent agree — I wish I started using it earlier! But yeah, the plan is to go digital for sure. If a lot of people ask for physical copies, then I think that’s fine, but looking at the numbers, I’m pretty sure digital is more and more the norm. It’s so accessible, it’s readily available anytime, and thanks to smartphones, it’s all right there.
You don’t want to lose your roots. They’re like dress shoes. New dress shoes are awesome, but they don’t replace those ratty sneakers you wear to the punk show. You love those sneakers.
So with the shift to a culture of constant consumption, do you feel like there’s a shift in music culture? Not just in the way we listen, but in the way we make it? That’s really hard to say. I mean, some of the new stuff, the new digital instruments coming out, they blow my mind. I saw a digital keyboard the other day that didn’t have keys! It had some sort of theremin built in. Just amazing.
I don’t know how music is going to look in a year or two, let alone five. The act of music creation is changing into something outrageous we’ve never seen before. I don’t think it’s going to be a thing that happens right away. I think it’ll happen slowly and gradually with these new instruments and computer tools.
But it also seems things are going the opposite way too. We’ve got all these synth pop bands, but then you get things like Kendrick’s last record, where it’s very clearly a live band and very organic. And I think that’s very important too! Just like anything else, you don’t want to lose your roots. They’re like dress shoes. New dress shoes are awesome, but they don’t replace those ratty sneakers you wear to the punk show. You love those sneakers. And I think it’s possible to be interested in both sides as a musician too. At the core of me, I’m defined by a guitar. You’ve gotta remember that. Once you forget that, you forget who you are as a musician.
Let’s change gears a bit. Who are you listening to these days? What’s inspiring you? Oh man. A lot of dance music. EDM. House. Future Bass. Future Bass adds all these upbeat happy things. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s been really inspiring. But there’s nothing I love more than a song with just the right guitar chords plucked. When that’s done right, there’s nothing more special.
After this new record comes out, what’s the next thing for you? Faster record releases, right? (Both laughing.) That’s the plan! I actually have a folder on my computer of projects, and there are probably twenty or thirty different clips in there for song ideas. I really want to go back and turn these clips into something. Just songs I started and never finished — you know, just, what am I doing, right? Now that I’m faster at production, I gotta get back into it.
There’s a side project that I’m going to be releasing some stuff for too, and… I think I’m dabbling a lot in different areas now. I was asked to score music for a short film! So I’ve started experimenting with orchestral arrangements. That might come next. Dabbling with other genres keeps you fresh, keeps you on your feet.
Have you been listening to any new genres? Oh, so much. More hip hop. Trap. EDM. There’s a guy called Icy Twat. Can I say that?
Sure, it’s the Internet. Say whatever you want. Well, I wish he wasn’t called Icy Twat, but Icy Twat. And, um, kind of, I know I’ll get flak for this, but I really like the new Justin Bieber album. I couldn’t stand him before, but his new album’s got some good messages and he sounds like a musician, not just a teenage pop star. Did you know he writes a lot of his own music? I don’t know if many pop stars do that.
I think a lot of pop music is going the wrong way, though. I don’t like the way they sing about sexuality. It’s backwards. And money. I love money, but can’t we find something else to sing about?
Last question, and you have to keep it short, because that’s part of the challenge here: what was your favourite record last year? Oeuf. (mutters slightly under his breath) Definitely gotta be Bring Me the Horizon’s newest record. They took a completely different direction. This is a good place to end, because it ties back to the beginning of our interview. You’ve got to be true to yourself, but still give the fans what they want, and I think that’s exactly what they did.