If you’ve been listening to The Local Brew Hour on WMOT for any amount of time, you’ve likely heard Adam Chaffins on the show. Last year he opened a string of dates for John Hiatt as a solo acoustic act, just his upright bass for accompaniment. He’s an established multi-instrumentalist for hire in Nashville and a songwriter and singer with a rich baritone. He shared a string of singles last year leading up to the release of his debut album, Some Things Won’t Last in February. One of the songs, "Further Away" was recently reimagined with a new acoustic recording featuring Matt Menefee on banjo and dobro and Brit Taylor on vocals (both previously featured in Liner Notes). Chaffins also just released a new single written with Adam Wright. “Now I Don’t Know” includes a three-part harmony with Chaffins, the Kentucky tenor of Miles Miller (drummer and background singer with Sturgill Simpson) and Wright, who also played piano on the track. Today in Liner Notes, we’ll dive into those two songs plus hear the story behind drummer Matty Alger’s new studio and how “Further Away” became the first song recorded and filmed at The Cabin.
AnaLee: It really speaks to the beauty of songwriting when a song like “Further Away” is so relevant many years after it was first imagined. The acoustic version of this song is beautiful and the video is a heartbreaking look at this year, including the tornado that devastated Middle Tennessee in March. What was the original inspiration behind it and was there something in particular that made you reach for this song to revisit and to record in this style?
Adam: Thank you Ana Lee. Further Away was a song I had written for my old band “The Deadly Gentlemen” for a project that never happened after a split with our label. At the time I was going back and forth a lot between the road, my newly established home in Nashville and Boston where the band was mostly based. I was juggling a serious relationship, the band, and feeling like I was never in one place long enough to collect my thoughts. I was scattered, and felt I was losing grip on my ambitions. What I’ve come to learn all these years later is that I was losing the bigger picture of life. Not two weeks after the release of my album in February, a tornado came through town hitting some of the folks that worked on it. Then an unfathomable virus shutdown everything for everyone. By the summer we were in the streets protesting the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more, calling out the systematic racism in this country. Issues and circumstances, we are very much still facing as I write this today. I had intended to spend 2020 touring and promoting my album, instead I was a part of the universal uncertainty happening to us all. “Further Away” seemed to be an anthem for the times we’ve been facing. It felt right recording the acoustic version as bare bones as it is. I wanted this version of the song to feel and sound as real as the current world is surreal.
AnaLee: Co-producer Brandon Bell lost his job at Southern Ground Studios due to Covid and drummer Matty Alger lost his truck and gear in the tornado. Talk a little about what it meant to have this new acoustic version of “Further Away” become the first song recorded at Alger’s new studio, The Cabin.
Adam: Matty overcame a lot of adversity to see his dream come to life at The Cabin. He was just beginning the venture when the tornado ripped through his neighborhood destroying his truck and some priceless gear left inside of it after rushing home to his family from a gig. When the shutdown came and everyone was in quarantine, Matty was left to build the structure for the studio himself. Brandon Bell, who I’ve worked on everything I’ve ever released with, moved his base of operation to Matty’s new spot when Southern Ground Studios abruptly came to a close. Brandon literally finished wiring the studio the night before the session. There was so much release getting to make music in there that day. It meant so much to record that song and witness Matty’s vision in action, and knowing Brandon had found an amazing place to continue to make great music out of. I think you can hear all of that in the song. The emotions were very real. Everything felt warm and right for the first time in a long time.
AnaLee: “Now I Don’t Know” is a brand new song you wrote with Adam Wright. I really love the way the bass powers this track and those three-part harmonies are spot on! Tell us about writing and recording this track and about all of that bourbon (scotch? cream soda?) you wasted in the visualizer video for it!
Adam: I’m glad you dig it! I wrote this tune with Adam Wright in 2019. We’ve been writing together for a bit, it's so great to finally have a creation with him out in the world. I remember the day we wrote it we sat for a couple hours just talking aimlessly like we do. Adam began playing a part on the guitar that would become the underlying riff of the song, and sang “Open up the window, listen to the train.” We went back and forth line by line and the song was there in less than half an hour. Ethan Ballinger who produced “Some Things Won’t Last” was finally back in Nashville and I was ready to record something new. With Ethan, Brandon and Matty we laid down the framework for the song and got Adam Wright to come in with his genius and play piano and sing harmonies. I love singing old bluegrass songs with my buddy and fellow Kentuckian Miles Miller. “Now I Don’t Know” at its core is just like those tunes. His voice adds so much to the mix. I wanted the chug of the bass line to feel like a lonesome heartbeat. We layered guitars with my upright bass running through a bassman amp and I played a Fender Bass VI through this old tape player machine Brandon rigged with a gnarly growl to get that sound. As for the booze spillage in the video. I could never bring myself to waste good whiskey, but I also couldn’t bring myself to buy bad whiskey either, so we used apple juice.
AnaLee: It seems like you’d been planning your debut full length release for at least the better part of 2019, it finally came out in February just before everything stopped. I’m continually impressed with artists like you who have found new avenues for getting their music heard. Livestream shows and video seems to be even more important these days as a way to connect with people in addition to just releasing new music when you have it, rather than waiting for the traditional album cycle, tour, record another album, etc. Do you have more new music coming and at this point, do you have any idea what next year looks like for you?
Adam: This year might have not taken shape as hoped for in the year leading up to it for me, however, I’m fortunate to say I’m still writing and creating and planning to release more music soon. Playing small socially distanced in person and live stream shows have for sure been a blessing to keep the creativity going and to feel like your spreading hope. I plan to try and spread as much hope as I can in 2021 however next year might end up looking.
Adam Chaffins, featuring Brit Taylor “Further Away” (Acoustic)
Adam Chaffins – “Now I Don’t Know”
Ana Lee is on middays at WMOT, and is also the host of The Local Brew Hour, which airs Sundays at 7am and Mondays at 7pm on 89.5 WMOT and wmot.org.