Concert preview: Adam Torres
Ten years ago, Ohio University undergrad and former Southeast Engine guitarist Adam Torres releasedNostra Nova, a folk-rock epic that didn't do much commercially but grew in stature over the years as fans in the Athens area passed it along to their friends and gushed over its beauty and Neutral Milk Hotel-esque ambition.
Torres, meanwhile, seemed content to leave the album in the past. Other than a cassette release of home-recorded demos in 2012,Nostra Nova was his only recorded output. "Part of what made me lose my mind about the music industry 10 years ago is that I felt like there was such a need to fit into this picture of what it means to be a folk singer - a roots singer," Torres said recently by phone.
Then in 2015, Misra Records reissuedNostra Nova, exposing Torres' music to a wider audience for the first time. "It was surreal. I felt like it was an exercise in the process of publicizing music rather than making music," Torres said. "Those songs mean a lot to me still, even after 10 years … but it was unusual."
While Torres may have disappeared from the music industry in the time between releases, he was active in other ways, studying Spanish literature and linguistics and teaching at a university in Ecuador. On weekends, he volunteered for a nonprofit to help coordinate public health programs there.
His time in Ecuador inspired Torres to get a graduate degree in Latin American studies and public policy at the University of Texas in Austin ("I became interested in wealth as expressed by the quality of environmental conditions in people's lives," Torres said), which led to a job with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
But music never went away. Torres continued to write and record hundreds of songs to various stages of completion. In January, he and some friends spent eight days recording a batch of tunes on reel-to-reel tape with no computer screen in sight.
"I didn't want to overthink anything. I didn't want to toil and be painstaking about the decisions that were made. I wanted it to feel intuitive and even visceral at times," said Torres, who will perform the songs that eventually became new albumPearls to Swine alongside bandmates Thor Harris (percussion), Aisha Burns (violin) and Dailey Toliver (bass/piano) at Spacebar on Tuesday, Oct. 25. "Right when we finished, I had this feeling in my gut that these recordings were special and that something good was going to come out of it."
After several indie labels expressed interest in the record, Torres settled on Fat Possum to releasePearls to Swine, his first studio album in a decade. The record is a gorgeous, airy, imagistic rumination on the relationship between civilization and the natural world, inspired by Torres' time in the Southwest (he was also born in Albuquerque, New Mexico) and Edward Abbey's nonfiction bookDesert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness.
The most immediately striking aspect ofPearls to Swine is Torres' voice, a pristine falsetto that stands in sharp contrast to the brittle warble he employed on most ofNostra Nova.
"I've always been able to morph my voice into different things," he said. "With this record, I wanted it to be a character within the setting of the songs. A lot of the songs I was writing were geographic, and I wanted my voice to sound big and wide open, like it was hanging in the air. I think that's a big reason why I sing so high.
"And also I wanted it to be unconventional and not immediately recognizable. It's a conscious decision to sing in a way that's aesthetically pleasing or beautiful, but I also wanted to challenge that, too, and sing in a way that people might say, 'Why is this person singing so high?'"
On "Some Beast Will Find You by Name," a haunting track that plays like the background music of a particularly desperate scene from the first season of "True Detective," Torres wanted his voice to represent the sound of someone crying out.
"I was trying to convey regret and the feeling of being chased by one's demons," he said. "That song came from a lot of personal challenges I was having in my life with feeling kind of an identity crisis. It was the idea of trying to run away from my own problems in a way that was damaging or destructive, but ultimately was unsuccessful. I still have the same problems I was dealing with before."
Going from the life of an environmental researcher to touring musician has been a jarring transition for Torres, who also plays lap steel in Austin band Monk Parker. "It's been a radical upheaval. … The way you live your life on a daily basis is just so different from waking up and getting to work by 8 and having an hour lunch break and leaving by 5," he said. "But it's been really positive for me to be doing creative and personal work."
8 p.m. Tuesday,Oct. 25
2590 N. High St.,
ALSO PLAYING: Thor & Friends