Fingerstyle guitarist Adam Steffeck discusses his new album Aviator, his earliest musical influences and how a family legacy in science plays a role in his future plans in this Something Else! Sitdown with Preston Frazier …
PRESTON FRAZIER: Aviator isn’t your first recorded musical endeavor. In 2016, you released the EP Origin. What was the inspiration for that initial project?
ADAM STEFFECK: Origin came about very organically. I started writing that album maybe six months after I had started playing finger-style guitar. Those songs were my first baby steps in finger-style guitar, as well as a gap-year experimental project. The entire EP was recorded in my parents’ living room, with a very basic home studio set-up.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Explain how Aviator differs from Origin.
ADAM STEFFECK: Aviator is much more refined, more finesse, more emotional, and honestly, I think it’s just a better quality album – both from a songwriter, as well as a listener point of view. These songs have more stories behind them, and it was all about telling them correctly. I want to say I was able to tell these stories with Aviator to the best of my musical abilities at the moment.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Aviator features work with fellow guitarist Don Ross. How did you connect with Don?
ADAM STEFFECK: Don was taking some time off from his busy tour schedule, and resumed teaching private guitar lessons. I want to say it was my dad who noticed this on his Facebook page, and I e-mailed him inquiring if he had any room for one more student – and he did! We connected and started doing lessons over Skype. The main reason I went to him for the album was mostly the fact that the version of the album I had done myself wasn’t good enough. For my first album, it had to sound good, had to be as close to perfect as possible – so I flew to Canada and recorded the album with him.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Did the writing process differ for the new album?
ADAM STEFFECK: Whenever I write, I always start with a riff, or melody, and just expand from that idea. That’s how I’ve always done it. I feel as though it keeps the song natural sounding, not too fussy. In that respect, it was the same writing process as Origin. I think the signature track, if there were one, is “Take A Right, Then Straight Ahead.” That’s the track where I really evolved as a player and as a songwriter. It is a complete different route from anything on Origin. Another favorite has to be “Like Clockwork.” Who doesn’t like fast arpeggios and a rocking sub-text? “How Gently We Row,” I adore. The passages and the feeling I can convey through that song really resonates with me. And “The Wanderer: Dawn” is just fun as hell.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What guitars did you use?
ADAM STEFFECK: I used my Revival RG27 for all but one of the songs on Aviator, as well as Origin. Between the two albums, the one song that isn’t on the Revival is “Like Clockwork.” Don lent me one of his crazy carbon fiber, single cut-away, super fanned fret guitars. I can’t remember the name of the brand, but it was nerve racking to play such a rocking song on, especially since it belonged to the Don Ross.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us more about yourself.
ADAM STEFFECK: I was born, raised, and still live in Chicago – the best city in the world, in my opinion. I went to Lincoln Park High School and graduated in three years, which has then allowed me to take two gap years before university, and that is about where I’m at right now.
PRESTON FRAZIER: I understand your family is very creative. How did your parents influence you?
ADAM STEFFECK: My parents always supported both my musical ambitions as well as my sister’s. My mum played clarinet in high school, and my dad played a bit of guitar growing up. Mum doesn’t play an instrument right now, and my dad mostly plays bass, with a bit of mandolin and guitar thrown in there. Both of my parents were research chemists in pharmaceutical studies, which requires a lot of creativity from a scientific problem-solving point of view. That’s where the creativity comes from. And of course, once my parents pushed my sister and I to try new things and figure out the things we like, they always supported it in that it is adding to our quality of life as well as our educations. They had a pretty big part in my musical upbringing, for sure.
PRESTON FRAZIER: When did you start playing music?
ADAM STEFFECK: I think I started playing music when I was 6, which is something like second or first grade. I started out playing the piano for four years, stopped music altogether and then picked up the guitar when I was 12 or 13. Wow, I’ve been playing guitar for seven years now! That makes me feel old. I remember coming home from getting my first guitar, a 3/4-size acoustic, and sitting on the couch, refusing to put it down. That’s the moment I fell in love with the instrument. I’ve taken private lessons from a multitude of guitar teachers, the most influential being James Weigel and Don Ross. I’ve learned the most as a guitarist from James, and he exposed me to a lot of music I generally would never listen to. Don, of course, is a master finger-style player himself, and he is helping me master the instrument. I’ve considered going to university for a music-based education but, in the end, decided against it. I auditioned for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee as well as the Berklee College of Music, both with finger-style guitar pieces that I wrote – and, fortunately, I got into both. Ultimately, it was important for me to continue pursuing science and math subjects, as well as music. I say that I was born to be a chemist, but I want to be a musician. Thus, I’ll be attending DePaul University for environmental science, whilst pushing my musical career along.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Who are your musical influences?
ADAM STEFFECK: I have to say Don Ross, Mike Dawes, Jon Gomm, Tosin Abasi, Jason Richardson, Whitechapel, Slice the Cake, Lamb of God, Gojira, the Black Dahlia Murder. I really want to go on, but I’ll refrain.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What’s next in Adam Steffeck’s musical journey?
ADAM STEFFECK: Personally, I believe that if you aren’t improving yourself, your family, or your world, you’re doing something wrong. You know that moment when you play an instrument, then you see a master playing that instrument, and all the sudden you just feel like quitting because they were so mind-blowing? The first time I had experienced that was at a Don Ross concert, and I have been to many metal concerts with virtuosos, but Don was the one where I was driving home and I just wanted to put my guitar down and try to forget about my guitar incompetence. I want to make someone feel that way – but I mean in a good way, of course!
PRESTON FRAZIER: Adam, what are your top five favorite albums?
ADAM STEFFECK: I can listen to these albums all day – Lamb of God, Ashes of the Wake; Whitechapel, This is Exile; Slice the Cake, The Man With No Face; The Black Dahlia Murder, Nocturnal; and All That Remains, The Fall of Ideals. Just for yucks, I’m also really into Make Them Suffer’s Old Souls right now.
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