Adam Farnsworth is a blues piano man who plays with authenticity, soul, and passion. A true talent and entertainer who refreshingly shows no signs of grandiosity or of an over inflated ego. He is spirited and vibrant during his live performances in which he engages the audience with his musical expression and his skills as a captivating raconteur.
An active member of the musical ensemble that is Vancouver’s High Society that includes the wonderful Chelsea Johnson, Kenan Sungar, and Cory Sweet. Adam is also a noteworthy and distinctive solo artist, songwriter, pianist, guitarist, and singer. He is bold in his expression but he also light and humorous.
His relationship with music is an intrinsic one, playing piano since he was eight, singing with Vancouver Bach Choir at The Orpheum at 10 and receiving a piano from Sarah McLachlan after she saw him perform during a high school event.
We recently sat down on Commercial Drive to discuss his favourite composers, musical direction, career highlights, mix tapes, and the tragic comedy called Donald Trump.
CG: Where did your love for music come from? And how did that influence your style as a musician?
AF: I was lucky enough to have the predominant challenge of trying to rebel against my parents when I liked the music they listened to. As a result I got a lot of different eras like 40s, 50s, 60s, 80s…
CG: You missed the 70s… Hahahaha! Not a fan of 70s music?
AF: I just recently got into the 70s… Hahahaha! But I think the defining moment for me musically when I was younger was when I learned how to play something on the piano that wasn’t written down. I loved aggressively creating thunder and lightning noises too. That was the thing that kick started my love for music.
CG: Who are some of your favourite composers, musicians and bands from the past and present?
AF: Oh man that’s a good question. Thelonious Monk is #1, just pure piano instrumental style. All bebop jazz like Charles Mingus and the Harlem Renaissance in general. The cusp between honky tonk, salon stride piano and jazz where they are incorporating syncopation. That’s a big deal to me. And then some really dirty, nasty and filthy punk rock.
CG: How do you feel your music has progressed over the years and what direction do you see yourself heading in next?
CG: In a downward spiral…
AF: Over the years my music is definitely become more political. I used to veil a lot of commentary in narrative form so there would be a song about a guy killing the head of a lumber camp to help people and yadda yadda. Now instead of narrative form it’s a lot more direct. It’s like the song F.U.C.K.T.H.E.R.C.M.P. — it’s pretty straight forward so it’s become a bit more like that. That’s how it’s changed, but now what I’m going towards… like that wonderful sound (bus dropping people off behind us) that just happened in the back there
AF: Of the bus going cuuussshhh… and you can spell cusshh however you like…
AF: Sampling machinery, animals and ambient sounds and using that to do narrative as well as the political stuff…
CG: What has been the highlight of your career so far? One of the highlights, I’m sure you’ve had a few…
AF: The main highlight, and I’m now going to sound just like a Hollywood actor, has been the fact that I’ve had the opportunity to work and meet so many great people. Maybe it sounds a bit cheesy and community theatre but it’s definitely true. That’s been the main highlight is getting to make friends with people that I didn’t know existed and getting turned on in new ways of thinking. Also how encouraging, in British Columbia at least, though I loathe calling it that, the unceded land that is British Columbia. But there is a lot of good people here.
CG: Is there a particular song or musical passage that never fails to move you emotionally?
AF: The one that I feel emotional immediately that hits the right tearjerker spot is Killing Me Softly. I keep hearing it.
CG: The original?
AF: Yes the original. It’s a bit long and there is an extra chorus or something that doesn’t need to be there but it just gets me every time. I don’t know why. There are tons of music that makes me feel nostalgic for sure. Music has the ability to capture a year of your life.
CG: I’m like that with my mixed tapes. I still have all of them. I just can’t part with them. It’s almost as good as a diary to me. I remember what was going on in my life when I made that tape and the songs that I was listening to. I just got my stereo back with a tape player so I’m going to start playing my old tapes again.
AF: That’s great. I think you totally nailed what is exactly is the main great feature of tapes. You don’t have to have a computer, it’s easy to learn and it almost seems archaic but like you said you can personalize it like a stitched blanket.
CG: You put your heart into it. When I did it I wanted to make a good mix, have a nice flow, so it would be, “Does this song go with this song? I’m going to put this song after this song…” It became fun. I think I make a really good mix tape…
AF: I believe you.
CG: What is your most valued material possession? Like if there was a fire in your home and you had to throw something out of the window what would it be?
AF: I’m notorious for destroying, losing, warping and breaking things. As a result I have had to come to terms with it and not be invested. But I would say right now it would have to probably be the little classical guitar I got in France that was made in Spain. It’s just a cheap little guitar but that’s got some nostalgia to it.
CG: How long have you had that for?
AF: At least four years or more…
CG: Did you get it in France?
CG: Cool. So you brought it back.
AF: I’ve written tons of shit on it.
CG: Nice. How would you describe your perfect day?
AF: I wake up and the dogs are behaving, breakfast is made, coffee is on… already percolated, there is music playing.
CG: What season is it? What is your favourite season?
AF: I like it all. My birthday is in December, so I’m used to rejoicing that I’ve made it another year in the winter so that’s fun. The summer is good, I’ve been feeling concerned because of the spring and all the records that are being set. It’s like a nuclear spring and last year it was the same thing and there are already records this year.
CG: With Fort McMurray and all the fires… Yikes.
AF: It’s awful. It’s terrible. It’s just like all those old books would say it would happen.
CG: Armageddon! And with everything going on with Trump! What is going to happen?
AF: That is such a beautiful metaphor for what has come of the American Dream. It epitomizes it. To see a politician who is corrupt and almost honest in their corruption. It’s like when Rob Ford, who is now not with us, when he was honest about it… I talked to some people and they kind of admired the fact that he was honest which I think is interesting. I think it’s interesting to keep your mind open even if you don’t agree with somebody or like them.
CG: I think that Rob Ford and Donald Trump came from wealthy families and they have never had to “work” a day in their lives… It scares me when people make laws or pass laws based on their life experiences which is not your regular every day person… it’s from a life of privilege.
AF: For sure. The whole Trump thing is a direct reflection of America. This is what is allowed to happen? It epitomizes the death of the American Dream in complete satire. To see something like that is unreal, distracting and is dubious at best.
CG: If somebody told me couple years ago that Donald Trump would be the head of the Republican party AND potentially be the President of the United States I would of thought you were telling a sick joke.
AF: I think Donald Trump is in partnership with a lot of powers that be. A man like Trump… it’s almost perfect. He’s playing the Trump card. It’s so literal, satirical and obvious. It’s a clown, it’s a fool, it seems to be a type of distraction for the public away from other issues. And then there are people that actually like him and believe in him which is even stranger!
CG: So strange… It’s terrifying… Scary times.
AF: It’s hard not to talk about.
Main Photo: Julia Bassal