Memory is a most confusing thing. When the good folk at Keeled Scales sent me Adam Ostrar’s new single, Take It Back, it instantly rang a bell, yet I couldn’t place it all. It was only when I set to “Googling” it, that I realised it rang a bell because I’d actually already written about it back in 2019, and despite forgetting the name entirely, the beautiful rhythmic guitar-pulse and tumbling, lyrical vocal style, sent my brain into over-drive. You might now be wondering why Adam is releasing a song he already released over two years ago, well the reason is that his fabulous, and long sold-out, album, The Worried Coat, is getting a thoroughly well-deserved re-release.
The album’s title, The Worried Coat, couldn’t be much more fitting, as throughout Adam is confronting his worries. He’s a parent worried about the world his kids are going to inherit, he’s an American worried about the division and damage he sees in the country he lives in, and he’s a musician putting all those concerns directly to tape. The record opens with Kansas City, the downbeat calm of the vocal reminiscent of Kevin Morby, as the steady rhythmic pulse of bass is adorned with layered flourishes of electric guitar. Elsewhere on the delightfully eclectic album, Adam treats us to the Michael Nau-like Bossa Nova shuffle of Bloody Waves and the down-tuned psych-folk of the atmospheric Morning Said, his sound always evolving without ever forgetting its roots in his stunning guitar-work and rich lyrical portraits. At its heart The Worried Coat is a record that’s wholly human, there are no black-and-white characters, nobody entirely good or entirely broken, just a host of characters trying their best, or at the very least trying to try their best. Adam Ostrar’s characters are anxious and sometimes ignorant, caught up in a game they can’t win, and in their flaws and their triumphs, you see yourself reflected back. We’re all a character in an Adam Ostrar song, whether we care to admit it or not.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Adam Ostrar?
Adam is my first name and Ostrar is my maternal grandmother’s maiden name. She was a prodigious classical pianist and teacher. Before I began making solo records I played in Chicago based bands such as SONOI and Manishevitz. Sonoi was short lived but we put out a couple good records! Manishevitz had a much longer tenure on Jagjaguwar. I’m really proud of that output. Musically I’ve been a bit of a shape shifter throughout my career. I have a certain style that threads through each release which is unique to me, but I don’t feel beholden to keep the songs within a specific genre. My catalog is stylistically widely varied and that’s how I keep myself immersed in the process. I’m sure I’ve confused my fans over the years, but I hate the thought of repeating myself.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
It was in Sante Fe, NM and I was a freshman at the College of Sante Fe which was a tiny film school that no longer exists. I was playing bass in a noise rock trio with two guys who lived in my dorm. They were great. I was horrible. I remember thinking I have no idea how to play this thing. I’m sure I embarrassed us. I think I should have paused at that point to learn some basics, but I kept playing shows with them. These days I’m a fairly accomplished guitar player (I have 12 guitar students that I teach!) but I love picking up instruments I have no idea how to play and writing songs on them. Lately it’s been the mandolin. I’ve been recording with it at my apartment. If my downstairs neighbors are reading this I’d like to tell them I’m sorry.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I make music because I’m passionate about listening to music. By physically playing music I’m communicating with the records that inspire me. I wouldn’t know what to do with the energy and inspiration I get from listening to records if I didn’t put it into my own material. Music is the only art form that I have to participate in to feel whole with it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Adam Ostrar live show?
A handful of clams, some awkward stage banter and a small plea to buy some merch. But no performance will ever feel manufactured. I can be flexible with the set because I mostly play solo, and if I don’t I play solo I play with other musicians that are comfortable with elasticity. Each room has its own energy, so some nights I improvise a lot to vibe with the setting. I try to mix in some ambient pieces to break up the songs. I can tell when it’s working with the audience and when it’s not and I adjust to that.
FTR: What’s next for Adam Ostrar?
Keeled Scales is reissuing my 2019 record “The Worried Coat” on October 1st. The original pressing sold out fast from all the touring. Then the former label folded and that was it for a while. It flamed out before it had a chance to be heard by a wider audience. I’ve also got a new record that’s almost wrapped up. It’s a collection of songs I began writing pre-pandemic but have continued to add to over the last couple years. I recorded all of my parts at home which was a first for me. It’s somewhat lo-fi and more esoteric then other recent things I’ve done but I think the songs benefited from that process. Touring remains somewhat elusive for the time being but I have no doubt I’ll be back at it as soon.
They Listen To…
Jeff Parker – After The Rain
Chico Buarque – Construção
Dwight Twilley – Looking For The Magic
Bevel – Prince Of Orange
Cate Le Bon – Sad Nudes