A City’s Stories, Unplugged
An off-the-cuff New Year’s resolution by one man to be ‘more creative’ has since morphed into an international contest seeking ‘something beautiful’ from its musically inclined participants.
Published: July 9, 2013
From Start to Finnish
That Adams should have conceived and committed to the Acoustic Guitar Project, essentially forsaking his job as an advertising copywriter in New York, where he now resides, becomes even more remarkable when you consider that he doesn’t consider himself a guitarist or, for that matter, a musician of any kind.
“No, definitely not a musician,” Adams says, laughing. “I’ve picked up guitars and can play a few chords, but there was no impetus for me to promote my own music through this or anything like that. I’ve never written a song. I have no intention of involving myself musically with this project in any way.”
So, let’s ask the question: Whatever inspired this idea to leap into his mind? Flash back to 2011, an intimate New Year’s Eve party in New York: “The host passed out little books where we were to write our intentions for the New Year,” Adams recalls. “Well, I’d had a couple of drinks, I felt pretty good, and I wrote, ‘I’m going to be an artist this year.’ I really didn’t know what that meant or how it was going to happen. I just wanted to focus on being creative. Not thinking about making money necessarily, just driving it from a creative standpoint and exploring my artistic side.”
He could have explored painting or documentaries or modern dance. But it’s possible Adams opted toward music, and the guitar, for two reasons: One, as he notes, it’s extremely portable and easy to pass from one player to the next; and he may have been subconsciously influenced by his eight-year bromance with Brooklyn singer-producer Brandon Wilde, a man Adams describes as “one of my closest friends, and one of the best voices I’ve ever heard live … the musician other musicians respect.”
Fact is that Wilde might have inspired the whole concept. “We’ve been doing that kind of thing for so long,” Wilde says. “I’ve been coming over to his apartment, picking up his guitar and just playing with him, making up songs on the spot.”
Adams may not know how to play, but he knows how to promote, from years spent working at Madison Avenue heavyweights like J. Walter Thompson and Campbell-Ewald. “You realize, ‘Hey, wait, I know what I’m doing when it comes to big ideas,’” he says. After building the look, slogan and marketing of his notion, and when time came to launch TAGP, Adams handed the guitar to his old bud Brandon.
“I was flattered, but [there was] also probably a little fear — ‘Oh, God, I’ve got to come up with a song in a week? How am I going to do this?’” Wilde recalls. “I was the first, so I didn’t have the advantage of getting to hear other people’s ideas and stuff. But I was inspired, and I was able to conjure a song. Something came to me relatively quick, but then I had to do some crafting.”
The result was an airy, melancholy ballad called “Deep Blue Secret,” the project’s premiere composition. “I think I write a lot of these kind of lonely love songs,” says Wilde, who plays in two New York bands (one called the All Night Chemists), produced the latest CD for rising Irish songwriter Niall Connolly and has enjoyed moderate success in his own recording career. “I just get into a space, and I guess I’m a romantic at heart.”
Wilde says the song (which, like all original tunes composed for the project, can be heard on TAGP’s website) was inspired by his on-again, off-again girlfriend of many years, Briana Winter — who became the second person to receive the guitar. “At that point I was definitely writing a lot of stuff to her, to one degree or another,” he admits. “She’s a phenomenal songwriter, but she had taken a little hiatus.”
The New York guitar is currently in the hands of its 34th composer. Adams’ plan was for that guitar to travel around the world indefinitely, providing motivation and acquiring autographs, but you know how New Yorkers are. “When I realized it was staying in New York I started a second guitar and decided, ‘OK, the New York guitar, I’ll let it go indefinitely. That one has its own rules and that’s what it’s doing,’” he concedes. “But for the other guitars, I want a beginning, a middle and an end; because that’s life. That’s what happens. I think something loses its value when it goes on forever. For New York, it’s different. That’s kind of a piece of art now. That’s something I want to have like 100 signatures on.”
“He’s a deep appreciator of music, and of people in general,” Wilde says of his friend. “Dave is so incredibly articulate, he’s able to take ideas or thoughts or whatever and explain them to people in a way that is just amazing. He’s got a gift. You want to be around Dave, because he’s got so much energy coming off him. I get scared sometimes he could hurt himself with all that energy. He’s a special cat.”
It’s a restless energy that compelled Adams to sell his house in Ferndale at just the right moment economically and use his profits to travel around the world three times in his 30s. By his estimate, he’s set his sandals down in more than 40 countries over the past decade and lived for a year in Australia. So naturally, when he realized he could fahgheddabout the NYC guitar ever leaving the Big Apple, yet wanted to go international with his project, the nation he chose was … Finland!?
“I was going to Europe on vacation, and I’d already purchased the second guitar,” he explains. He stopped in Finland to visit his friend Nicole Hejlt, who performed in the same improv comedy troupe with Adams when she lived in New York in 2011 and was working as a morning radio announcer on station Yle in Helsinki, Finland’s equivalent to the BBC. “He started the Project while I was still in New York,” Hejlt says via FaceTime. “I told him, ‘If you’re at all interested in doing something in Finland, I could do a story on the Project and help you out.’” What ad guy can resist exposure like that?
TAGP’s first international participant was 22-year-old Axel Ehnström (better known in Finland by his stage name, Paradise Oskar), who made it to the finals of Eurovision, Europe’s long-running forerunner of American Idol, in 2011.
> Email Jim McFarlin