Interview with Adam Yarger
March 7, 2018
TC: Hey Adam, here we are in Nashville, Tennessee at the Bongo Java. Tell us about your humble beginnings. Like way back. Where are you from?
AY: I’m from Central Pennsylvania.
TC: Throw us a town. Where in Central Pennsylvania?
AY: Centre Hall, right smack dab in the middle. I moved to Nashville in 2014. Growing up I was really into sports. I wrestled from Kindergarten until my senior year in high school. I sort of got into the music thing in 7th grade in 2007. I made a bet with my Dad. I said, “If I win States in wrestling this year, you have to buy me a guitar.” He took my bet, and I ended up winning. So, he got me the guitar and I started playing, then writing after that, and I started messing around with singing and here we are.
TC: So, tell me this, when you first got a guitar, what was the first song you learned?
AY: Oh wow… like a REAL song?
TC: In its entirety, let’s say.
AY: A real, real song? Or like a lullaby or something?
AY: I remember doing “Yankee Doodle”, I think it was (laughing), and then I learned, I think it was, Nickelback (leans back and looks around to see if anyone heard that).
TC: Hey, that’s okay! You want to know what, I actually LIKE Nickelback. I know the whole world hates them, but I also like Tony Orlando & Dawn, so I can admit I like everything.
AY: Liking everything is the way to be.
TC: So, we’re on the same wavelength. Cool.
AY: Then I just started messing around with country. I started to really attach myself to country because it was sort of how we were raised up in my town. A bunch of us, a couple of my friends, lived on a farm, we would go over and hang out and I could just relate to it on a personal level, the lifestyle. I just seemed to attach to it, and once I started singing…
TC: Were you nervous to sing at first?
AY: Oh yeah. Yeah, it was not good.
TC: Did people tell you it wasn’t good, or did you think it wasn’t good?
AY: People nicely hinted to keep working on it. There were some pretty blunt like people, like, “Yeah, no.”
TC: But you got better!
AY: Yeah, yeah. It’s a muscle so if you exercise your muscle it gets stronger and you get better. I’ve developed my own sound and my own voice now and I think it’s really working out now because I feel like I’ve come into my own, so everything feels natural now instead of trying to sound like somebody else or something like that.
TC: That’s great. Believe it or not, when I do these interviews I do my homework, and I did stalk, I mean, RESEARCH you beforehand, and I watched one of your previous interviews from 2017. I saw that three of your favorite artists are Eric Church, Chris Young and George Strait.
AY: Yes, and they’re always changing, but yes.
TC: And you’re also a fan of Chris Stapleton, but that you also love classic rock.
TC: I am a classic rock person. I always say I would go head to head with anybody on most classic rock ticket stubs from 3,000 years ago until today. One of my fun questions that I was going to save for the end, I’m going to jump ahead on because we’re kind of in the zone right now, so let’s go.
AY: Yeah, let’s do it.
TC: If you could, right now, because we’re living in our fantasy land right here in the Bongo Java, if you could right now, pick any living, because digging up dead people is really against the law and it’s probably not cool, but a living, breathing, still playing classic rock person. If you could collaborate and do a country song with a classic rock person, who would you pick and why?
AY: Ooh! Wow! Probably Bob Seger.
TC: That would be so sweet, would it not?
AY: That would be sick.
TC: I dig Bob Seger. You want to know what. I actually stood in line outside, in the cold, all night long with a friend of mine for Bob Seger tickets, in the nosebleeds, which is what we ended up with, but it was still one of the best shows ever.
AY: Oh man!
TC: In like 1980, it was such a great show.
AY: I bet it was. There’s something to his live shows. I feel there’s more going on. Like he really pulls the saxophone into other songs. It’s fantastic.
TC: Yes, and the piano. Okay, so I’m waiting for that. When that comes out, I want a signed vinyl. Can that happen?
AY: Yes, absolutely!
TC: Going back now, you’re still an indie guy. Do you like that? Would you someday like to be signed to a major label?
AY: Oh yeah!
TC: Do you like the indie thing for right now?
AY: I don’t know, the way I sort of see it, I’m ready to take it to the next step and keep growing.
TC: You know, some people now, they like being independent artists. They don’t want anybody telling them how it is and what to do, and then again, some people are like, “Sign me up!”
AY: The way I see it, if you’re being true to yourself, everything else will fall into place the way it should and if your stuff’s good, it’s good.
TC: I can tell you, we just interviewed Ashley McBryde…
AY: I love her! I want to co-write with her so bad!
TC: Well, Ashley are you listening? Ashley McBryde, unlike so many people who are signed to major labels, hasn’t changed her style or her way of being, and that’s rare. A lot of times, they mold you, shape you, bend you and I don’t think Ashley McBryde’s changed a darned thing about herself and she’s on a major label.
AY: That’s sort of what I’m goin’ for. That’s the goal in the end, just being the best I can be, to me I think that’s being signed to a major label and keep on doing my thing. I don’t really think about that stuff. I haven’t been on that mental level in the longest time. We’ve been so busy!
TC: Well, you were in the studio today, right?
AY: No, it got pushed to tomorrow morning and tomorrow’s going to be the craziest day because we have acoustic tracking for the five new songs we’re going to do tomorrow morning. Then tomorrow at two, the full band is coming in and we’re going to lay ‘em down, and I think Friday we’re doing the vocals.
TC: So, you’re going to be really busy!
AY: I’m going to be exhausted!
TC: You’re going to be on the crazy train for a couple of days in a row then.
TC: So, tell us about this new music. Has your sound, has it changed from where you were last time around, have you grown at all?
AY: Oh yeah. The writing has grown a lot stronger. Just the way I’m singing certain lines, it just seems very natural to me. It’s definitely matured. You know, you grow. I think I’ve definitely come into my own sound. You can sort of hear my influences coming out in my songs. I just wrote a song the other day called “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me”, and it’s probably one of the best songs I’ve ever written, but you can hear the influences that I’ve listened to growing up. It’s cool to hear where everything’s at, but I have it very tightly together so it’s sort of on the same theme.
TC: Are all the songs on this next record your songs? Have you co-written any of them?
AY: It’s sort of a good mix. A handful I wrote by myself and a handful are co-writes. I don’t think I would ever want to do somebody else’s song unless I could really, really relate to it, that would be the only thing. I’m always trying to get better at my writing because there’s always room to improve, so I always try to get in as a co-writer. I can tell the difference from when I wasn’t doing co-writes up until now, I’ve gotten a lot stronger in my writing.
TC: In co-writes you’ve done so far, who do you feel like is your “go to” mentor?
AY: I’ve written with Bill DiLuigi and I’m learning more about what he’s done, and he’s definitely a great writer and you can tell he’s been doing it for a really long time and he’s great at it. He would be my mentor because when we get into these co-writes I always struggle with like, what’s the first thing we’re going to say, or what are we going to talk about or how are we going to introduce this topic to the song and he is so quick to just think of a line and it sticks. Once you start off with that line, it’s like, “I can’t believe you just thought of that!” It’s just this simplicity writing that’s so, I don’t know, it’s just so solid, through and through.
TC: Everybody just seems to have that one person, or few people that they consider their “person” or “people”.
TC: New record. What’s the timetable do you think?
AY: When’s it going to come out? I have NO IDEA.
TC: I like that answer because it’s SO common.
AY: I don’t really know. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately too. What we’re doing right now is we’re trying to get this six-song project together and it’s supposedly going to be done by March 31st because we want it to be done by this first quarter. We do want to pitch it to some labels to see if anybody would want to work with me, and see if we can do some deal with some label, but I don’t know. I don’t know what would happen because I don’t know if we do get a label, are they going to want to put this out right away, are they going to want to sit on it, are they going to want to try to build me as an artist more? It’s sort of unknown, but the music itself should be done March 31st, so we will have the tracks ready. After that, I don’t know what we’re going to do.
TC: Obviously you’re going to want to get out there and have people hear the music.
AY: Oh, absolutely, but as for a release date, we don’t have that.
TC: Getting on the road. What about that?
AY: I’ve been on the road for the past two years now, since 2016, it’s crazy.
TC: Where are you going to go to play this new stuff so people can hear you?
AY: Well, I’ve been sort of all over the country already and I just want to try and branch out to some more places that I’ve had my mind set on. I think, sort of like, out west they seem to like the style and the sound that I’m coming out with, because to me, it sort of sounds like a Texas influence. They’re like hardcore country fans and I love it.
TC: Have you been to Texas?
AY: I’ve driven through.
TC: Because Texas is, from what I understand, Texas is hardcore, like they’re a tough audience. If you can break through an audience in Texas, you can do anything.
AY: I think we can do it. Texas, I think they’ll like the sound we’re working with because it’s got that rootsy kind of Texas, red dirt feel, and some of the topics that we’re talking about and singing about are very relatable.
TC: If you can get them to get on the dance floor and move, you’ve done it, you can handle anything. So, you will be on the road singing these new songs?
AY: Yeah, I’m up in the Northeast region a lot lately. April is going to be extremely busy. I play a couple places here the first week of April. The second week of April I’m in Chicago, just north of Chicago in Highwood, Illinois, then the week after that I go out to Cedar Rapids in Iowa for two nights, then all the way back to Delaware, I think.
TC: Zig zagging a little.
AY: All over the place. I’ve been to these places before and it seems each time I go back the crowds keep getting a little bit bigger, and that was the whole goal two years ago, let’s go out, let’s play, let’s get people on board and we’ll just keep going back to there until the masses start to build and then, it’s sort of cool, because you can slowly see more and more people start to show up. It’s sort of a good feeling.
TC: That’s a really good thing. So, we’ve got the new music covered, the touring, let’s throw this one at you. Suddenly, you’re the King of Nashville. You get to improve Broadway. Money’s no object and you get to do one thing to fix it a little. What do you do?
AY: Put more restaurants in because there are a lot of bars and I’m a big foodie, I love to eat and this is the place to be. Nashville has the best food I’ve ever had in my life and I don’t know, there’s nights where… there’s a place here called Burger Up, there’s one in East Nashville and one in 12 South and it’s just (making an expression of complete bliss), and if you like a good burger, this is the place.
TC: So, Broadway needs a Burger Up?
AY: Yeah, I think so. Like Rock Bottom, that’s sort of like what I’m talking about, maybe not on as large of a scale because that’s a pretty big chunk of landscape, but it would be cool, how they’re doing the houses real narrow, if they put in some kind of quick restaurant or something like that. Like, you could have the music scene in it, but it would be more relaxed within the craziness. Like, for example, I played at AJ’s (Alan Jackson’s bar) the other night, and they’re sort of on the right track with it, because these people came up to the second floor, and the second floor is acoustic. I think what a lot of people are getting mixed up with is, is downstairs there’s a full band playing but on the second level there’s an acoustic guy. Well, I had these people, and they were like, “We just want acoustic, we don’t want a full band.” I feel like that trend is becoming very big, like at The Listening Room, that’s acoustic for the most part and they’re always like that. I think people like that, that intimate kind of show.
TC: Right. Not everyone wants the full band, blow your ears out thing all the time.
AY: It would be cool to have something like that downtown, within the heart of everything, that way you could check that out for a little bit and get that feel and fix and then you don’t need to take a Lyft or something to come back down, you just walk next door or something like that.
TC: Put your thinking cap on, I have another one for you. You get to do an ad for your favorite music gear. Give me the product and your very own tag line for it.
AY: Oh man. I would probably pick my Martin Guitar. I think that would be sort of cool because they’re from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and it would be good to represent the home state, you know?
TC: It would, you’re right.
AY: I’ve got it. “Martin Guitars. Stay tuned.”
TC: That’s perfect!
AY: That’s slick, right?
TC: It is. I hope you get the sponsorship. (Laughing)
TC: Next thing, and this is something I’ve tried to do myself. Let’s say you have friends that aren’t into country music, but you need to sway them to try and listen to some. What tactic do you use?
AY: I would tell them that Nashville is hot for so many kinds of music, if you come here I will take you to the spot that’s hot for whatever genre you like and then you can come to the spot that I like to go to. Sort of like an even trade. There’s so many places here. There’s a place I’ve been meaning to go to, Bourbon Street Blues Bar in Printer’s Alley.
TC: Great place, I love it there.
AY: There’s a band in Colorado that I love to go see when I’m out there, it’s like 80’s and 90’s Funk, I guess you would call it. They play stuff like Luther Vandross and all kinds of stuff. I love it.
TC: Have you seen Sam McCrary and The Mix here in Nashville?
AY: I haven’t.
TC: They play at Acme a lot. You’ve got to go! They play all kinds of R&B, Funk, Disco, Pop… they are just amazing. Super talented, they have the whole place up and dancing. They’re great fun. Can’t recommend this band enough.
AY: Oh wow! I have to check them out.
TC: You will love them!
TC: I hate that I have to use a word like “tactic” to try and get someone to listen to a country song, but some people are so resistant to even listening to one song, but I’ve used different ways to try and do that.
AY: I think we’re getting to a point in country music where you can be a fan of any genre and sort of get away with saying you like country. I feel like there are so many “lanes” now that you can go and be successful on your own. Like, I feel like there’s a lane for stuff like Sam Hunt or Chris Lane. Then there’s a lane for Chris Stapleton and those guys. They have their own lane. It’s sort of cool.
TC: Country’s becoming cool. It’s cool to say you like country.
AY: Yeah, it’s like you’re in a club or something. It is cool.
TC: You’re right though, there are different lanes.
AY: That’s good though because if you’d asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that was stupid, but now I’m understanding more about music. It’s more about what you’re feeling and what people will be able to relate to.
TC: Country’s always been about storytelling and if you’ve got a story to tell and you want to put it to music, you can almost put it to whatever music you want and call it country and get away with it. There are people that are going to say, “That’s not country”, but people are getting away with it. Sam Hunt’s getting away with it, Florida Georgia Line’s getting away with it. People are still saying it’s not country, but they’re playing it on country radio, so guess what? It is. It really all depends on who you ask.
TC: Fans. Best way for fans to interact with you? Do you like to interact with fans?
AY: Yeah, I love interacting with fans. I feel like I don’t do it as much as I should, but I run my own socials, like Instagram and all that, so it is actually me. I interact on Instagram and my Facebook page.
TC: After shows do you enjoy meeting the fans and taking pictures and all of that?
AY: Oh yeah! I love hearing stories. I love to talk and hear where people are coming from. I played my hometown in 2016 and we had close to 5,000 people there and I stayed afterward to meet everybody that wanted to get a picture with me at the fan booth and it was just nice to see how much support you have for what you do.
TC: So, you enjoy that and after we do this interview and it gets published to the world, you’ll be happy to hear from people? You’ll be glad to have them drop you a line?
AY: Yeah, drop a line, say “What’s up?” I’m always happy to hear from people, happy to learn if they liked that video or not, happy to know what they want to hear. I feel like people don’t interact enough sometimes.
TC: You might hate us after this.
AY: (Laughing) No, no! Not at all.
TC: Another crazy fun question for you. Imagine you are now the biggest male country star in the universe. You’ve just surpassed Garth and Johnny Cash and Merle and everyone. You can open your own theme park, kind of like Dolly Parton’s “Dollywood”. Where will it be and what’s your theme?
AY: I feel like a Wild West theme, like a mock desert. I’ve always been drawn to that whole western thing. I find myself watching GRIT, I don’t have TV so I have an antenna and I stick it out my window and I get this channel called GRIT and they’re always playing these old black and white cowboy movies. When I was growing up, I always liked “Indiana Jones” because of the whole cowboy thing and that tells you a little bit more about me too.
TC: We have a little more detail now, that’s true. Okay, so we have this Adam Yarger Wild West theme park now, but where are we going to put it? Are you going to give back to the hometown and put it there?
AY: I don’t know. We have Hershey (Hershey Park), I don’t feel like it would be right to put it there.
TC: You might also want to put it somewhere where you could get four seasons out of it, without the snow, so you might want to go somewhere warmer.
AY: I feel like Southern California, not much rain there.
TC: Or Arizona, then you wouldn’t have to compete with Disney.
AY: Yeah, that’s true. I like Nevada, I think the desert thing would go good with the theme.
TC: What are you going to call it?
AY: I don’t know. Would “Ghost Town” be lame?
TC: You could call it the “Adam Yarger Ghost Town”.
AY: No, I think we could do better. I need to think on that.
(He’s working on the name. I’m sure he’ll have it by the time it ever opens.)
TC: Differences. Up north vs. Nashville?
AY: Centre Hall, Pennsylvania, it’s outside of State College, we have that little city feel, I mean, we’re not Philadelphia, we’re not Pittsburgh, but we’re not, “Oh, we blinked! We missed it!” either. We’re 40,000 kids in the fall, in summer it lightens up. The difference in the amount of people… the traffic, I’m not saying people in Nashville are bad drivers, but there’s a lot of bad DRIVING down here. I don’t really understand how that happens, but apparently it does.
TC: Any advice to people who are trying to make it in the music business and want to move to Nashville? From your experience, having done it, what’s your advice?
AY: Try to establish a really good friend group. I’m still working on getting together a friend group. I have a couple friends here, but I’m still trying to grow that. Maybe I’m just socially awkward, but I’m not big on going out much, I like to stay home and just play music, but just have a good friend group here and trust them.
TC: There’s a lot of shady characters here, but there are also a lot of good people too.
AY: I agree. You just have to find where you fit in and run with it.
TC: Finally, because we are Think Country, when YOU Think Country, what do you think?
AY: I think of pedal steel, fiddles and a very simple way of life.
Adam Yarger can be found: