Adam Hopkins is a composer and bassist living in the Ditmas Park area of Brooklyn by way of Baltimore, Maryland. As part of thriving music scenes in his hometown and his current city of residence, Adam tells an artistic tale of people coming together to create great music and community. Some of the groups he’s involved with, such as Signal Problems, have been around for years and thereby boast a unique group dynamic and musical language developed over time, which add intricacies to their exciting improvisations. Here, Reflection serves as the collective memory of the artist, while Response is a collective sharing and exploration of each participant’s story through sound. In our dialogue below, Adam delves specifically into two tracks, Pogo Stick and We Turn Around, and presents a video of the Adam Hopkins Quartet. He stays busy in New York and has various upcoming records with the several bands he participates in as leader and sideman. Peep the conversation below!
Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own…it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.
– Adam Hopkins
Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?
AH: I currently live in Brooklyn, NY–Ditmas Park specifically. I don’t think I’d normally mention the neighborhood as part of a response to this question, but I really love where I live! A lot of my closest musical collaborators live within 3 blocks of me, and also there are trees. Lots and lots of trees, which is a bit different for Brooklyn.
I was born and raised in Baltimore, MD. I left for college and grad school, but found myself back there in 2005. I consider that time in Baltimore until I moved to NY in 2011 to be the most formative years artistically of my life to this point. The music scene in Baltimore, specifically the creative and improvised music scene, is very small but at the same time full of talented and inspiring people. We started a bunch of bands, wrote new music for them, rehearsed a LOT (something that is much more rare in NY currently), made records, and played shows. It was the best, now that I think of it. In 2011 four of us decided to move to NY from Baltimore, and settled into a house in Bushwick with a great rehearsal space in the basement. That group of people, who basically moved up on the same day, was already a band called Signal Problems led by my former-roommate-but-still-friend Danny Gouker. We continue to rehearse all of the time, and still play regularly. In fact we just released our debut album on pfMentum records which can be checked out right here: http://www.pfmentum.com/PFMCD080.html. There are no subs in the group ever, which has helped maintain it as an actual band and not just a rotating group of potential people. So, you know…Baltimore sticks together wherever we are.
What does Reflection and Response mean to you?
AH: As an improviser, reflection and response are at the very center of what occurs any time I play music, be it solo or with a group.
Reflection to me is everything that has happened in my life, musically or not, that has gotten me to where I am in that very moment. At my absolute best I am able to look inwardly and draw on all of those experiences to present a statement or vision that is uniquely my own.
The response can be looked at from a number of angles, but primarily a response is what comes out of my instrument as a result of those experiences. Playing music is all about relationships and communicating with other people, so I am constantly reacting to their ideas and embracing their musical identity as well as my own. It’s what makes improvised music like nothing else…we all bring our experiences from vastly different places to a performance, and as a group we find a way to make it work.
How does your work specifically fit in with that definition?
AH: This first track isn’t one of my own compositions, but I think it is a great example of this concept. It’s from Signal Problems, written by Danny Gouker who plays trumpet, with Eric Trudel on saxophone, Nathan Ellman-Bell on drums, and I’m playing bass.
It is 30-seconds or so of written music and then we immediately launch into an improvisation. This band has been playing together for over five years, and we’ve developed our own sort of group language as a result. The entire improvised section is the band responding in the moment to everything going on around us. So again, it’s that concept of simultaneously reflecting on one’s own unique experiences and bringing them to a group environment, which creates something that is greater than each individual part combined.
This second track is a little bit older, but it’s one of my own compositions from 2011. It is a band that was started in Baltimore called Turn Around Norman, with Cam Collins on saxophone, JJ Wright on keyboards, Nathan Ellman-Bell (again) on drums, and myself on bass.
There was a time when this entire band lived in New York as well, but life choices spread us out a bit and we don’t get to play together nearly as often as we’d like. It is a good example of my compositional approach, so I figured why not include it!? There is improvising in the track, but I think it is mostly influenced by the grunge rock of my high school years and my earliest musical experiences playing in dive clubs and wearing funny hats. There’s maybe a little disco at the end as well, and I’m not sure where that came from. It seeped into my musical being somewhere along the line.
What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?
AH: A huge part of why I moved to NY was to get involved in more projects as a sideman (playing other people’s music), which I really love to do. Again, the scene in Baltimore was great but there wasn’t an opportunity to play in many different projects because of the size of the scene. Moving to NY for me was essential to pursue this part of my career. It has worked much better than I could have hoped for, and I’m really excited about all of the projects that I am a part of right now.
I’m in a group called Ideal Bread with Josh Sinton, Kirk Knuffke, and Tomas Fujiwara that is dedicated to playing the compositions of Steve Lacy. We have a new double-disc record coming out in May on Cuneiform Records called “Beating The Teens,” and a European tour right after. I just recently joined an awesome band led by my friend and great trumpet player Kenny Warren called Laila and Smitty. And a number of projects I’ve been a regular part of are Patrick Breiner‘s Double Double (who are releasing our debut record on April 1 at Korzo in Brooklyn), Danny Gouker‘s Signal Problems, and a newish band called How To Make a Mountain. That is a cool one because we make it a point to to get together every Monday morning at Jesse Stacken’s house in Ditmas Park to play. It’s really helped to develop the music, and I always look forward to when we actually perform because it is starting to feel almost effortless.
I still lead my own projects, too. I have a sextet called Haverchuck that I compose for with Josh Sinton, Nathaniel Morgan, Eric Trudel, Jonathan Goldberger, and Devin Gray. I also have a quartet that’s been performing regularly, but I haven’t named it yet. That group is Ed Rosenberg and Anna Webber on saxophones, and Jason Nazary on drums. Here’s a live video of that band…no records made for either group yet. I’m still trying to tweak and develop the music for both projects, but I’ll think about recording it once it gets to a good place. I’m not into rushing either one at all. When they get there, they get there!
I guess I should also mention Out of Your Head, which is an improvised music collective I co-founded in Baltimore in 2009. The collective is still going strong and I just went down to celebrate 5-years of weekly concerts by the collective at a venue called The Windup Space (my favorite venue in the whole world). I started a Brooklyn chapter of Out of Your Head which is on hiatus currently while I search for a new venue to host the series, but we’ll be back in action as soon as I figure that out. It’ll be Fall of 2014 at the very latest. More info about the Brooklyn chapter of OOYH is available at http://outofyourhead.org/brooklyn.
I’m really sorry. That was a lot of information about myself. I’m tired from typing it all!
Who or what inspires you?
AH: All of my friends, musicians or not. I am very lucky to be surrounded by a lot of talented people from so many different backgrounds and disciplines. The amount of themselves that they pour into their work on a regular basis is astounding. I’m just trying to keep up.
Also, I’m really into my wife and my dog. These are both pretty new things for me, but they’ve definitely made my life exponentially better. I have a two-year-old nephew as well and a brand new niece. All of these awesome life things are probably the best inspiration that I could imagine.
Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?
AH: I don’t know…still trying to figure it all out, really! This whole process of being a musician in New York and just figuring out some way to make it work has been crazy. Awesome, but crazy. I wouldn’t change anything about it right now…I think I’m just generally in a good place, and really happy with what is going on in my life.
There are certainly elements of the creative music scene here that we could all do a little better, mostly in supporting each other and making it a music community and not just a bunch of people all flailing to do the same thing. I’ve been talking with friends a lot about it lately, and I think we’re figuring it out. Good things are on the horizon.
Shout out to…?
AH: You guys for doing this thing! Achilles Kallergis for putting us in touch. My wife Maggie and my dog Cat. And anyone who actually read this far into the interview. You deserve a drink. Thanks for having me!
Check Adam’s website for updates on upcoming performances and releases!
Reflection and Response.