It doesn’t suck.
And believe it or not, that’s the highest compliment musician Adrian Niles has ever offered when discussing his own work. Usually, when Niles released his previous five albums, there was something wrong with a song or a glitch in the recording, and one bad note wrecked it all.
But “Supermoon”? Record number six? His new collection of 11 tracks?
“No, man, this doesn’t suck,” the 41-year-old Niles said with a laugh. “I think it’s really good, and I’m really proud of the work Clint and I have done on this one. We worked hard on this, and it was a collaborative effort without rushing it.
“I think it’s the most well rounded record that I’ve done so far. I wrote about 28 songs for it, and initially I picked the eight best,” Niles explained. “There’s a couple of songs that sneaked their way on there. One of them is a song that I just sat down at the piano and wrote. It just came to me. It was one of those five-, 10-minute songs.”
Niles has just released his newest collection, “Supermoon,” online at www.adrianniles.com. Niles played guitar, bass, and electric piano; Clint Landis was on drums; Jamie Peck played a Hammond B3 organ on the album; Vanessa Campagna sang backing vocals on one song; and Rick Witkowski joined Niles with producing the record that was recorded at Studio L in Weirton, W.Va.
“Rick helped us produce this record, and he engineered and mixed it,” the Shadyside native said. “He totally brought us in a comfort zone that I don’t think we ever had before, and that’s because in the past we’ve placed the mics and the gear, and then we tried to get the sounds that we wanted all by ourselves.
“We’re not engineers, but Rick is, and he knows this stuff inside and out. For me, Rick solidified this record,” he said. “He brought it to fruition for us. We had a vision for it, and he helped us make that goal.”
It was Landis, though, whom Niles leaned on more this time than ever before. The drummer is a Wheeling resident who for the past 17 years has served as a Wheeling firefighter, but he’s been a musician for as long as he can remember.
“One example of his impact is the fact that there is one more song on this record, ‘Midnight Burning,’ which I wrote back in 1994,” Niles said. “We’ve played it live, and Clint has always loved that song. It was the last day of recording, and we thought we were done, but then Clint came to me and asked if we could cut that song. So we went back in, and we recorded it, and it only took one take.”
“Adrian presented these songs to me early in the process, and that’s why I knew we really had something going,” Landis said. “And honestly, it’s the first album that we didn’t feel rushed on. The others had dates and deadlines, but we took our time on this one, and it made a huge difference. This time we took our time.
“He and I would get together often, and we hashed it out. We tried new things until we would hit something and look at each other and say, ‘Yeah, that was badass,” he continued. “That’s the way it worked, and it worked very well.”
And Landis agrees that “Supermoon” doesn’t suck. It’s the fourth album he’s recorded with Niles in the past seven years, and he explained that anyone who listens to it should pay close attention to the story offered with each song.
“We’re talking about a very gifted guy, but this entire piece of work is the best writing that he’s done. It’s the most honest representation of Adrian Niles, in my opinion,” said Landis, who has recorded four albums with Niles thus far. “The lyrics are spectacular, and the music is raw. It’s basically presented as rock and roll was supposed to be.
“It’s stripped down — a drummer, a bass player, a guitar, keyboards, and a singer. That’s it,” he said. “It’s the most basic form of rock and roll that you can get, and that’s what makes this record so good. It’s my favorite work so far. Hands down, the best.”
“In the past,” Niles said, “we would have five or six people weighing in and offering ideas, but on this one it was us. I’ve always trusted Clint, and this time it was just us. It was a better process, at least for this album. It worked, and I liked it.
“We’re definitely cut from the same cloth although he’s a lot smoother and cooler than I am, but we somehow got really connected on this one. We recorded some of this in completely different rooms and couldn’t see each other, but we still picked up on things and reacted the best possible way,” he said. “We were even on different floors at times, but it still worked perfectly.”
Niles reviewed each song by offering a single-sentence description of each track on the “Supermoon” record.
Another Long Goodbye
“My time with Matt Heusel and Dave Snyder and Ezra Hamilton in Charllotsville.”
“The longing to find the one true love of your life and for them to understand exactly who you are.”
“It’s the first line – ‘I’m a hard-luck kid; I’m one broke fool; you’re a stroke of genius, dirty dark cool.”
Classic Rock Radio
“Those times when you are growing up as a musician and you’re in high school and all you want to do is party with your friends and play music.”
“I sat down at the piano, and I wrote a song to me that I really thought spoke to me at the time.”
Tear Got His Eye
“It’s about the many times I have contemplated moving from this area but then realizing I am forever myself who is from the Ohio Valley.”
“It’s about being blessed with so much and understanding and knowing it and being able to ride on with your blessings despite that beat-downs of life.”
King of All Kings
“It’s about life and how tough and hard everything can be, but at the end of the day Jesus is the king of all kings.”
Time with You Alone
“You always want time with the ones that you love the most so you can forget about all the worries and all the crap.”
Rot Gut Wine
“I was having a rough time, and Heusel told me to get a bottle of this specific rot gut wine; the wine was nasty, but it got me to write this song about our friendship.”
“For me now, this song is about something I thought I knew at one time but didn’t want to admit it.”
Landis, too, offered his description.
“This record is country, it’s blues, it’s rock and roll, it’s rock-and-billy, it’s R&B, it’s American rock and roll,” Landis reported. “You can phrase it anyway you want, but it’s a rock and roll album. That’s what it is.
“It’s just a guy writing from experiences, the struggles he’s been through, and the celebrations, too. It’s just a good rock and roll album,” he said. “Because of that it feels like I have known Adrian my entire life even though we didn’t meet until seven years ago.
“The only way to get to know Adrian is through his music because he’s pretty much in a shell most of the time. His music, though, is how he communicates, and once you learn that about him, it’s a wonderful process to watch.”
“Supermoon” has a blend of every genre anyone can name because that’s what Niles is, a blend of influences that begins with his father, musician Lauren Porter. He has been pegged in the past as a blues artist since appearing during the ultra-successful Wheeling Heritage Blues Fest a few years ago, but Niles and his music are far from a labeled, stereotypical definition.
“Supermoon,” is an honest collection of tales about life in the Upper Ohio Valley and a prime example of how the man’s mind works when writing music.
And no, it doesn’t suck. The new record represents a progression with Niles’ work that has successfully carried him back to the basics and away from a certain song-after-song sound that traps far too many artists. Niles feels it, writes it, tells is, and puts it out there for all to judge anyway they wish.
“I’ve always just been me when it comes to the songs, and I’ve never been bound by one genre of another. I’ve done the blues, and I love that genre, but I’ve never wanted to put it all in one box of music,” Niles explained. “I just wanted the songs to be what they were. It’s what I have always done.
“Some people call me a blues guy, and yeah, I love the blues, and I like playing the blues,” he continued. “But I do more than that, and I always have. I just want the opportunity to write in my style. I just want to play what I want to play and write what I want to write what I feel, and that’s what’s happened on this record.”
(Photos provided by Adrian Niles and Clint Landis)