Dragland (photo: Patric Carver)
Last Wednesday, I walked into Bottom of the Hill to catch the very tail end of Dan Too’s set. Their sound filled the room with a charming joy that was a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. I made a mental note to check them out again, as they seemed to push beyond the quirky trap that a lot of alt-country folks fall into. They hedged on more substantial territory – impressively so, seeing how as they’d been together for less than eight months.
Listening in the crowd was Adam Dragland. Adam is a busy man. He’s co-owner of Gulch Alley Studio, performer with Kat Robichaud’s Misfit Cabaret, member of Gold Minor, and one of the co-founders of the quirky Gold Rush Fest. Two years ago, following the first Gold Rush, he was feeling understandably fatigued. Whereas most people would take a break, Adam recharged by writing an album’s worth of songs, forming a new band, Dragland, and putting out a record. You know you’re dealing with a musician’s musician when their vacation is the catalyst for a two-year sprint towards a record release party.
A native of Canada who spent his adolescence in New York, Adam came to the Bay Area looking for rock and roll, and he’d found it – plenty of it. Abundance is a good problem to have, but it is still a problem. With abundance, you can start to lose your center, your grounding. Adam has been making some great music, but it wasn’t always his music.
“When I came to the Bay Area, I got involved with the First Church of the Sacred Silversexual.” said Adam, reflecting on his participation in the David-Bowie worshipping performers. “Doing things like wearing makeup and nail polish was quite a trip. I also have to admit, I always liked David Bowie, but I never really understood David Bowie.”
Like most boundary-pushers, Adam seems attracted to other boundary-pushers. The friends he made at “Church,” included Lysol Tony-Romeo, who was the only person Adam entrusted with previewing the album before release.
I don’t know what advice Lysol gave Adam, but it must have been good because this is a solid album. Adam has the song writing talents of a great neoclassicist Country performer, like Mel Tillis or Dolly Parton, but the frantic guitar and passion of the alternative music movement. The word genuine gets thrown around a lot, but it’s the only word that really fits Dragland’s performance. He’s got an earnest quality that is undeniable and soaking in gratitude.
“Lucky,” a song written as a lullaby to a beloved dying cat, was just about the most honest thing I’ve ever seen on stage. Adam dedicated the song to his late mother in a sweep of emotion. Off stage, he shared with me the power he managed to harness in his mother’s passing. “It was an inspiring time when my mother passed. It was the overpowering love that made this a beautiful thing. I felt I had this wave of love from the end of my mother’s life.” In the moments when his voice swelled during this song, I could feel that passion and love.
The appetite for truth was not completely wrapped up only in Adam. Mrs. Dragland joined him on stage for a sweet duet contrasting city and country life. If it hadn’t of been for the craft beers on tap and the audience members looking like they just came from a call for extras on Master of None, I would have sworn I was back in a cozy, stripped down honky-tonk-type bar. There was charming fragility and kindness in this call-and-response style “argument.” It was appealing, simple, and good – satisfying. Bassist Michael Carney, who also plays with Adam in Gold Minor, brought a real groove to the song, weighing it down and keeping it from becoming too saccharine. It just felt like home, like family, like those little in-jokes and play fights you have with those closest to you.
Further inviting the audience in, Adam announced from the stage that Bottom of the Hill was where he held his wedding reception, and that this record release was 11 years to the day that he’d moved to San Francisco. “When I came here, I had no idea who I was, and I found that. I found that in the music community. Here it’s so free to be whatever you want to be. You can throw the rule book out the window and find out who you are.”
Folksy rock with deep roots that expand across the continent, Dragland is both a band and a journey. If you ever want to know what optimism sounds like set to song, look no further. There’s pain and joy and the entire range of human emotions in Dragland’s music, but always an underlying sense of positivity. When asked if there was anything else he’d want people to know, Adam said, “I think things are looking up. I know a lot of artists feel a sense of dread with the way things are going. But, there’s good news, we just have to look around us – there’s hope.”