Obsession, though, almost did.
Talking in between sips of muddy French press coffee, Adam Granduciel is both at ease and perpetually itched. A tattered flannel shirt covers a yellow v-neck shirt, worn Levi’s underneath. Disheveled shoulder-length wisps of hair fall across his shoulders and face, down-to-earth and personable. He puffs from a new e-cig promising a “cowboy” scent. It smells vaguely like the West.
“Am I doing this right?” he asks, as the package enclosing the vaporized tobacco rested upon the stoop when I arrived. I am sitting in a creaky wooden chair in Granduciel’s living room. A shit-kicked-in pair of cowboy boots wait perched by the door, a rocking chair poised in a corner. Three portly cats — two of which belong to Granduciel’s girlfriend — slink around the living room, curling their poofy tails into armrests. The radiator clangs occasionally without warning. The last of the wind-swept snowstorm flurries flutter at the back door, like an eye drifting in and out of consciousness.
Steve Gunn’s Time Off LP hums and clicks softly from the turntable. He selected the record, yet the unhurried pace seems almost out of sync with Granduciel’s mind. I say this because even when he’s not technically working on a record, Adam Granduciel is working. He scratches his head vigorously while talking and walking, constantly thinking and overthinking. Driving, he listens to his own music, mapping out the technicalities that can be improved and letting what worked sink in. When he speaks of music it’s not about sounds, but elements, things like precision, mechanics, and dynamics. In casual conversation, he speaks like a meticulous lab scientist of the school of musical self-empowerment.
The bass tones of his voice echo through the bottom half of the house, a cavernous set of spaces cluttered with artifacts. I count one, two, three books about Bob Dylan scattered downstairs, including one solely dedicated to Zimmerman’s studio sessions, and bookending copies of Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums and Herman Hesse’s Steppenwolf. All of them works of wanderers, fellow calloused men seeking out their own forms of spirituality. A shredded denim shirt hangs on a lone hook.
Nestled right in the intersection of Fishtown and Lower Kensington neighborhoods in Philadelphia, Granduciel’s home is too a place of diverging extremities. I am swept with a sense that the little blue house is simultaneously a space of comfort and claustrophobia. It’s the place where Granduciel worked himself into the ground for the past year while writing, scrapping, overthinking, and conceptualizing Lost in the Dream. Hence, the consistent need for relocation.
“Once I would get out of Philadelphia – realistically, when I got out of this house – I started to feel a little lighter, because that was closer to working on the music, a little more at ease in my body.”
Granduciel’s voice on the record, half plea and half-premonition, has been often likened to his heroes’. You certainly hear Bob Dylan’s singular intonation steeped into the tight grooves of Lost in the Dream‘s nine-minute opener, “Under the Pressure”, the earnestness of Neil Young’s croons on the washed-out “Disappearing”, a compact songwriting ethos echoing the bouncy Brit-pop spirit of Dire Straits. When asked if the inevitable comparisons grow irksome, he shrugs. “I learned so much from those people. The albums that I studied, rock mythology, I’m interested in studio recordings. The lore is just as inspiring as the music to me.”
Lost in the Dream was recorded in half a dozen places, from Nashville to New York, peeling apart the mythology of the studio process in the process. “As good as it is to work in the studio, I also just wanted to be in the studios that I had heard about,” he muses. “It has great history, great vibes, and the other side of me was needing to get out of here, get out of town for a week, work on this record, and make it a part of everyone’s life that week.”