Sitting down with Adam Flaig to discuss his recently completed solo record, O Turista, it’s evident that the singer and guitarist was changed by the process of making the album.
Namely, he’s really, really calm.
That’s not to say that Flaig was previously a whirlwind of pent-up energy ready to be unleashed. But as of late he’s showing a new side of himself.
It is truly amazing what deciding on a whim to spend two months in Portugal can do for one’s constitution.
Flaig is best known in Cincinnati music circles as the guitarist for Mad Anthony, which announced an extensive hiatus last year. The trio’s high-energy fusion of Punk and Rock spawned two albums, two EPs and a yearlong song-a-week project known as Mad Anthology. Released late last year on most major digital platforms (find Apple Music and Spotify links below), O Turista is miles away from any of that, but Flaig’s solo work has roots in Mad Anthony.
“I had a lot of songs that were 50, 85 percent complete because, to me, it was a therapeutic thing — escaping or releasing any sort of stress,” Flaig says. “I like the task of coming up with a song, but in my head — they weren’t for anyone else. They weren’t to play or perform for anyone, it was just for me, so the motive to actually complete songs wasn’t actually there.”
Flaig did eventually explore performing his partially finished songs live to varying levels of success — he admits to humming some lyrics onstage that weren’t complete — but his focus shifted with one particular gig. Mad Anthony was scheduled to perform acoustically with their friends, the Michigan duo When Particles Collide, but scheduling conflicts wouldn’t allow the entire band to participate. After some coaxing from Mad Anthony guitarist and vocalist Ringo Jones, Flaig decided to perform the show solo and really make a go of it.
“I feel like that was a turning point because I remember playing that show and really enjoying it and having songs prepared,” Flaig says. “It was one of those nights were everything worked out. It was a confidence booster and put things into perspective. I enjoyed the freedom of playing by yourself and only having a guitar, not needing a van full of gear. Everything about it is easier.”
Shortly after that show, Flaig and Jones were asked to fill in as band members for fellow Cincinnati rockers Valley of the Sun for a European tour and it was on this trip that Flaig made the connection that would eventually lead him to his fateful journey.
Joining Valley of the Sun on the tour was Grrui Tiago, a native of Aveiro, Portugal, and he and Flaig quickly became friends. Tiago works for Portuguese production company Covil, which focuses on assisting artists with all elements of music production, and during the tour he began to speak to Flaig and Jones about the possibility of recording an album in Portugal. The logistics of all three Anthonies traveling to Portugal weren’t plausible, but for Flaig alone, things lined up just right.
“I was in a headspace where I wanted to do something totally different; I wanted to go somewhere totally different,” Flaig says. “I needed a break. I was figuring out what I should do, where I should spend my time and energy after Mad Anthony. I wanted to be creative but I didn’t know what to do.
“I thought it would be exciting and fun and just a good exercise to go somewhere where I didn’t speak the language or I didn’t know anybody. Just flip everything upside down. I ran the idea by Tiago and immediately he was like, ‘Yeah, totally, you can stay in my apartment.’ ”
Flaig was provided an opportunity that he felt he couldn’t pass up — to travel to a new country and be given a place to stay and the opportunity to record an album in an environment far removed from anything the Queen City could offer. The prospect of dropping everything and leaving for two and a half months was difficult, but sometimes the best decisions are rash ones.
“I bought the (plane) ticket and once I bought the ticket I was like, ‘OK, now I have to go.’ I’m realizing how lucky I am to be in the position to do that,” Flaig says. “It’s nice to have the time and be able to afford the ticket at that time and have that one friend there who could be my anchor.”
Flaig spent August through mid-October of 2018 in Portugal recording O Turista in close partnership with producer Jorge Pandeirada and percussionist Micael Lourenço (as well as myriad guest instrumentalists). He took the opportunity to soak in as much of what Portugal could offer his songs.
“I really wanted to go over there with songs that weren’t done and go there with enough time to absorb some of where I was and some of the people that I was with,” he says. “I wanted to go somewhere new and have that influence available to me.”
“Some of the songs were done and I had a certain idea of how I wanted them to go,” Flaig continues, “but if Jorge or Mica had an idea on how to do something, I would let that be the idea. Because if I made the decision, it’s like, ‘I could do this by myself at home but now that I’m here with you in a totally different country, if you have an idea on how to do something let’s do it your way, because I never would have thought of that.’ ”
These ideas helped turn O Turista into a snapshot of Flaig’s trip. Full of intricate, thoughtful arrangements and layered with instrumentation, including many found in traditional Portuguese music, the album is 28 minutes of tracks grounded in American Folk, yet far surpassing the typical limitations of the genre. The fact that Pandeirada and Lourenço can play over 50 instruments between the two of them certainly helped with the variety found in every track.
Just as the songs weren’t complete prior to recording, neither were the lyrics.
“The record is the trip, where I start out just wanting to go somewhere else, not feeling super great,” Flaig says, “and I feel like the record takes me through my transition in Portugal.”
Flaig’s time in Aveiro helped him do more than just make a new album. It also helped him learn more about himself as a person and a musician.
“I was neglecting a lot of other things that I would need for my mental health,” Flaig says. “So Portugal gave me time to really look back and realize it’s OK to take your time, it’s OK to not be at a certain point or bury yourself to try to get an unobtainable result. I feel like my desire to be in the moment more… I feel way more comfortable being able to do that, whereas before I felt like I didn’t have the time.”
And that’s the true accomplishment for Flaig. While O Turista is undoubtedly an artistic achievement that Flaig should be extremely proud of and marks the next steps in his musical journey, the personal growth is what will have the biggest impact on his life.
“I don’t really need a lot to be happy, I just really need my friends and family in a room where I can play guitar,” Flaig says. “I think I needed a good chunk of time to get away from what I had already been doing and pounding my head against a wall.”
For more on Adam Flaig, visit adamflaigmusic.com.