adam zwig chicago

One On One with Adam Zwig

Friday, September 20, 2013 Sophie Magdalena

If you had the opportunity to photograph a show at a great venue, would you say no? Me either! Which is why on August 27th I headed out to Schuba’s Tavern in Lakeview to shoot Portland native Adam Zwig’s performance.

Before I get to that, I have to talk a bit about the venue right quick. If you haven’t been to Schuba's before, I highly recommend it. Located at the corner of Belmont & Southport with plenty of street parking, it’s a great place to go for dinner, drinks, and of course live music. From the moment you walk in, the staff is very friendly and their food will make your taste buds into taste besties. After grabbing a bite to eat, you can head towards the back of the building where the venue is. When you enter through the doors, you see a cozy stage straight ahead of you lit by a few colored stage lights as well as seating on either side of the room (small tables and chairs to the left and a bench to the right). I’ve gone to shows here that were more chill, as well as shows where the band covered the entire room with a large tarp, grabbed a flood light, jumped under the tarp with everyone, and started a massive dance party. Both experiences were fantastic. What I’m trying to say here is this; Schuba’s has the capacity to provide you with those experiences that make you pause, look at what you’re doing, take a breath, and say, “this. This is it.” My advice to you is this: Look up their line up on their website (, choose a night, take a leap of faith on a random band, and go!

Now that you have a good feel for the venue, let’s talk about the performance that Adam Zwig put on. I didn’t know much about Adam before I got the assignment to shoot the show, but I walked away feeling extremely lucky that I went. I’ll get into more about that later. After enjoying a good meal, my friend and I headed back to the stage area when it was time for Adam to go on. I’ll be honest: I got a little worried. There were a total of 7 people in the room (who weren’t in the band) including my friend and me. I found out later by talking to Adam that they hadn’t really promoted for the show at all which is why there was a low head count. But honestly, I’m kind of glad it was like that. Though there was a bit of awkward tension at first, it allowed for the show to be more intimate between Adam and the audience in the sense that he would hold personal conversations with each person at one point or another.

He opened up the conversation by making a joke saying, “So. I’m wearing my own t-shirt tonight…” and he explained that he was selling some merch. In the back. As soon as he said that, I got the sense that he was very laid-back and had a sense of humor and the awkward tension in the room started to dissipate. It went away completely once he started playing. Adam gets so into his music. He feels it. It was so refreshing to see. Sometimes with bands, you can tell that they’re just playing notes that they’ve played a thousand times before. Adam, however, seemed to get lost in each song he played…like he would go back to the specific moments that inspired each song he wrote and re-live them with each string that was struck on his guitar. His band had a similar connection to the music. I could tell that they were all truly enjoying what they were doing…they were passionate about their instruments, and that energy was very apparent to the audience. Whenever Adam and/or his other guitarist would have solos, they would move their bodies in a way that said “HEY! I REALLY MEAN THIS!” It’s almost as if they had to move to get all of their passion out into the song. Like if they didn’t it wouldn’t be fair to the notes or to the muse... they would be cheated. There was a big responsibility to be filled in his music, as far as content, and he more than delivered.

Adam told me in an interview after the show that his “Roots are in blues,” and I could totally hear that in his set. I would describe his music as jazzy soul with a little bit of country twang here and there mixed in with a dash of funk and pop and it’s all tied together with good vibes. “Most of my songs are positive,” he told me, “I’m just trying to bring some positive to the world.” I think that’s what I enjoyed most about Adam…his reasons for doing what he does. Adam puts out this energy not only through his music but even just talking to him that is just very welcoming. He’s very easy going and easy to talk to. He’s just a guy trying to do what he loves, and he is genuinely trying to make the world a bit of a better place while doing it.

He approached me with a smile in the bar, and we started our interview. I had asked him what inspired him to write his new hit “Everybody Love,” and he responded with such a genuine answer. He said, simply, “There’s something common in everyone…we need to stop marginalizing people.” As I said earlier, he also has a background in psychotherapy and I asked him how this affected his music. “Writing a song and therapy are the same,” he explained. “They both try to get at the things that we are hiding from ourselves…they both try to get past the unknown.” I agreed saying that for me writing allowed for a similar experience. “The solution to a problem,” he continued, “is in the unknown. When I write a song; I try to get to what’s unknown in myself.” Based off of how I described his performance earlier, you could see how it’s possible for him to feel so deeply and conspicuously in his performance. I also asked him one more question specifically about how Portland inspires him and his music writing. Adam said, “People live in the area for the nature. Nature affects me…it inspires me.” He related the physical nature of Portland to people in an interesting way saying that he is “trying to get at people’s natures,” through his music. I suggested that what he does is tries to get past all that pollutes us on a daily basis. He was pleasantly surprised by this and agreed.

Outside of my “assignment questions,” Adam and I actually entered into a very real and very genuine conversation about people and life, and writing. In fact, one of my favorite parts of our conversation involved re-defining the term “ghost writing.” We started talking about technology vs. traditional ways of writing, and I said that when I write, I have to put pen to paper before the tips of my fingers graze the smooth keys of my laptop. To me, everything comes out more honestly, more heart felt, on paper. He agreed and I was shocked at how he described the experience, because what he said was exactly how I felt. He described getting into that creative zone and physically writing like “Something possessing you, because you’re in such a frame of mind that makes you able to be completely honest with yourself that sometimes you don’t even fully know what you’re writing. It feels like your brain has locked and your heart has taken hold of your hand to guide the pen to form words that you can feel and then once you’re done you snap out of it and are just in shock like ‘did I write this?” (yes that’s an intentional run-on sentence. It wouldn’t have given the same effect if it was edited…see how that works?!)

There’s one more thing Adam said that really stood out to me in regards to his song writing. He said, “The lyrics I am attracted to make the listener dream into the song.” He’s so poetic about what he does…he’s not afraid to be vulnerable, and he’s not afraid to feel, and this transfers through any type of speaker into the listener’s ears, through their brain, and into their soul. Overall, seeing Adam live is something I won’t forget. It was a heart felt performance, and another event to add to the list of genuine moments that I have experienced in my life. If you see that he’s rolling through your area, I recommend catching his show and grabbing a drink with the guy if you can. He’s a genuine person with a great soul who knows how to write a catchy song filled to the brim with heart. Not to mention he’s a great conversationalist. You can check him out at Until our next music adventure, reader!

- Stephanie Battista
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**Photos taken by Stephanie Battista of Halfstack Magazine**

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