Singing Man to Man
Every once in a while a song will reach in, touch your heart and pull you in. That happened to me when I heard “Break Apart” by Adam Woods of Tenderfoot. Adam was so gracious to sit down and talk to me about his music, life and where Tenderfoot is headed.
Can you tell us a little about Tenderfoot for those out there that may not be aware of your music? How would you describe your music?
Tenderfoot is the name I’ve created music under for the last 8 or so years. It’s an old American pioneer word used to characterize a newcomer, a beginner, a person starting a new life at the boundaries of what they knew. This name keeps me searching for new ways to present my music.
The album I just released, Break Apart, is a landscape of different musical inspirations, held together with the common thread of my voice. When we recorded the album in Seattle a couple years ago, my band and I were interested in pushing ourselves aesthetically, so you’ll hear garage rock, psych rock, gypsy motifs, piano ballads, synth soundscapes and straight up singer-songwriter folk. It’s a real journey.
I like to sum up what I create as dream folk. My voice gets compared to Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes a lot, so there’s that, but my sound is mostly influenced by musicians like Angel Olsen, Perfume Genius and Jana Hunter. My new band here in NYC consists of electric guitar, cello, and french horn. It’s a beautiful blend of textures that we debuted October 13th here in Manhattan at Club Cumming.
I read where you and your partner lived on the road for a year in a vintage camper trailer towed by a Volkswagon Rabbit pickup. What would you say is the one thing that you discovered about yourself on that road trip and why?
That road trip changed my life. My partner at the time and I were so naive about what it would take to live on the road for a year, so we struggled a lot with financial and interpersonal issues. We tried to run a design business together at the same time, so we were so entangled that when the relationship ended we were both mentally and physically exhausted.
I’d say what the best lesson I learned was that whatever you dream, you can do. From a drunken night of looking at airstreams online in the middle of a brutal Michigan winter, to us living on the road, only took about 6 months. I wrote my first songs on that trip too, having no musical background at all. I just wanted it so bad that I learned how to do it. Now I’m a musician with a few tours and albums under my belt. If you want it, you will find a way to make it happen. It’s all small steps and believing in yourself and asking for help when you need it, from the community you’ve built around you.
You said on your website, “ I grew up wishing the love songs I heard on my mom’s alarm-clock radio were being sung from a man to another man.” What was your childhood like? When did you come out and did your family support you?
My childhood was very quiet and secretive. I always knew something was different about me. I also knew very early on that I was gay, around 3rd grade. I grew up in Jacksonville FL which at that time, was a very conservative part of the state. There wasn’t support for queer life there, nor was there much for living a life as an artist. Art seemed to stop being made when you graduated high school, and gay folks either blended into the background or left the city. I chose to leave.
I came out to my family at 19. At first, they didn’t support me. My mother was very worried I would become HIV positive. That’s such a common connection for straight people, even to this day. But over the years, she really surprised me with the amount of work she put into understanding what it means to be queer. I also think pop culture rose to meet her with a lot of her definitions.
Where does your inspiration for your music come from?
Mostly, when I sit with my guitar or at the piano, I listen for a small hymn, some tiny sound or word that wants to come out. Slowly nursing those tiny pieces through repetition, I start to bolster them with other sounds and patterns. Every once in a while I get handed a song full-on from the universe. The title track, “Break Apart” was like that for me, as was our biggest hit, “Do It My Love.” It felt more like I was channeling the words and melodies. Mostly though, it’s small, soft work on seedling melodies and pieces of poetry.
What is next on the horizon for Tenderfoot?
Oh wow, so much. I just did a show at Club Cumming on October 13th with Richard Cortez and Corey Ryan Matos. We debuted our new instrumentation and a couple new songs (New Bruise and Set The Table).
This year I wrote and recorded a single called “Love-Lies-Bleeding” for the soundtrack of an art book, Pine, by the photographer Eirik Johnson. I’ll be traveling out to the book launch in Seattle this winter to play the piece live with other musicians from the project.
I’ve recently been in contact with a director who wants to use some pieces in his films, which has always been a dream of mine. I think cinematically when I write, so it makes sense. I’ve also been in touch with a few videographers around the country as well to start work on a video for the next single from Break Apart, which is very exciting. I love the video-making process.
Finally, I’m kicking off recording the next album. I want this album to double-down on beauty. Break Apart was very experimental. As a follow-up, I want the songs soaked in sweetness and beauty because that’s what I think we need right now, bringing listeners to a catharsis, and/or empowering them with hope.