Music and Books: An Interview with Lightning 100’s Wells Adams

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(pictured here: music books on the store piano)

It hit me as I was driving down Hillsboro Pike the other day, listening to WRLT Lightning 100 on the radio, when a song from Will Hoge‘s Blackbird on a Lonely Wire album came on. It was a music-and-lyrics-lover’s song from about a decade ago. Not a top-40 piece or a single off a new record. Not the kind of thing you’d ever hear on a station where the playlists are generated out of an office far away. A song locals love, by a local guy. And I thought: This station is doing with music what Parnassus is doing with books.

Lightning 100 gathers the best music they can find, be it by big artists or local upstarts. Parnassus curates the best books, be they classics or just published, whether they’re new releases by big names or first efforts by local talents. The radio station knows its audience. The bookstore knows its customers. The radio station brings musicians to town for concerts, festivals, and intimate performances. The bookstore arranges author visits for signings, readings, and social events with readers. Both are infusing the local culture with art by scouting out good stuff and spreading it around, and both depend on the support of the community to keep doing that.

I got so excited about this little revelation that I got in touch with Wells Adams, one of the awesome radio hosts at Lightning 100 and the anchor of the station’s morning show, to talk about it. (Oh, and I feel like this probably goes without saying, but this is not some kind of paid / promotional thing. Just a real conversation.) Here’s our discussion…

In the fellowship of great music and books,
– Mary Laura Philpott
Editor of MUSING

 

What does it mean to be an “independent” radio station? What’s different about it?

Wells-AdamsWA: Unfortunately for folks in this country, radio and most media is corporately owned these days. At this point, you can probably count on one hand how many indie radio stations are in the US. For corporate radio, there are suits who don’t even work in the market deciding what should be played on their stations, not taking into consideration regional and local music.

If you ask me what makes us different and awesome, it’s our music meetings. They are open to the staff, label reps, and really anyone who wants to have their music heard. Every Wednesday we bring in music and listen to about 50 songs. Then we vote. The best stuff gets added to rotation. The bad stuff doesn’t. It gives us an opportunity to break new bands, feature locals who get lost in the shuffle, and delve deeper into more well known albums. We answer only to ourselves and our listeners — how radio was meant to be.

I’m struck by how similar that is to the way we choose books, which is a people-driven process involving the opinions of our staff and publishers’ reps and even authors themselves. There’s a direct connection between the people producing the art and the people sharing it with the community.

WA: Being independent and local, we are able to be extremely visible to the citizens of Nashville because we ourselves are a part of this great city. That visibility runs across a large spectrum of events and shows, from our small writers’ night to our concert series Live On The Green. If it’s live music, if it’s good (and presumably not country), we are probably involved in some way. The station also allows me to produce and host a local show every Monday called “the615.” I get to program an hour of music that’s all homegrown. It gives us an opportunity to promote all the great talent this town has. It’s something I’m very proud of.

Why do you think independent businesses and cultural outlets flourish in Nashville?

WA: Nashville is an awesome place to call home. People are proud of this place. They want to support their neighbors and fellow Nashvillians. It make sense to me that locally owned businesses do well. The only other place (stateside) that just oozes culture like that is New Orleans. In Nashville, art is everywhere. Musicians, artists, cooks, baristas, and a multitude of other businesses just scream cultural badassery. It’s why people are moving here in droves.

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At Parnassus, we work hard to connect readers with authors — so that whenever possible, people can see and meet the writers whose books they love. It seems like Lightning100 does a similar thing with listeners and musicians. How do you think seeing a musician live changes a person’s experience with and connection to the music? 

WA: One of the biggest things I’ve learned from interviewing 200+ famous and not-yet-famous musicians is this: Your taste in something can completely change after you’ve gotten to know the person who created it. Everything changes once you can see them, touch them, experience their art firsthand.

Here’s an example… Two years ago I would not have called myself an Ingrid Michaelson fan. Yeah, her music is catchy, but it’s just not my thing. I tend to love really dark, sad acoustic music — Ryan Adams, Tallest Man On Earth, Josh Ritter, Jason Isbell, Wilco, etc. But I had her on my show and got to know her a bit. If she weren’t such a talented singer and songwriter, the girl could be a stand-up comedian. No joke, she was so funny, so down to earth, and really smart. I’m a huge Ingrid Michaelson fan now, and I tell that story to everyone. Shameless plug — Ingrid is playing Live On The Green this Saturday, September 6, at 4 p.m. I’ll be in the front row.

Can’t wait. What’s your most starstruck moment in Nashville so far?

WA: Seeing John Prine at Smell Rose (Old Melrose). He was playing pool. It was really cool. Also, having better seats than Jack White at the Ryman for the Beck show. I couldn’t stop looking at him. I wanted to see what songs he was singing along to. There was something cool about one of the biggest deals in music saying, “No, I don’t want to be backstage for this show. I’m a freaking fan of Beck. I want to experience the show. And no, I don’t need to be sitting front-row, either.”

Now let’s trade recommendations. We love local artists. What are some albums by locals we should buy and play in the store?

WA: This is the hardest question.  I could do this for days… Off the top of my head, I’d say:

  • Rayland Baxter- Feathers and Fishhooks
  • Daniel Ellsworth & The Great Lakes – Civilized Man
  • Cory Branan – Mutt
  • All Them Witches – Lightning At The Door
  • The Weeks – Gutter Gaunt Ganster
  • Buffalo Clover – Test Your Love

Oh, I love The Weeks and All Them Witches. I’ll look up the rest. OK, now let us return the favor. Tell me 3 books you love, and I’ll get our staff to recommend a bunch we think you’ll love just as much.

WA: I’m from Monterey, California, and went to school in Salinas. So basically everything with John Steinbeck’s name on it. I love Cormac McCarthy’s writing. Someone showed me how he really doesn’t use punctuation in his writing. With the amount of copy I have to read in ALL CAPS sans punctuation, subconsciously I think I gravitated toward it. Also, remember how I like dark, sad-bastard songwriters? Yeah, he’s that wrapped up in an author. Still to this day one of my favorite books is Confederacy of Dunces. A silly Don Quixote style book set in one of my favorite cities? Yes, please.

Great. We’ll publish a custom book list for you when this interview goes up. Come in and see us sometime, and we’ll bag them up for you, too. Thanks for chatting, and best of luck with the last weekend of Live on the Green!

WA: Thanks, Mary Laura. Y’all keep doin’ what you’re doin’!

* * *
A literary playlist featuring Californians, sad bastards, odd punctuation, and plenty of music:
Publisher’s description: “This fictional memoir, the first of an autobiographical trilogy, traces a self professed failure’s nightmarish decent into the underside of American life and his resurrection to the wisdom that emerges from despair.” How’s that for a sad bastard?
The setting of this novel is Brokeland Records in Oakland, California, a music shop owned by two guy friends. When Chabon visited Nashville, he talked with us about a sentence in this book that runs on for several pages.
Epic historical fiction — many people said was the best book they read all year.
A stark and ruthless setting, populated by characters at war with the darkness in themselves and others.
This was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and for good reason. It’s another dark one, and beautifully written. Anthony Marra is a big-time award-winning author.
The publisher describes this as “in the great Southern tradition of Faulkner, Styron, and Cormac McCarthy.” That’s true.
Stories by a local songwriter. In your line of work, you’d probably get a kick out of these. We had a blast with Todd when he visited Parnassus for a reading with fans earlier this year.
Manly fiction about manly problems in a manly world. This book was a selection of the month for our First Editions Club, which means more than 300 people received autographed first editions when it came out this summer.
If you like dark, you’ll love this darkest-of-the-dark novel by a brand-new author out of New York. Check out his interview, too. The book is in talks to be developed into a TV series. Read it so you can go around saying, “I read it before it was a show.”
It won the Pulitzer in 1955. McCarthy cites Kantor — who didn’t believe in quotation marks either — as one of his influences.
This guy writes with quirky humor about damaged people dealing with issues such as depression and loneliness. Did you read Silver Linings Playbook or see the movie? If so, you know Matthew Quick already, and you’d love this one.
Adam Ross is a local friend of the store. This is the follow-up to his widely acclaimed, super-twisted debut novel, Mr. Peanut.
Gary Shteyngart is a sad but funny bastard.
We couldn’t possibly omit this one from the list. Not only does it take place in California, but it’s a dystopian, near-future California, where the story will bring to mind McCarthy’s The Road. Lepucki made headlines when her book received “the Colbert bump,” and we were thrilled to host her here in Nashville.
… and when you don’t use punctuation.
Just kidding, we don’t judge. Much.
And one last hearty recommendation:

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These books are a MUST for music-lovers. Each of these short volumes focuses on one album. From the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street to Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, these little books are for people for whom liner notes are not enough. The series consists of almost 100 books, with more being added all the time. The writers include Geeta Dayal, Jonathan Lethem, Erik Davis, Colin Meloy, Daphne Brooks, and Joe Pernice. Andy Brennan, our store manager, loves these and is currently reading the one on The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society. He says, “It’s providing perspective and insight to an album that was a commercial flop and considered almost irrelevant at that time and is now considered a classic of the era.” Come see the collection in our music section.
PS — Nashvillians: Tomorrow, Sept. 5, is the last day to weigh in on your favorite local businesses. If you love having indie radio and booksellers — or independent businesses of any kind! — in Nashville, click over and let The Nashville Scene know:
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