Along the Way: Ypsi singer-songwriter Adam Plomaritas returns with his first new release in a decade
Adam Plomaritas’ new EP reflects on his personal journey of love and growth.
It provides the Ypsilanti pop-soul singer-songwriter with an emotional outlet for exploring the opportunities and challenges that come with being loved and loving others.
“These tunes are about finding a balance between wondering if you’re loved enough and if you’re loving enough in the best ways,” said Plomaritas about Old Time Love, his first collection of new songs since his 2013 album, The Hard Way. “As a husband, father, son, brother, and artist, it’s natural to seek approval, if not always healthy.”
Plomaritas beautifully captures that sentiment on Old Time Love, which features five infectious tracks filled with heartfelt vocals, vibrant horns, and upbeat pop-rock instrumentation.
“The EP is a little bit of introspection, even though the songs are generally light and fun in nature,” he said. “You seemed to have pierced the hard candy shell and gotten to the ooey, gooey chocolate inside—it’s about feeling like you’re enough.”
I recently spoke with Plomaritas about growing up in a musical family, solidifying his writing and recording skills through earlier releases, anticipating his first new release in 10 years, sharing select songs from Old Time Love, and preparing for a December 1 show at The Ark.
Q: How did your musical journey start while growing up in Ypsilanti? How did your dad expose you to different types of live performances?
A: When I was eight or nine years old, I wrote my first song where I got out [a sheet of] paper and a pencil and wrote down lyrics. I came up with a melody and everything … and I showed it to my dad and he said, “Oh, that’s great!” I wanted it to be like a Boston song, particularly like a Third Stage song that was conceptual and weird. The lyrics had nothing to do with anything and made no sense. I got my first guitar not that long after that at around nine or 10 years old, and I was hooked. There was no taking it out of my hands ever.
There were often instruments around the house, too. There would be keyboards, and we had a Fender Rhodes for a while. My dad was always playing music and singing, and I was often at rehearsals. When I was young, it was more like bars and backyard parties. A little bit later it was more like churches that my dad was singing at. He also sang at a lot of weddings.
Q: You soon added bass, piano, and drums to your repertoire. How did your musical journey progress from there?
A: I started picking them all up just because I was interested in it. I’d be around people in different scenarios and there would be a need for an instrument. I wanted to do something, and if there were already two guitar players, we wouldn’t need another one. I would play bass, piano, drums, or something.
By age 13 or 14, when I was in seventh or eighth grade, I got asked to play a harder song at church on the guitar. It was a big honor, so I played the song, and it was a cool guitar part. It was this real bluesy kind of song. Then I played at church a lot once I was up there on the podium.
In high school, I was involved in choir. I was in the practice rooms a lot and often more than I was in my actual classes. I would be working on my own stuff and playing the piano and the guitar. I also would be working on stuff for school, including the big concert choir, a smaller, elite chamber choir, and an a cappella pop group. We did Boyz II Men, Dave Matthews Band, and stuff like that. This was just four guys from our choir, and we were super big [music] nerds and thought, “Let’s do this even more!”
Q: You released your debut EP, Leave the Light On, in 2012. How did it serve as a valuable learning experience for you when it came to writing and recording?
A: Everything was really raw back then. Anything I did was raw natural talent and energy, but that’s not to say that I didn’t spend a lot of time practicing my instruments. I didn’t have a whole lot of training or experience writing and recording songs. I did it cheaply with a four-track or a lot of home studio stuff.
Leave the Light On was almost all self-recorded with Chris DuPont and me in his living room at his apartment. I found a couple of other spaces that I thought were cool to record some stuff. We actually recorded some stuff in the sanctuary at St. John the Baptist [Catholic Church], and we wanted this big, cavernous sound for some of the percussion. But everything was cheap, quick, and dirty.
While I was doing those two records [2012’s Leave the Light On and 2013’s The Hard Way], I started rubbing shoulders with people who knew more stuff. You start to realize there’s a lot of craft in this.
Q: Your last album, The Hard Way, came out in 2013. What inspired you to write and record a collection of new music—your Old Time Love EP—after a decade?
A: Well, I’ve been working on these songs [on Old Time Love] for a long time. I wrote “Love on Your Side” the longest ago—over 10 years. I didn’t know if I’d ever record and release it. It’s a pretty personal song, but it felt like the right time. It’s a song I wrote the night a friend asked me to be his daughter’s godfather.
The rest of the songs are new since then. Even though the lyrics and melodies were pretty much written at least five years ago, there was a lot of tinkering and getting things just the way I wanted them. It’s tricky because you don’t always know what you’re looking for until you’ve got it. The motivation for the other four songs spans from dealing with the struggle of being a family man to trying to make it as an artist to just writing songs that are fun and bring joy to other people’s lives.
Q: How do the five tracks on Old Time Love reflect the growth you’ve experienced as an artist, songwriter, and musician since releasing The Hard Way a decade ago?
A: I learned so much in the process of making The Hard Way and since then. That knowledge and experience made Old Time Love a more polished finished product, but it was also quite stifling and paralyzing at times. With The Hard Way, I didn’t really know how things were “supposed” to work. I didn’t know the boundaries and the limits of what good players, good gear, etc. could do to bring songs to life. We were crazy enough to record The Hard Way to analog tape largely over three days and mostly live. It was kind of a crazy endeavor and what you hear on it is raw and naïve energy.
With Old Time Love, I knew so much more about getting what’s considered “good” audio capture. I learned a lot about equipment and what that does in a recording process. I had also gotten to the point of obsessing over the arrangements of the songs and the mixes. I thought I was a bit of a perfectionist before, but once you have more of an idea of how many variables there are, you can spend a lot of time thinking and tinkering.
One of the things I promised to take away from this project is to not let the perfect be the enemy of the really, really good, but also how to squeeze really good work into short amounts of time. This is something that has happened more throughout this project and my last single, “Fireside Christmas,” and “Love on Your Side.” Both of those songs had less than eight hours of studio time in them, and I’m just as happy with them as I am with some of the others, which had hundreds of hours into them.
In a nutshell, I think this EP is a portrait of the journey I’ve had, not so much as an artist or songwriter, but as a music maker—a recording artist—in the decade since releasing The Hard Way.
Q: “Love Me Better” highlights an artist’s struggle with making strides and finding reliable contacts in the music industry. How did your personal experiences with people in the music industry inspire this track for you? Also, how did you land on such a summery, carefree sound for it?
A: I accidentally wrote that song to the music industry about myself and was like, “Hey, don’t you see what you have here? … Why aren’t you getting this?” You don’t always know why people in the music industry don’t appreciate [artists and musicians] enough. You’ll have opportunities, and it will be like, “OK, cool. Now stuff is happening,” and then nothing happens after that. Then you won’t hear from a contact for like a year or two, and you’ll think, “Well, this person is never going to call me again.” Then out of the blue, they call and say, “Hey, I’ve got a cool opportunity for you,” and you think, “Oh, well you haven’t forgotten about me.”
[Sonically,] it’s a summertime, windows-down driving song. “Love Me Better” was more of a musical vision, and I knew I wanted horns on it. It also has some cool percussion, but kind of ‘80s and like Steve Winwood’s “Roll With It.”
Q: “All I Need Is You” highlights secretly loving someone from afar and then finally having that person return the feeling. What prompted you to revisit a past relationship—whether it was one of your own or someone else’s—while writing this track?
A: That song is about somebody who’s fallen for another, but it was internal, and not everybody knew about it. They finally get together, and it’s like, “What is up with you guys? This is a little fast, isn’t it?” Instead, it’s like, “No, I have been obsessed with this person for years, and this is how I’m feeling about this.” It’s bliss and feelings of satisfaction and contentment.
Q: The title track chronicles a couple’s lasting marriage and their lifelong commitment to each other despite the obstacles they may face. How did marriages, both ones in real life and in stories, inspire this track?
A: It’s more primal than romantic, especially when Fiddler on the Roof’s Tevye asks his wife [Golde] because they have an arranged marriage, “Do you love me?” And she’s like, “Do I love you? I’ve spent my whole life cleaning up after you and feeding you, so how can you ask me if I love you?” It’s about people who stick together even when there’s not much else good going on for them.
I wrote that song from what I remembered about my parents as a kid, even though my parents did get divorced. When I was seven or eight years old, that [seemed] impossible, and I didn’t think that was ever gonna happen. People have to do what they have to do in life, and divorce happens and it’s a thing. Maybe it’s what needs to happen … but that doesn’t mean it’s not sad. When people enter into marriage, the whole idea regardless of their religious stance or anything is that it will work out long term.
I almost wrote this song from the perspective of a child. I’ve had some family members who have gone through a divorce, and it’s harder with kids and it’s harder on the kids. It’s like, “I thought the world was this way, and then all of a sudden it’s the opposite. I was so wrong.” My parents’ divorce was a harder experience to go through than my dad dying of cancer.
“Old Time Love” expresses both the desire for and the willingness to give a kind of love that isn’t requisite of material goods. But romance isn’t going to be there all the time, so it’s like, “Hey, I’m in this for the long haul, even when the water gets rough. That’s what I’m here for.”
Q: How does the EP’s soulful sound complement its overall themes of love and growth? Who did you collaborate with on the EP during the recording process to help shape its sound?
A: I’ll say that [the idea of fitting into] a musical genre has been a journey for me. No matter where I land, people pick up something “soulful,” particularly in the vocal delivery. It’s not necessarily intentional; it’s just where I’m at home. I think I’d associate that term with “heartfelt”… there’s a genuineness in the writing and the performances.
As for the recording, I started tracking [the EP] in 2015, which is wild because I thought it would be done quickly, but it was not. I put out a bunch of singles and thought we would keep going at that pace, but life had other plans.
During that time though, there was a ton of collaboration on Old Time Love. I can think of [several] people right away that helped shape the sound. Billy Harrington is my longtime drummer and right-hand man at tracking and producing these songs.
Geoff Michael at Big Sky Recording in Ann Arbor did a lot of engineering or preliminary mixing, especially in the last months of working on the project. He has an incredible collection of gear and knowledge of how to get great sounds out of it.
Nick Nagurka mixed all the audio. I would describe Nick’s mixing as the final instrument of every song. There was a lot of learning to let Nick just take the vision for things like EQ and effects where he saw [the songs] going artistically. I’m really happy with what he did.
Bassist Takashi Iio did a lot of the work on the EP before he was working with Your Generation. He recorded some of those songs multiple times, and he’s a very prolific and respected session and live player around Detroit.
I met singer-songwriter Rashida Johnson in 2017 or 2018, but I’ve worked with her quite a bit since then. Her [vocal] work on the EP was done in two or three sessions tops. We got together for a couple of rehearsals and arranged some vocals, and then Rashida and Shanta Scott came in and knocked the vocals out.
As for The Woodward Horns, it’s the first time I’ve recorded with them as a section. I’ve known all the guys—Bobby Streng (baritone saxophone, horn arrangements), James Hughes (tenor saxophone), Jimmy Smith (trumpet), and Matt Martinez (trombone, horn arrangements)—in the group for a long time, and I’ve worked with all of them individually or two or three of them at a time.
Lastly, Chris DuPont has been a bud for a while, and we often bounce stuff off each other at various phases of writing and recording. There’s a lot of talking each other off ledges and listening through mixes in each other’s cars and stuff. Again, lots of people had a musical hand in the project but these [folks] have their fingerprints all over it.
Q: What do you have planned for your December 1 EP release show at The Ark? Who will be joining you on stage for your set?
A: I think I’m going to play the EP straight through, but I’m not set on that yet. The rest of the set is gonna be some of the hits, and it’s gonna be some songs that people haven’t heard much. We might have a cover or two thrown in there, so we’ll see.
Kylee Phillips is opening the show, and I’m hoping she’ll maybe come back up on stage to do something with me while I’m there. Billy Harrington (drums) and Mike Harrington (pedal steel) are going to play as well as Ken Pesick, who’s been my regular bass player for quite a while now.
Marvin Thompson is going to play keys, and he’s also a brilliant jazz piano player and singer in his own right. Rashida Johnson and Shanta Scott are going to sing, and I will have four horns. Matt Martinez, the trombone player, is the only one from The Woodward Horns who I could get for the show. The other three are Ann Arbor staples: Tim Haldeman, Mark Kieme, and Ingrid Racine. Tony Pace and Chris DuPont might make cameos.
Q: What’s up next for you before year’s end and into early 2024?
A: I’m going to work on advancing a March 14 show at 20 Front Street with Al Bettis as soon as we can. I also want to book some supporting stuff around it and book some [studio] sessions to record a few new songs. I think my future writing might focus more on processing [love and life] through the lens of contentment, having peace instead of regrets, and living in the moment.
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.