Interview: Adam Balbo


NorCal musican/humorist Adam Balbo just released Fix, his excellent and umpteenth album. Featuring instant classics like “The Girl at My Pity Party” and the tongue-in-cheek “Obligatory Highway Analogy” (MP3), the album sounds like a cross between Bob Dylan and Mason Jennings, but is set apart by Balbo’s drier-than-bone wit. As a service to our readers, we commissioned Fancy Dan of The Fancy Dan Band to interview the self-aware, self-deprecating musician. Balbo’s insights about Legos, mosquito-shooting lasers, and how to invite someone to be in your porno can be found below.

Fancy Dan: How have the places you’ve lived inspired your songwriting?

Adam Balbo: This can probably only be answered years after the fact. Elegant Pond, an album I wrote in 2002—my last year in Bloomington, Indiana, when I was finishing college—is contemplative and has lots of big ideas. But after living in Beijing for over two years, my perspective changed and I cussed a lot more with More Stuff Other People Said, in 2005. Now I’m in California and not sure what is happening to me. This probably has as much to do with growing up as environment.

Fancy Dan: What kinds of music have influenced you in the past and are influencing you now?

Adam Balbo: Man, good question, but I’ll evade it with a metaphor. Let’s say the entire body of music in existence is Earth—the spherical rock we know it to be. I might be the like ancient Greeks charting my flat world. But, like them, I try to explore and plunder what I like.

Fancy Dan: How do you feel about folk music as a tradition and in what ways do you think folk music is relevant today?

Adam Balbo: Folk music will always be relevant at least to the folks doing it, right? As for tradition, I study the canon but am not beholden to scripture.

Fancy Dan: Where do you see your music going in the future?

Adam Balbo: Moving forward. Down the line. Into the sunset.

Fancy Dan: Do you find it difficult to write with a sense of humor in your songs without coming across as being jokey or like a novelty act?

Adam Balbo: Sometimes. But ultimately I don’t let it bother me. With “6 Outta 9 w/Beats,” I confined myself to use an old Casio keyboard to see what I could do with the programmed beats. It was an experiment—and kind of silly. But I think music can be both humorous and serious simultaneously.

Fancy Dan: In many of your songs you seem to reference cliches and things that have already been sung about for a long time, but you do it in an original way. Is it important for you to put a fresh spin on traditional topics or styles of songs?

Adam Balbo: Do you know there are lasers that shoot malaria-carrying mosquitoes? Some images seem timeless, others fleeting or narrowly topical. As long as there are people, there will be rocks or the sun. Love. The ocean. Timeless. So people will keep singing about those things. Referencing 1980s cartoon bad guys can be fun and meaningful, though, if the audience gets it. I try not to get bogged down thinking about it too much.

Fancy Dan: You sing with a sense of self-deprecation in a number of your songs, which seems sort of like a reaction against the self-righteous nature of many folksingers. Is this an intentional thing or do your songs just come out this way?

Adam Balbo: It is not meant to be a reaction against anybody. I guess making fun of myself sometimes is just my sense of humor.

Fancy Dan: Are writing lyrics and storytelling the most important aspects of the songwriting process to you or are melody and arrangement equally important?

Adam Balbo: Both are important – like wheels on a bicycle frame.

Fancy Dan: Do most of your songs get written quickly or do you take time to refine them before they are finished?

Adam Balbo: Some just come out. My song “Let’s Make a Porno” I wrote in about 20 minutes. “Obligatory Highway Analogy” I wrote in a day. Others take awhile—maybe weeks. Some I don’t finish.

Fancy Dan: What was your favorite childhood toy and why?

Adam Balbo: Hard to pick a favorite. It’s maybe a three-way tie: Yogi Bear stuffed animal, GI Joes, and Legos.

Fancy Dan: Are there particular aspects of what you do – from songwriting to performing to recording – that you find are the most satisfying?

Adam Balbo: I like aspects of all three. Most important, for me, is that I don’t feel stale when I’m writing, singing, or making an album. If I’m bored or I find myself trying to recreate something that I’ve already done, I inevitably won’t want to do it. I try to put myself in situations where I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing.

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