Not just pop music, Per Se

To say that Anne Adams has a penchant for the theatrical is a severe understatement. The Per Se auteur is currently working in the film industry, entertaining a pending engagement at Portland Center Stage, and has been known to perform while wearing a set of full-blown wings.

To say that Anne Adams has a penchant for the theatrical is a severe understatement. The Per Se auteur is currently working in the film industry, entertaining a pending engagement at Portland Center Stage, and has been known to perform while wearing a set of full-blown wings.

These somewhat random anecdotes make more sense when viewed in tandem with Adams’ music, which wraps character-driven tales into spare arrangements and cyclical melodies to create the kind of pop that demands a setting larger than life. Known for her superhuman work ethic, Adams found time somewhere in her 55-hour workweek to answer some questions about her songs, her writing and the artistic importance of fairies.

I’ve been hearing snippets and rumors about an upcoming album from you for a while. Any fresh light to shed on that development?

I just got the mastered files back today. I have a good feeling, but I’ll review them to make sure. Now, I have to finish the liner notes and figure out replication and money stuff. So, more imminently than ever, publication … pending …

There seems to be a very “theatrical” quality to your songs. Would you say this is true? And if so, where do you think that comes from?

True. Well, somewhat true. In terms of content, I do mostly monologues and soliloquies–but so does everybody. That’s what song lyrics usually are. I think the theatrical element is most present in the performances. Even then, it’s all relative. Per Se shows are theatrical compared to typical singer/songwriter shows. But not compared to proper musical theater. I’d hate to say, “Yes, I’m so theatrical,” and then have people expect characters and dialogue and sets. So, if you’re reading this and you haven’t seen Per Se, don’t get expectations. It’s mostly just me, talking and playing some songs. I may try to wear something cool, and if I’m lucky, I might say something clever. And sometimes I cry. That’s about all.

I think that when the album comes out, people might be surprised that it’s not all erratic and indulgent. It doesn’t have the same fits and starts that the shows sometimes do. It’s more pop. That’s not to say it’s boring-just more listenable in the long haul. You can give a disc more spins if it doesn’t drag you through too much dynamic drama.

You’ve mentioned before that you sometimes avoid listening to groups in your sonic neighborhood in order to avoid “cross-pollination.” Do you ever find it difficult to keep your songs from straying from the voice you intended?

I think it’s just difficult enough to hear my own voice–my own thoughts, the music that my brain is making–without adding too many similar voices to my mental soundscape. If I were a really deliberate writer, maybe it’d be different. But I’m not. I don’t decide what music I’m going to make, as much as I listen for it in my head. So, I need space and silence. I can’t have cerebral clutter.

Also, I can’t think too much about where my work is going to fit into the greater scheme of popular trend. There’s the worry that the voice I sing from, which is my truest, is already overrepresented in the music world, and I wonder if adding my songs to the pile is just … superfluous. Obsessing on this idea, as I sometimes do, depresses me. I’ve invested myself in this process for too long to just duck out because it’s crowded.

I’ve spoken with a couple musicians who’ve referred to Portland’s music community as kind of a double-edged sword. There are a lot of great artists to work with, but with this much talent, it’s hard to stick out from the crowd. What do you think about this notion, and have you encountered any problems with rising above the clutter in the Portland community?

Oh my goodness. Portland has about two bands per capita. And when you first get here, the scene seems backwards. Everybody’s a musician, yet nobody’s supposed to promote.

Really serious, excellent musicians are everywhere in this town, and they’re often undercover–maybe working a day job, maybe under-dressing. If they tell you about their project, they’ll just say that they have one–that’s all–because they don’t want everyone tearing at their coattails.

On the other hand, people who wouldn’t have a band in another town start one here ’cause it’s the fashion. You meet them at parties, and they discourse very intelligently about their band, and then you go to their show and it’s … something they’re doing more for fashion or to entertain themselves, rather than to deliver any artistic goods.

That’s the double edge that I’ve experienced–extraordinary artistry and hobbyism literally sharing the same stage and vying for the same audiences. I perceive that this is changing, though. The critical mass of competition is making more space for people who have seriously good music to share.

There seems to be this fairy tale aspect to both your music and your “persona,” as it were. What do you think attracts you to this aesthetic?

Hmm. All little girls like fairies, I think, so to a certain extent it’s my emotional side, my more naive self that I sing from, that wants to indulge that whim. From a more academic perspective, there’s the Shakespearean model of fairies, not only as beings with magical powers, but as emcees of shows, agents of fate and mischievous manipulators of human emotions. So, I guess putting on wings, which I do sometimes, is a statement of intent. Hi, I will be playing the Puck; I’m just messing with y’all. Or I’m Ariel, fixing to whip up a tiny tempest.

Kind of along those lines, I recently heard someone refer to pop music as “modern mythology.” Do you think this is an accurate statement, and if so, how do you think your music fits into this cultural context?

No, I think religion is modern mythology. Also, possibly comic books.

Music is art, and art, according to Mark Goldhammer of The Whelps, “is the new suburban lawn.” This metaphor seems to work pretty well, if you think about it, for our generation and especially in Portland. A lot of us live on our intellectual property. We groom and maintain it, and pay the utilities with our meager money. We labor over it on the weekends. It’s a display to lure the neighbors to visit us, and to show the community that we care. In a larger scope, that’s what the kids are doing on networking sites–making personal expression into a staked claim, into property. Into “your space.” And, for many of us, self-expression is all we’ve got. It’s the only place we can hang out when we’re out of spending money.But I’ll say this: If art is the new suburban lawn, I want to grow at least a few exotic plants. And maybe in my lifetime, acquire a couple acres to pass on to my family.

For an extended transcript of the interview with Adams, visit

Per Se performances

Feb. 7 Portland Center Stage Armory Theatre5:30 p.m.Cost: FREEAll ages

Feb. 8 The Modern AgeLocated in Food for Thought Café in SMSU 26 8 p.m., tickets are $3All ages