Rap-battling kid turned singer-songwriter Adam LaGreca, 24, is the lexophilic mind behind the indie folk-rock group The Academics, who are releasing their debut EP Happier this week. The introspective musician has been writing music since he casually picked up a guitar after moving to a white-picket suburb from a rough neighborhood as a teenager. Now finishing up his M.A. in English Literature at Brooklyn College, he remains the sole non-revolving member of the musical cast, managing, in true New York fashion, to find time to compose and perform in the midst of a full time corporate dream job, freelance writing, and a hectic semester of studying.
Ever the pensive wordsmith, LaGreca credits music as the most powerful medium “because words and emotion happen at once.” And that is certainly the case for his official freshman EP, a blend of slow melodic tracks, soft percussion, and whisper-like vocals. Inspired by songwriters like Isaac Brock and Conor Oberst—”What I like about these guys is their diversity; they can be real sweet or real angsty”—and emerging from a series of fragmented real life moments, the tracks exist on the periphery of fiction, blurring the line between what’s real and what’s not, reaching their full potential with the band’s interpretation.
We caught up with LaGreca on a hazy Friday morning to discuss the EP along with his creative process and distaste for happy endings.
NAME: Adam LaGreca
HOMETOWN: Brentwood, New York
GROWING UP ON RAP: It’s what all my friends were listening to. My music I’d say is still pretty lyrical, I just picked up a guitar one day. Indie rock just wasn’t a thing where I grew up. My father listened to classic rock, so I was definitely exposed to music, but I liked being a badass kid and listening to the rap tapes. I remember my mother took me to buy my first rap CD—it was a Jay-Z record, and he starts off like, “If you’re in your car, buckle up,” and my mother is trying to get into it. Then he cursed about 30 seconds after that and she threw the CD out the car window. I still love that record.
A LITERARY INFLUENCE: I don’t think I set out to write a “postmodern” song, but my influences, in terms of authors, certainly are. I like what their objectives were. They lived in a postwar, fractured world, and the stories of “once upon a time” just weren’t cutting it. They didn’t seem relatable for them, and as I’ve grown older they weren’t as relatable for me either. It was inspiring to see people mess around with structure as much as plot, you see it in books like House of Leaves or Cloud Atlas, and that certainly influences my music. Most of my songs don’t seem to have a verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure, at least not on this EP. They can also be fragmented, in that I’ll have pieces I’ve written at different times, then put it together to see if it works. That’s “Turn Out The Lights.”
NAMING “THE ACADEMICS”: I was on Long Island playing with a couple friends and we needed a name. There’s obviously the literary element, but I also just like how it sounds and the viewpoint people will go into my music with, knowing the band name. It makes you think the music may be a little challenging, which I think the best music is.
A PART-TIME GIG: It’s been a revolving cast. I think that’s partly because I haven’t given myself over to it. I work, I’m in school. Guys like Aodhan and Sammy are top shelf musicians, so there’s only so long you can expect to hold onto them if you’re not touring. I’ll always be making music, but I landed a dream job and have health insurance and stuff, so that’s tough to walk away from. I did briefly consider doing music full-time. It was in the summer after I graduated college. I was just bouncing around working at writing centers and wasn’t sure where I was going with my life. I had just written “Placeholder” and thought to go to Camden Park in Brooklyn Heights and just play all day for people. Busking. I went up to a nice-looking elderly couple and played the song for them. At the end they kind of gave a half-hearted clap—turns out they were Russian and did not understand a word of English. After that day, I went home and applied to graduate school.
ON “PLACEHOLDER”: I actually wrote that one a while ago, after coming home from the bar in college. It’s my favorite. It strikes a nice balance between personal and general, if that makes sense? It’s a nice place to be, I don’t get there often. I try and not fill in too many of the colors, but I’d say it’s about lovers and liars, and about the fear of being replaced. I remember coming home after talking to a girl for a bit, and the first line of the song, “We keep acting out the play,” came pretty quickly. After that, it was done in 10 minutes. That saying, “Every song’s a love song,” rings true a lot of the time. My hope is that when I scream, “Placeholder won’t you take mine,” people can relate to that strong feeling. It’s kind of a sarcastic line. It’s exactly what the protagonist doesn’t want, you know?
TORTURED VS. MISUNDERSTOOD: I wish I was more prolific. I think why a lot of the greatest artists are some of the best people is because they get their pain out of their system. I think it’s a mistake to try and imagine what someone is like just from listening to their music. Is there a tendency for creative people to, in general, be more sensitive? Absolutely. The world isn’t always the easiest for gentle people. People start to get uncomfortable when others reveal too much of themselves. It’s like, “Hey, can we go back to talking about making money and getting our fill?” But I think the torture comes from Disney stars making millions and average musicians can’t sell their records.
THE HAPPIER EP: I’m a super positive person, but I’m human. I find music that explores a range of emotions, and isn’t just single-tracked or profit-oriented, to be the most gratifying. Things don’t have to be perfectly polished or put together for me. I’m not into American Idol and predictable happy endings. They’re the opposite of realistic. That’s not to say that they never happen, but when the media lies to you and your government lies to you and the world’s at war, you have to confront these things. A sad song can at times make you feel better because you can relate, it’s like talking to a friend on the phone, but I know people don’t always look to music for reflection of self, or to identify. Most use it to escape reality, and I totally get that—I use it for that too—I just think music has more utility than that.
A RELUCTANT BROOKLYNITE: There’s a big piece of me that wants to move to Stowe, Vermont, but there are no jobs up there. I miss being outside, I miss driving, I miss reasonable prices—but if you can stomach all that, Brooklyn is the best place in the world to be. I read a quote recently that said something like, “There are two ways to see the world: travel or live in Brooklyn.”
THE ACADEMICS’ HAPPIER EP IS OUT THIS SATURDAY, JANUARY 18, AND THE BAND WILL PLAY FAT BABY THAT NIGHT.