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Adam Dobres: Canadian Guitarist Profiled

Updated on November 7, 2017
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Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!

Adam Dobres (Photo by Maggie Jane Czech)
Adam Dobres (Photo by Maggie Jane Czech)

Playing the guitar has been a consuming passion for Adam Dobres since he was 12 years old. It all started when he decided to take an extra-curricular guitar class. At the same time, his dad brought him a guitar purchased at a second-hand store. He says, “I didn’t realize at the time how lucky I was, but I had an instructor in middle school named Fraser Kerley who was a really phenomenal guitar player.”

After a while, his parents realized that he was taking guitar playing more seriously, so they decided that they would get him some lessons. Adam says, “My parents were surrounded by a classical music environment. My mom’s sister was a concert clarinettist in the Winnipeg Symphony. They decided to put me into classical guitar lessons when I was 13/14. I really enjoyed it and got a lot out of it for technique, but I was looking for a very different performance reality.”

As time went on, Adam made connections with many B.C. musicians who’ve gone on to play with a wide variety of well-known Canadian bands. He explains, “When I was 15/16 years old, I met an amazing musician named Adrian Dolan (The Bills). He was in Daniel Lapp’s fiddle orchestra. Adrian dragged me out to some of the fiddle orchestra concerts. I joined them on the guitar for a while and that got me into Celtic music. That music really hits a deep part of me.”

He continues, “It was at that point in time that I met Tania Elizabeth who played violin with the Duhks. We formed a little Celtic group with Adrian, Tania and myself when we were about 15. It was the first group that I’d ever played in.”

Adam did one year of jazz school at a Vancouver Island University before he got a phone call that changed the direction of his life. He says, “I had a call from a guy in town named Oliver Swain. He was in a band called Scrüj MacDuhk. The band had sort of broken up but they still had a show in Louisiana. They needed a guitarist, so I decided to go on tour with them. We got off the plane and went to a restaurant where they had Cajun music playing. It was a life-changing moment. I could suddenly hear this music from the land where it came from. I saw how the music wove into the food and the people.”

His life since those days has been quite busy playing with Canadian alt-country musicians like Dustin Bentall, Cameron Latimer and Ridley Bent. He also took a trip to the Celtic Connections festival in Scotland with Daniel Lapp. Of that experience, he says, “I got to see Scottish and Irish music being played by the people in the places where it was from. That experience just deepened my love for the music even more.”

Another unique moment for Adam came when he helped form a band for Canadian pop singer Toni Childs. He says, “I met her at a benefit concert when she was raising awareness about FGM. She stopped music when she got Grave’s disease to do her activities around raising awareness. I was asked to put a band together for the benefit and she sang with us. It grew into this relationship with her that lead to us playing her comeback tour because she healed herself of Grave’s disease. We ended up doing seven tours in Australia and New Zealand with Toni because that’s where she had her hits.”

He adds, “It was an interesting experience for me playing more electric guitar in front of a big audience. It was a fun thing to jump into. It fizzled to an end because Toni started changing her direction a bit and doing wellness work.”

Since that time, he’s also worked closely with Ruth Moody of the Wailin’ Jennys as well as doing projects with violinist Pierre Schreyer and accordionist Dermot Byrne from Ireland.

The biggest step that Adam has taken recently has been recording his own solo album. He explains, “Over the past year I decided, with a lot of encouragement from my wife, to set myself a challenge and record a solo album. I found that what I was trying to write was actually harder than what I could play at the time, so I learned how to play fingerstyle guitar. After about six months, I had enough material, so I decided to record it at the house.”

He continues, “The album is more weighted to my Celtic influence. It also has some klezmer influence because I’m Jewish on both sides of my family. I’ve played klezmer with my aunt before accompanying her on clarinet. Some of the rock and pop stuff is there too. Sometimes when you play power chords on an acoustic guitar in the right context, it doesn’t sound like rock music at all.”

For a musician used to being in the background, being solo on stage has taken some adjustment for Adam. He says, “It took a lot of courage for me because I told myself at one point that I’d never play by myself.”

The process that he took to record his solo album started with him simply sitting down and jamming out music on his guitar. Adam explains, “I’d record little five or ten second snippets and see if I could elaborate on them. The next day I’d go back and try to extend those snippets. Whenever I got stuck, I’d just move on to another snippet or jam again until something came out. After doing this over and over again, songs would start to form. It was really amazing to see that.”

One of the songs on the album, Freda’s Journey, has particular resonance for Adam. It started out as a melancholy melody in a minor key with a distinct klezmer feeling to it. He continues, “It made me think about my family history and my great grandmother. At the age of ten, her father and two brothers were killed in a Russian pogrom and her mother died in her sleep. She was alone at the age of ten in Russia.

Two of her siblings had already gone to Canada, so she had family here. She had made a life for herself in Russia by buying and reselling things. The family had to sneak her into Poland and onto a boat. She eventually made it to Saskatchewan after weeks at sea.”

Adam concludes, “When I do that song in my show, someone often comes up and says they’ve got a similar story about a relative.”

As for his future plans, he’s trying to scale back on his freelance work. He says, “I’m opening a recording studio in January 2018, so it’ll help me stay home more. I like having the choice of which tours I go on. It’s what I’m leaning towards. I have a couple artists lined up who want to come and record in January. It’s a way to stay home and still feel creative at the same time.”

Adam finds creative inspiration from several different sources. He says, “I feel inspired as soon as I’m done a show. I have all of this music running through me that I want to record. I also like being out in nature. It definitely helps me recharge.”

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