Musician Adam Stern grew up near Indian Rock in North Berkeley and his local roots weave through his eclectic music style which runs the gamut from folk, rock and blues to world rhythms. His songs convey messages of hope, peace, and coexistence in a time, he says, when we need it the most. Now pursuing his music career in Los Angeles (watch his Valentine’s video shot there, below), Stern recently released his latest album, “Cosmicology”. Berkeleyside had a chance to quiz Stern about his music and his outlook — and, of course, we asked him to spill the beans about Berkeley.
How would you describe your music?
I make Organic Pop.
How long have you been a musician?
Music has been the guiding force in my life as far back as I can remember. I joined my first band when I was 12. I’d say I became a musician not too long after. I used to go out as a street performer with my acoustic guitar in front of Peet’s Coffee shops around the Bay and at various BART stations singing Grateful Dead, James Taylor, Cat Stevens and Bob Marley covers, mixing in an original or two.
I’d do this during the day and then look for open mics and places to sing by night. I was writing songs, so I started recording them on a small set-up in my room, layering parts and vocal harmonies and such. That’s kinda how it all kicked.
What role has Berkeley played in your life and career?
My music grows directly out of being born and raised in Berkeley. You get exposed to a lot coming up in Berkeley. My father took me very often as a child to places like The Freight & Salvage, La Peňa, Ashkenaz, and exposed me to the rich folk and songwriter tradition of Berkeley and the Bay. Those institutions were very influential on me and are very important to me.
Then you grow up at the Solano Stroll and around town as a kid — I remember being entranced by capoeira music and dance in the streets, drum circles in the quad on campus, hustlin’ jivin’ comedian beggars and poets on Telegraph Avenue, (sometimes naked) demonstrators with backpacks and boomboxes, skate and bike culture, and street musicians — you see so much. All this in addition to being raised on the popular music of my parents and grandparents, compounded by my experience growing up in the 90s which was an incredibly diverse and vibrant time in mainstream music.
It’s because of the diversity of my early exposure to music that my whole life I’ve always gravitated and resonated completely with reggae, rock, hip-hop, funk, soul, R&B, singer-songwriters and folk music, as well as other styles and rhythms from around the world. To me it’s all music and it all speaks to me on the deepest levels. What I love most is a good song though. So organic pop is my innate fusion of all these styles through the prism of my spirit, manifested within a pop song structure.
Where do you live now and what are you up to?
I’m currently based in Los Angeles. I wish I could come home more often, my Cheese Board, Zachary’s and La Farine intake is at unhealthy and dangerously low levels. I’m hoping to remedy it ASAP and be home over the summer to rock at least one big show in the Bay. I just finished a big stint in the studio recording my latest album “Cosmicology” so I’m excited about getting this music out to more people and taking it to new places.
Your new album “Cosmicology” tackles war, immigration, climate change and more. Why the dark subjects? Are you hopeful or gloomy about these issues?
I’m hopeful. “Cosmicology” is about achieving our highest potential as human beings both individually and collectively. It’s a record about hope, love, compassion and coexistence. I say in the first song on the record, “Light is much brighter in the darkness.” I won’t give up my hope and I pray you won’t either. I firmly believe we can and we will innovate our way through whatever mess, whatever darkness we find ourselves in. Bottom line, hindsight always offers a clearer perspective and I see no reason for a doomsday scenario, or mushroom clouds to burst before we realize our differences are not as powerful as the things that unite us as human beings — and we remember that we’re all on the same team here. We are either going to kill each other or we are going to learn to coexist and come together. I believe the crises we see on our planet are shifting our consciousness to successfully adapt for the latter.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you come back home to Berkeley?
I really enjoy eating a lot, we’re a special force in the world as far as food and wine are concerned so I try to capitalize on that as much as possible when back in town. Of course, the best is seeing my family and friends, hanging out and catching the exquisite sunsets and sunrises especially at the various rocks and up on Grizzly Peak.
My favorite thing is wandering through Berkeley walking my dog Moses Blue! If I’m home, you’re likely to catch me just aimlessly rambling Mendocino Path, through John Hinkel Park, up and through the Rose Garden, over into South Berkeley and back around again. Having Moses Blue at my side — witnessing his fascination and sheer joy experiencing the richness of the smells and the nature that is everywhere throughout Berkeley — it makes me so grateful and proud of my home. His presence enhances my own already enormous appreciation and makes the experience awfully magical and soulfully restorative.
So that’s my favorite thing to do, kinda homebody-ish but whatever, I like to just chill.