Weird Voodoo Tales: AM and the Lure of History

“I live in the wrong time,” claims pop singer/songwriter AM, his name a nod to the radio waves that once carried the music he most admires. AM’s new album, Future Sons and Daughters, recorded by the Magnetic Fields’ Charles Newman, is populated entirely with sounds made by instruments dated no later than 1970. “I knew I wanted to keep things sounding old,” he says. “As a result, I think the record has hints of psychedelia, a bit of a ’60s connotation, a trippy spaciousness.” AM even had his bassist play with a pick to get the same sound as famous session musician Carol Kaye, who played on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds among a slew of other classic recordings.

Like a lot of today’s more successful modern indie rock, Future Sons and Daughters forgoes risk-taking for a purely smooth, in-the-pocket sound that doesn’t force you to really pay attention to its beautiful details. Congas and other softer hand drums often occupy the space a rock drum kit otherwise might. As a result, AM has had great success landing over 90 of his songs (including all 10 from his Troubled Times album) in television shows, from Knight Rider and The Hills, to films including the New Orleans-shot Flakes.

AM grew up in Mandeville, graduated from Loyola University, and had his first major musical experiences and epiphanies in local clubs. “I got to work in a tiny little music store in Covington,” he recalls, “the now defunct Music Corner, where all the reputable bluegrass musicians would come in and broaden my musical palette.” Though it may seem incongruous after listening to his down-tempo pop tunes, AM also credits Walter “Wolfman” Washington as a musical motivator, and cites a Maceo Parker show at House of Blues that changed his life. “Growing up in New Orleans gave me the love of jazz and R&B and funk, but I don’t copy that sound,” says the current resident of Los Angeles’ artier Echo Park area.

Future Sons and Daughters escapes the retro tag with an undeniable modernity. The analog keyboard washes and tasty George Harrison-esque guitar licks pop in and out of the mix in a precise way only ProTools could manage. And though the record wears its influences on its sleeve—from Philly soul to Brazilian Tropicalia—it’s usually in the nonchalant, understated manner of a music fan from the iPod Generation, rather than a musician obsessed with eclecticism. Or as AM puts it, “I think making music means taking what you listen to—and these days there’s no excuse to not have a varied music collection, given the unprecedented access to music—and you jumble all that together. I don’t see how that’s avoidable, and I never understood trying to mask it.”

AM plays Friday, October 29 at 2:30 p.m. on the Voodoo Stage.