I text my mom on the bus as I make my way to interview Adrian Teacher and the Subs. I admit to her that I’m anxious about meeting a very prominent member of the Vancouver music scene because he’s a real adult. Teacher has played in many bands around town, most notably Apollo Ghosts and Cool TV. He’s been self-releasing music for ten years and it’s apparent that he’s both a talented and diversely experienced musician. Just as Apollo Ghosts is alternative indie rock and Cool TV is firmly funk; Teacher reinvents his sound yet again with his debut solo EP, Sorta Hafta.
This EP, which dropped on May 5, is folksy, reflexive, and very grown up. The lyrics are heavy with perspective and experiential wisdom, without cynicism. Paradoxically, the songs carry the tone of a teenage lyricist, but their thematic content comes from the heart of a world-weary adult.
The Subs are supposed to be Teacher’s solo project, but when I get to the Foundation restaurant where we’re meeting, there are clearly three people at the table. He is joined for some nachos (I assume –– they’ve already finished eating) by his band mates Amanda Pezzutto and Robbie Nall, who play drums and bass, respectively.
“It’s just so much nicer when, you know, Robbie throws down his version of what I’m trying to get at and it’s one hundred times better,” says Teacher, “And Amanda keeps things simple where I come up with something that’s maybe too complicated for a drum part. She’ll always bring it back to kind of a primal level. She’s a good editor, she calls me on my bullshit. It’s always way more fun to play with other people.”
Teacher takes on the roll of host for a kind of musical hang out with musicians he admires. Pezzutto and Teacher have worked together on both Apollo Ghosts and Cool TV, while Nall met the two more recently (a misremembered meeting sometime last year) and began jamming with Teacher. “I was like ‘Wow I gotta pinch this guy cause he’s too good!’” says Teacher of Nall, “I just started playing him some of my songs that I’d been working on and Robbie was like ‘I’ll just throw this juicy bass part on top of it.’”
“We’d be jamming and it was gold nugget after gold nugget. He’s an excellent songwriter,” says Nall. The two make bashful eye contact and Nall says, “I always admired Adrian’s music, Apollo Ghosts…” The group’s dynamic seems to be a mix of mutual support, respect, and fan-like admiration.
“I’m kind of like old reliable,” jokes Pezzutto, “I got roped into service years ago … and, again, with this [band] he was like ‘Well now I want you back for this one.’”
Pezzutto played drums in Apollo Ghosts and then bass for Cool TV. Back on drums with the Subs, Pezzutto’s place in the band is testament to the laid-back organization of Teacher’s project. “For me it’s just something fun to do,” she says, “If I wasn’t playing in a band I’d probably be playing Dungeons and Dragons.”
The move to solo work was a very practical decision on Teacher’s part. “Logistically it was just coming to the point where it was just getting tricky to maintain the idea of a band as a solid thing,” he says. When the goals of one band member change –– a desire for more practice time, or the possibility of a tour –– Teacher feels that it’s just too frustrating to keep other members obligated to a situation that’s unworkable for them.
Generally speaking, Teacher finds it a lot easier to go his own way. His strategy is to bring talented friends along when they are able to play gigs instead of trying to juggle conflicting schedules.
During their upcoming tour across Canada, the group will do some recording in Montreal at a studio called the Bottle Garden. Nall will fly back to Vancouver while Teacher and Pezzutto play SappyFest with another drummer (Amanda will presumably take up bass responsibilities). On top of the five songs from Sorta Hafta, the band says they’ve got ten or so “nuggets” that they’re working on and will play on tour in preparation for possible recording.
Teacher describes Sorta Hafta as “a short little thing for spring just to start it off.” The EP is pocket-sized in the sense that it clocks in at around eleven minutes and provides a cozy, easy listen that you’re inclined to carry with you everywhere. The first track, “When Did I Get Older,” sets the tone for the EP with harmonic, faraway vocals and folk-rock guitar. “One Thing Your Money Couldn’t Buy” is the EP’s gem. It’s musically straightforward, rhythmic and nostalgic, with earnest lyrics about the importance of the little beautiful things at the edges of everyday life.
“I had some rough things happen last year,” says Teacher. “It takes a few songs to work through some sort of personal feeling… It ended up being an album about mortality,” Pezzutto says of Teacher’s creative process. To which Teacher interjects: “You want to keep it youthful though, cause you don’t want to be labeled dad rock!”
By the end of the interview I’m feeling stupid for being worried about speaking with Teacher. His demeanor alone resists the “dad rock” label with a kind of youthful openness that I wasn’t expecting from such a well-loved musician. Teacher’s adulthood is exactly what makes this EP something special. As Teacher articulates in summary, “I try to write about common experiences … [like] a series of little photographs of some small thing that people can relate to … I’m a thirty five year old white guy and it’s like, I can’t fake it and write from another perspective, I just have to write about my life and the bullshit that goes on.”