Tuning In with Adam Nemett

Posted on November 13, 2014 by


Adam Nemett is a relative newcomer to Charlottesville (he and his wife moved here last year), but he’s no stranger to music.

“Starting at age three, I’d spend hours lip syncing to Michael Jackson and Bruce Springsteen while fake-strumming a ukulele. I tried playing various instruments—piano, guitar, saxophone and bass—but nothing really stuck,” he says.

Adam Nemett Photo by Jennifer Freiling

Adam Nemett
Photo by Jennifer Freiling

The instruments may not have stuck, but the music did. In high school, Nemett got into jam bands and improvisational music. He attended his first Phish show in December 1995 and spent the next few years following the band around the country, catching anywhere from 10 to 20 Phish concerts each year.

When he arrived at Princeton University in 1999, he discovered that most of the social and music scene there was centered around campus DJs playing “the same tired Top 40 playlist.” Nemett and a couple of friends formed Modern Improvisational Music Appreciation (MIMA) and started organizing concerts on an off campus. Membership grew to about 500 students, and the club brought to Princeton the likes of Willie Nelson, the Disco Biscuits, John Scofield, Antibalas, and a bunch of electronic music raves.

By the end of college, Nemett was writing lyrics and “doing spoken-word stuff” for a band while simultaneously trying his hand at filmmaking. His film project focused on the very thing that Nemett claims escapes him: the instrument.

Nemett wrote, directed, and produced a low-budget feature-length film called The Instrument. The film, he says, is “about a visionary instrument creator who dies and leaves behind the blueprints for a new system of ritual worship based on music. Seven students move into his interactive workshop for a month and music work together to complete a series of seven rituals in order to gain an inheritance he’s left for them.”

It was yet another chance for Nemett to work with talented musicians while exploring his own creative outlets.

“Meanwhile,” says Nemett, “I handed MIMA off to a guy who built it from a small student organization to MIMA Music Inc., an international NGO and 501 ( c) 3 nonprofit organization that provides music education to underserved communities.”

MIMA works with the U.S. Department of State and various embassies to train teachers and launch songwriting workshops in more than 30 countries. (If you attended last year’s TEDx Charlottesville, you might have heard of this.) The organization also produces audio and video recordings of the songs created in the songwriting workshops, and organizes concerts that act as fundraisers to help support the music and media offerings. Nemett served as board chairman of MIMA from 2012 to 2014 and currently serves as a trustee.

Nemett has introduced many people to new music, but he considers his most important audience to be his young son.

When his son was born, Nemett says that his relationship to music “immediately shifted and became much more direct and personal again, rather than organizational.” He picked up an instrument—the mandolin—about a month before his son was born, and started playing bluegrass once a week with a group of local musicians.

“Music has become one of the main ways I connect with my son. We played music to him in the womb, and The Band’s “The Weight” is still the main song I sing to get him to sleep. We’ve also decorated his nursery in record album covers, including one by The Staples Singers, so I added their great cover of “The Weight” to my playlist.”

Nemett’s son has a lot more listening to do. From the day he and his wife learned that they were having a boy, Nemett has been working on “a massive playlist for Jack called The History of American Music.” It starts, he says, in 1899 and “attempts to cover pretty much all the important songs from the past century or so.” He plans on including about 1,000 songs, and he’s about three quarters of the way through right now.

Nemett has also created a 200-song lullaby playlist, one that he and his wife have shared with other new parents. Rockabye Baby features lullaby versions of various songs (including Phish’s “Free”) “and it’s been a life-saver for whenever we get sick of the goofy music they build into baby toys and sleep machines.”

When he’s not being a dad, bringing music to the masses or making playlists (he curates the music for Forage dinners, too), Nemett is writing. Or, he’s at his day job, as an author and creative director for The History Factory.

And he’s almost always listening to music. His wife, Kate Lynn, bought him a record player a few years ago, so the couple listens to vinyl quite a bit, especially when they have friends over for dinner. He’s also a fan of a Canadian streaming radio show, WeFunk, that mixes 60s soul music with new/old hip-hop and deep R&B cuts. “When I’m in the mood to (re)discover music,” says Nemett, “I always return to WeFunk.”

The Playlist

The playlist Nemmet shares this week is an autobiographical one. The song chronology, he says, is “based on when these songs made a moment in my life,” beginning with college, moving to San Francisco then to Baltimore and finally to C’Ville; MIMA planning, and the birth of his son. He ends with two songs that remind him of playing mandolin each week, then “an ode to some talented musicians and Forage friends here in C’Ville.”

Nemett brings the sonic journey home with a tune from Humble Tripe, who will be playing a show in Nemett’s living room on Dec. 7.



Posted in: music, Tuning in