Q&A: Norfolk & Western's Adam Selzer
The multitalented musician talks about his new graphic novel, which chronicles a lonely seven-week tour supporting a Christian rock band.
Between fronting local folk-rock band Norfolk & Western; touring with M. Ward, working with his new group, Alialujah Choir; and running his recording studio, Type Foundry, Adam Selzer has collected plenty of stories from a wide-ranging and varied musical life. One of the strangest, though, is the tale of the solo acoustic tour that took him to Europe in the fall of 2003 to open for a German band called Noise Toys. Selzer didn’t know until shortly before he left that Noise Toys was a Christian band, and that many of the stops on the seven-week tour would be at massive Christian rock festivals. Needless to say, his sparse, somber folk songs didn't quite fit.
Now, Selzer has chronicled those seven lonely weeks in a new graphic novel illustrated by Nick Choban, Ami Go Home (“Ami” is German slang for “American”). It's a darkly funny story about the ways we gain perspective and the things that make us feel out of place. At a release show for Ami Go Home at the Alberta Rose on November 1, Selzer will read portions of the book with the pages projected onto the theater’s screen, as well as perform a few songs to accompany the parts of the story that find him onstage. We sat down with the musician at his Type Foundry studio to talk with him about that strange tour, the new book, and the release show.
The comic is pretty funny; was that all retrospective humor? Or when it was happening, could you see the funny side?
I think when it was happening it wasn’t funny to me, which is kind of the basis of a lot of humor. It’s kind of like that line in that Woody Allen movie, Crimes and Misdemeanors: “Comedy is tragedy plus time.” And not that this was a tragedy, but that’s where you get the humor: serious things are happening, and then you reflect back on them. I mean, there’s a lot of retrospection in the narrative style, kind of getting on myself for feeling down, and trying to look at the big picture, because I didn’t want it to come across as me complaining the whole time.
As far as hindsight goes, then: the comic ends with you feeling disillusioned, feeling like you’re not that excited to do music for a while. But obviously that didn’t last.
I did quit for a year, though. I don’t know if it was exactly a year, but it was close. And right after that, I got pretty on it, fast. I recorded two records almost right away.
So are there any lessons from that particular tour that you apply now to your perspective on doing music for a living?
Even when I got back into doing music again, I was still trying to make smart decisions as far as putting out records and touring, but I wasn’t feeling like I wanted to make it a full-time job. I wasn’t going to do anything just because it might lead to something else. And it wasn't even that I thought that that tour was going to lead to bigger things; I just didn’t have anything else to do, and I thought it would be a good experience, seeing what it would be like to go at it solo, and go to Europe. But after a tour like that, I would have asked a lot more questions.
Is the multimedia nature of the release show something you’re looking to incorporate into future performances?
I’d love to do this again. I might do a tour in Australia this spring and open all the shows doing this performance. And locally, if this works out—I have no idea; it could be a total disaster. It works in my head, but we’ll see in actuality. But it seems like a fun thing to do: nothing against music, I’ve been doing music forever, but it's kinda nice to see something different. And I would love to do it in music spaces, opening for another band or whatever.
Before I read the comic, I was expecting a lot of scenes of German evangelists trying to convert you, but there are really only a few; if anything, the book makes it seem like the people at these shows were more interested in casting you as an outsider. Did that surprise you at the time?
I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t want to put a ton of [scenes of evangelizing] in the book, but it definitely happened. It wasn’t all the time, just when they saw the right opportunity. And to their credit, they thought they were doing me a favor. But we’d have a lot of conversations about it.
What was the vibe of these Christian festivals that you played at?
It was crazy. I really wanted to capture that, and hopefully the [release] show will really increase it, because I’ll have heavy metal blaring and the like. At all the festivals, there was always really loud metal bands, sometimes punk. Noise Toys were pretty pop, but they were also pretty loud. The kids loved them. They knew all the words, and the fans were really into it. And me? It was just so out of place, just not the right situation.
A lot of the time, religion had nothing to do with it. It just came down to the lyrics of their songs. Some of the bands we were touring with—you think, “a Christian band, they’ll be all goodie two shoes,” but it wasn’t like that at all. They can be just as fratty as anyone else! But just knowing why everyone was there, that it was a whole scene revolving around the Jesus Freaks thing: that was always on the back of my mind. Just walking in, though? I’m not sure I would know.
Yeah, it's funny, because you’d expect that you would have been an outsider because of religion, when in fact it was really because of the vibe of your music versus theirs.
Ami Go Home release
Nov 1 at 8
Alberta Rose Theatre If you could do it all again, would you have done this tour?
I’m glad I got this book out of it. That almost makes it worth it. It’s cool it finally came together, and is coming out exactly 10 years after it happened. I don’t regret going, because it was definitely a weird experience, and life should have some of that.