cover story Almost Famous September 9, 2019

Introducing Rory Adams: A future Aussie hitmaker in the making

Contributor
Introducing Rory Adams: A future Aussie hitmaker in the making

Rory Adams is a young man in a hurry.

Eighteen years old and barely out of high school, he’s spent much of 2019 travelling the world, meeting record label executives. He’s been to London, to Stockholm, and to Los Angeles twice.

In the classic industry cliché, the young star’s rise is meteoric (ignoring the fact that meteors often burn up in the atmosphere). Adams doesn’t seem like that. He sounds like a down-to-earth kid from Adelaide. In just ten months, the student swatting for final exams has shot from obscurity to a worldwide publishing deal with Sony/ATV.

With great management and an enviable publishing deal, Adams appears set for a long career. He may be the best example of a new music phenomenon: the Next Big Thing that nobody will hear about.

Adams is not a pop star, at least not yet. But he is a star songwriter in the making. And in an industry that has increasingly come to resemble the Tin Pan Alley of New York in the 1920s, songwriters are once again having their moment.

The new Tin Pan Alley is in Los Angeles, now firmly established as the centre of the global music industry. If you have enough talent, LA is where the money is.

And the one thing everyone agrees on is that Rory Adams has preternatural songwriting talent.

Adams’ manager is the influential New Zealand industry maven Ashley Page. “Rory’s strong sense of melody and structure is ahead of his time,” Page told me in an email. “There’s a depth and maturity to Rory’s songwriting that’s hard for many writers to tap into in their lifetime.”

“Joel Little and I had been looking for a strong topliner for a very long time, but there are so many ‘good’ writers out there,” Page added. “Really good. But Joel wanted to wait until we had seen the potential of a great writer, and that is Rory Adams.”

Of course, it helps that Adams’ music is also extremely commercial. It’s a very contemporary blend of polished, capacious, luxurious pop. His lyrics speak of loves lost and loves found. Adams’ melodies float like gossamer; his ballads are gut punches. He also writes a killer middle eight. Maree Hamblion, Head of A&R at Sony/ATV in Australia, describes Rory as having “the innate ability to tap into the emotions of the artist and help them deliver their truth in the song.”

When I spoke with him in January this year, Adams was just back from a whirlwind tour of the US, which included visits to Nashville and Los Angeles. “It was just over two months ago when I first got the call from ,” he told me. “I was just about to go into a maths test.”

“It’s kind of crazy and I’m still in a state of shock each day, but I feel very lucky to be writing every single day, and to be meeting people who have been on my vision board for years.” (Adams really did have a vision board – he found it helped him “visualise”.)

APRA AMCOS

It was at a SongHubs writing camp in Nashville where Adams started turning heads. “I went in shivering on the first day, I’d never co-written in a professional environment before, and I knew that I was much younger than many of the other writers. But I’d done my research, I’d listened to a whole bunch of podcasts on the plane over about co-writing, and it ended up being more than I dreamed.” Adams told me a key influence was the podcast And The Writer Is.

APRA AMCOS’s Milly Petriella is the Director of Member Relations and manages SongHubs. She’s seen plenty of talent through the program, but even she was stunned by Adams’ success.

“It’s a very cool story and was one of those rare ones where the trajectory is so fast, from unknown in October to signing a massive deal in August,” she told me in a phone interview.

“He goes over to Nashville and I started getting all these texts from people, saying ‘Who the hell is this guy?’. They were from the curators but also from his co-writers saying, ‘Wow, you have no idea how amazing he is’.”

“He was 17 at that point.”

If you ask Adams about his time in Nashville, he appears grateful for the experience. “Each day we went into the studio, and we’d sit down and we’d talk about what we’d want to write about, I’d just let melodies and lyrics slip out of my mouth. Every day we’d write a new song. You’d go in and you’d have no idea what you’re going to come out with.”

Adams got to work with SongHubs Curator David Hodges (“He was a founding member of the band Evanescence,” Adams told me, rather sweetly.) But the real joy was simply turning up to the studio and writing every day.

“I love real instruments, some real simple instrumentation. For me it’s all about honesty, it’s not about overthinking the lyrics. I want to write based on feeling rather than theory. If it comes from a real place, that’s what I want to write.”

“You never know how that can affect someone,” he told me back in 2018. He’d just finished the 50 Songs in 5 Days songwriting camp, although he only managed to attend three of those days due to his final Year 12 exams. “I released something this year and I was expecting 1,000 streams, but it reached a whole new audience, 350,000 plays on Spotify. You never know how an honest song can affect someone.” The track in question, Stare, has now passed 900,000 plays on Spotify alone.

Ten months later, Adams is well on the way to global recognition. In addition to his lucrative deal with Sony/ATV, Adams has recently collaborated with artists like Maisie Peters and Conan Gray. “After each session, there is nothing like the email from the label or manager asking for more sessions with Rory,” noted Hamblion.

“I don’t even know what I would have said to you on that call,” he tells me down a scratchy Skype line. “I feel like in those ten months I’ve grown up 20 years.” I note that he does sound older, more confident and more aware.

“In America right now mainly what I’m doing is going in with artists and helping them tell their story […] helping them bring their ideas to life, but also helping bring my ideas to life through them.”

The rise of Australian songwriting is in part a story of export success, Petriella argues. “The idea of SongHubs was to show off Australian writers to the world, and we host these events all around the world – Sweden, Nashville, LA, London, India, Brazil. We’ve been everywhere, man.”

“One of the things that is really prevalent is that Australians are on everybody’s lips and we’re on the songwriting map now,” Petriella continues. “When I started, we couldn’t get people to take the 15- or 22-hour flight to Australia.”

“It’s just kept growing, and we’ve started having massive releases.” Petriella claims more than 150 releases can be linked-to SongHubs, earning “millions of dollars of income” for the artists involved. “But more than that, it is the connections and the career path that it has created for these writers.”

“There were always the Rorys out there, but we didn’t beat our drum about it.”

Page agrees, “Australia has always been this good. However, the pathway is clearer now. There’s an understanding and belief that Australian writers and producers can stand amongst the world’s best writers.”

And that’s exactly what Rory Adams wants to do when he moves to LA. Maybe, one day, he can even write a song for his favourite artist, Julia Michaels.

“Julia Michaels is my dream. 500 per cent.”

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