By Chris Illich
Naked and alone Adam Buller stands on the stage performing as Thunderclap! his unique solo project, surrounded by his audience. While he’s not naked in the proverbial sense of the word, instead he’s raw, stripped down and intimate as he attempts to entertain his audience all by his lonesome.
“I prefer playing alone, it’s such a different experience. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that and finally get up on stage alone and realize only one person can entertain an audience,” the well-dressed Niagara Falls artist said.
“It sounds so boring, but I’m getting better at it. You just try and bring the audience along for the ride with you. There’s more of a personal connection because there’s nothing to hide.”
Thunderclap! has been operating as Buller’s solo project for nearly seven years, and yet, just this past October, he released his debut album, the sprawling, 14-song, concept album Hellbent on Success.
Without giving too much away, the album chronicles Buller’s story of rising from the ashes of his past band the E-O Show Schematics, and arriving at a place of self realization and ultimate confidence.
Hellbent on Success comes across as something a bit larger-than-life. It can be read as a daring, extravagant, exploration of the self. The first 30-second interlude on the album, “Back at Square One” states: “I’m getting stronger… I’m here to repair the broken parts of my psyche and wonder where sickness and death once loomed, I now feel it.” And as he closes out the interlude he whispers to himself, “I’m getting better and better and better.”
As Buller explained, self-help books and recordings have had a profound influence on his life for the past 15 years, as explained in the title track “Hellbent on Success”. It starts with the line: “People think I’m crazy when I read these books, on motivational masters of psychology, there’s so many ways to see the world.”
“[That song] is sort of a love song to Tony Robbins and Wayne Dyer specifically (two very influential motivational speakers). Motivational speakers get a bad rep though, they are actually modern day philosophers,” he said.
Hellbent on Success was produced by Spookey Rueuben and Gene Hughes, and three songs were mixed by Mark Plati. It features Dave Clark (Rheostatics, The Woodshed Orchestra) on drums, and special appearances from Bob Wiseman (former member of Blue Rodeo) and singer Margaret O’hara. Two separate choirs, Hamilton Trading Co. and The Spandettes performed on the album, and more than a handful of other instrumentalists aided in the production of the album.
After looking at the credits on the album, it’s no wonder that the album was two-and-a-half years in the making. The precision and expertise displayed on Hellbent on Success really drives home the fact that Buller wanted to “treat the album like it was the last album [he] was ever going to make. [They] didn’t pull any punches with the quality along the way.” As he sings in the final track “Newsflash” – “it’s my way or the highway”.
The album took a prolonged amount of time and energy and the process took its toll on Buller. He was embarrassed that it was taking so long to finish and bring it out in the open. After working on it for two-and-a-half years, he was filled with self-doubt. “I was embarrassed,” he explained. “Maybe to myself, maybe for other people, that it took so long. I thought, ‘Does anyone care that I’m making an album?’”
Hellbent on Success initially was supposed to be a “simple folk album”, something he could record quickly, but it eventually took hold as a multi-dimensional concept album. Buller recalled the moment that he said to producer Spookey Ruben, “how am I supposed to perform these songs if I don’t want to put a band together? Some of these songs would require a 15 person band. But, he said ‘Don’t worry about that, the audience is forgiving and you can do stripped down versions of the songs and people won’t judge you.”
Without a doubt, the wait has paid dividends, on both his psyche and on the ears of those that have listened to the album.
“It seems like people care, and I’m happy and proud of it. Now I just have to bring it out into the world and justify how much time and money were spent by bringing it to as many people as I can,” he said.
The first single, “The Future is Here” is being serviced to radio, and Bullar has been working with an Theo Chapman, an animation student at the Pratt Institute from Brooklyn NY, on his first music video.
Though “The Future is Here” may be the first single from Hellbent on Success, Thunderclap! also received some commercial radio play for his 2013 holiday song, “The Ghost of Christmas Past”, which was supposed part of the marketing plan for Hellbent on Success. Buller wrote and recorded the song and it played all over Canada and did well. “Was it on any charts? I don’t know. I never looked into it that far. But it was pretty cool that it got picked up. It’s hard to get on commercial radio.”
Now, with the release of Hellbent on Success, Buller can put the last few years behind him and start moving forward, getting his music out there to as many people as he can.
“I really haven’t gotten that deep into how the record industry works, but I want to. I don’t care about making money. I just want to own my art, break even, and develop my reputation as a musician. That’s all I care about.”
Thunderclap! is currently planning record release shows in both Niagara Falls and St. Catharines. For more information on these dates, visit thunderclap.ca