When it comes to playing music, especially rock and pop, substance abuse and addiction are such a part of the landscape that they are occupational hazards.
Like so many musicians before him, songwriter Adam Fenton found it the hard way. Getting high in punk rock shows as a teenager eventually led him to a very dark place, and in 2019 Fenton, now 25, moved to Wilmington for treatment.
Continued: 7 things to do in Wilmington during an eventful Halloween weekend
He’s been here ever since, and in August, Fenton’s band Happy Pill release their debut album. “Decent Descent” is a cold and catchy mix of rock and pop, and even jazz and folk, which tends to mask the album’s lyrical themes, which explore, in a poetic yet understated way, not only Fenton’s newfound sobriety, but also tried-and-tested subjects like grief, hope, and regret.
The band didn’t play a ton, but on Saturday November 20, Happy Pill will perform at Nuits Bourgie in downtown Wilmington with soul/rock singer Rebekah Todd and the Odyssey.
Fenton, who is laid back and friendly, with an easy laugh and painted fingernails, said his sobriety prompted a kind of introspective clarity that found its way into his tunes.
“I don’t have much else to write,” he laughed. “I don’t have much to do anymore. Girls. Every now and then my political views will sneak in there.”
Fenton grew up in Washington Heights, New York. When he was 9, his father died and he moved to Connecticut with his mother. Many other movements would follow. At age 11, he was living in Raleigh, then attending Chapel Hill High School.
It’s a subject he addresses in the beautiful and touching song “My Life Story,” which is sung on the album by Fenton’s friend and bandmate Julia Rothenberger.
“I’ve never had stability in my life before, ever,” Fenton said. Not before moving to Wilmington, a city he now associates with his sobriety and what he loves to do: play music.
“I like it here,” he said. “I’ve never gotten drunk or high here, and I’ve always managed to make a living here.”
Fenton is a music teacher and he also plays a fair number of cover songs, which he said his younger self would never have considered.
“Sobriety has helped me, attitude-wise, not to be so bitter and jaded,” he said, “I don’t mind selling. I think selling is punk rock… But in a way, I’m not selling Everything on this album, and everything I did with Happy Pill, is authentic and honest.
The lyrics aren’t exactly on the nose, so much so that if you didn’t know Fenton’s backstory, it might take you a while to figure out where he’s coming from. The songs reveal more with repeated listening, and Fenton said he wanted there to be “something under the aesthetic” as opposed to “all frosting and no cake” music.
Still, “I really want to write catchy music first and foremost,” he said. “I enjoy music with hooks.”
Her song “Stain Home,” also sung by Rothenberger, is hopping, stripped-back dreamy pop with the catchy lyric, “I’m staying home tonight.” Fenton sings the bittersweet “All I Find,” which has more of an indie folk vibe and comes off as an understated anthem.
Fenton said he doesn’t mind playing for crowds of drinkers, and he’s actually the only sober one in his group. What matters most, he said, is that getting clean has allowed him to focus on music.
“I’m good at one thing,” he said. “The lord gave me one thing.”
Want to go?
When: 9 p.m. Saturday, November 20
Or: Bourgie Nights, 127 Princess Street, Wilmington
Info: $10 in advance, $15 at the door.
Contact John Staton at 910-343-2343 or [email protected]