The Beatle kid
Adrian Bourgeois may come from Sacramento music royalty, but he’s clearly his own man
Conversations often spring up spontaneously during set changes in music clubs, especially during those showcases for amateurs known as open-mic nights. So, at a recent open-mic at Midtown’s True Love Coffeehouse, few noticed the tall figure with long, dark-brown hair and a beard as he quietly stepped behind a microphone, plugged in his acoustic guitar and began playing.
But as soon as the young man’s voice began snaking through the sound system, people stopped talking. The supple vocal melodies he wrapped his voice around sounded vaguely Beatlesque—not unlike the music of the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, or Alex Chilton’s work with Big Star. And the guitar arrangements underpinning his vocals were well-thought-out, the kind one might come up with after headphoning the Beatles catalogue night after night.
And that might not be surprising, coming from a player who’s 20- or 30-something. But Adrian Bourgeois, the man onstage, was all of 16 years old.
Bourgeois, of course, has somewhat of a leg up when it comes to getting into writing and playing music. His father is Brent Bourgeois, veteran of such storied local bands as Uncle Rainbow and Bourgeois Tagg, a solo artist, record producer and former head of A&R for Word Records, the dominant player in the Christian-music industry. Young Bourgeois has been playing music for as far back as he can recall.
“I started playing drums when I was, like, 3 years old,” he said. “And when I was about 4, I did Stairway to Stardom”—the Skip’s Music summer band program for kids—“playing drums. We were a showcase intermission band; the other guys were like 9 and 11. That was my first live performance, at the Radisson.”
Bourgeois has been working at it ever since. He plays guitar, keyboards, drums and harmonica. “I can kinda do bass a little bit, too,” he said. He began writing songs at 10; by his recollection, he’s written around 90, and 20 of those he considers keepers. As for influences, he cites the Beatles; the Beach Boys, with emphasis on post-surf albums like Pet Sounds, Sunflower and Surf’s Up; Elvis Costello, for his concise songwriting; and Neil Young, for his organic approach to recording.
When Bourgeois was 7, he moved with his family to Franklin, Tenn., a suburb south of Nashville. “It’s like Elk Grove is to Sacramento,” he said. “Nashville proved to be a pretty good growing experience, though. It’s very different from California—different culture, a lot more conservative. I learned how to exist in an environment where I was, more or less, the minority in a lot of ways: in my opinions and the way I present myself.
“I’m definitely glad to be back,” he added.
The family Bourgeois returned to Sacramento almost two years ago, and Adrian got busy making an impression here—performing in Stairway to Stardom and as part of the Natomas Charter High School’s No Bands Land, which played the Jammies shows in 2003 and 2004.
On Friday, Bourgeois will play a show with another young singer-songwriter, Christopher Fairman, at the True Love. Keyboard player Dave DeMuri and drummer Jon McHenry, who accompanied Fairman at the recent Jammies performance, will back the two songwriters.
Bourgeois exemplifies a young approach to Christian music, closer to U2 or Sixpence None the Richer than, say, Bill Gaither. “I definitely would consider my songs to be Christian songs,” Bourgeois explained, “but think that they might not necessarily be played on Christian radio—because they don’t actually say, like, ‘Jesus’ or ‘hallelujah’ in the words and stuff. But I think what Jesus was more about was having the message itself proclaimed, rather than every single thing being about faith and worship. Because then, you’re zeroing in on a very specific audience. But if you talk about his values and morals, you reach a much broader audience.”
And he’s already thinking hard about reaching that audience. “It’s always been my dream to go as far as possible with music,” he said. A boilerplate answer, perhaps. But in Adrian Bourgeois’ case, it is entirely believable.