First off, John Weinland is a band, not a man. But there's a story here: John Weinland is led by a gentle-voiced singer whose family name is John Weinland. John is his father's name, and Weinland is his mother's maiden name. Since his given name is John Adam Weinland Shearer, the singer has spent his whole life answering to the name Adam Shearer. So the band's name is, and isn't, the same as the singer's.
The history embedded in that name is filled with music. Shearer grew up with a father, John let's call him, who taught guitar lessons in Gardner, Mont. Shearer's mother, Ms. Weinland, of course, has an honest-to-goodness degree in church organ. Years ago, Ms. Weinland moved to Gardner to play organ in a local church, and John wooed her by playing "Lay Lady Lay" under a blanket of stars. Some time after that, the couple moved to Kalispell, had children, and made a strict rule that music would be a part of their family's life. So there were a lot of piano lessons ahead for young Adam.
"They wouldn't let me have a license unless I joined choir," says the 26-year-old Portlander. "I didn't get my license until I was a senior because I wouldn't join choir." No choir at school, but Shearer was schooled at home where music was always around.
So. The man's got old-fashioned chops. But he's also got something else, a history tangled in music, a mix of his home folk life and the two radio stations in town, one country and one classic rock. And as the lead singer of John Weinland, all of that mixed together adds up to a pretty good explanation of what he sounds like.
But before he formed his band, John Weinland, the solo performer, recorded an album called Your Big Best, which few people have heard. If you want a copy, he says he has 50 stashed under his bed.
It's a beautiful record, the songs mostly driven by a patient finger-picked acoustic guitar. But these aren't just folk ballads. With their arrangements, backing vocals and piano parts, these are near-perfect pop songs. When Shearer's autumnal vocals waver in the middle ground, these quiet soulful pop songs show off not just his personal history, but the history of his influences. Here is the Neil Young and Cat Stevens his father played for him, and there is the Elliott Smith and Nick Drake he heard later on, and the jazz chords he learned at Lewis & Clark College. And there might even be a little "Lay Lady Lay" in there somewhere. And then there is his father, playing harmonica in "The Letters," which Shearer recorded in his family's Kalispell living room during an Thanksgiving visit. Like I said, it sounds beautiful.
The album is Shearer's collected history up to the point two years ago when the music hit the microphone. Since then, he has teamed up with Aaron Pomerantz and Rory Brown, who have added Dobro guitar, mandolin, bass and another layer of a whole different musical history.
And Shearer remains hungry for history. "It wasn't like, 'Now let's start a band because that's what you do,'" he says. "It's because I wanted to make the music better, but couldn't do it by myself."
So, you see, he is John Weinland-and he isn't.
John Weinland opens for Adelaide and Tracker Thursday, Sept. 1, at the Doug Fir. 9 pm. Free. 21+.
"Scene 30" from Your Big Best www.johnweinland.com/nov_04/weinland%20scene%2030.mp3
"In Which Case" www.johnweinland.com/nov_04/nw.%20in%20which%20case%201.mp3
"Piles of Clothes" www.johnweinland.com/nov_04/piles%20of%20clothes%20web%20verse.mp3