As a musician, music fan and doctor, music truly is therapy for Adam Zwig. With a Ph. D. in psychology, Zwig joins the ranks of Renaissance men like Brian May of Queen and Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin, both of whom boast doctorates in fields seemingly unrelated to music (physics and math for May, zoology for Graffin).
Produced with Grammy Award winner David Bianco (U2, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash), Zwig’s live studio album Adam Zwig: Live at the Wiltern Theatre hits earbuds on Friday, Dec. 11, but today, an exclusive stream of the full album is available via Billboard.
In addition, Billboard caught up with Dr. Zwig to talk about his seventh studio album, what it’s like to see his patients in the crowd at shows, and how music and therapy are one and the same conversation. With a national tour and upcoming orchestral album on the way in 2016, the conversation does not show any signs of stopping for Zwig.
What is the connection between music and psychology?
From the outside, it looks like I have two different careers. But for me, it’s one and the same thing. It’s just two different ways to bring out the feelings and perceptions we all have but don’t acknowledge. Like, you know how a song makes you feel a certain way? Happy or sad or uplifted or something — those feelings are already in you. That’s why you’re drawn to certain music. And the music somehow magically connects you to something within yourself. It’s this other way of experiencing the moment. And therapy delves deeper into these experiences that live on the fringes of who you are. So I might see clients in the morning and write a song in the afternoon, and play a gig that night. It all feels pretty similar to me.
Which passion did you start off with?
Music. I started playing guitar when I was a kid. I remember I had a guitar teacher. I didn’t like the songs he would teach me, but I didn’t care. I started playing as a kid, and then I started getting in rock n’ roll bands as a teenager. And it just never left me. I learned by ear as well. I learned by listening to music. I do it that way more than by reading music.
Could you take us through a typical workday?
It’s pretty strange, my schedule. I just laid out a hypothetical day where I did everything in one day. But often what it’s like is if I don’t have clients tomorrow, I might stay up all night writing songs and just be focused on the music. I usually try and carve out the time that I can really get into one, and then I get into the other. So if I’m doing a therapy workshop for example, that might go on for four days. I’m not doing any music during that time. But if I’m on tour, unless some emergency client calls me for something, I’m not doing therapy
Do you incorporate music into your private practice?
A little bit. Not too much. The way I work with people is I really follow where they are. So if music comes up, if that’s an organic thing that’s happening, like maybe they start talking about a song or humming something or something with music comes up, then we’ll work with it. But I don’t introduce it.
Being a doctor, would you say your songwriting process is more methodical than most other musicians?
Songwriting for me is a little bit mysterious. I’m not methodical about it. In fact, I don’t even say, “I’m feeling this. I’m gonna write a song about it.” It’s more like I start to sense something in myself, and I might not even know what it is yet. Being a doctor, I do a lot of meditation. A lot of my songwriting happens to stuff that I don’t know what it is at first. It’s just a mood or a sense or an inkling of something, and I just kind of meditate with it. I just kind of stay with it, pick up my guitar, and I follow it and see where it goes. And it starts to unravel and present itself to me. So it’s kind of the opposite of an intentional process. But it’s very similar to how I work with people in therapy. I don’t guide them or tell them what to do. You might have kind of random weird thoughts and random weird feelings that don’t seem to have anything to do with anything, but if you study them or follow them, they actually go somewhere and are meaningful. So I just sit there, and I kind of let it happen. And it’s kind of like therapy for me when I write a song because something comes up that I wasn’t expecting.
Do your patients ever attend your gigs as fans?
How’s that? Do they ever try to talk therapy with you at your shows?
They know that if I’m playing a show, it’s a different situation. And they’re quite respectful and just kind of go and enjoy the show. They know it’s a part of me, so they enjoy that. Yeah, it would be bad if somebody came and wanted to talk to me after the show about themselves.
Who are some of your musical influences?
When I started getting into rock n’ roll bands, I started wanting to know more about the music and I found out that it comes from blues. So I got totally into the blues, and my goal was to become a blues guitarist and that was kind of my life for a long time. My influences are all blues masters like B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. It’s strange cause my music sounds like Americana or folksy pop or something, but to me, it’s blues. It’s soul songs.
Are there any contemporary artists that you feel are doing something similar?
I like lots of music nowadays. But I have to feel like it’s real. Real in a certain way like — an authentic expression of someone as opposed to maybe like a song and dance like entertainment. I differentiate between an entertainer and an artist.
Who would you consider to be an artist?
Neil Young. I like Bob Dylan. I like Ed Sheeran for more contemporary artists. He’s got a beautiful voice. The Rolling Stones. Ryan Adams.
How does this album differ from your past projects?
It’s only the second live album I’ve done. And the other live album was more of a little acoustic show at a little club in Portland. Recording a live album is a totally different thing than a studio album because in the studio, you’re analyzing and editing and the producer makes you do the same thing 25 times, which can sometimes kill the spontaneity of it. So with the live album, I love it because — this is it. For better or worse. If you make a mistake, there it is.
How would you describe the record in three words?
Real. Passionate. Uplifting.