The first time Adeem Maria played a Maryville College gig, they had just adopted the stage moniker by which they’re now known.
Previously, they had made a name for themselves in the East Tennessee scene as a singer-songwriter named Kyle Adem, but it never felt quite right… a precursor, no doubt, to a continuing evolution that has led them to fully embrace Adeem the Artist as a vehicle for both music and self-expression as a non-binary queer country musician whom this week earned a feature story in The New York Times.
That was back in 2016 when they played a reception for 11 senior art majors at the Clayton Center for the Arts, and the existential questions that seem to be an albatross around the necks of so many creative types weighed heavy even then.
“The reasons I do music—the expectations I have for music and what it means for me as an outlet and what success means to me—all of those things are called into question, along with the really classical things, like how nobody knows who the hell I am anymore!” he told me at the time. “My father named me Kyle, after Kyle Petty, the NASCAR racer, so as much as I’ve tried to dampen my accent over the years, that’s how Southern I am. My mother named me Adam, but the name Adem means a lot to me in deciding who I am and who I will be in the world.
“For a long time, I went by Kyle Adem, because the idea was to straddle the divide between the expectations I had as a person and the humanity I had as a child and the kind of person I want to grow into. By dropping Kyle, I was letting go of the expectations I have of myself. I added the extra E last year, because I’m legally changing it, and because I wanted it to be phonetically accurate.”
Earlier this month, Adeem the Artist released the album “White Trash Revelry,” now available for streaming and purchase on all major music platforms. It’s being released on Thirty Tigers, a boutique indie record label that’s also home to Alanis Morissette, Citizen Cope, Drew Holcomb & The Neighbors, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Lupe Fiasco, Steve Winwood — and Toby Keith, whose past jingoistic works earned a clapback from Adeem on their last album, “Cast-Iron Pansexual.”
That album was a brilliant document of their self-acceptance, a journey through gender identity and sexuality set to the dulcet tones of classic country that caused a whole lot of folks to step up and take notice. Brandi Carlile described Adeem as “one of the best writers in roots music.” Actor Vincent D’Onofrio stepped up to contribute to the crowd-funded campaign that financed “White Trash Revelry.” B.J. Barham of the band American Aquarium snapped them up as a frequent opening act, telling The New York Times that “country should be this giant quilt work of people, of stories that let me see different struggles. Excluding any of those stories, for gender or religion or race, is not country. Folks like Adeem remind you of that.”
Adeem’s return trip to Maryville College was in April 2021 after a period of self-imposed COVID exile, they told me. Returning to the stage as someone whose very personal journey had been laid bare on “Cast-Iron Pansexual” came with some trepidation, but the Scots offered them a warm welcome.
It was an outdoor gig, and it was cold and rainy, and it was I think on April 21?” they said. “And everyone had the day off! So it was sparsely attended but the staff was so supportive and affirming, and the kids that showed up were so, so sweet and appreciative. It was a magical little thing.”
Last weekend, they celebrated the release of “White Trash Revelry” with two shows, one in Nashville and the second in Maryville, at the venue The Bird and The Book, a stone’s throw from campus. The lights of Music City will always beckon, they said, but wherever the road takes them, returning home to their wife and child in East Tennessee, and playing for the friends and loved ones who have supported their journey through all of the various name changes, stage incarnations and musical focus, is always a blessing, they added.
“I’ve watched the sun set on the rocky beaches of Monaco, sipped Sassicaia in the Cantina di Massimo by Fortezza Nuova, and stumbled haphazardly in the flickering twilight from Junkanoo Beach to Atlantis with a belly full of fresh fish, and there is not a single place I’ve ever been that exceeds the beauty of Blount County and the backdrop of the Smoky Mountains,” they said.
Whether they’ll make a return trip to Maryville College remains to be seen. “White Trash Revelry,” as the songs on it “sound ready for country radio, with their skywriting ballads swaddled in pedal steel and rollicking tales rooted in honky-tonk rhythm,” according to Grayson Harver Currin, writing for the Times.
That the cast of characters who populate those songs, which range from the heartbreakingly beautiful lamentation of war “Middle of a Heart” to the honky-tonk bangers “Run This Town” and “Going to Hell,” are drawn from their own life makes it all the more poignant.
To find out more about Adeem and get the latest info on tour dates and merch, visit their website at www.adeemtheartist.com.