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Adventure Playground: 'Hands on Me to Heal'

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Adventure Playground (Photo courtesy of Adventure Playground/Collage by Annelise Finney/KQED)

The Sunday Music Drop is a weekly radio series hosted by the KQED weekend news team. In each segment, we feature a song from a local musician or band with an upcoming show and hear about what inspires their music.

Isaac Butler Brown and Noah Pawl Silverman St. John are childhood friends. Over family dinners and long conversations, Brown says they formed a friendship that give him an “original sense of what friendship as therapy should look like.”

They also feel safe taking risks together — so they started a band. Brown and his friend Griffin Camm were at a wedding when they saw their friend and drummer John Spencer playing with his punk band, having returned to the Bay Area from New York.

“He’s killer at drums and I thought we should just make a pop punk band,” said Brown. “Noah and I had been freestyling and doing a lot of, you know, one off musical things and many, many shared moments of musical creativity … and this just immediately mades sense.”

A couple of months later, they brought in their friend Ben Klausner on second guitar, and the pop punk band Adventure Playground was born. The sound is what St. John describes as a “duality of punchiness and loudness on one side, and on the other side … shiny and sweet.” Brown adds that their music has “huge amounts of power and sweatiness. It smells kind of funky, but also it’s like, you take a little taste of it and it’s like, ooh, so sweet, you know?’”

Their song “Hands on Me to Heal” comes from a tough time in songwriter St. John’s life. It was a time when, living in his childhood room — which he described as “the most chaotic possible depression room in the entire world” — he would drink coffee, play guitar and write in his journal.

“It was one of those mornings this … burst of lyrics came out. I was really inspired by the Modern Lovers and Jonathan Richman’s vocal performance, which is sort of not exactly what the song ended up being in reference to … but, that’s what it originally was heavily inspired by.”

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St. John says the song is about a time when he was away at college and had a mental health crisis. He had to leave campus and return home. It was an abruptly separated him from the people he loved there.

“The simplest thing I’m articulating is ‘I miss you,’” says St. John. “So the song is just really about [me] calling to tell you that I still absolutely love you for real, for real, and when you get back into town, if you could perhaps maybe put your ‘hands on me to heal’.”

“We’ve got plenty of love songs for you romantics out there,” adds Brown. “Just not this one.”

The Bay Area has been a big part of shaping the sound and style of the band. St. John cites as inspirations venues, organizations and people like Youth Speaks, Cal Shakes, and “various teachers at Berkeley High, or King Middle School, or Malcolm X Elementary School.”

“We’re in a place that I think celebrates art more than some places do,” says St. John.

“I had never been in a band before,” says St. John, who says wasn’t looking for any “formalized artistic thing” but needed an outlet. “So I was really thrilled because everybody wants to be in a band before they die.”

St. John and Brown say their creative process involves a lot of freestyling and improvisation, and that often songs come from sessions where they all jam together until a song begins to take shape. And the result?

“Like just a sense of embodied catharsis,” says Brown. Of the audience, he says: “I want them to feel it washing over them. Like they should feel cleansed by the end of the song.  And sweaty. You could go to Archimedes Banya for 60 whatever dollars for three hours, or you could just put this song on. Your choice.”

Oakland-based Adventure Playground are singer Noah Pawl Silverman St. John, producer and guitar player Issac Butler Brown,  drummer John Spencer, bass guitarist Griffin Camm, and guitarist Ben Klausner.

Adventure Playground will be performing at the Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco on February 23.

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