Interview with BARRY ADAMSON



Music Features
Interview with BARRY ADAMSON
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Jan 22, 2007, 06:24

Wires hum and crackle, and with a tubercular wheeze of my worn-out hard drive an e-mail announces that I shall meet with Harry Pendulum (last of the big time swingers), a.k.a. Mr Barry Adamson in a café on Portobello Road.

For those of you with a sickening void in your cultural makeup, allow me to educate you: Hailing from a part of Manchester where people tend to come from, rather than go to, as a child Mr Adamson consumed the diamonds and detritus of post-modern media with alacrity. Comics, TV and film of every genre, Motown, trans-Atlantic soul, jazz, glam, and funk formed a dark melange that would in his future work provide many points of reference.

First making his presence felt in the seminal Magazine with Howard Devoto, he moved onwards and upwards with Nick Cave's newly formed Bad Seeds. Some staggering songs exist from this period, but the demon flower was yet to truly blossom. Leaving the Seeds during the Your Funeral… sessions in '87, Adamson broke with the “democracy” of band membership and after a bloody coup, set up his own autonomous zone.

By now a multi-instrumentalist, his first solo album, Moss Side Story [1997] was a blueprint, a manifesto describing his preoccupation with celluloid. A soundtrack composed for a nonexistent cinema, it served to introduce the film world to Mr A.

The film work followed. First contributing to Derek Jarman's Last of England, then sound tracking Carl Colpeart's Delusion and Alison Anders' Gas, Food and Lodging—among others—and appearing on the soundtracks to Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and David Lynch's Lost Highway, Adamson set a standard in atmospherics as yet unmatched. Those of you who are labouring under the misapprehension that you are unaware of Mr A's work will undoubtedly have been unwittingly exposed to it, gracing as it does various commercials and BBC productions.

After a tortuous bomb-scare disrupted pilgrimage/odyssey by way of foot, train and black cab across town I arrive at Portobello, cartoon commas of sweat exploding from every pore. Here I find Mr A: lounge lizard, raconteur, minister of cool, nursing a coffee in a formica'd backwater and get to ask him what, exactly, is the score?

Join me, dear friend, as I walk a while with the king…

YOUR FLESH: I hear you studied film in New York. What did you specialize in and to what academic level?

BARRY ADAMSON: It was a summer school. Basically a kind of get away and learn course for people who were interested in all aspects of film. What attracted me to it was that you could go in there, make a couple of little films and also that you could be part of these teams, where you were the camera man, then you were editing someone else… You covered all the basics. It was quite an interesting time, it was sort of starry and exciting. We went to this place in Tribeca which is a building owned by Robert DeNiro. And you'd see him in various disguises in the lift. You'd sort of go “Alright, Robert! How's it going?” and he'd stop with his beard and hat and glasses on and then stomp off. But you'd get to screen your films in his screening room, which was very exciting. Being a working class kid from up north going in there, sort of dipping your toe in to the world of proper film making. To what level? I'm not really sure. We'll see how that plays out.

YF: I was in New York last year, it's huge and intimidating really…

BA: Yeah, it is, isn't it? And they can see it on you. You walk around staring up while they're picking your pockets.

YF: Did you have a childhood film or television hero you wanted to be or had a thing about?

BA: I did want my own puppet. To be like a Thunderbird. I wanted to be in Captain Scarlet. I used to have a friend who was a bit weirder than me and he actually had a uniform. He went all the way and appeared one day saying “I've done it!” and he was out. He had the whole thing. The light bulb on his shoulder and the microphone that came down… I always wanted to be Captain Black but because of my colour I had to identify with Lieutenant Green who was the nice guy back at base always going “I think it's going alright, yeah, it's going alright.” I wanted Captain Black with the dark circles under his eyes who hadn't slept in about a year going “This is the voice of the Mysterions”…

YF: Looking through your previous work, there seems to be a process of coming to terms, a personal journey. In evidence, given the stylings of your previous albums, Stranger On The Sofa (2006) seems, in comparison, even given it's moments of introspection, more documentary, more detached and lighter in it's tone. Does this mean the King of Cool is warming to the world?

BA: Yeah, I think I've sort of settled a few of my demons… wrestling with demons. I think I decided to take them out for a drink. Therefore I'm a lucky lad, I think, because you don't really get the chance to do that kind of work in music. I think that's saved for other areas of art, like abstract painting. People go like “That's a guy with issues” and then they go off. But I made this the genre I wanted to work in and I was able to put things out that for me meant a certain coming to terms with and a certain putting things to sleep. I think Stranger is the beginning of a kind of work that, still, with an ironic eye, I hope, warms to the world.

YF: Themes of damnation and degradation, redemption and salvation seem to run though your work, you seem to be evidently a spiritual man. What is, if any, your take on religion?

BA: I'm not a religious man at all. I guess I am one of those guys that think religion is for people who are frightened of hell.

YF: Do you think it's been the various trial of your life that has made you Oscar De La Soundtrack as opposed to, say, Geoff Love and his orchestra? Nature or nurture?

BA: I'd like to think there's a bit of Geoff Love in me at the same time. It's funny you should say that because maybe in a few years I would have definitely said that… I was watching a thing on TV last night about some guy. He trotted out this cliché about “This is what's made me the man I am and it would have either been jail, or death or the streets,” and I don't think that's true of me. I think it would have been this anyway. And I think I probably would have been Geoff Love, you know, “a little bit more in the baritone there love.”.. you know. I think the stuff that's happened to me has perhaps coloured my take. But I think there's a little bit of Geoff love in all of us. That saccharine end of us. But who you are pulls it back into a context. I'm not going to entirely attribute the “hard knock life” or whatever. I do think there are various things that are going on. Like upbringing and where you were born and what's around you… I went back to Manchester recently and I was just so taken. I used to think that individualism was this thing and I was really attracted to the way of the people just by being in the same place. It was quite alarming. I noticed that there are millions of these individual characters but they all had this way about them. And it was the way of the place. It's the only way I can describe it. I took a bus journey and I went through Moss Side and through town and to the posher places but everyone was the same, they all had this way.

YF: Do you have that way?

BA: No, I walked away from it, 25 years here. And I think that's changed my way, it's made it more diverse. You meet people from Manchester or wherever you're from and you default. I think I defaulted into that way, 'cos that is the way of them.

YF: I read recently that you intend to make a film. If so, would you be including any of your characterisations? Would Jeeams Bond, Mitch and Andy or Officer Bentley be making an appearance?

BA: I haven't thought about it up until now because they're the guys that, you know… I've taken for a drink. Down the local and said you know “Do you want to be a part of this?” But what appears to be happening in the films, certainly in the scripts, is that I'm finding a more external view that's based on an internally formed thing that I've gotten used to as a creative process. So now I'm now able to create characters that are not essentially part of my inner world. But they're keenly observed. But because of my experience I'm going to direct them in a way where I tell them your particular flaw is this which means that in a crisis you're gonna do this. And that's going to create a complex that you've got to get out and that's the point of having a film anyway.

YF: What kind of genre have you been working with?

BA: Well, I guess, psychological terrors are right up there. I've been interested to find myself writing scripts that are set in places like London, Berlin, Paris, Sydney. Places where I had quite intense observational experiences. Because you're removed from who you are slightly when you go to the other side of the world. You watch. You become an observer; the differences stand out more. And I think the story that I've written that's set in London is pretty much 25 years of that and then a history that comes down the line, Hitchcock and fanzines and that kind of tradition, set in a modern. The British one is in three languages, which I think is appropriate for now. There's Polish, Nigerian and English.

YF: What films have you been affected by recently?

BA: Not many, in truth. I want to be. The odd filmmaker that bursts through, head-butts me from time to time and goes “look at this.” Gaspar Noe mainly. The French seem to be relentless in their passion of getting stuff out.

YF: The woman's voice on “Here In The Hole,” with its blood curdlingly measured tones belongs to actress Anna Chancellor. How did that collaboration occur?

BA: I actually met her on the street here. I sort of bumped into her. I just sort of said how you doing, blah, blah, blah. She was getting a ticket on her car and I think I persuaded the inspector to not give her a ticket. We sort of joked about her position in life and we got talking. When it's sore to read a story of subversion who actually is known for being quite traditionally straight. I heard her read something on radio four which was very warming and I thought how would it be to have that voice tell a tale of paranoia and cloning and future past.

YF: Who is Officer Bentley?

BA: I'm going to answer that question in a non-specific way, because I'm still asking those questions of myself and I don't understand sometimes when I open the door and start singing the chorus of “Officer Bentley…,” which is what happened. Then I have to work out, or not if you like, what is going on with this. Various things will filter in. Various ideas about what I'm trying to get at will enter my frame. I'll start to remember things like… When I was at college I met this guy, got friendly with him, he says “do you wanna do something on Saturday?” I'm like, yeah sure. We met at this place and he was dressed in this full American police uniform from head to foot. I'm seventeen years old, and I'm thinking, what the hell is going on here. I didn't understand it at all. So some of him was in there. And then there's my own ideas on discipline and then there's a slightly twisted sexual thing. There's that world going on. What I think you do with a character like that is offer it out. There are a million things you can see. I think one of the things that I've found, that I've started to enjoy now is now, after all this introspection and coming out and going “I don't know,” I'll have a problem with it as much as anyone else. Maybe I don't have to figure it out and have to reveal. Because the truth is I'm not really sure. Even the other day I heard a record and thought, Oh my God!… That is in “Officer Bentley…,” as a reworking of something that I was quite attached to thirty years ago, in a psychedelic way, its come out. I didn't realise it was happening. This record [Stranger on the Sofa] says more about the world today, what's happening now.

YF: Is “My Friend The Fly” About gear?

BA: Well, that's the beauty of it. I have never even thought about that for a second. The beauty of it is that you can bring your frame of reference and enjoy in it that way, and say like, I see what's going on.

YF: What inspired “Whispering Streets?” [from 2002's King of Nothing Hill]

BA: It's actually a letter to the parents of Stephen Lawrence. I've never revealed that, and I was gonna reveal it at the Jazz Café, but I turned around to the Man and said, we're not doing “Whispering Streets.” I don't know why, but it was my response to the murder of Stephen Lawrence. And I'm not a political man, so I thought to play political would sort of fuck up my fans. “All the lines feed into the idea” and “after I've taken revenge I'm the person who walks around with either their head high or hanging.” It has more of a belt to it once you know what it is.

YF: People whose bodies contain metal implants have often made claims for its telemetric receptivity; the people who (apocryphally) receive radio broadcasts through their fillings for example.

Shostakovitch, who received and retained some Krupps steel in the form of shrapnel to his head in WW2 insisted that this was where he received the transmissions that inspired his work. Could you be receiving transmissions to the heart of the pelvis?

BA: That's very probable actually, very good, well… If I'm not I'm certainly going to blame it all on that from now on. The Six Million-Dollar Shostakovitch Man. It's very possible. I kinda knew I was going there with that song “Set The Controls” [from Oedipus Schmoedipus, 1996] and now here I am, years later with my middle being made of well….

YF: The Motorlab #3 [2001] stuff… are you intending to do anything along those lines again?

BA: I'm always on the lookout, I guess, my ears are open. It's not something I do in my every day creativity so I really like it when something enters your mind, this other vista of possibilities. And I also like stuff that I can't necessarily do myself. I become an excited kid, about the creation thing. Watching Pan Sonic work, I'm all like quietly myself, “Whoaa, that's amazing…” You know! There are a few people I won't mention right now, it's on the horizon…

YF: Was this done by sending stuff between studios or did you just sit down with these boys?

BA: Yeah we did, we got together with Pan Sonic in Iceland and the Haflers remixed it. That was obviously a sending thing.

YF: Finally, do you have a special plan for this world?

BA: Well, it's the Central Control Manifesto [Barry's production home]—flood the world with beautiful creation. 'Cos I'm that kinda guy… I kept thinking back to the days of punk where you didn't have a barrier which was like I wanna make this stuff but until I get this amount of money or this company finds me I won't be able to do. So what happened with me, my own journey, was about going to a shop, buying a coupla strings for my Bass, seeing an advert in a magazine, calling it and getting into it. The same with doing my own stuff now, making Moss Side Story as a calling card to filmmakers saying I can score films. I am very motivated and I know a lot of people where it's very difficult to get past this thing that sort of goes to be a writer you have to have this agent, this publicist, you have to have written ten best-sellers already and then to suggest to someone I really like the way you write, why don't you write a novel? And they go to what extent? And you go, I'll publish it and I'll go off and find out how you publish stuff. I don't know what part of me that comes from but it's just become a very enjoyable part of what's going on.

YF: A lot of people need to be nudged

BA: You get nudged enough and it spurs you and then you become a noodger.

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