ADEM has already made a name for himself as one third of influential electronica-based trio Fridge, alongside one Keiran Hebden, who has sent critics wild in his own guise as Four Tet in recent times. Now, Adem's getting into the act in his own right with a superb, acoustic-based solo album entitled "Homesongs", which defies easy categorisation under 'folk', 'pop' or even 'folktronica', come to that. It's basically Adem (pronounced "Ah-Dem") up close, personal and in full, pastoral effect. Reason enough for W&H to contact the man himself to fill in the spaces? You said it.
Adem is immediately friendly and an engaging conversationalist. He's happy to talk about all points past, present and future, but obviously we must start with how he came to make a remarkable, intimate album such as "Homesongs", and - more to the point - how someone famous for his work with an instrumental electronic trio was hiding a fine vocal capability all along. Adem, what gives?
"Mmm, actually the idea of me singing was prompted by a discovery I made," muses Adem.
"As you say I've previously been involved in instrumental, computer-based projects, but one of my hobbies is scouring through fleamarkets for old instruments and on one such occasion I bought this old autoharp."
"I took it home and started messing with it," he continues.
"I wasn't trying to play it in a traditional way and was hitiing it with a pencil. I liked the sound I got from that and thought it could be the basis of a track, which it did - it became "Statued" from the album. That was good, but I felt the track had a real voice-shaped hole and I couldn't get away from that. I guess that's really why I tried singing and I then tried to lay down a couple of vocal tracks. I wasn't sure at first and tried them on friends, including Kieran and Sam (from Fridge) and they really encouraged me."
We're glad they did, because "Homesongs" is a special, fragile record. In itself it'll surprise a lot of people who would no doubt be expecting another record relating to electronica. Was it always the intention to make something entirely free of beats?
"Yes, the idea of making something free of beats was definitely always on the cards," Adem replies firmly.
"The initial versions of the songs did have some computer manipulation, because I suppose that's safer ground for me, as I do consider myself a producer first and foremost no matter what. It was very lo-fi initially and I was tempted to release it in that state, but at the 11th hour I decided I shouldn't be hiding behind veils of lo-fi charm."
So you stripped it back?
"Yes, because I wanted it to stand entirely on its' own," emphasises Adem.
"I wanted to do it in a way that wasn't...tricksy. I'd say I wanted it to sound pure, but that's not exactly it either. Certainly I wanted it to exist away from too many sonic tricks anyway."
You used the term 'lo-fi'. To me, "Homesongs" is gentle, but not something you'd really refer to as 'lo-fi'. Would you have a problem with someone describing it as 'lo-fi' in the state it was finished in?
"No, not really, because it IS a home recording, straight into a computer, after all," Adem replies.
"But it sounds like a very old record, for all that. 'Lo-fi's a funny term that can be easily misconstrued and people tend to think it means style rather than fidelity and thus a lack of quality, which to me is missing the point. I feel that's a distinction that ought to be made more definite."
Sounds reasonable to me, especially as "Homesongs" is actually a fine singer/ songwriter's record in its' way. I know you're a big Joni Mitchell fan, but there are elements of, say, Nick Drake and Tim Hardin in places. Would you listen to those guys too?
"Nick Drake, yes, very much so, though I'm truly not that familiar with Tim Hardin's work," Adem replies, interest piqued.
"I'm into Donovan and Tim Buckley, too, and it's fair to say "Homesongs" wouldn't sound the way it does without those guys. That's true enough, but then it wouldn't sound the way it does without my admiration for Steve Reich, Bjork and lots of other people I really like too. In their own way, those people have influenced the record equally."
Nonetheless, there is an indirect Joni Mitchell reference at the end of "Pillow", wher you lapse into a fews bars of "Jingle Bells", as she does on "River Song" from "Blue." What is it about that album that continues to attract you?
"Mmm, well it's just one of those albums I can always go back to," Adem considers.
"And I do like what Joni does on "River Song". There again, I really like Lisa Germano too and she also uses a snippet of "Jingle Bells" on one of her tunes, so with mine I'm surreptitiously trying to continue that lineage. In years to come there might be an album collecting all the people who have referred to "Jingle Bells" and used it creatively, so maybe people will hear my version and take up the baton," he finishes, laughing heartily.
Nice one. But to refer back to 'lo-fi', or more accurately, the recording process that brought us "Homesongs", I like the fact it was recorded in your London apartment on simply 2 catch-all mics and an old computer. And you did it alone most of the time. Was this a lonely or liberating experience?
"It was both really," he replies.
"It was really exciting and exhilarating in one sense because you have to become entirely self-sufficient. That's great in that it meant I could try things that maybe my collaborators wouldn't have gone with and I could also record at times that were suitable to myself."
"There again," he continues, "it can also be very lonely when you're used to having people around for both reassurance and a second opinion, so it's a double edged sword most of the time."
Obviously it's a very personal record, but while I don't want to pry too deeply into certain corners, songs like "Gone Away" are clearly sad songs of loss. Were songs like that one difficult to lay down?
"It might surprise you, but a lot of my songs are written accidentally, with me imrovising and using the bits that stick, " Adem reveals.
"So it's not really very scientific. They are personal songs, but they're not specific. They're human things and snapshots from both mine and other peoples' lives. At times it is tricky laying things down because there ARE specifics, yeah, but I try hard not to think about the repercussions from certain lines or whatever. It's more important to ensure what I'm saying is something all listeners can relate to on some level."
We were saying the album was beats-free, which it is in the traditional sense. Yet there are cool percussion tracks, often involving found sounds, such as kids' toys and so on...
"I like that aspect of the record," Adem acknowledges.
"We have a motto with Fridge, saying: "Limitation breeds creativity", which I've tried to utilise here also. I mean, I had the idea of using no real drums very ealy on, so it was a massive compromise initially just to use a hi-hat on "These Are Your Friends" for instance, because that song was begging for a drum kit."
"I'm please with what I did use, though," he continues after a pause.
"What did get used helps keeps the songs ticking over. I mean the sounds are things like me going around hitting a pillow with a stick and so on, using stuff that's just lying around. I suppose it's a fundamental thing that people only think you can get sounds form instruments, whereas any object can give you an interesting sound. That's one thing you need to understand and work with."
Another one I like a lot is "Cut." With the harmonium, little slide guitar bit and the waltz-like tempo it reminds me a little of James Yorkston's "Moving Up Country" album. Presumably you're familiar with him as you share a label (Domino)?
"Yes, very much so," Adem confirms.
"Funnily enough, though, I think my song "Ringing In My Ear" is closer to his style...not lyrically, but the way I play guitar on it is similar. It's quite like some of the Fence Records things. "Cut" was hard to record because it's he only song on the record where I'm actually strumming the guitar throughout and it didn't seem to fit with the record stylistically to begin with. I had to work with it a lot, but it was worth the effort. It's now a favourite of mine."
OK, well obviously this is a record very much about and made by Adem alone, but did Kieran and Sam influence the record in any way?
"Kieran and Sam were my musical upbringing, so at a roots level, they stood me in good stead, even though they don't actually play on the album. So their role was more spiritual. Keiran helped me with the mixing too. He's a crucial sounding board for me because I'm actually deaf in my left ear and he's so imprtant as I can't always tell if something's off in one direction or another. I've learnt to mix, but it's a hard task for me."
Talking of the other boys in Fridge, I hear rumours of a new Fridge album before the year's out. Any truth in that one?
"Yeah, we're about half way through it," Adem confirms.
"The melodies are still very much there, though sometimes the drums will be louder this time round, Ii think. It's quite sparse in places, but it's coming together well and we're liking what we're hearing."
The music on "Homesongs" is so intimate and yet you're playing loads of gigs. How do you recreate the intimacy live?
"Having a nice, sympathetic band helps," smiles Adem.
"They guest on the record in some cases. Marc Meon, for example, played the slide guitar and he's out live with me. We all sing and can recreate four-part harmonies. The line-up's two acoustic guitars, doule bass, glockenspiel, harmonium and some percussion, floor tom and so on. We're playing with Divine Comedy soon and went down great with Explosions In The Sky recently..."
Bit of a contrast surely?
"Sure, but the audiences were really into it. There are very open-minded people out there, I'm glad to say. Music fans are still discerning."
At a jump into the near future, there's an amazing B-side on your new single "These Are Your Friends" called "Let It Burn". It's the weirdest song of rebirth I've ever heard and it's quite dark, hypnotic and sparse. Where did it come from?
"I hope to be making more music like that," Adem notes.
"It just happened 'cos I had a thumb piano and it came from mesing around on that. It's a very limited instrument, but you can change the pitch with it, and I anted the song to sound like a chant. It is about rebirth, you're right, and it's saying it's OK to move on and take the next step in your life."
"I initially thought it would be on the next LP, but I don't wanna hold stuff back and in any case I take B-sides seriously, they're not meant to be throwaway affairs in my mind."
Couldn't agree more. Adem, we have to sign off shortly, but before we go tell me more about your 'other' project, The Assembly, which has been known to feature the likes of Beth Orton and Polly Paulusma. It's based entirely on spontaneity, I believe. Will there be an album?
"Yeah, there's no fixed membership," Adem reveals candidly.
"We've done four performances so far, with no electric instruments at all, based on separate agendas. We're planning on releasing "Assembly 2" which was the one from the Tate Britain, hopefully on Fridge's label. It'll be a very limited edition vinyl thing."
"They're great fun to do," he continues.
"The Tate one was 30 of us in a blob sitting on the floor with pads of paper. Someone would write an instruction on a pad and bring it up and if they'd written 'G' or whatever, we'd improvise something around that. It's a great way to work because it's not pretentious, very child-like and very friendly."
"I really like that," he finishes. "We've had jazz peopl, classical composers, laptop composers, it's very naive and it's great to do something that spontaneous and encourage people who've never heard of the likes of Sun Ra and John Zorn or whatever. Music's available to be twisted around by everyone, isn't it?"
Very wisely put, sir. Thank you for a fascinating half hour.