Bringing Adam Stafford to Dundee for a joint MPT/Cool Cat Club show has been long overdue as both Andy and I have been big fans of his for some time. So we’re absolutely thrilled to be pairing him with Book Group for a co-headline show at Beat Generator Live on Saturday 21st May.
I first came across Adam opening Martin John Henry’s solo LP launch show at Stereo back in 2011.
Although there were only a handful of people in the room when he started playing, it didn’t affect Adam’s performance at all – rather he was just as intense and compelling playing to five people as he would have been if the room had been completely full.
I can’t honestly say that I was blown away that night – but I was more than intrigued and every subsequent exposure to Adam’s live shows and records has only increased my admiration for his music.
Certainly by the time of ‘Imaginary Walls Collapse’, his first record for Song, By Toad Records, it was clear that he was a major Scottish talent making original, inventive music. Yet for some inexplicable reason ‘Walls’ failed to secure a SAY shortlist position that year.
Fast forward to 2016 and the follow-up album ‘Taser Revelations’ finally saw the light of day in March. It’s every bit a worthy successor to the previous record and perhaps even inches Adam closer to a more accessible sound.
Meeting up with him before his album launch at Summerhall we started talking about the new record and Adam first explained why it had taken so long for ‘Taser Revelations’ to be released.
“The songs were actually written around the same time as ‘Imaginary Walls Collapse’. So they’re old songs to me.
“Whilst I think it was definitely a quicker recording process, I think we tracked the album in about four days, it was actually tracked nearly two years ago.
“It’s just taken so long to get out for various reasons. I had a kid, Robbie (Lesiuk – producer/musical collaborator) had three different projects after it and it took a long time to mix.”
As ever with Adam’s records, he manages to bring together all sorts of disparate, and seemingly incompatible, influences yet somehow he has created a cohesive work which is recognisably his own. He was happy to flag up what he sees as being the major influences on ‘Revelations’.
“There’s so many that I could name but I think, in the main, that there’s probably a big 80s dominance. It’s not just because of the synths but some of the elements such as the steel drums which remind me of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ by Black. I remember that song as a kid.
“There’s a lot of other stuff – ‘Railway Trespassers’ is definitely directly influenced by a Steve Reich composition, ‘Electric Counterpoint’ and there’s also some gospel elements on ‘The Penumbra’. I listen to a lot of gospel music.
“And on the first song ‘Let A Little Love Inside’ the drum machine starts off with the same drumbeat as Arab Strap’s ‘I Would’ve Liked Me A Lot Last Night’ from ‘Philophobia’.”
A big part of the reason that this all works is that Adam’s use of loop pedals is a key, unifying component of both the live shows and the records. It’s a technique that he’s been using for a long time.
“I would say since the days of Y’All Is Fantasy Island. I think I’ve had the same sort of pedal set-up for about 10 years now.
“I used to do experimental loop stuff under the name of Size of Kansas just to record onto a tape recorder and that’s all loop based. And that’s where I started to learn to play songs based on that kind of loop technology.”
Watching Adam perform live, either on his own or with Robbie, is a fascinating experience but one that he views with somewhat mixed emotions.
“I like the visual spectacle of building up the loops and some people think it’s magical, which is nice.”
“But it’s also terrifying. It’s fallen apart so many times, it’s horrible!
“It’s usually a timing issue. If it’s not in time I can’t do a syncopated rhythm over the top or I can’t beat box the rhythm over the top of it. Or if I’m playing with Robbie, he just loses it. So (laughs) it really can fall apart very quickly!”
The loops aren’t just a live tool though and they do impact on Adam’s songwriting as he explained.
“I usually find that the restrictions are quite liberating because for the initial loop, the bed loop, I can only loop 24 seconds. So that initial bed determines what the rest of the song is going to be. From then on I find it easier to build on top of that.
“I definitely find that the fact that you’re limited to what you can loop really freeing rather than when you’ve got an acoustic guitar and trying to write songs and verses and choruses and stuff. Most of my songs don’t have choruses, instead there’ll be an instrumental interlude between the verses, which I quite like as well.”
For all his long engagement with the working method of using loops, Adam is wary of being identified solely with the technique and is already planning an alternative approach.
“I don’t mind the loop thing too much but there are a lot of people doing it at the moment. And you kind of get lumped in with those people.
“And some of them are probably great but some of them are playing improv experimental wig-outs on a loop pedal. Although I like a bit of that as well.
“But I’m thinking of going back, not for the next album but the one after that, to doing acoustic songs which I’ve been writing in increments over the years. That’ll be something like YIFI’s ‘ Rescue Weekend’ album where there’s a lot of different changes and proper verses and choruses with middle eights and bridges and stuff.”
In relation to ‘Imaginary Walls Collapse’ Adam described the record at the time as pop music – or at least what he likes to think pop should be. But whilst many indie artists confess to a love of modern pop, Adam has a different view.
“I don’t know if just my generation or your generation looking back on the Top of the Pops era with rose tinted spectacles – because I remember Top of the Pops being quite exciting. But I also remember there being a load of shit – novelty dance records like ‘Tetris’ or boy bands like Take That.
“But I don’t recognise pop music these days. I don’t recognise the shrillness and loudness. If you were to put a Rhianna song into a sound graph it would just be like a block of noise. There’s no dynamic noise there, it’s just not interesting.
“Anything that I hear is just this maximalism – that’s how I’d describe it – the maximalism of pop.
“Maximalism can be great. I was talking about Steve Reich before. Even though he’s always talked about as a minimalist some of his stuff is really maximalist. If you listen to ‘Drumming’ you’ve got all sorts of time signatures phasing into each other, then you’ve got glockenspiels and all sorts of percussion.
“But with maximalised pop, I just think it’s something that just doesn’t sit right.”
Like any musician, Adam is keen to reach a wider audience and acknowledges that his label boss (Matthew Young of Song, By Toad) helps in that regard.
“He’s got more followers on Twitter than I have so whenever he tweets about it, that’s good!”
More seriously getting shows further afield is tough for a musician in Adam’s position.
“It’s really difficult to get shows down south, unless you’ve got a booker who’s paid to book these gigs and take a commission. And then they’ve got their politics, they’ll only put some bands together. Yet, without that help, it’s a bit of a nightmare.”
Adam, of course, is not just a musician but also a film maker of some repute. It’s something he would like to do again.
“Probably one day. I’ve not given up making films but I’ve had to put it onto hiatus because of raising a child for the last year and a half, so it’s been difficult.
“I’m kind of working on a feature film but it’s only at a basic treatment stage at the moment but hopefully I’ll make it … in the next 10 years!”
Finally looking forward to the Dundee show, Adam confesses he doesn’t have an extensive past history with Dundee.
“I haven’t spent a long time in Dundee to be truthful but as a city it seems nice.
“I’ve played two gigs and I like it. The Desperate Dan and Beano statues in the city centre are my abiding memories of the city.”
Adam Stafford plays a co-headline show with Book Group and support from Hans Klammer on Saturday 21st May for the Cool Cat Club at Beat Generator Live in Dundee. Advance tickets are available from Groucho’s and online at £6 stbf. More info on the show here.
Adam also supports –
- Book Group at their Glasgow LP Launch at the Hug and Pint tomorrow (Thursday 12th May)
- PAWS at their LP launches atSUmmerhall in Edinburgh (24th June) and Stereo in Glasgow (25th June)
- Broken Records at Summerhall on 20th August
as well as performances at Brew at the Bog (6th June) and Inverness, Mad Hatters (18th June)
‘Taser Revelations’ is out now on Song, By Toad Records.