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|A Chat with Adam Gnade, talk record pioneer
by Leanda Quinquet
Adam Gnade is a man of words. His words are a power that he wields with stealth and grace....most of the time. See him on stage and you might think differently (he's been known to throw instruments and writhe about on the floor), but for the most part this gentleman is charm and talent embodied. Gnade has a gift for crafting stunningly brilliant prose, which he then delivers over a bed of truly eclectic, folk-inspired music. His pieces depict a harsh and often raw picture of Middle American life, love, loss, hope and broken dreams. His voice is soft and smooth, a honeyed drawl that carries a beatnik’s rhythm. His last record Run hide retreat surrender, released late last year on Loud + Clear Records, received much attention locally for its unique style of vocals. More recently Gnade signed to UK label Drowned in Sound (Metric, Martha Wainwright) and is set to release a new split single with Gang Wizard, entitled Prince of the Confederacy on DeathBombArc Records in June. Until then Gnade and his small army of music-making travelers will be playing a stint of shows in Portland, along with The Wig’s May 13 show at the Mars Bar with mooncalf and mu meson.
(Editor’s note: The following interview took place on October 19, 2005. We're totally lame and never put it up—mostly we're self-serving and wanted to hold it for just such a special occasion. Come to the show!)
Leanda Quinquet - How you doing?
Adam Gnade - I'm doing good...
L - You're lying, you're sick!
A - I am sick, so you might hear me coughing and spluttering.
L - Your new record Run hide retreat surrender has just come out....how would you describe what you do for people who haven't heard you before?
A - I think it comes down to the old talking blues songs that people like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger did. Basically they did protest songs that were generally acoustic guitar. I've done a lot of that in the past, but this record has a whole lot of instruments on it—a soundscape of guitars over tambourines, lots of organs and noise that we made in the studio. Clapping and banging on bottles and stuff like that.
L - So who does the majority of the music?
A - Originally for the first record I did all the music myself, but this new one was done with Dan O'Hara. He's one of my friends from when I lived in San Diego and he's just a really great musician, so we started working together. He does a good deal of the music and we also have a full band of about six people, so everybody has their own spot...but on the record he did quite a bit of it, and then we brought people into the studio from around Portland. I think we had about 6 or 7 people come in to do stuff. But I also do records where I do all of the music myself, I have a single coming out on Death Bomb Arc which is just me and guitar.
L - Where did you meet all your musicians? Portland?
A - The ones on this last tour were. It's basically the people that Dan plays with in his band called The Exhale, and they're all Portland kids.
L - When did you first get into writing?
A - To be perfectly honest, I didn't write at all when I was younger in high school or anything like that. After I graduated, I think I was 18, I got kind of inspired by some ridiculous magazine article that I read, I think it was for some travel magazine. So I wrote my own version of it and then I sent it to the only magazine I knew at the time, and they published it and gave me a bunch of money....and I was like "well...I could do this"...then over the next few years I just got turned down, rejection letters. I thought I was going to be all hot stuff...but I had to really pay my dues for many years.
L - What would you say is your writing style? Do you take time out of everyday to write or is it something that happens a little more spontaneously?
A - I used to force it. I'd write from 8 in the morning until 6 at night, but just recently that doesn't work for me. Now I just go about my day and if all of a sudden I feel that I can write I'll go and do it. It's the same with music, if I feel that I can play something, I'll just stop everything and play, or basically anything like that. If I'm cleaning the house, I sometimes have to stop and go. It's all dictated by whatever my weird moods are... which is kind awkward in social situations. "I've got to go write a story now!!" (laughs) It works really well that way, for me at least.
L - What pushed you to add music to your words?
A - I got into this band a long time ago. I was playing in this terrible band and I realized that it wasn't working for me, but I still had guitars and amps and a four track after I quit, and I was like well I'm not going to do indie rock anymore but I want to do something with all this crap that I've bought. So I'd written this little collection of pieces and thought, why don't I try and read it, backed by guitar. So I released a record of just that, then after that, I found that I really enjoyed the combination of the two and so I've just been doing that ever since.
L - I've read somewhere that you are not too fond of the term “spoken word.” Now some people may listen to what you do and use that to categorize what you do. Why doesn't that term appeal to you?
A - I don't feel bad if people say that about my stuff, but I'm not into spoken word and I really don't write poetry too much. But I really like non-traditional vocals and I've always been into bands that have a different style of delivering their vocals, such as the old talking blues protest songs I was talking about, or screamy bands, screamy hardcore vocals. But this is just my way of doing vocals, people like to categorize, so I can understand.
L - You write some pretty personal stuff. In regards to going on tour, how do you manage to do that every night consistently? It's pretty emotional stuff...how do you manage to do it?
A - As far as doing shows?
L – Yeah.
A - Well, it's kind of a mess! I'm not really very professional about it. Jeez... I just get really into it, then I get really upset, then I maybe drink too much, then I throw my equipment... it just gets like a mess. It's not a very successful tour thing, by the end of our next tour we're going to be all beaten up!! I made myself an instrument to play at our last show on Friday and I ended up throwing it across the stage and it broke...
L - Oh no!
A - I fell down. I was having a good time, but I drank an entire bottle of red wine on the stage....
L - You're a looper!!
A - It was a disaster! (laughs)
L - In your songs you mention people’s names a lot, like I said, it's very personal. How do these people respond to that? Do you use real names? What's the story?
A - Yeah, I've got to stop doing that, because a lot of people take it okay at first, and then I realize they get kind of uncomfortable with it. I've had friends that kind of don't agree with the portrayal that I'm doing of them. On my first record I said some pretty candid stuff about people, named a lot of names and I've just gone out of favor with a lot of those people, so I kind of have to stay away from that. It upsets me a lot, I'd like to have stuff as detail-packed as possible, but I think on the next record it's going to be completely vague.
L - He and she and they...
A - Yeah, it'll be like an early Beatles song, but talking!
L - What would you say the theme of Run hide retreat surrender is?
A - There is definitely a theme. It’s kind of about running away from your problems...and the characters on the record, which they're not really characters but I'm thinking of them as characters right now, believe that by running away from their problems they can save themselves from themselves. But I think they realize by the end that it doesn't really work. It’s kind of like the philosophy of movement as medicine... you can keep moving and you'll somehow save your self, but I don't know if that works at all....
L - Run Hide Retreat Surrender...
A - I think they're deluded, they're tricking themselves. I'm not moralizing at all with the record, it's just that's how it was with those people. Those people meaning me... and the people I was moving around with at the time.
L - Do you always write about the things you've experienced yourself first hand? Or do you sometimes write about things others have told you about, that you haven't experienced?
A - No, it's pretty much all first hand. I really don't know how to write fiction and I really don't have much interest in writing fiction. I've tried and it comes out really ridiculous... I'm not really good at it.
L - Where did you say the record was recorded?
A - The record was recorded in Portland, in a basement studio called 141 Studios. I was traveling through on my way to Seattle at the time and stopped in for about two weeks and we recorded for about 12 hours everyday.
L - Was it produced by yourself?
A - It was produced by Dan O'Hara, the guy who plays a lot of the instruments.
L - You're signed in the U.S. to Loud + Clear Records... how did you manage to swing that?
A - Well, I recorded the record and kind of got disillusioned. I was traveling full time and I decided that I was not going to do anything with it and that I wasn't going to do any records like this again. Then I heard Joanna Newsom for the first time and it kind of revitalized how I feel about art, and so I just sent it out to a couple of labels and Loud + Clear e-mailed me back and were like "We really want to put this out, but we have no idea how to market you"... and I was like well, I'll get a publicity company to market it, and I was kind of bluffing, but they agreed to that, so I had to find a publicity company. My friend Marisa works at a PR company, they agreed to do it and they do PR for The Locust and a bunch of really good bands...
L - So you'll be touring a lot then?
A - Yeah we plan on doing a few tours.
L - So maybe we'll see you up in Toronto and Canada soon?
A - Yeah that would be great... our next tour out on the East Coast we want to have at least 10 people with us in the band, we're already had 6 so 10 should be okay too!
L - Wow...that'll be mad. You can do it!
A - Yeah!
L - Where can people find out more about what you do?
A - www.adamgnade.com, www.myspace.com/gnade
L - Thanks for chatting Adam!
A - Thank you.