Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
There is, every once in a while, a feeling in a song that we are hearing the musings of a man or woman holding back the things they really think about during the daytime, revealing only those thoughts that occur to them during the moonlight, never fully extending themselves, stretching, getting comfortable and letting their shirts pull up over their bellies and stomach hairs. They prefer to dish out thoughts that exist in the softer moments in time, when they're alright with getting vulnerable, even when that vulnerability is loaded up with muscles and fibers. They might reserve the thoughts and premonitions that fluctuate between breakfast and Letterman for their own diaries and journals, but keep them out of lyrics, if only because they can be spotted for their overt consciousness. Most prefer to keep their greatest bareness to themselves.
Even the most revealing songwriters hold onto bits and pieces of their days for reasons completely known - they add up to that which is too personal and too them or it spanks of embarrassing realities. Londoner Keith John Adams goes into and docks himself in those harbors where those things - the day thoughts, about how there's no one in your town to have casual sex or see art films with and how you enjoy watching the national news broadcasts with your father - aren't relegated to the random throw-away minutes of an afternoon, when those times stow themselves like burrs in one's pelt.
Adams is forthright, unable to shirk obvious problems or considerations simply because they might only be trivial on surface - insubstantial for song material. People don't often write songs about fathers unless a childhood's been rotten or troubling. They don't just write songs about their dad taking them fishing or how much they like watching television together unless that dad has just passed on. Adams offers more to these thoughts that prevail randomly and then flitter away like the dry seeds of a dandelion.
It's the menagerie of everyday solitude and social interactivity that express themselves so vividly on Adams' newest disc, PIP. His work is similar to a mixture of Kimya Dawson - with less anthemic undertones - and Owen Ashworth of Casiotone For The Painfully Alone - with more of a cheerful bent - colliding his marauding, somewhat negative thoughts with peppy pop guitar and other tinkling instruments (children's toy pianos, etc.).
Adams makes art that probably does what all art should do, though most falls short of accomplishing anything. So much music as art is made for obviously flawed purposes. It's made for others, not those writing it. The best art, it can be argued, is only truly and fully understood by those making it. It shouldn't be for mass consumption per se, even if it is heading out to make friends. It should contain just enough of the imperceptible to keep an outside mind scrambling and familiar enough to not scare you away. Adams makes this kind of art as music. It's for his own chambers and it's the close to the vest nature, the flighty sections of active dialogue that he gives freely.
The Daytrotter Interview:
*How many dramatic stories do you have from your tour with Casper and the Cookies?*
Keith John Adams: Seven. Of course the night Kay and Jason got involved with the guy with the stick is now legendary. And the night in Little Rock, Arkansas when we were given free rein in the bar overnight is blurrily etched in my memory. I slept on the floor and got bitten by a spider. Where was the place where the audience was pouring beer on our instruments? I can't tell you this stuff!
*How many crazy stories do you have from that tour? Please share. It sounded like the night before you were visiting us was a good one.*
KJA: It was a very heavy evening the night before this session, and I'm embarrassed to say that my hangover may well be evident in the recordings. We played Omaha, Nebraska and were treated very well by the barman. I believe I had a Guinness and a shot before we even unloaded. The trick to playing inebriated is to make sure the crowd is in a worse state than you. I seem to remember drinking a vase of beer on stage though. We then went back to some lovely people's house - I woke in my clothes, yet still managed to lose my watch.
*Who else have you toured the States with in the past?
KJA: I toured on my own in 2004. Just me and a rental car. It was a great adventure, but not as much fun as sharing some of those experiences - and the driving. In 2005 I toured with Casper & The Cookies, Elekibass (a Japanese band also on HHBTM records) and the lovely Poison Control Center. Everyone told me the PCC were lunatics, but I remember very clearly Pat slamming ELO into the deck in the van and freaking out. I felt an immediate affinity with 'em.
*Drop the s and you've got three first names. Those people aren't to be trusted. Are you one of those people?*
KJA: Yes, I am one of those people - terrible isn't it?
*Where are you from and what's charming about there?*
KJA: I'm from Essex, which is a county next to London. I live in London now of course -- but that's not your question. Essex is charming for its lovely mountains, lakes and the demure womenfolk who coyly flutter their eyelids at you. Ian Dury is from there, as is Billy Bragg, Blur and a bunch of others. The part of Essex I'm from is called Romford. It's not like New York.
*What's the best thing you've found at a bookstore lately?*
KJA: The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain De Botton. It's really nice.
*What's your relationship like with your dad? There are numerous songs of yours referencing a dad.*
KJA: I have a great relationship with my Dad. I know people are supposed to be bitter about their parents in the music industry, but I'm not. I try to see him as much as possible. And that song "Dad," seems to make lots of people cry. I like that.
*How did you get associated with Happy Happy Birthday To Me?*
KJA: Mike from HHBTM did the press for my first album Sunshine Loft. Then he invited me to play his annual festival in Athens GA and I turned up. That's how we got to know each other i guess. He's a real original and a fabulous guy. The label really is a bit of a family actually. We should take over a big building and live together like European hippies.
*How did you celebrate your last birthday?*
KJA: With a Vietnamese meal with friends. I don't like big parties when I'm the reason for its being. I like big parties when I'm on the periphery though. I like peripheral partying.
*Beer, wine or harder stuff? You choose.*
KJA: Oh, my liver so hates me right now. I think I'd better just have a cup of tea. Have you got any cake?
*Are you writing mostly about YOUR life or other peoples' lives? Is there much autobiography in your music?*
KJA: My songs are nearly all about me. Sometimes I'm hidden beneath layers of metaphor or I've caricatured myself heavily, but it's mostly me. When it's not about me, I'm usually exploring ideas, maybe philosophical or social. I really like minimal lyrics though. Sometimes saying less gives though few words you do use a greater gravity -- which is a neat trick.
*What makes you feel alive?*
KJA: Sex makes me feel like an animal. Performing makes me feel like an angel. Laughing makes me feel like a cup of tea... Actually it's hunger. As a rich westerner, I rarely feel it. But occasionally when I feel hungry, I definitely know I'm alive.
*Who was the last person to out-drink you?*
KJA: Generally, it's true, I drink more than those around me, but I don't think I out-drink them because I end up four times more drunk than anyone else.
*Are you working on new material or how are you spending your days?*
KJA: I've just finished the new album, which is called Unclever, so that makes me slow down with writing new material for a month or so. Like after eating a big meal. I'm always turning over music in my mind though. I haven't played a gig in several months and I think that's driving me a bit crazy. I have to write songs as part of my metabolism so it won't be long before that fever is upon me. In the meantime, I must sell my body on the mean streets of London to make ends meet.