Adam Stafford is one of three acts appearing under the banner of record label Gerry Loves Records on Tuesday for Netsounds Unsigned at Mad Hatters, Inverness.
Adam – as well as bringing out his second much-praised album Imaginary Walls Collapse last year – has also made a short film about a historic mining disaster in his home town of Falkirk. Below he talks about his life and music ...
1 What was Falkirk like to grow up in if you liked music – was there lots going on in music terms in the town or did you tend to look to places like Edinburgh for inspiration?
A: There were lots of indie bands flying under the radar in the town for sure: Rabid Lettuce (featuring Malcolm Middleton); Bay (with Aidan Moffat on drums): Blood Simple; Pistolstar – bands that really didn’t get the credit they deserved or broke up before they received any attention. Traditionally, the live scene focused on rock and metal – there was a dive club called Pennies, and in it, on a Friday night a metal-themed showcase called The Engine Room hosted by an absolutely local legend Jim Connelly, who looked like an old, weary biker and was hilariously negative about every band that came through the venue to play. His catchphrase was "They’re pish!" and he would come out with things like, "They’re a f***ing s**te band, like, but they’re alright guys". Most of the abuse was directed at his son’s band who played pretty much every weekend there. It was a real rites-of-passage going to the Engine Room, even though the music, as Jim put it, was ultimately "pish" and it was in a really rough end of town. Beer was a pound a bottle, they’d let anyone who looked older than 12 inside and you could freely do drugs in the venue with impunity, so you can imagine what that was like for a bunch of teenagers! I remember distinctly that 1998 was a real turning-point year for a change in musical tastes. There was a plethora of albums that really made a huge impression on me and my friends back then: Philophobia by Arab Strap; XO by Elliot Smith; TNT by Tortoise: Boatman’s Call by Nick Cave; F#A# Infinity by Godspeed You Black Emperor!; Under The Western Freeway by Granddaddy and many others.
2 How quickly did you find your own style – to tap into the you that lurked at the core of your music?
I would argue that I still haven’t found a concrete "style"! I love so many different types of music that I hear it all come flooding through and I can’t help but be influenced by a lot of it. When I started playing and recording it was grungey and punky, then it went a bit psychedelic, then I went through my blues phase before going into the post-rock and downbeat atmospheric acoustic thing. Now, I really couldn’t tell you what it sounds like.
3 Who most influenced your success in becoming a musician/performer?
Probably my wife and The Handsome Family.
4 What have been the biggest turning points so far?
Every step is an incremental victory really. Since I went solo in 2010 I would count recording my first couple of albums with Robbie Lesiuk and Paul Savage, some small but really memorable tours, a 7" record on Gerry Loves and the release of the last record on 12" on Song by Toad Records as being turning points.
5 Last year you released your second album Imaginary Walls Collapse and a wide variety of guest artistes featured on it. Were they friends of yours/musicians you admired and asked to be on it – or something more complicated? And what is your next release likely to be?
Most were friends already – Robbie Lesiuk (who provided all the bass and also produced the album), Matt Brennan, Anna Miles, Ben Hillman, and I admire all of them greatly. They recorded their parts extremely quickly and without much practise, which is a testament to their professionalism. Siobhan Wilson who sings on most of the songs, was relatively unknown to me at the time of recording, but I’d played a gig with her some months previously and asked her to contribute as it was pretty clear to everybody who witnessed her that night that she was destined to be a future star.
The next album is likely to be more representative of some of the more abstract things I do live, but using choirs, strings, woodwind and percussion. Although it might be another straight-up song-based record or it might be quiet acoustic album. I have three LPs worth of songs written.
6 You are also a film-maker and your short film No Hope For Men Below was screened at Glasgow Short Film Festival and was praised for the "extraordinary sound design" and the way it presented the retelling of Falkirk's Redding Pit disaster of 1923. Many men died, some after days of hoping they would still be rescued which almost seems more terrible. Why did you want to make the film?
I was searching for a project idea after I’d made my first short, The Shutdown, in 2009. I recalled being taught about the disaster in local history in high school and started doing research. I was interested in the way that some of the themes of industrialisation of the community and masculinity were very similar in both films. But I wanted to tell it from a female’s perspective, because the real victims in the tragedy were the mothers, wives and daughters left bereaved.
7 You are appearing with labelmates Rick Redbeard and Yusuf Azak for the Inverness gig this week. I just wondered what the best and worst things are about appearing with labelmates (… if you’ve done it much before!)? Have you worked with the other guys on musical projects before?
I’ve not worked with any of them on musical collaborations, but I’ve travelled and played shows with Rick and would count him as a true friend and a great guy. The thing I’m least looking forward to is the football patter in the car. Rick, Andy and Paddy (who run Gerry Loves Records) are all committed Aberdeen fans, and I’ve never liked football, because I was s***e at it in school. But Rick has invented a tour game called What’s The Thing? which we all played the last time. It’s a cross between I-Spy and Twenty Questions, which I’m thoroughly looking forward to again.
8 I’m intrigued that your performances are compared to David Bowie and David Byrne – their "theatricality" specifically. Do you welcome those connections that people are seeing and what are your views about performance and what’s important about it?
Absolutely, I love both artists and admire their stage prowess immensely. I began performing in youth theatre, singing and dancing like a chump, so theatricality is in my blood. I think it really depends on what kind of performance you want to convey to the audience. The Tom Waits on stage is almost certainly diametrically opposed to Tom Waits the family man and father, so I’ve always been interested in where the real person ends and the character begins. People often ask me – why the shirt and tie? And the answer is: it’s all about the visual message that you send out to the audience. Which brings it back to the David Byrne quote – "People will remember you better if you always wear the same outfit".
9 Given the choice, if you were to have unexpected help with your music/career, would you prefer it came from an inexplicable, supernatural source or a brand-new technological breakthrough made by humans?
It would have to be supernatural. Music itself is a completely supernatural energy, capable of any number of divine abstractions. The human voice alone is a frightening concept, you only have to listen to Inuit throat-singers, champion beat-boxers and people like Meredith Monk to realise this.
Adam appears aat Mad Hatters, Inverness, on Tuesday for Netsounds Unsigned with Phantom Band front man Rick Anthony who also brought out his own solo album No Selfish Heart last year as Rick Redbeard. Joining them is Aberdeen’s Yusuf Azak who will bring out his third album, Peace In The Underworld, in May.