Sunday, 12 May, 2024 in Music

Into Music Interview: Barry Adamson

Barry Adamson is a busy guy. Having released nine solo albums to date, number ten, in the shape of Cut To Black will drop on 17th May 2024. Early singles preceding the album have been nothing less than sensational and with an upcoming tour in support of the new record, life is good. 

Many will be familiar with Adamson’s back catalogue; the aforementioned solo albums (including the Mercury Prize nominated Soul Murder) as well as stints as bass player supreme in post punk outfit Magazine as well as with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. If that wasn’t enough, there is his work as a composer, filmmaker, photographer and writer. His memoir of 2021, Up Above The City, Down Beneath The Stars is incredibly powerful, harrowing, funny and written with a brutal honesty that isn’t often seen in literary circles. 
Barry was kind enough to spend some time with Into Creative’s John Welsh to give us the lowdown on the new album, upcoming tour and much more. 
Into Creative (IC): So Barry, how is it going?
Barry Adamson (BA): It’s going pretty good. It’s quite a hectic time coming up to the release of the new album and the tour and also getting all the promotional material together for each of the singles to come off. You finish the record and think “oh that’s it done” but there’s so much more to do. 
IC: The new album, Cut To Black is out 17th May. Can you tell us a bit about the backstory to the album in terms of the writing and recording process? 
BA: As a musician or artist or whatever it is people like to refer to, or what I do these days, you are constantly looking for ideas and ways to express yourself through song and melody. I’ve got into that and it’s a regular thing for me.  
Like you said, it’s my tenth album although it doesn’t really feel like it. It feels like I’m just getting started really. I guess over an eighteen month period you start to have an idea of what you want to do. You’re guided along by whatever forces are going on around you, what influences are going on and it starts to meld itself in that way and I had this idea of leaning more or into black music, more than I had done previously. 
I’d always included it in the work and some of the soundtrack stuff I do so there’s been a sort of presence there but how if I put that at the front and still try and retain a cinematic identity that I’ve carved out for myself.
When the idea to call it Cut To Black came along that seemed perfect as it’s a movie term and it indicates what I’m doing in my work and life and came together that way, over a period of time like a jigsaw. 
I’m glad it’s out next month so people don’t confuse it with the movie Back To Black!!

IC: There’s some themes running through the album such as civil rights, race, life in general. What’s driven the lyrics? 
BA: What I’ve done in terms of work experience is to gather together methods of putting the work into a music/cinema way by drawing from personal experience, drawing from characters I may have seen, stuff I’ve made up or content I’ve read about. 
When you mix all those things together, you start to come up with characters and narratives and you can play with that. I think there is quite a bit of playfulness going on and while it may be disguised, I think you can hear that rambunctious quality going on where I’m assuming different roles and leaning on a mixture of made up aspects, not necessarily what I’ve read about or happened with friends. Someone described it as walking around with a butterfly net catching ideas that are flying around and knowing the ones that are meant for you. I try to go along with that as it’s happening.
IC: How do you capture the ideas?  
BA: Once you get up and running, you leave your mind open to ideas coming in. I can write something then a little later on, something else will come in and it will be for that very idea even though I’ve not set out to write for that. It’s like your conscious is piecing all the bits together. 
Having a phone to speak or sing into is invaluable. That’s a pretty crucial method as a melody can come along, so if I can sing it straight away, you can go back to it. It can be really strong or not, but you stay open to all these things coming in, because there is something going on, this is the project I’m making, so that’s where the butterfly net comes in, you’re fishing and trying to catch things. It’s something I’ve gotten used to over the ten albums and I know that as a method. There’s always a melody to grab hold off. 
IC: The early single, The Last Words Of Sam Cooke is soulful and beautiful yet has the refrain “lady you shot me“. What was the catalyst for the track? 
BA: I’m not particularly a die hard Sam Cooke fan but I do think he’s a genius and when I hear his voice I instantly melt. 
There was something though, I read the story and his final words were “lady you shot me” so it came about as a type of noir, like a detective movie and I thought it this was a little film and I’m in Sam Cooke’s head how would that be, how would that play out and in particular using that hook “lady you shot me“. It has a double edge to it. 
Someone mentioned they sing the track but instead of “lady you shot me” it comes out as “baby I love you” because it has this melody. 
I was open to ideas, playing around with some chords and it struck me that the melody was a bit like Wonderful Life, it had the same elevation and I knew something was working. My girlfriend wrote the words in 24 hours. I then had this weird attachment to it, like a strange director quality. 
I’m not in any way trying to be like Sam Cooke as of course I can’t, so I’ve told the story in an interesting way, like a little noir piece with all these shady things going on. Was the FBI involved? He was friends with Malcolm X and these were good references and starting points, looking at black stories and my own story, coming off the back of the memoir. 
IC: There’s a real cinematic vibe to the song which is also evident in your memoir where there is a real sense of coming across as an observational storyteller on your life. 
BA: That was a goal, to do that and keep that cinematic identity in the work. 

IC: The new album features many aspects of black music including soul, R&B, disco and hip hop. Was that deliberate in what you were looking to achieve? 
BA: It wasn’t particularly a manifesto to create different genres on the one album to tell elements of my story. It evolved, it’s where it goes. It follows a thread, a jigsaw, a few clues and then you lean on ideas from black music and I made a definite decision at some point that this is how it should go. Not calculated. For example I was particularly attached to the last track Waiting For The End Of Time, it’s not soul, it’s just a beautiful song and I wanted to speak about the soul, without it being in the genre of soul music and I gave myself the allowance to do that. I’m trying to open myself on grieving a friend’s death. At some point you make a decision on the kind of record it’s going to be but there is an unconscious thing going on to. 
IC: There’s a U.K. tour to support the new album. Are you rehearsing currently? 
BA: Yeah, it’s all going good. There’s ten albums worth of songs to look at so again, it should be an interesting show and hopefully it can open a few more doors. Hopefully, you get something to communicate to people and they get it. 
IC: Some European dates? 
BA: Yes, some dates and festivals. I’m looking to carry on and push the record as it’s worth it and deserves it. 
IC: On tour, what’s the plan when you hit certain cities? 
BA: Everything is about the show. It’s funny as you are on this adrenaline roundabout in the lead up then you burst onto the show and you are quite elevated for a while, before, and for want of a better phrase, “coming down”. Then you realise you’ve not been sleeping too well and next you are off to another place. It becomes like this weird groundhog with dopamine and exhaustion. 
When you get back after the tour, you try to stay in reality, get out of the bubble so it’s nice to burst that rather than staying on the adrenaline rollercoaster. 
IC: Your memoir, Up Above The City, Down Beneath The Stars was brutally honest. There is funny content but heartbreaking trauma including racism and addiction. Was there a sense of validation when you got to finishing off the book? 
BA: For the last thirty years, I’ve stepped away from that self destructive lifestyle, soul searching and I still wonder through self investigation to see what reveals itself to me now. 
For that period in particular, I could tell the story again, using the tools, the storytelling in cinema, the arc from birth to thirty years old and see it go into this section that gets darker and darker. 
How do I get it from being this gut-wrenching, heartbreaking tale into almost like an acceptable absurdity? I leaned on literary style and it’s like a noiry, detective, journalistic style with snappy staccato sentences. I did want it to be different. Some of the feedback has been absolutely brilliant. My goal was to make it novelistic and cinematic and have the things I try to imbue in my work anyway, not to shy away from things. It was a tough decision but I followed it, this could be really good and get people to turn the page so I thought it was worth doing and quite original to do it that way. Especially when I’ve come out of it which is like a film theme, not a happy ending but uplifting and hopeful. 
IC: There’s a section in the book when you talk about having just started playing bass, you phone up Howard Devoto asking for an audition for his new band which really embodies the spirit of punk. Magazine then went on to release four albums between 1978 and 1981. At the time, was there a sense of time of the impact you were making? 
BA: I was pretty aware of how important it was, not the legacy, just being in something at the time, at the centre of what was going on which was quite incredible. I knew the importance of the work Devoto had done, particularly in Buzzcocks and I talk at length about the Spiral Scratch EP being this thing which freed me up, this is what I am going to do, one of those epiphanies. 
Even more so with the early Bad Seeds. I knew it was important, I didn’t know it would be part of the fabric of music on the bigger stage for the rest of all time. 
Likewise with Magazine but I see the light diminish here and there. Of course, there is no stopping Nick. He just carried on and built that legacy. It’s a pity Magazine couldn’t have done that really. 

IC: You’ve done film scores, music, writing and others. Do you gravitate to one more than another? 
BA: I started to do a soundtrack for a film, Scala while I was working on Cut To Black and what it gave me was almost this other avenue to come back to Cut To Black and carry on. For some reason, the soundtrack was quite straightforward to me and the writing was really quick, spontaneous. Sometimes it can be difficult and you’re not sure if you’re on the right project, you have to take each thing on its own merits but I was very fortunate to be asked to do that score. The pieces all fitted together. 
I’d been at the Scala in my youth and I took on board the films that were being shown there so I had an innate sense of what to do so that felt quite good. 
IC: Ten solo albums in yet you’ve been part of a band like Magazine and the Bad Seeds. Do you prefer to be up front and certain or equally at ease being part of a band? 
BA: Now more than ever, it’s normalised that you are the centrepiece of your own work. I’ve written everything and recorded everything pretty much across all ten albums. That doesn’t make me any better but I’ve just got used to that as the way I work. I think I like it that way, like a painter, a writer, a sculptor. Just sitting here and bringing these ideas together. I can work at my own pace, on my own clock and am quite happy doing it that way. 
You’re either part of the decision making process or you’re not. I found I wasn’t really with the Bad Seeds and I guess I found that frustrating. It’s fine as you have to have direction, to have a director, someone in charge to say this is how it’s going to go. It takes a while for bands to figure that out, everyone wants a democracy and I’ve been on the end of that too. I’m happy chiseling away. 

IC: When was the last time you played live? 
BA: I did some solo shows when writing the book here and there. I then accepted a production award in Poland and did a live show there and a local live show in Brighton. Covid took the wind out of everything. 
IC: How do you come up with a setlist given you have ten albums worth of material to choose from? 
BA: You kind of know what worked well previously. I’ve set lists from 2017 so you shape it into a show, what went well and so on. A good part of the show will be the new album, maybe six or seven out the ten songs will feature. 
IC: Thinking back to all the gigs you’ve attended, which one stands out the most and why? 
BA: Seeing Curtis Mayfield play in a small club in Stockholm while I was on tour with Iggy Pop was one of the most memorable things ever. They made this sound, his falsetto voice, it was so amazing, really something else and it blew me away. 
Another one was seeing Ennio Morricone play with a full orchestra and a small band at The Barbican. For some reason, I sat there listening to the show and I just started to weep in buckets. I was like “what the hell is going on with me“? It was like the ultimate validation of what you want to do but someone is doing it in just the most incredible way. It was unbelievable the way it came across. It was a jaw dropper. 
Into Creative would like to think Barry for his time for what was a cool interview. 
For more on the new Barry Adamson album, Cut To Black and the upcoming U.K. tour including a show at Glasgow King Tuts on 31st May, head to his website here


John Welsh



@Sonic PRMusic


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