Tragically Unheard Of
Band O’ The Week
adam gnade

Adam Gnade is a living “Tragically UnHeard Of” Legend. He is even developing his own groundbreaking genre, “talking songs”, which pairs spoken prose over instrumental ambiance ranging from americana blues, psychedelic drone rock, avante-garde folk minimalism, etc. I would even go so far to say that he could be the Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen of our time. (I would go further to say, due to the current mainstream B.S. and the over saturated DIY music market, if Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen or other “legends” from their time did music in 2008, they too would be “Tragically UnHeard Of”.)

For a more extensive musical history on Adam Gnade please refer to his website.

Listen to Adam Gnade: “It’s Five O Clock In America”

I have seen you play a few different times. Once with drone rock backing band, The Exhale; once with back porch acoustic instrumentation including a saw, banjo and audience participant toy instruments; another time completely solo on acoustic guitar and a couple o’ pints of 8% local brew. Each time was mesmerizing and incredible. How do you organize these musicians and develop songs together? Do they take musical direction from you? Do you play the same songs with different genres/musicians? How do do you reinvent your songs while experimenting with different genres and with a different line of musicians? Based upon the song’s lyrical content, do certain songs require a harder rock genre vs. a quieter, minimalistic approach?

Each time you’ve seen me play, things like organization and direction were ignored and we just went for it, no matter who was on stage. It was improve, so the song was in the dismantling of the song. We drank a lot of shitty wine on stage. Terrible things happened afterwards. Murderous duels. Speeches. Bad food. Bad singalongs. Lately I’m playing solo, just me and the banjo. It’s very mellow. No drunkenness. Been turning a lot of gospel and country traditionals into talking-songs. Lots of mantras, drones, and Nashville country chords.

But I’ve been listening to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on repeat lately, like 20 times a day, maybe more. I don’t have an iPod or a CD player, just this cheap cardboard box record player and I’m playing that 12” just fucking RAGGED. Which is to say, maybe another full band is gestating in me. I don’t know, hand-drums and doomy big ol’ guitars sound like fun, but I don’t want to do anything that’s been to death. I started a noise band today that only I’m in, but anyone else can join. It’s called Ruby Rings. I’m recording the first album this weekend on 4-track, but I’m just going to keep it for myself, one copy—something I can drive around and listen to. Mellow, mellow shit, field recordings of water, feedback, lots of drums. No shows, no releases, no internet bullshit.

Your “talking songs” style is inevitably story telling. Do you derive the words from your own experiences, is it fictional, both?

They’re all true and they’re all fiction, in the sense that everything’s true and everything’s kind of made up according to objective reality. Some are storytelling, but most are message-based. But I guess some of the messages are stories too. The idea that we’re all going to die, but it’s okay because we’re not dead yet is a story and a message, one of the most basic of all, y’know, and that’s what my latest release, Palaces, is about.

Memento mori and the danse macabre*. Falling in love, having fun, telling people to go get fucked if you want to or becoming great friends, seeing the world, laying out in the sun after jumping in a river, eating well, doing what you’ve always wanted to do. Sometimes we need to be reminded that death is the one thing that unites all stations of life, the millionaire or the bum, and that we’ve gotta rage against the dying of the light, as Dylan Thomas said. “Rage” being positive, proactive, life-affirming in the face of death. Just basically be better. Ascend. Go off on your own search or your own quest until you find It or It finds you. Find your destiny.

Check out Adam Gnade’s music video. Made by a inspired fan:

Would you consider your songs to be ‘American Storytelling’ or do you choose to take on a more abstract identity?

People call my shit “gothic folk” a lot and say it’s depressing, but I think of it as being hopeful, y’know, about living as vigorous as you can before we’re done. As far as the songs on their own, I want to create a new genre called “talking songs” that’ll sound like America sounds, the noise of workers and progress and the sounds of bars and schools, street construction, rivers, sunny days in Virginia, sunny days in Florida, crickets, cicadas, the tide coming in and out, lines and streams of headlights on freeways at night, marching bands, state fairs, cars on highways, etc. Most of it, like I said before, is really about living as hard as you can in the face of death, but I also have a lot of songs about girls and cars.

You have traveled through the UK often. What brings you to that country?

I started touring over there after Drowned in Sound, which is like Europe’s Pitchfork, did a giant story on me, and, because of the interest the interview got, released one of my records. They put together the first tour and got Youthmovies to be my band. The Youthmovies guys and I became best friends, their guitarist Al signed me to his label, Try Harder, we did a record together, and we worked out me coming over every year. I wish there was more sun over there, but besides that it’s great. Portland doesn’t have sun either, so I shouldn’t complain.

How does this differ from other places/countries you have been/performed?

US tours … they’re great, I love America—especially the sunny states—but some shows are hit or miss. Over there it’s more consistent. Good big crowds, nice riders, new PAs, a booking agent who handles everything. Try Harder Records, I owe everything to. They’ve been so nice to me and they get my songs on the radio. It’s really insane when I think about it. Real dream-come-true stuff. One tour over there pays my rent for like six months. Youthmovies are so kind and good … they’re murderous too. Wild guys. Like crazy tigers or something. Somebody’s always beating the shit out of somebody. It’s fun. I came back from this last tour with broken ribs, cigarette burns, and a busted skull.

Your first novel, Hymn California, comes out in April. What can readers expect from this book? Is it fictional or loosely based on real life? How would you describe this work?

It’s fiction, as much as anything is fiction, and it’s prose. It continues the stories of the characters from the songs and ties up plots left open by the records.

What inspired you to write a book rather than write lyrics for your music project?

I’ve tried to keep the books and songs separate in the past but it didn’t work. The only way I could pull off doing both was to integrate them as much as possible, immerse the songs in the books and the books in the songs. One reviewer said that, in the process, “it’s created its own universe” but I don’t know if that’s true.

Will the book be available online and/or distributed? Where?

Hymn California is mainly going to be distributed by Kristin Hersh’s CASH Music site she’s doing with Donita from L7. My publisher, Dutchmoney Books, is a partner in the site, so I’ll have a page at adamgnade.cashmusic.org. Right now the project they’re working on is Xiu Xiu and I guess I’m next. Jamie from Xiu Xiu tells me they’ve been really good to him so I’m excited. I wish I could talk about it, but it’s a secret until they announce it. Secrets are good….

* danse macabre is the concept of the “death dance,” which means the dance towards death is the one thing that unites all people, no matter their background or social status. Memento mori basically means “remember death,” but it’s used to describe art that reminds us that death lies ahead and that we must take advantage of life and live as well as we can. They’re two seperate ideas, but definitely connected.


5 Responses to “KEEP IT ON THE BROWNLOWE: Tragically UnHeard Of…ADAM GNADE”

  1. February 12, 2008 at 2:48 pm

    Wow, consider me intrigued!!! Thanks for your good work here!!!

  2. 2 gaycondo
    February 12, 2008 at 11:07 pm

    This is your best “Tragically Unheard of….” to date! good job!

  3. 3 gaseous
    March 3, 2008 at 12:02 pm

    Hey, I had a similar idea. I do an unsung heroes on my radio show and I’ve wanted to do Adam Gnade for a long time, so tonight is the night. I’ll give your blog a mention too!

    It’s on tonight at 10pm uk time, on http://www.freshair.org.uk

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