Returning with a dystopian new album and graphic novel, the anti-folk pioneer gives us an insight into his writing methods
Since his early days in anti-folk heroes The Moldy Peaches, New York’s Adam Green has forged a path which has combined his music with other passions like art, filmmaking and poetry. It makes perfect sense that his new album, Engine Of Paradise comes with a companion graphic novel War And Paradise, a satirical war epic about the clash between humans and machines whose themes are explored further in his new songs. The record also sees Green teaming up with a host of collaborators such as James Richardson (MGMT), Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine) and Jonathan Rado (Foxygen).
A listen to Freeze My Love, the first track taken from the album which comes complete with Green’s trademark droll delivery and lyrical dexterity, confirms that fans are in for yet another treat when the album drops. Ahead of its release, we had time for a quick chat with the artistic polymath and top songwriter…
Does having different creative outlets aid your songwriting?
“Yes, but not too much. I mean… I do think that some of the experiences I’ve had while painting and filmmaking find their way into my songs, but making up songs is mostly about feelings. I feel like there is a tornado of feelings that pushes a song into this world, and the lyrics are anything that happened to get caught up in the wind. In this way, many songs are sort of pre-written by the subconscious and then later discovered.”
Are you able to see one theme which binds everything you do?
“I think if you look at an artist at the end of their life, if you spread out all their works on a giant table, you can then see the things that all of these productions have in common. These common threads that run through all of the work are the essence of who the artist is. I can’t see them for myself necessarily, I’m mostly reacting to the feeling of being stuck inside a given moment.”
Do you always know what form you’re writing for when you sit down to write i.e. you know you’re writing a song rather than a poem, script or piece of fiction?
“I’m usually working on one big project at a time, and everything that I do I try to incorporate into that one big thing. For example, in September I’m putting out a graphic novel called War And Paradise, and along with that is a companion album of songs called Engine Of Paradise that I wrote and recorded during the same year. Working on both things simultaneously, I picked from the body of writing I did at that time, interchangeably using lines for songs or for the script of the book. The drawings from that period became the characters and the setting for the story. Each big project is an attempt to push out an interior landscape – it’s a diagram of my insides.”
How did the process of writing the songs for Engine Of Paradise begin?
“Usually I write songs while going on long walks. I often walk ten miles a day during the spring and summer. Walking gives me a chance to think, and the pace gives me a natural rhythm to make up melodies to. I try to write the words and melodies at the same time, allowing my emotions to guide these melodies into words, or vice versa. Sometimes at home, I’ll sit with scraps of paper or index cards with lyrics on them, and I’ll try to figure out if these can fit into the verses – one thought can trigger another thought from years before and it’s like emotional time travel.”
At what point did you bring in the other artists – and did you always know who you wanted to feature on the album?
“I did a recording session for fun with Loren Humphrey and James Richardson and their playing was so nuanced and refined, I was completely blown away. I guess that’s where the inspiration to make the record came from. I just really wanted to record something with them! We added some amazing players like string arranger Jesse Kotansky, Delicate Steve… Jonathan Rado from Foxygen played piano and even co-produced a couple of the tracks. “
Are you someone who likes to tinker in the studio? Is that part of your editing process?
“Sometimes! On Sixes & Sevens (2008) and Minor Love (2010), I had long stretches in the studio where I could sit around experimenting and making up songs there. I guess at that time recording budgets were higher, so there was less pressure to get everything done quickly. My philosophy is usually to find something that feels right and then move on with it, there will always be another song to try something different on – go with the feeling and take advantage of what’s actually around you rather than searching for some sample or editing trick that’s gonna fix your song.”
What do you think they all brought to Engine Of Paradise?
“I think there’s a real elegance to the playing on Engine Of Paradise. I think it might be my most enlightened sounding record.”
Has your way of writing changed at all since you made your last album Aladdin?
“My writing process hasn’t really changed since Aladdin – my writing process has been more or less the same since Friends Of Mine (2003). That’s when I put down the guitar and started writing songs just by singing them into a recorder. I figure if you have a song that works just by singing it, without any accompaniment, then there’s gotta be something there.”
Have you always found inspiration in the same places?
“I think a lot of artwork is hiding in places that are slightly embarrassing. I try to work uncensored in my notebook, and make sure that I’m getting it all out.”
You’ve been making music for a long time now – what’s the key to maintaining that passion and ability to create?
“My approach is to write a lot, and often. Writing for me is a constant, but other things seem to come and go. Sometimes I’m writing songs, and other times I’m making paintings, books, or films. But writing is the thing that keeps me grounded.”
Lastly, what do you hope to achieve every time you sit down and write a song?
“I’m trying to make something that I would want to hear. I am the audience for my own music, I collect my own artwork!”
Interview: Duncan Haskell
Engine Of Paradise is out 6 September via 30th Century Records. For more info on the album and Adam’s new graphic novel, head to adamgreen.info