Interview: Q+A with Adam Stafford

GigList spoke to Adam Stafford about neo-classical music, self-help albums, growing up in Falkirk, early musical loves and his new flawless album Fire Behind the Curtain. Sometimes you need to see something live to truly get what it’s about. This is true for Falkirk based musician Adam Stafford.
Posted: 6 September 2018 Words: Nick Roseblade

We chat to Adam Stafford about neo-classical music, self-help albums, growing up in Falkirk, early musical loves and his new flawless album Fire Behind the Curtain.

Sometimes you need to see something live to truly get what it’s about. This is true for Falkirk based musician Adam Stafford. On record, his music sounds like it’s been rehearsed, recorded and re-recorded until everything is perfect. Not a note is out of place. Live you realise that Stafford creates these intricate maelstroms by looping and re-looping his guitar, and voice, through an array of pedals until it sounds like it does on record. Adam Stafford's new album, Fire Behind the Curtain, sees him writing in a neo-classical mindset. This coupled with his prodigious songwriting talent makes for a fascinating and captivating listen. We spoke to Adam Stafford after his recent gig in Brighton. GigList: Which record/song that made you want to be in a band? Adam Stafford: Most likely Heart Shaped Box by Nirvana or Animal Nitrate by Suede. I was eleven when both those songs came out and I was obsessed. Faster by Manic Street Preachers from around that time as well. GL: How long have you been creating music for and what were your early bands/projects like? AS: I've been playing guitar since I was thirteen and writing songs since I was fifteen. In my teens, I was in a couple of punk bands, one that played originals and the other that played covers. In my late teens I was in a psychedelic stoner-rock duo called Sula Bassana - we almost got signed, but it was a studio/bedroom project and we never played live. When I was 22 I formed a post-rock improv collective with my friend Tommy Blair called The Chuck Norris Machine, that leads onto both of us then forming Y'all is Fantasy Island with Jon McCall (who also played in CNM). GL: Does your environment affect your creative process? AS: It can do. I think it would be dishonest to say that it doesn't. The first two Y'all is Fantasy Island albums were heavily influenced by my hometown of Falkirk and the stories that I'd heard from the people that I'd grown up with. GL: ‘Fire Behind the Curtain’ is your most personal album to date. Do you find it easy to incorporate your struggles with anxiety and depression into your music? AS: I'm not sure that "easy" is the right word, but certainly cathartic. The whole second disc of `Fire' was written during a period of intense depression, so that process helped me through it, but I would also get upset or angry when I couldn't finish a track or something wasn't working. I have a touch of writers' block just now, but instead of getting worked up about it, I am trying to let it pass. Like all things it is temporary. GL: Was the songwriting process different to your previous albums? AS: I was writing with orchestral accompaniment in mind. That and it took me eight years, on/off to be completely satisfied with all of the compositions. Another thing that was different was that I'd purchased a guitar pedal that is a perfect simulation of an old 1960s Melotron organ - the very first sampler. So most of the woodwind, choir vocals and brass you hear on Disc 2 come from that particular bit of kit. GL: Where did the title for ‘Fire Behind the Curtain’ come from? AS: It is from the poem that occurs mid-way through the record. When I was young, I thought that when my Granddad's coffin went behind the velvet curtain in the crematorium it was cremated right there and then. I almost certainly got that idea from the funeral scene in `Scrooged' with Bill Murray! But the title is supposed to work on other levels too, about the chaos we try and hide behind our own veils in everyday life. GL: Was the original plan to release an instrumental album? AS: Yes, I wanted the music to colour the imagination without sign-posting it lyrically throughout. GL: Were there any albums/performances you used as musical signposts/reference points? AS: Absolutely. To name the main ones: Ingram Marshall's `Fog Tropes/Gradual Requiem'; The Feild's `Yesterday and Today'; Meredith Monk's `Book of Days'; Michael Gordon's `Decasia'; Bobby Womb's `Cona Glen' EP; Steve Reich's `Electric Counterpoint' (as played by Jonny Greenwood); `Acoustica' by Alarm Will Sound; Tim Hecker's `Virgins' and Jonny Greenwood's soundtrack work. GL: When you started writing, and recording ‘Fire Behind the Curtain’ did you have it all meticulously planned out in your head, or did it evolve organically through rehearsals? AS: It was meticulously planned, nothing much changed from the demo/writing stage to the recording. We improvised some piano on two or three tracks and Jo Foster also did some vocal improvisation on The Witch Hunt and Holographic Tulsa Mezzanine. GL: Why do you think that classical and neo-classical has had a slight resurgence over the past few years? AS: It's hard to say. I think a lot of my generation and younger perhaps find traditional Classical music a bit stuffy, which is not to say there aren't many Masterpieces of the form. The modern stuff seems to integrate the traditional ways with Electronica, which seems to give it a freshness. That and Modern Composition lends itself well to films and TV programs, so when somebody hears a bit of Nils Frahm's beautiful music on TV or the cinema they are more likely to Shazam it and explore the back catalogues. GL: Where did you find the self-help album ‘Zero Disruption’? Did you use it during the recording process? AS: I think it was on an NHS Mindfulness podcast. We didn't do any mindfulness meditation during the recording, but we stayed focused in the moment throughout, so perhaps we were accidentally performing some sort of mindfulness. Is not having to write lyrics liberating? Yes, it's an extra weight off my shoulders. I find it a bit of a chore, to be honest, and struggle to not repeat myself. That said, I re-wrote the poem on the album about five times before I was happy with the end result. In a way, that was draining enough. GL: Plans for the rest of 2018 and beyond? AS: I'm not sure. I have about two other albums worth of stuff that hasn't been recorded for one reason or another, including an LP of more traditional, straight-forward songs. I'm also thinking of doing a whole equipment overhaul to keep things fresh and give me more inspiration. I might put a pickup into a tortoiseshell and run it through a delay pedal made of glittery corn-beef or some shit.

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