Imagine you are a relatively unknown and unsigned musical artist living in Vancouver, British Columbia, who recorded and posted online a song you wrote when you were 17 years old. And then about five years later, that six-minute introspective and dramatic song gets randomly spotted on YouTube by a member of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, and who then later contacts you about wanting to record that song for that band’s upcoming album.
Now two years later, your song ends up being on that band’s recently-released new record that also includes material written by Sia, Johnny Marr, Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, Charli XCX, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, and the Strokes’ Nick Valensi—in addition to the song being mentioned in Rolling Stone.
That is exactly what happened to musician and movie blogger Adam Johnston of the group An Unkindness, whose song “Fragments”, which first appeared on Bandcamp and YouTube, was recorded by Blondie for their newly-released album Pollinator. For an artist who hasn’t yet released a full-length album or a label deal, having a song recorded by a legendary group known for its out-of-the-box collaborations is quite a coup.
“I couldn’t be happier with their interpretation,” Johnston tells PopMatters about Blondie’s version of “Fragments”. “I’m glad they made it their own and infused their style with it. I think they did a great job with it and I’m proud to have writing credits on the track.
At over six minutes long, An Unkindness’ version of “Fragments” recalls elements of progressive rock and the epic grandeur of a Jim Steinman composition, with its powerful lyrical refrain of “do you love me now?” Johnston penned “Fragments” when he was a teenager and says it has a meaning for him.
“When I wrote the song,” he explains, “it was basically to come to terms with a kind of transformation I had been going through growing up. It was about addressing where I was in my life and where I planned on being, and what would need to happen to get there. It’s also about rejection and how I’m unable to fake things for my own happiness. It’s about the song itself being the purest form of sincerity and honesty that I can communicate.
“It’s about taking a long, hard look at yourself, and getting rid of the parts of yourself that are holding you down,” he continues. “It’s about chipping away pieces of yourself with the intent of achieving comfort, only to find out that there are parts of yourself that you can’t escape from and you have to learn to accept. To me, “Do you love me now?” is a question directed at myself. It’s from a point in my life where I was essentially saying “Okay, you’ve been chipping away pieces of yourself trying to become a person you’re happy with, but at what point will you ever say it’s finished?” It’s about me getting to a place where I thought I’d be happy with myself, but finding out that it wasn’t the case.”
The song was posted on Bandcamp as part of a four-song EP in 2010; it was later uploaded on YouTube a year later. Then in 2015, Blondie co-founder and guitarist Chris Stein reached out to Johnston after discovering his music on the latter’s YouTube channel.
“I was very excited,” Johnston recalls, “although understandably skeptical. Mostly because I’ve had a lot of hopeful possibilities fall through for a variety of reasons in the past and I’ve learned over time not to get your hopes up until you’re certain it’s actually happening.”
For a while, Johnston says, he kept the news about the Blondie collaboration a secret and was pleased when “Fragments” did end up on the official track list for Pollinator. “It’s a very humbling and validating gesture for such talented and iconic musicians to take interest in my own work,” he says. “It’s special that they were able to see through the demo recording quality and understand the full potential of the song. It’s important to have your work appreciated by other artists.”
Adding to that stroke of good fortune for Johnston is An Unkindness’ upcoming record scheduled for release next year. “I’m currently working on my first album recorded at an actual studio and I can’t wait for that to be out,” says Johnston, “but I’m genuinely surprised that I’m getting legitimate recognition for my material before I’ve even released my first actual album.”