Music

This Charming Man: An Interview with Adam Green

Zach Hinkle

Solo artist and former Moldy Peaches member Adam Green talks to PopMatters about his love for film, painting, and having beer with his breakfast.


Adam Green

Minor Love

US Release: 2010-02-16
Label: Fat Possum
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Speaking with Adam Green, the singer-songwriter who first rose to prominence with the Moldy Peaches, I couldn’t help but think of so many of my childhood friends; kids obsessed with ninja turtles and ridiculous phrases, who used language to its utmost potential, and also used it to attract laughs from friends, or sympathy from a parent or teacher. Basically, the really bright student whose A.D.D. got in the way most or all of the time. Adam Green is that kid, at least in my head. Green’s reverence for the mundane and absurd may be confusing, but it’s that passion that prevents his slacker-meets-ballroom delivery from coming off as mere laziness or lack of care for the final result, because in regard to his music that’s far from his attitude.

It was no surprise to find out much of his inspiration has come from television and advertising. Green’s generation, too old to be considered “children of the Internet,” were in fact “raised on television,” even if they say otherwise. It’s interesting because Green’s music operates in the formula of a commercial: giving here, taking there, pulling from the consumer a smile, a scratch on the head, or the “oh, I get it” shrug and nod, all while being enjoyable, and seemingly forgettable. Much like the music of a great film, you don’t notice it. You only notice that you like it.

His newest release Minor Love(Fat Possum) carries on his prolific output of solo albums and almost puts to bed his days of cutesy tunes about crack. Almost. A mish-mash of influences, from the Velvet Underground to four-track garage rock, are evident. Lyrically he doesn’t demand praise, just the patience of the listener to finish an under-three-minute track, because all the tracks on the album are less than three minutes.

His press materials state that the inspiration for this album is his own fatalism, although Green admits, “I considered myself a composer in a way, and that’s what I wanted to show people.” But even if he hadn’t explained the origins of the release, I wouldn’t have believed that fatalism could hold much sway over his output. Throughout our conversation the singer seemed optimistic and positive, almost inspiring, as he discussed his love for film, painting, writing, and the depression that would probably ensue if he couldn’t pursue them, a factor that’s motivated his output and contributed to his acclaim throughout the 00’s. It’s been a slow and steady rise for Mr. Green, an unlikely but hopeful scenario in a decade where so many things quickly fell apart.

Hey Adam, How are you?

I’m exploring my new lifestyle.

I wanted to start off by asking if you have any resolutions for 2010?

I did, but I already forgot what they are. There was one New Year’s where I told myself that if I didn’t stop masturbating that my parrot was going to die. [chuckles]

The parrot’s name was Rodan. That’s after the famous Japanese movie where the pterodactyl destroys Tokyo. Sort of like a poor man’s Godzilla.

How did that resolution work out?

It didn’t last, and the parrot did die. So, I lose. We both lost.

That’s horrible. On a happier note, you’re in the UK touring right now. How are you enjoying it?

I’m in Manchester [said like Man- Chest- Hair]. It’s my new favorite town. I do like it. I have a day off here tomorrow and I actually know my way around at this point. I have fun here, I don’t know.

I’ve been there once and when I was there a “friend” told us to say we were Canadian if anyone asked. Apparently Americans weren’t too welcomed at that time. Are you experiencing anything like that?

Well, my whole attitude towards England has changed these last few days. I understand the country now, and what’s so good about it. Now, when I come here, I feel nothing but joy for this wonderful country and the people that live here. In the past my attitude towards it was unfortunately quite negative.

Why is that? Did something happen?

I think it was my own insecurities. I thought that everyone thinks that I’m, like, not very good, kind of like on a first impression level.

You’re obviously acclaimed in other parts of Europe. Have you not felt that from England?

No, no, no. I wasn’t even talking about music, man. I’m just talking about when I like walk down the street. My music is fine here.

I just think that when I was here in the past I guess I felt kind of like a wuss or something, because people were so macho and I felt like everyone wanted to fight me all of the time. But I think it was my own insecurity. Maybe they only wanted to fight me because I had it in my head.

Like you were putting off that vibe.

Exactly, like I was putting it off some like…you know, but not anymore. I’m not a projectionist.

Well I’m sure that makes the tour much more comfortable.

I’ve been getting up early in the morning, and I found these old man bars where they serve you breakfast and you can drink beer and if you don’t everyone looks at you funny. So I’ve been embracing that tradition. And it made me fall in love with the country, in some funny way. But if I lived here long enough I’d be in terrible health, so in a way I’m glad I don’t live here.

Even when you’re in a country that you’ve grown fond of, what do you miss back home?

All of the 24-hour services. I love the 24-hour. That’s what I miss.

You know what’s weird? It’s so polluted here. There’s just all kinds of brick-a-brack scattered on the highway. I don’t know why they don’t clean it up.

That’s a good question, and I noticed that as well. Although, I thought of England as messy, not polluted.

Well, there’s definitely a lack of hot water.

Did you happen to watch the Grammy’s last night?

No, but it’s funny you should say the Grammy’s because me and my manager were talking about making a movie, kind of like “Weekend at Bernie’s” or we can call it “Weekend at Barney’s” for legal reasons, and I played a musician who died but my greedy manager wanted so badly to make money off of me that she took me to the award show, and had me performing. [Laughs] You know what I mean?

I know exactly what you mean. What song would be your catalyst?

“Monster Mash.”

I have another idea to make a movie and it would only take place over one day and it would be a recording session of the “Monster Mash.” That’s probably an exciting recording session to be at.

This makes sense because you have a lot of videos on your website. Movies are something that interest you?

It’s my passion. I actually always wanted to be a film star, like, ever since I first saw “Home Alone.” And also “The Basketball Diaries.” I wanted to be in the movies but I had no talent for acting. So, videos are cool because I get to, well I don’t have to act because I play myself in them.

Why do you say you have no talent for it?

Well, I think I’m a pretty realistic guy. I’m the second most realistic person I know. The first is Mike Cummings from The Dead Trees. He’s incredibly realistic. But I, myself, am fairly realistic. I am aware that I can’t act, and that’s fine. We can’t all do everything.

You were on Cash Cab. It’s TV.

Yeah, but that’s not acting, that’s just being a fuckin’ genius in front of a camera. You get nothing wrong and then you watch the show with the other contestants and they’re getting lots of things wrong. They don’t know anything about anything. And then I get them ALL right. It’s a very good feeling.

That’s right. You didn’t miss one. That’s impressive.

I have to give a big credit to my mom who is like, how do you say it, a “hot shot,” in the trivia biz. She’s a “hot shot” in the game show world. Let’s just say my mom, who is a “hot shot,” and let’s leave it at that.

She has a large base of knowledge. She works for the Museum of Natural History.

I have to ask, how is that show set up? Do you sign up or do you literally find yourself in the Cash Cab?

You just get in a cab and all of a sudden you’re winning lots of money. That is the tradition.

Before we get carried away I do want to talk about your newest album. There are a lot of things that I like about it but what I really like are the bass lines. I think they’re insanely unique and funky, and you threw in a good amount of fuzz, which is always cool. It’s not something that I’ve heard on your older stuff. Can you talk about that?

Yeah. From the record that followed Garfield until now I’d say that…On those records I adopted a formal aesthetic, that’s based on clean production. I was showing more of how the song structure goes. Making sure that it was prominently featured. I almost saw the arrangement of those songs as the production. So I was trying to capture the way we perform them. This was contrary to what I was doing on the Moldy Peaches stuff and the earlier records.

But understand a lot of it was a reaction to things I grew up with, things that I was over saturated with and I was trying to get away from the predominant trends that were surrounding me. So a lot of what I was doing on those records was kind of a rebellion. And it wasn’t that I’m in love with that type of production as much as I considered myself a composer in a way, and that’s what I wanted to show people.

Starting on Sixes & Sevens, and certainly more on this record I did more of the textural things you can do with recording. Stuff that I’d been ignoring. And this record takes it that much further. A lot of it I’m singing through a hand radio microphone from like the 40’s, or using a tympani drum instead of a bass drum that’s mic’d from across the room.

At the same time I was almost comparing it to faded denim in that way. It’s like a beat up leather jacket. That’s our sound. In a way, that kind of stuff is very appealing, and it’s what you like. It always sucks to have a brand new leather jacket.

Also I found on some weird level that lyrically it was more sentimental so I thought this was a more sentimental way to present it.

Do you use your lyrics, be they humorous or sentimental, as a way to connect to your audience or as way to keep a distance?

I don’t really think of an audience when I’m writing songs that much. I’m the audience. I make them for myself; it’s what I like to listen to. It’s like meditative to me. So I make the kind of music I like to listen to, for myself or for my friends. It’s my hobby.

So if you weren’t making a living at it you’d still be doing it?

I’d still be doing it but I’d be fucking incredibly suicidal because I don’t feel fit to do any other job.

Another hobby of yours is painting correct?

Yes. I took six months off from writing music, after I made the record, to pursue painting. So I started painting and them I moved into sculpture, paper mache. I accrued so many of them that if you went to my house right now it’s like “Alice in Wonderland.” You can’t even walk around in there because there are so many huge sculptures. I’m having an art show in March in New York.

That has to make you happy.

Well yeah. If I had enough time I’d pursue anything. I’d love to write a book full of blurbs, little essays and things. I don’t know. I’d like to do lots of things. It’s just a question of if there’s enough time. I will always probably see myself first as a musician. That’s really what I want to do the most so. And everything else is…for instance I really wanted to make instrumental music, I have a vinyl coming out in a month called Music For a Play, and it’s all instrumental music that I wrote for a play, a German play. And I’m really proud of that. To me, it’s one of the best records that I ever did but we’ll see what people think. I don’t listen to instrumental music that much but I like to listen to classical music. This is more like that. It’s like a finely composed piece of classical music.

I hope you get the praise you’re looking for. It sounds like you’re behind it.

Yeah, I’m definitely behind it. It will only come out on vinyl and for download on my friend’s record label in Chicago called Contraphonic.

You’re prolific in several mediums. Do you ever write jingles for the hell of it?

Funny you should ask. I was just getting hounded today about writing some kind of jingle for Match.com.

What was your reaction to that?

If I had time I would. They used a Moldy Peaches song in an Atlantis Resort commercial but they changed the words to be about the resort. I was pretty psyched.

A lot of my songs are influenced by advertising, the stuff I saw as a kid, TV ads. But in generally, it’s a huge part of what I see. What I do artistically is based on a strong exposure to advertisements. And in a way I think a lot of my songs are jingles.

What are some memorable ads from your childhood?

Teddy Ruxpin was big, My Buddy, Micro Machines. Oh, Stove Top Stuffing. There are so many. Oh, the movie “The Wizard” and the way they introduced Super Mario Bros 3 and the power glove in that movie.

Most of the stuff I write about is stuff I see on TV. A lot of the times I’m looking for them, especially when I went to the Museum of Television and Radio in New York I was curious because they have this enormous archive. There’s this particular one about drinking and driving, cautionary public service announcement made by Mario Cantone and he was wearing a Mets jacket. I’ve always wanted to find that.

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