Interview / Sally Rodgers / A Man Called Adam

From beatniks, beat poetry, and Acid Jazz – being among the first artists to record for Gilles Peterson`s nascent label. To beatific Balearic “thinkers”. Penning an anthem in Barefoot In The Head. A track that serves as Ibiza 90`s aural postcard. The sonic sand in your shoes. To Techno-Pagan consciousness expanders. Knowing “the apple”. Returning to Pacha with Terry Farley & Peter Heller. Getting taken to Detroit, via Windsor – Slough, not Ontario – by Andrew Weatherall. From House inspired by Disco`s Avant-Garde – collaborating with the likes of the Idjut Boys, and running their own imprint, Other – to creating Cafe Del Mar favourites. Bass-heavy bongo grooves. Marimba, kalimba, sampled surf and fractal waves. Ecstacy and Easy-Listening. Bossa loops, and soothing woodwinds. Rockers horns, and East Of The River Nile melodica. Rolling Body and Soul Rhumbas. Trippy 808 dubs. Percussive polyrhythms. Beach holiday snapshots, and sunset campfire strum. From chilled-out classics, to challenging sound design. 

If you’ve been following the thirty year trajectory of Steve Jones and Sally Rodgers, AKA, A Man Called Adam, then you’ll understand that it`s been quite journey. I have to admit that I was surprised by the duo`s recent contributions to Emotional Response`s Schleißen series. Surprised by how much their music had changed. With their earlier tunes, such as Estelle, a constant in my DJ box, I asked Sally if she’d mind taking a few moments to retrace the band`s musical steps.

a man called adam

Where are you from?

I’m from Teeside, on the North East coast of England. Born in Middlesbrough. Ridley Scott country.

Where are you currently based?

After many years in London, then Cornwall, I’m back up North. Steve’s based in Paris, so we’re a kind of Anglo-French outfit now.

Were A Man Called Adam your first band? How did you an Steve meet?

No, I was in a couple of bands before that. One called Sliced Tomatoes – we never did a gig – and another called the Expresso 7 which was signed to CBS but disbanded shortly after. Steve came to audition for one of the first incarnations of A Man Called Adam. He played piano accordion.

What drew you to making music?

I’m third generation Irish, so singing and lyricism were all around me growing up – my parents ran working men’s clubs. My elder brother and sister were also big music lovers and vinyl collectors. I won a prize at school for poetry. I’m a lyricist by nature I think.

Which artists did you draw inspiration from?

Hmmm. I love great voices and interpreters of lyrics. Elvis, Sinatra, Streisand, Donna Summer. My dad loved Sarah Vaughn. And I love the tone of singers like  Karen Carpenter, as well less obvious voices like Kenny Lattimore, Micheal McDonald, Lillian Lopez of Odyssey, or Kate Pierson of the B52s. Agnetha and Anni-Frid (ABBA) even.  I also love auteurs and experimenters. I suppose Kraftwerk’s music combines the intelligence and populist sensibilities I really admire. I always go back to their albums, and those made by Talking Heads for the same reasons. I recently inherited some of my brother’s Reggae collection and I’m currently digging down into that. There’s both wonderful experimentation in the production – the studio as expressive instrument – and beautifully articulated sentiment and performance from the vocalists. King Tubby plus Delroy Wilson, or Trinity. Inspiration is everywhere if you are listening. I listen to the maddest experimental music, and the happiest Pop or gay bangers, or Jazz or Funk and Disco and Soul. We’re delving into some seriously sophisticated Pop to inspire the next material coming through after this album… That recent Netflix doc about Quincy Jones was a revelation. The work rate, the commitment was totally inspiring. I just saw Jess Glynne on TV, I think she has a beautiful tone and the songs are emotional. Inspiration is everywhere.

The first A Man Called Adam release was on Acid Jazz? How did that come about? Were you part of the Acid Jazz “scene”? If so which clubs and parties did it revolve around?

There was one track before that, the title track of a CBS sampler called Get Wise. But our first serious outing was the APB / Before You Know It 12” for Gilles. He had a club night called Wah Wah Acid Jazz at the WAG club in Soho, and later at Dingwall’s in Camden. The scene revolved around Rare Groove, Jazz-Funk and Fusion and there were warehouse parties with the likes of Paul Guntrip and Jay Strongman DJing. We were part of that scene along with other bands like Snowboy and Galliano. Our break through track creatively was the Earthly Powers / Techno Powers 12, again for Acid Jazz. One side was a fairly decent Lonnie Liston Smith pastiche, but for the other side we took the live musicianship and applied machine processes – sampling, sequencing – to it, and the resulting track Techno Powers was more original and interesting. I must credit our co-producer / engineer on that record, Mat Clark, for introducing us to those techniques.

I also associate you with bands like The Sandals, and their shindig at The Gardening Club called Tongue Kung Fu. Did / do you know The Sandals? Did you go to Tongue Kung Fu? 

Members of The Sandals, Derek Delves, Will ‘Wildcat’ Blanchard and John ‘Alfredo’ Harris were in much earlier line-ups of AMCA and were / are our friends. We did go to Tongue Kung Fu now and then but I think we’d discovered Acid House and were more on the rave scene by then.

The rumours that I heard about Tongue Kung Fu were that it was a kind of performance art place, full of modern day beatniks, where the divide between performers and audience was completely blurred. Which I have to admit scared the shy-boy in me off. I also heard that this was one of the first places in London that MDMA was experimented with. There`s also the story that A Man Called Adam is a reference to MDMA. Is any of this true? Or is the band`s name simply lifted from the Benny Carter LP?

When we all met we were very much into that Beatnik aesthetic, performance art, 60s Kitsch and movie soundtracks, etc… you’ll have to ask the guys about the MDMA experimentation at Tongue Kung Fu – it wouldn’t surprise me (laughs), and no, A Man Called Adam was conceived as a name way before any of us took that drug. It tied in with the 60s soundtrack thing we all loved .

A Man Called Adam were part of the Ibiza 90 trip. Your contributions to the accompanying film, A Short Film About Chilling, are some of the best bits. How did you get involved with Flying and Ibiza 90? Was it your first visit to the island? What were your first impressions? What were the high points? The lows? Have you visited the island frequently since then?

Well thanks for saying that – we were the kind of ‘thinky’ ones maybe? Haha! Well my memory is a bit sketchy, but we’d played a few of the Flying parties, and there was Phil Perry`s club at Queens, on a reservoir somewhere in Berkshire, we played there – with Techno Powers and with Barefoot In The Head. When Charlie (Chester, Flying promoter) decided to organize the Ibiza trip I guess he wanted a live act and thought of us. We were a good fit musically with Andrew (Weatherall) and Danny (Rampling) and the Flying crew etc… We were pretty young so it was just mad fun, and our gig at Pacha was one of the most memorable of my whole life. But there was romance, and music and crazy glamour. I remember seeing Bridgette Neilson – an glamorous amazon! – outside Ku – there was some MTV party going on – and it was like studio 54 or something, a circus. Or staring at the cherubs and rainbows in the ceiling of Cafe del Mar, listening to wonderful ambient music, with the reak of the drains coming up from below. We’ve been many many times since though we had a hiatus for six or seven years in the mid naughties. We pop back in now – we have lots of friends there so always want to see them. I’ve played poolside for Harvey the last couple of years which is just the best night out for me. Play records then onto Harvey’s dance floor and fun with your friends. Perfect. Its always nice to DJ a sunset at La Torre. It’s still a wonderful place.

In my opinion that Ibiza 90 trip changed the UK Balearic / Acid House scene. People realised there was proper money to be made, and as people began to promote / protect / defend what was “theirs”, the scene both grew and divided. Do you have any thoughts on this?

Yes, I guess so though I’d never made the association with Ibiza 90 and the commercialisation of the scene. I mean, I think party and club promoters wanted to make a good party but they’ve always been about making money too. But yes, maybe a less professional and generally benign class of promoter appeared. It was certainly like that as an artist. The shadiness seemed to ramp up. I’ve felt it all mirrored the lifecycle of the drug. Or any drug. It`s fun, then it`s not so much fun anymore.

Can you tell me what Barefoot In The Head is about? When did you first hear that Rod McKuen / San Sebastian Strings sample used in the track? It took me about ten years to track that down (thank you Phil Mison). 

It`s a shaman song. A call to arms. It speaks about that golden moment we all experienced that changed us all forever. There’s a bit of pagan poetry in there. My friend Carl – from the band the Farm – said to me recently ‘the trouble with you is you`re prone to mythical thinking’ and I think Barefoot is a good example of that – ha! The Rod McKuen record is a throwback to all that mad Easy-Listening and soundtrack stuff we were into a few years earlier.

Can you explain Chrono Psionic Interface? And Lost In The Green Light? Is the latter about DMT? Is consciousness expansion something that interests you / still interests you?

Oh gosh, I was reading a lot of Science Fiction at the time. My brother was a big fan and I was into Phillip K. Dick, and time was a big theme. I guess I`m always looking for metaphors to describe the continuous process of expanding one’s consciousness – that’s what life is, or should be I think, a journey towards that, the struggle for that. Lost In The Green Light was triggered by one of those bizarre moments when you sort of see science, gamma, infrared all that. I wasn’t on DMT. But the songs are multi-layered and I like it when people find their own meanings in them. I’m a bit of a Taoist.

What made you decide to start Other Records? 

We got dropped from Big Life after our first album, the Rave scene was going a bit dark and we were feeling a bit sorry for ourselves. My friend Jaffa, who’d I’d known since I was up in Teeside, was designing sleeves and had a space above his studio in Kentish Town. He was like, stop feeling sorry for yourselves, put your studio upstairs and go do what you’re good at – make some bloody records! We’ll start a label, you do the music, I’ll do the sleeves. He taught us how to run a label, and we’ll always be grateful to him for that, and for the kick up the arse.

At this point the band`s music seemed to become more HOUSE. What influenced this change? What artists, records, DJs, clubs, or parties?

Well no, some of our first recordings were Estelle and Easter Song, but I guess yes, we did some jazzy House. The Beachflea stuff was some of the earliest stuff on Other. Jaffa had connections with great vocalists in the US, he was on the Northern Should Scene, so we got Rosie Gaines and Diane Mathis on the label. I guess we were exploring our production sound and there was cool stuff going on around us on the British and US house scenes.

Luke Solomon and Kenny Hawkes` Space was an influential club (Wednesdays at Bar Rumba on Shaftesbury Avenue – mid-90s), Daft Punk, Derrick Carter. It was a jackin’ super-swung sort of house.There were the cool French labels and bands associated with the “French Touch”, and those in New York and Miami. Great music was being made independently and we were part of the scene.

You`ve collaborated with Faze Action, Dan and Conrad of The Idjut Boys, Rob Mello and Zaki D at Luxury Service. How did you make these connections? Are you still in touch now?

Well that was the UK scene I was talking about – that grew up in the mid to late 90s – and Other was part of it, with Nuphonic and UStar and Luxury Service. We were all friends, collaborating and hanging out together. We don’t see so much of each other now as we’re all scattered around the world, but we are all still friends and always happy to see each other when we do.

AMCA recently contributed to Emotional Response`s Schleißen series. Can you tell me more about your contribution, Sketches? How they were constructed, and the concept, or history, behind them?

Stuart had heard a track called Walker – something we released digitally a few years back. It was a long, improvised mix of a something we’d made to fulfill a sound design commission for the National Science Museum. The brief was for one of several thirty second idents for animations, but the thing we released was twenty-two minutes long. That’s how you find those thirty seconds, by exploring, digging down into that that little hook or idea. The release passed unnoticed, we didn’t promote it, we just threw it out there. But somehow Stuart heard it, `cos that’s what he does – like Tako at Music from Memory, his antennae are primed, looking for those golden oddities – and he asked us to contribute to the Scheißen series which was lovely for us. Our good friends Tomaga, who make wonderful improvised sonic art, are on the series too and it’s so nice for us to be alongside them. We went through a long process of finding the sketches that Stuart wanted. I sent him loads of bits from our sound design and experimental archive – we have hard disks full of this stuff – but he knew what he wanted and we got some of it down to one interesting side of vinyl. I saw a funny review that described it as ‘intriguing fragments’ , and ‘technological Balearik’  – with a ‘K’. I loved that (laughs).

You and Steve both now have Ph.Ds. Can you tell me more about your doctorate, and why you decided to go back into further education? 

Steve still has to do his viva, so we shouldn’t jinx it, but yes, we’ll soon be Dr. Sally and Dr. Steve, hopefully. My doctorate is an impact narrative about how capture and recording technologies have, over time, changed poetic form. It traces the continuum, all the way from the Romantics to Bob Dylan and Hip Hop.

Are you teaching now? What project / research are you working on at the moment?

Yes, I teach a couple of days a week at Leeds College of Music. The students remind me to be open to experience and grateful for all your opportunities. I mentored a couple of the electronic music postgrads this summer – great music – and will examine someone’s PhD later this year. Releasing a new album in the new year is a big project because the music  making is still ongoing, as is reviving Other Records to release it. There are live shows and films and other media to think about, and Steve and I are going to do a series of podcasts about records, music and events that have changed us.

I know that you still DJ, do you have any gigs coming up?

Yes, I’ve been DJing a lot these last few years. Again, there was a hiatus when I went to study, but I like it more than ever now. I love to do the research, go deep to make the connections. I’m a post Ph DJ (laughs). I recently DJ’d for Gilles at his amazing Ricci weekender in Sicily. It’s been great to reconnect with him –  we really laugh about old times – and I’m going to do something for him on Worldwide FM in the new year.

I’ve always got a few nice gigs coming up – The Refuge, The Pen And Pencil in Manchester – and we are having an AMCA take-over at Outlaws Yacht Club in Leeds on Dec 15th, where we’ll DJ, make sound art and try out some of the new AMCA tracks live. OYC is a home from home for us. We know we’ll be free to do what we want and the crowd will humour us.

Sketches by A Man Called Adam is out now, as part of Emotional Response`s Schleißen Series. The duo have a new album, Farmarama set for release on their own Other Records early 2019. For updates please check the A Man Called Adam Facebook and Instagram pages. 

There are a few personal A Man Called Adam favourites here, to accompany Sally’s lovely interview.

Track-list

A Man Called Adam – Easter Song – Other – 1995

A Man Called Adam – Estelle – React – 1994

A Man Called Adam – One Of The Two (Insomnia Dub) – Sunday Best – 1999

A Man Called Adam – Chrono Psionic Interface (Spaced Out) – Big Life – 1991

A Man Called Adam – CPI (Godiva) – Big Life – 1991

A Man Called Adam – Techno Powers – Acid Jazz – 1989

A Man Called Adam – Barefoot In The Head – Big Life – 1990

Fazed Idjuts – Dust Of Life (Joe Claussell Piano Mix) – U Star – 1999

Coco, Steel & Love Bomb – Yachts (AMCA Mix) – Other – 1999

 

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