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3am Interview





THERE'S NOWT SO SINCERE AS FOLK



"He took up the piano when he was 3. He played his first proper gig at 13. He released his first single at 17. At 26, he's recorded one of this year's greatest albums."

Jude Rogers interviews Fridge's electronic wunderkind and new folk boy on the block Adem for 3AM.

COPYRIGHT © 2004, 3 A.M. MAGAZINE. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Some albums hit you as soon as you hear them. Others unveil themselves slowly, sharpening their beauty in increments, like a diamond rubbing its edges in the rough. Adem's first solo album, Homesongs belongs in this category. Its graceful loveliness builds with each listen. It's an album of folk songs, essentially, but folk songs that incorporate a range of odd instruments, from a windmill of bells to a thumb piano. It's also an album of love songs, the lyrics brushed with sweetness and longing for people and places -- a girl from the past "came from another life of mine"; you're asked to "wake me with kisses like butterflies". The arrangements are sparse and heavenly, its harmonies sung with assuredness and poise.

Adem (pronounced Ah-dem) is the brainchild of the 26-year-old, South London-born Adem Ilhan. Adem now lives the other side of the river, in a flat that resembles a homing ground for lost instruments. It's full of equipment he's used as a member of Fridge with Kieran Hebden, the electronic wizard behind Fourtet, plus various mixers, bells and whistles that other kind folk have dropped in for safekeeping. It also shelters the PC on which Homesongs was recorded, a dusty box with a 0.35 GHZ processor that struggles to load Windows 98.

Catching Adem at the end of another busy day -- in which he's recorded a session for BBC London and worked on the festival he's running at the end of September -- I spoke to him about his musical development, recording and touring, and the sounds that make our boy tick.

3AM: Everyone has a story about when they first got into music; a rose-tinted memory of catching something beautiful on the radio, saving up pocket money to buy a record; seeing an artist on TV who took your breath away. When did you first get into music?

AI: I got into the making of music. Ever since I was born, there've been instruments around. My father's a pianist and a piano teacher. We had this big old piano in the corner of our living room. Given that we lived on the fifth floor of a block of council flats, I'm not sure how popular we were with the neighbours! I learnt how to play by ear, really, working out little tunes that I knew.

I picked up the guitar when I was at primary school, but the big change came when I went to secondary school. I met some amazing people, including Kieran and Sam who are in Fridge with me. My parents weren't big record collectors like theirs. My mum listened to the Beatles, my brother to U2, and my Dad kept his classical stuff on his huge headphones! Pretty conventional stuff. My friends got me into this music that seemed so totally different, so exotic, making me these great mix tapes. They also encouraged me to find out about the music that preceded the contemporary stuff I liked. I loved Nirvana and Soundgarden, so I got into the Stooges. I liked new electronic groups like Quickspace Supersport, so I got into Krautrock and Steve Reich. I also caught the tail-end of Riot Grrl, so I explored stuff before that. It was like a treasure trove opening.

3AM: Your experiences in sticky-floored venues aside, you were quite the live prodigy, weren't you?

AI: My first proper gig, out of school, was when I was 13 or 14. I had a band with some friends and we played at a church community centre in South London. We liked funky stuff and did covers. I remember doing 'Wild Thing', 'Purple Haze' and a great version of 'These Boots Were Made For Walking'! We had quite a rowdy audience, so the man on the door kept getting more and more rude and taking more and more of our money. We weren't best pleased!

3AM: Your first Fridge single was released in 1997, when you were still at secondary school. You've always been a collaborator. What was behind the decision to start working on your own?

AI: I'd always recorded ideas on four-tracks that I'd borrow from friends, but I was never completely happy with the results. What inspired this record, really, was an autoharp I picked up in a street market in Shoreditch. I've since found out it's custom-made, and I can't find another one like it. I began playing it in different ways, both plucking it and twanging it with a pencil. It made this sound that I loved; the sound that I've used on Homesongs first track, 'Statued'. It came from there, really. I recorded all the music at my flat, usually late at night, because I live on a noisy corner. There's always the sound of traffic and sirens, or on Sundays songs from the African Church across the road.

3AM: When you're talked about in the press and by folk who like a bit of folk, your experimental tendencies are always emphasised. Your lyrics are rarely brought up, which they should be, as they're also beautifully put together. They're very simple and unaffected, but they convey emotions very well.

AI: Writing lyrics is a very weird process. I never plan them. I'd love to write like Joni Mitchell does, putting together a really structured lyric and fitting the music into that. I'm strange in that I produce what I do as I write it - I'm thinking of a double bass part and a guitar part, then a lyric idea pops in - everything sort of fuddles together. I work by filling gaps! I never think of particular situations or feelings when I'm writing, really. I just improvise. I try to stay aware of metre and phrasing while I'm doing this, though, to do something that sounds different and interesting.

3AM: I've seen you live twice: at the ICA last month, and at the Guardian Lounge in Glastonbury, as the rain teemed down outside. Considering that you recorded your album by yourself on different tracks, do you enjoy the live aspect of what you do? Can you ditch the control you have on your own? Do you enjoy playing with a band?

AI: I do, and I'm lucky, because I'm a bit of a control freak - I'm lucky to work with some amazing musicians. I've got an official experimental supergroup! There's Cameron Miller, who's working on some great stuff that settles somewhere in between Smog and Low, Joe Goddard from Hot Chip who I sometimes play with live, and Mark Meon, who's recording as Meon. They're all great singers and harmonisers, with a very keen ear for sound. We're joining up again to play the Green Man Festival in Wales (see http://www.thegreenmanfestival.co.uk for details). We'll also be playing at the Homefires festival I'm putting together.

3AM: Another summer folk festival?

AI: Not as such -- it's a two-day festival I'm putting on in the Conway Hall in Central London on September 18 and 19. I'm trying to get bands and artists that've inspired me to play. I'm still working out the plans, but so far we've got some great people confirmed including Vashti Bunyan, Smog, Joanna Newsome. The idea behind it is to celebrate people who've influenced me and who I'd like people to hear, both bands and artists that are well-known, and others who aren't.

3AM: So you're on a mission to get certain artists known? Tell 3AM's open-eared readers who to look out for.

AI: Well, Joanna Newsome, who I've already mentioned. She's one of the few singers who can actually make your spine tingle. She has this fairytale, kooky voice that delivers this incredible, stripped-down music. She's from San Francisco and is part of the same scene as Devendra Benhart and Vetiver. She's also playing in the 12 Bar in London next month -- I hate that venue, but I'll be down the front row regardless.

You should look out for The Animal Collective too -- they have an album out called Fung Tongs . Imagine if T-Rex came out today and Marc Bolan was let loose on a computer. It's really experimental, like Bolan's early stuff, but also accessible, melodic, catchy, odd… it's refreshing to hear stuff like this; the most exciting stuff I've heard for a while.

3AM: And artists from the past we should dig out?

AI: There's an incredible psychedelic folk singer called Linda Perlax from the early 70s, who released this album called Parallelograms. She was this incredibly beautiful woman, like an American Vashti Bunyan. She came from a time when it was OK to space out, or psyche out - she wasn't afraid of writing mad lyrics like "I'm seeing silences between leaves"! The music makes the hairs on your arms stand up, full of merry-go-round sounds and these lovely touches.

Another woman who deserves praise but rarely gets it is Alice Coltrane, John Coltrane's wife. She had an album called Journey to Satchidinanda, an amazing cosmic free jazz record, mixing up Egyptian and Indian mythologies in this web of American culture. It's something special.

3AM: Sounds like you should be putting pen to paper, scratching the head, and making us a mix tape!

AI: Maybe! It's important to stretch people, to get them into things they wouldn't have heard before; for them to experience all these ideas and sounds that are out there. At the end of the day, that's what I hope to do with my music.




ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Jude Rogers is 3AM's new Music Editor, writer for the monthly music magazine, Word and Editor of London quarterly, Smoke: A London Peculiar.





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