An interview with Barry Adamson

Written for Epigram

From being ‘Shot by Both Sides’ with post-punk band Magazine, to a stint as a ‘bad seed’ with Nick Cave, you might think that he’s already done it all. But 2017 Barry Adamson is a prolifically multidisciplinary artist, dabbling in film, photography, and on the brink of releasing a six-track EP Love Sick Dick, a mere 14 months since his last full-length solo offering, Know Where to Run. 

It’s no wonder that every day, for Adamson, is a busy one. “There’s quite a lot going on with this EP release; we’re really trying to do a full online promotion, and getting something out every month, and highlighting a track that’s gonna be forthcoming. Then there’s talking to the press,” he chuckles. I laugh too; sitting in student halls, chatting on the phone to someone who’s made so many records I love is quite surreal. But any fear I had of becoming starstruck is allayed by Adamson’s natural warmth and amiability, as clear as his enthusiasm for Love Sick Dick.

Our conversation turns to the recent music video for psycho-noir single ‘They Walk Among Us’, which looks at “Different psychological states and around the darker side of love and sex.” Climaxing with Adamson literally having his heart torn out by a lover, the video is “An homage to the idea that very often when you’re attracted to somebody, what you’re attracted to is a sort of façade they present, and how you have to look underneath the façade to find the real person. I was trying to take that idea to the extreme, where the person you connect with turns out to be a complete psychopath, or a murderer or something like that. I was having very dark fun.”

No less striking than the image of Adamson’s dripping heart in the video is the artwork of the EP itself – a skeleton clutching a bunch of roses and a letter: “He goes with the theme of the record  – going after what you can’t get. He’s kind of worn himself to death, and he’s still carrying the flowers and the letter, but we don’t know what’s in the letter. I kind of imagined that that’s almost like me with a bunch of lyrics, almost near death but still wearing shades, and still trying to be cool! It’s actually a piece of needlework, a tapestry, and it seemed to fit the themes [of the EP] perfectly; that is a portrayal of Love Sick Dick himself.”

I ask him what he’s been listening to during the writing process, and if there has been anything in particular that’s rubbed off on him, as a barometer of what we might expect from the EP. “There’s a track called ‘One Hot Mess’, that I’d started work on, but then I heard a song by a band called Justice from France. I thought it was really cool and I could work some of that in there. There’s another track that’s a little bit jazzy, and there might be a bit of Nina Simone in there.” He adds “I listen across the board really, I have many different mentors in a way.”

So how did such an accomplished artist start out? “I was a strange one really,” Adamson admits. Having “messed about on guitars and stuff like that,” he was given a bass with two strings by a friend. “I went to buy the other two strings and that’s when I saw the advert [for Magazine], so I signed up, and they said ‘Come down tomorrow.’ I thought ‘Tomorrow? I’ve only just got the two strings!’ – I stayed up all night, and I didn’t have an amplifier. I worked out that if you rested the neck of the bass on the end of the bed, it would resonate, so I started playing and I just got some rhythms going. What was uncanny was that I got to the audition the next day, and Howard [the singer] said ‘We’ve got this idea for this song – ‘The Light Pours Out of Me’.’ He played me this riff; all I did was this rhythm thing I’d been learning, an open E string – and it fitted really well! It was very fortunate.” In our parting words, I get in the fact that the first bass line I ever learnt was Magazine’s ‘A Song from Under the Floorboards’; he wishes me luck with my bass playing, and I feel very fortunate too, for having had the opportunity to chat to him.




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