Monday, August 11, 2008
Adam Marsland: Exclusive Interview
You probably haven't heard of Adam Marsland. The journeyman rock'n'roller has been a victim of the usual suspects- record label meltdowns, bad timing and the like.
Aficionados of the intelligent power pop of Freedy Johnston, Paul Westerberg and early Who, however, are missing out on a musician who's potentially one of their favorite artists.
A new budget priced compilation, Daylight Kissing Night: Adam Marsland's Greatest Hits, provides a 74-minute crash course on a career that merits further attention. Marsland is touring behind the project- this week finds him in Denver (8/11), Omaha 8/12-13), Kansas City (8/14 at the Record Bar) and Lexington (8/16).
A completely unedited email interview follows. I've highlighted a few of Marsland's more interesting quotes in bold.
There Stands the Glass: Do you, in fact, have a kick-ass life?
Adam Marsland: I just got done spending a few days in Utah and it really forcibly reminded me of growing up in a small town, knowing you're not like everybody else, and knowing you're not going to be satisfied with a normal life.
Living where I did and knowing what I didn't the odds were not good that I would get out, have the experiences I did and become the kind of person i wanted to be...but I did. So that is a kickass life no matter what else happens.
Like everybody, I have challenges and most of the time, nobody but you really understands what it's like to be you, to go through the things you do. That gap of understanding might be more for me than some people, but I'm not stuck in a tank in Iraq, I'm not in a wheelchair, and I'm not hearing voices in my head. Those people really have it hard. I have some hard things. It's different.
TSTG: Exactly how ironic is the album subtitle "Greatest Hits"? I suspect you've written a handful of songs that you just know deserve to be universal smash hits. And if so, which songs are they?
AM: The whole "Greatest Hits" idea was Ben Zimmerman's, a fan and would-be backer who conceptualized the whole idea. I probably wouldn't have had the balls to say Greatest Hits -- seems a little arrogant, right? -- but he insisted on coming on strong like that and I think he was probably right. He also insisted that the songs weren't just good songs but had commercial potential, which I didn't myself hear until the masters had been cleaned up and sequenced and I was like, huh, when you lay it all end to end like that and put the extra shine on it, it really does sound almost hit-like. Which was part of the point, but you never know if it's going to work until you hear it.
My personal opinion is that I only ever wrote two hit songs: "At the Bookstore" and "How Can You Stand It." They sound like the radio to me. And possibly "My Kickass Life." I think the rest of the songs are poppy but too individual or quirky to be hits. But what do I know? I suppose part of me hopes someone will cover one of 'em and buy me a house!
That's the nice thing about songwriting if you stay with it. You can always hope the roulette wheel will land on you! But that's not why I do it.
TSTG: Would you agree that if any number of your songs had been released under a different name- say, Paul Westerberg or Pete Townshend- they would have received the attention they merit?
AM: There's no question that presentation is everything, and it isn't even just a matter of whose name is on the disc but even when I was making these albums, with each one I was less and less interested in playing whatever industry game was underway and more about being a working musician, establishing connections with fans, and improving myself. I benefited from that, but there's a price to be paid as well...you can't just say, well, I'm going to go on the road and just sell CDs out of my car and not send any promos to anybody and then expect writers or indie labels to fall all over you, because you're not doing what's expected. So I take responsibility for that, though I don't regret it.
Music is really about identity, and the Pete Townsends and Paul Westerbergs of the world have a much clearer path for a certain audience to relate to them than I have had up until now. So yeah, if they'd written my songs, the songs would be better known, but that's also because they did a better job articulating who they are and how they relate to the listener than I have up until now. Lyrically, I'm like the one guy at a party who's not afraid to call attention to the fact that someone farted. Everyone might secretly admire you for saying what they're thinking but people are more likely to urge you to walk the plank on their behalf, than walk down it with you. Many people look up to bravery, but far fewer relate to it, and to have someone buy into you as an artist, they usually have to relate to you.
TSTG: "Ginna Ling" is an uncommon song. Do you have anything to add about it that isn't already contained on the recording?
AM: It was the one song on LUDLOW 6:18 I wasn't satisfied with. I was like, "dammit, I was trying to convey this particular thing and I didn't quite get it." I thought it was the worst song on the album. But sometimes, what you consider is 80% of the way there still gets the job done. And sometimes 100% is too much. It's probably the song of mine that has moved the most people, and I don't argue with that at all.
It was really important on that song, and that whole album, to get emotional honesty without overstating it. That one line in the song where the whole thing pivots, I probably did it about 20 times, because I just wanted to say it, not emote it. Like Johnny Cash would have.
Are you carrying a band with you on your current tour? What's your preferred performance format? When people leave the club after one of your shows on this tour, what should they expect to feel?
AM: It's mostly solo, though my bassist Teresa is coming out for several shows, starting in Kansas City, and we're having a few friends join us on the midwest swing, so we'll have this weird semi-solo, semi-band thing going on. John Evans who used to be in FamousFM is spearheading the Kansas City band. He's an old friend. This tour I've been inviting musicians onstage with me which I never had the balls to try before. It'll probably be a giant clusterfuck, but I didn't just want to do the same old thing I did five years ago.
I probably prefer being with a band to being solo, though I'm a better singer and player than I was when I used to tour solo so I'm happier with the results now than I was then. Mostly, you just want to have the consmic handshake happen between the artist and performer. What kind of a handshake depends on the people, the venue, the vibe...however it happens is OK with me. When it doesn't happen, I'm bummed.
So people should expect the handshake to happen. If it didn't , I blew it.
TSTG: While all of the songs on Daylight Kissing Night share the same sensibility, it's also true that they represent a remarkable range of styles. It's almost as if you deliberately set out to create songs in a certain style- say Alex Chilton, Electric Light Orchestra, or the Replacements. Is that true?
AM: Mmmm...no. I'm sort of over the pastiche thing. I do try to vary the presentation, though....I get bored when bands sound the same all the time so I might go, OK, this is going to be more of a roots thing, or this is going to be that Beatles 4/4 piano pop vibe. But I'm not trying to sound like anybody. I figure I'm such a pop whore it'll just come out naturally, and if I try to sound like someone, it'll be forced.
There are exceptions...the beginning of "Portland" was a bit of my good natured nose-thumb to all the bands that want to sound like the Beach Boys out there, because it was like "OK, if I TRIED to do that, here's how good I could be at it." Because again, I think it's lame to try to sound like PET SOUNDS and then ignore the emotional content that those sounds are supposed to convey. But that said, hey, it's a cool harmony, innit?
So I'm just a big hypocrite, really.
I do get a little grumpy because there are more records to be sold if you try to ape a certain sound...it's easy to go "Oh, this band sounds like Portishead, and I like Portishead," and then all the Portishead fans show up to that band's show and buy their CD, and the band is never encouraged to try to find out who they are on their own. But then again, I love garage rock. Play an E minor chord on a guitar with tremelo and a lot of reverb and I'm there. There's nothing original about that, but the sound makes me happy, so again, I'm a hypocrite. People like the sounds they like, and what are you going to do? So if people relate what I do specifically to someone else, it's probably a good thing for me. Just as long as I'm not trying to lead them there too hard.
TSTG: How did your collaboration with Evie Sands come about?
AM: As all the best things do, just randomly. She was out and about around that time, and kept saying that she wanted to do a show sometime. I was doing a lot more promoting then, and finally I came up with this idea for a show with a lot of guests...I was just starting to switch out of touring mode and (I) saw myself as becoming kind of a punk Paul Schafer bandleader kind of guy. So I invited Evie to do a song, and then she brought her guitar, and our guitarist was gone, so I was like "can you just play this other thing?" and she just stuck around. We all got along so well and had a very similar ethic about music. She's all about busting boundaries and constantly challenging yourself, which I relate to a lot. She's a real inspiration. She is so much more than those Blue Cat records.
With my band, for example, she winds up playing a lot of punk rock. Sex Pistols, Husker Du, stuff like that. She loves it. She loves just being the guitar player.
TSTG: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a creepy obsessive, just how important are the Beach Boys in your life? What's your take on the 2004 version of Smile?
AM: I think Darian Sahanaja deserves a medal, and I told him so, because nobody else could have seen the project to fruition. He had the unique combination of knowledge, musical ability and political skills to make sure it didn't go off the rails and as a result, Brian's complete life story has been rewritten. I think the 2004 SMiLE was the happy ending that could not have happened in 1967. It's not perfect, but what it is is the best case scenario, and in the Beach Boys world, you rarely ever get that.
Maybe a 7? The Beach Boys are pretty important in my life, but I've probably crossed over from fanboy to someone who's got more of a personal view of it. I've just wound up either encountering, befriending or working with so many people that are part of that whole history. Like, one show I was talking about how great I thought one of the Dennis songs was and afterwards Marilyn (Brian's ex-wife) comes up out of the audience and starts totally disagreeing with me, and I'm like, ah, I'm in a whole new world now! I don't kiss ass or bullshit people but I'm aware that now some of these people are acquaintances, and sometimes friends or associates, and you need to respect that.
I do still post a lot on message boards though! There's a part of me that's very, very wonky. I like the details of the details of the details of certain things, and I get obsessive whether it's studying old auto trails or the Amelia Earhart disappearance. I will say that the Carl and Dennis album got a whole bunch of fans into my music, and I was surprised how many of them accepted it given how un-Wilsonlike it often is.
TSTG: Do you have any specific memories or connections to Kansas City?
AM: You know, I don't, and I feel bad about that....I'm not helping promote my show very well! It's always just been a pleasant stop on the road. Which means, law of averages being what they are, that the city will loom up and surprise me this time, and it'll be the best show on the tour....
(Images pilfered from Marsland's MySpace account.)