suggestioni musicali a cura di raffaello russo
In the decade after Hood‘s hibernation, Richard Adams kept developing the most “rural” and melancholic side of the band’s unique sound in different collaboration and projects. The Declining Winter is for sure his most personal one. A few weeks after the release of his latest album, the wonderful “Home For Lost Souls“, Adams talks about its working process and about how his way of living the music has evolved over the years.
I can’t avoid starting from Hood…in ten years you and Chris are developing different sides of what you did with the band: do you think that all of your projects can be seen as a “complementary” heritage of the band?
Yes I think that’s how we see it. These other projects are meant to be an annex of sorts to what we did with Hood. They will never replace it as such but I’m hoping that people who enjoyed Hood will enjoy what we do now. I guess there’s bits of the Hood sound in all the projects – it’s hard to avoid – but on the latest album I’ve maybe learnt to embrace it a bit more than running away from it.
As Declining Winter you released only three “proper” albums and a bunch of singles and Ep’s. Is there a relation between the way you inspiration works and the length of your releases?
Yeah I had a heck of a hard time finishing anything off for a few years. I guess between “Goodbye Minnesota” and “Home For Lost Souls” there wasn’t really a proper album but lots of EP’s. I think this is partly due to working in bursts but partly to do with never being happy with anything enough that I could see it as a proper album. “Home For Lost Souls” was a concerted effort to make an album that would stand alone, that would flow as one piece ….but the inspiration took years to come.
Autumn and winter are recurring themes in your music (from the Hood times) and they can nearly be felt in many of your songs. Generally speaking, which role do weather, seasons and environment play in your creation process?
I don’t necessarily set out to do that but autumn particularly is just such an inspiring time for me that I tend to work a lot in that season so a lot of the songs are shot through with that kind of melancholy. On the “Fragment 5” EP I tried to make it more Spring-like as it was written in spring but it probably all sounds wintery and autumnal to anyone else! All this stuff really does affect me but since I moved to a city it’s less obviously around me. Instead a lot of the inspiration has come from thinking about environment and how much I miss being near countryside.
The name of your project immediately relates to winter: how did you choose it? Is there a specific meaning under it?
It came to me when I was getting myself into a state about global warming. I went to America one Christmas and there was just no snow about at all. In the beginning the idea was to celebrate winter. That aesthetic has gone a bit now – I considered changing the name for this record but I kind of like it and after a while names don’t really mean anything anyway.
In The Declining Winter you played with other great musicians, you’re also part of Memory Drawings and you recently had an overseas collaboration in Great Panoptique Winter. Well, it seems you’re very much interested in collaborations so, apart from those who have already played with you, is there any artist you’d fancy working with?
I like doing collaborations where files go back and forwards rather than sitting in a room with people as I’m a very poor musician and it takes me ages to do stuff! The exception is Memory Drawings where it’s supposed to be 3 or 4 people playing in a room at the same time but because of circumstance this has ended up the same way. I’ve talked a bit to Benoît Pioulard about a potential collaboration and so I’d love to do something with him. Otherwise I’d be interested in doing something a bit more electronic – something along the lines of Gas and DJ Sprinkles and would like to collaborate with people who work in that kind of area.
Memory Drawings is also a quite peculiar project: how did you get the idea of starting something like that?
It’s a long story but Joel Hanson was always very supportive of Hood and I’d met him a few times. He played me a track of his previous band and I loved the hammered dulcimer sound and we talked about working on something where hammered dulcimer and acoustic guitar kind of interacted. We are very intuitive when we play together and he is full of amazing melodic ideas. It’s a tough one to keep going as we live in different countries but the creative part of it is often worth the difficulty.
The first Memory Drawings album has been published on Second Language, the label run also by Glen Johnson. What do you think of the label’s philosophy and of the “collective” of artists sharing a somehow common style that’s quickly gathered around it?
I do like that idea but I also like the Home Assembly idea of kind of anything goes. It does help a label to have an identity but it’s also fun to break out of that. Unfortunately a more eclectic label is a more difficult thing to keep going as people don’t necessarily buy into all the styles. I think Second Languages aesthetic overall is wonderful and their packaging is always inspiring.
All of your post-Hood releases are on different small labels and/or in limited formats: is a choice of freedom and independence that keeps you releasing through small labels? What future do you see for independent labels and artists in this difficult music world?
I enjoy working with different people on each release and also as we barely play live its good for the music to get heard by different people. I’ve found if you work with just one small label there’s a chance of each release only being by their fan base . So partly it’s to expand out of that and reach further out. The only future I really see is doing limited runs of a nice looking product and selling through one or two supportive retailers and maybe Bandcamp. Everything is against small labels at the moment from postage to the mainstream domination of all kinds of media. It’s just really hard for labels to compete in the bigger world as distributors and shops are only going with the stuff they know will sell.
How do you feel The Declining Winter project has evolved from its starts?
Well it was initially a solo project, then it became more of a band but now it’s gone back again to me working pretty much on my own. It’s just the nature of the thing – working on my own lets me get faster and easier to the places that I want to get to but I miss the contributions of others a bit and the social aspect of having a band. I feel that musically I’m way ahead of where I was at the start, I can now construct and record songs myself whereas initially my brother helped me out with the engineering side of things. The whole thing has been one long learning curve.
The new album “Home For Lost Souls” seems like an organic catalogue of the many sides of your personality: did you start writing it with a clear idea of showing them or it turn out like this in a natural way?
A bit of both really. I’d just taken delivery of a new computer which was set up with the latest music software. Previously I’d been using a set hop dating from the early 2000’s which used to crash all the time and wheeze uncontrollably if it had to multi track anything. Getting new equipment was really liberating so I ended up trying to do all the stuff I’d wanted to do for years. A lot of the stuff I recorded was just to test out new working methods – ‘Hurled to the Curb’ for example was the first thing I put down on the first day I got it just to test it so (finally) in answer to your question I was just trying out different ideas so I guess this is why the album showcases several facets.
Is there any of your records that you feel better representative of your personal and musical sensibility?
“Home For Lost Souls” definitely! I’m not just saying it because it’s the new one but it’s the most “me” of everything we’ve done. There’s very little collaboration and I wanted to make a record containing everything I enjoyed. It sounds a cliché but it was really done for myself.
How would you like your music to be perceived by the listeners?
Well, I think the music is a bit more poppy and catchy than people sometimes try to make out. I’m not trying to be oblique a lot of the time – I love pop music and catchy melodies but I’ll release something I think is very obvious but for whatever reason it’s hard for people to get into. I think my mind and ears work differently to everyone else’s. I hope in the end that if people keep going with it they’ll be rewarded and eventually (hopefully) the melodies will come through.
There is a common “rural” or “rustic” feeling in nearly all the music you played over the years, probably depending on the sound of your guitar: is something you tried to achieve in a conscious way or just a feeling one might get from how your music sounds?
My brother mentioned awhile back that there was a certain distinct sound to my (albeit terrible) guitar playing and I guess I’ve just been trying to embrace it a bit rather than worry that I can’t play it very well. I love pastoral, rustic sounding music that is evocative of a time and a place. I definitely distinctly tried to make this album sound “woody” – as if it had just been dredged up from a field somewhere.
That “rural” feeling makes me think about your music as similar to the one of artists coming from English countryside, like Epic45, July Skies etc.: do you feel to have something in common with them? Or at least that places and landscapes can evoke similar feelings in music?
I think there’s a certain evocative nostalgic feeling you have if you have grown up near the countryside. My childhood was fairly idyllic – the walk from school to home was through beautiful cornfields and wooded glades and that feeling of being a child running about outside has never really left me. I’d imagine the Epic 45/July Skies people had similar upbringings and I feel that their music even more so harks back to the time of their youth. I’m not really a nostalgist otherwise but I think it’s a feeling more than anything else. A feeling of freedom perhaps that it’s hard to recapture as an adult.
It seems that “folk” music is growing and spreading widely among independent artists in recent years: what do you think about this return to the different folk languages?
My only issue with a lot of modern day folk music is that it’s trying too hard to recreate a past that never really existed. There’s something a bit fake about singing about the types of things that affected people when the traditional folk songs were written. Of course the meaning behind songs can transcend any generation but I’ve found some folk music to be too much of a facsimile – you have to inject some modernity or it just comes across looking a bit daft.
What role does music play in your life? Do you keep living it simply as a passion or do you expect something more from it?
It’s just a passion now, something to keep me out of trouble. The only way I’ve learnt to deal with it is to have almost zero expectations. The rewards I get are when a song or an idea starts to come together. If I find that I start expecting financial or critical reward from it then this is where it starts to go wrong for me and I start to feel depressed about it. I’m on a tiny label, don’t play live and am not part of any scene so there’s no way I can compete with most artists. Therefore if I can get some stuff released and some people like it, that’s fine for me.
As a listener, what kind of music do you like best over the years? And today?
I go all over the place with my listening tastes but I still get most of my excitement through a weird kind of pop music – 60’s influenced music with odd melodies and a pastoral feel. I guess Beach Boys, Prefab Sprout, Cleaners from Venus and Real Estate have been some recent favorites. As my job is in a record store I hear an incredible range of different things but I’m not ashamed that the music that really hits me hard is very similar to the music I grew up on. What I listen to for pleasure isn’t that similar to the music I make but I can see how it influences it even if it’s invisible to the naked ear!
What do you think about the way music spreads nowadays through the web?
It’s really interesting. Sometimes that has really surprised me that if a video we’ve done appears on a website or something suddenly it will get lots of views. I guess I’m old and I don’t consume music in that same way so it’s really hard to get a handle on how it all works. I’m really amazed with things like Bandcamp – I have no idea how people find out there’s stuff up there. It really has helped people like myself and my brother out in terms of the music we do as we can kind of find an audience for it without having to go out and play shows etc. On the other side of that I’m kind of worried that we rely too much on it – it can make you a bit lazy whereas when we were young we had to really work hard on something to make it impressive so that people would listen to it or you’d have to get your name about by doing shows – today there can be the tendency to just throw it up online and if 10 people download it you consider that as success which is what a lot of people are doing. I’m a bit more ambitious than that and I want the music to be heard by as many people as possible. I do hope people still have a bullshit detector and understand how hard we work at this stuff! The other thing is that people like to hear full albums before buying. I understand that…but it does remove that mystery of being surprised when you get the album home. Being part of a label trying to sell this stuff you have to try to get inside people’s heads a bit but it’s really difficult to get right.
With all the music floating around, what do you think is worth for keep writing songs? What keeps you motivated to do it?
The simple reason is that I just can’t stop. It’s as natural as getting up in the morning and having breakfast to me. I can’t stop writing and thinking about it. I get very frustrated that the music never sounds like it does in my head but in the end if I have the opportunity to release it I’ll always let it go out there even if the process is very difficult for me. I have major, major doubts all the time about it but I do believe in it enough to think that it deserves some kind of place in the world.