Q&A With Barry Adamson

Barry Adamson is in a weird position. After winning acclaim for the noir-cinematic atmospheres of solo projects such as Moss Side Story and the mash-up of Back To The Cat, writing songs for directors such as Danny Boyle, Oliver Stone and David Lynch, and composing film scores for Delusion and Out Of Depth, the 53-year-old writer/multi-instrumentalist found himself directing, writing and acting in his own movie with 2011’s The Therapist. “I’m a marketing man’s nightmare,” he jokes. To make things more intense, Adamson—post-punk’s most legendary bassist, with roles in Magazine and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds—returned to the scene of the live-music crime by playing gigs with Howard Devoto’s re-united Magazine after decades of being a lone wolf. What was he thinking? And how did all of that recent interaction inspire his newest project, the aggressive Destination? Read our Q&A with him below. Adamson will also be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week.

“Destination” (download):

MAGNET: You’re really a bit of a kitchen sink when it comes to mashing up genres and textures; more so with each passing album. What is your editing process like?
Adamson: Physically, or the one in my head?

The esthetic one, the one in your head.
I relate to a television show I saw not long ago on Basquiat, the painter. He was working and had the window open, the TV on and noise coming from upstairs. A word would come from the television or he heard something random from outside on the street and he’d physically write it into the painting. The noise from the floor above would convey a mood.

He was a receptacle.
That’s how it works with me as well, I think. I’m going ’round and grabbing things from inside and outside. A memory could pop up. I might think of something heading into the future. It could just be a melody or noise that makes you go, “Wow.” Obviously, I’ve got a pretty effective sensory machine self-censoring going on here. [Laughs] I do try and allow of much of that stuff to come and go. I just mold it. It’s an ongoing thing, though—24 hours a day.

I was thinking of Back To The Cat when I first asked the editing question. What about the new one, though? It seems different than the past efforts.
It is, actually. When I first started it, I realized that, “Hmm, I was doing a Barry-Adamson-by-the-numbers routine.” Sad that. So, I basically threw my own rule book out, even though I never realized that I had one and made a short film instead before coming back to what would be Destination. I started from scratch. I let go. The album shot through me very quickly. I didn’t wait for the ideas to come to me. I chased them down the street, grabbed them by the neck and pinned them down. It was a very inspiring time. It was inspiration from the notion that I had perhaps worn something out, a process. This time I went with whatever happened.

The film was The Therapist. Certainly you’ve done enough scoring for other directors’ films. How did making your own flick change the game?
I think you hit the nail on the head. Despite the books I have around me regarding the experience and all the work I’ve done on them, I’ve never been on a film set. So now I had to really pay attention. Get to know the lay of the land. It wore me out over a period of six months—learning, filming, editing, making the music. Not knowing how and where you’re supposed to stand. Maybe after that—for the album—it was a bit like jumping onto a horse I’d ridden before but with new zest. Just bolted.

Other than authorship, how did making music for The Therapist differ from other directors’ projects?
I was able to feel what was going on. I had the time and the way to change things. I could sculpt the thing around itself. It was experimental, so I played around. But I was conscious of the job that I had to do.

How about the Magazine reunion? Seems strange that you would bother. What the hell made you get involved in the first place, what made you get the hell out of it before they made an album, and what good did it do you?
That’s a mouthful. [Laughs] Probably all the same answer. I think rarely in life does a person get the opportunity to go and look at themselves as they were 30 years before—almost in the exact same circumstances with the exact same people.

When you say it like that, reunion culture doesn’t sound so bad.
Class reunions come close, but it’s not as if the teachers can do the same lessons. Thirty years later, the same people playing the same songs? I couldn’t resist it. I tried, to be honest. Maybe there was something I missed even though I moved on, work in film and I’m the great me. [Laughs] Don’t go backwards. Don’t go backwards. But it was too good of an opportunity. Playing the shows, seeing the same people, remembering them—but now they have their 15-year-old kid with them realizing only then what dad had long been talking about: They were living themselves. It was a sea of bald-headed men bopping up and down looking like beans on toast. Being part of “Shot By Both Sides” again was amazing.

But …
But then there’s the other stuff. You’ve gone back to see yourself, you’ve seen yourself and you have to get out of there as soon as you can. What you see is what it was then, only with clearer eyes. “This is what it was like when I was 18.” The world doesn’t change for a group or the group dynamic. It stays the same. All my points of reference regarding where I moved to became loomingly large. I do my work a certain way and am my own leader. I wasn’t there for the same reasons they were. And once you are the outsider in a band, it’s awful: like dead man walking. Then again—and you brought this up—I was part of the movie and Magazine at the same time. I was fried. Still, Magazine took me back to that 18-year-old spirit. Iggy Pop used to tell me always make music as if you were 18. Get out the stuff. Have that enthusiasm. You put it so well in your question: get in/get out.

“Stand In” on the new album has the feel of dealing with the past freshly. “Destination,” too.
It’s about moving away from the past. If you move, then someone takes your place. Get out of the chair. Someone sits in it. Maybe you’ll come back. But you’ll have things to consider. “Destination”? It’s a punk idea, really. I remember this guy who used to wear a badge that read “Shit Street.” Remember the dream you had; celebrate rather than be mournful before ending up on Shit Street.

Where has Destination told you it wanted to go? What has it pointed toward in your future?
To America. I’m not kidding. As I was recording it, Destination felt like the livest record I’ve ever made. I have never really before played my own material with a band. This record made the time seem right.

—A.D. Amorosi