“Run down, boring and violent. In fact it’s got nothing going for it at all”.
So said Arab Strap about the hometown they shared with Adam Stafford causing much furore across local media and amongst municipal politicians.
Marvellous though that was, even if true, Falkirk has surely earned some redemption with the forthcoming album release Taser Revelations by its prodigiously talented resident.
On top of an already sterling music and film career the album represents a hugely creative, at times euphoric and always successful endeavour.
Across nine outward-looking tracks the album is putting down a very hefty early marker for Scottish record of the year; from the opening, emotive pulse of ‘Let a Little Love Inside’ there’s a rare alchemy pulling together acoustic and electronic influences with leftfield quirks such as the steel drums on ‘Phantom Billions’ – perhaps the stand out track for me.
The record is experimental in a way that a number of records coming out of Scotland are at the moment – bands like Antique Pony pushing forward with great gusto; perhaps what elevates this collection however is that it is complete; though boundaries are being pushed there’s solid confidence in tracks like the hauntingly brilliant ‘Railway Trespassers’ that marry disparate influences in a way that just works.
This is a major major talent who’s produced something with zero filler and a whole bunch of creativity; a rare rare thing indeed.
Ahead of a short string of dates across the Scotland we sit down with the BAFTA-nominated film maker to get the low down on where he’s at, where he’s from and where he’s heading:
Your film work has terroir – speaks very much about Scotland. Your music is far more outward and international looking. Is there a reason for that? Would you like the films to expand?
The short films that I’ve made so far have had a direct Scottish relevance because the writers, Alan Bissett and Janet Paisley respectively, have chosen those subjects to explore. With my collaboration, of course. But, yes, I would like to expand the films to other places – after all, the language of cinema is universal. Music is more of an organic process. I don’t see the music I make as being anchored to a specific geographic location, although the themes that influence the songs are sometimes specific to events in my life.
All I know about Falkirk is I bought a snake there as a child and Arab Strap slagged it off – tell me about growing up there.
It’s an interesting place. It has a wide circumference that takes in many districts and villages, but has a small-town feel (due to the compact high street in the town centre). It has intense industrialisation and then sprawling rural countryside that goes on for miles. Where I used to live there was an abandoned contagious diseases hospital, which we used to break into and lie on the roof smoking at night. I went to a small but fairly rough high school where I met some of my best friends and my wife. The teachers were all mad – two died in the first two years of school; the chemistry teacher danced himself to death and the janitor set himself on fire on the school grounds. At night it’s somewhere I find incredibly eerie and still and pulsating with a quiet foreboding.
Grangemouth as Blade Runner – was that something you thought at the time or casting your adult mind back and using poetic license? I used to think Ellesmere Port looked like Star Wars as a child – Pris et al a bit beyond me.
It was Alan [Bisset, author of much garlanded ‘The Shutdown’ as directed by Adam] that wrote that line in the film, but yes, there is always the running joke in Falkirk that Grangemouth looks like the start of Blade Runner at night. During the day it has more of an Eraserhead vibe though: concrete structures, pipes and mud and industrial train tracks. The sound in and around Grangemouth is a lot like Alan Splet’s sound design in that film.
Is there a medium you prefer working with – music or film? In some ways you’re reviving the tradition of the polymath – a concious decision or perhaps even an economic one with music being easy to distribute, but in some ways harder to make money from these days?
Both are hard to make any money from these days and film is a lot harder to make at all. It’s such a time consuming, protracted process (particularly if the film is low-budget) that requires the synergy of lots of people to make it happen. The biggest lie in cinema history is the “Auteur” theory because, even though it is helpful to have a single artistic vision on set, filmmaking is a really intense concentrated team effort. It’s almost like getting a group of your friends together with some basic materials and saying, “right, we’re going to build a house, just the fifteen of us but we’ve only got three days to do it!” Music comes easier and although it is hard work writing and recording an album, it usually only requires yourself and a few other people whereas film production has wildly disparate elements that can quickly get out of control.
A cliche but, who are your influences, both musically and visually? Or simply who do you like? Any collaborations you fancy?
Well, I can tell the four films that have had a profound effect on me: Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky), Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu), Bad Boy Bubby (Rolf de Heer), Eraserhead (David Lynch) and, of course, many more. Visually, I’m a big on Edward Hopper, Francis Bacon, Henry Darger, Edward Gorey, Robert Frank, William Eggleston. Musically, at present, I’m listening to a lot of interesting electronic music and experimental sounds, mostly instrumental like Andy Stott, Joshua Abrahms, Emeralds, Pierre Bastien, Senyawa, Janek Schaefer, Mica Levi and the Ambient compilations Air Texture Vol. 1- 4.
What are your views on the Scottish scene at the moment? In some ways it seems guitar-based music is only just catching up again with the electronic scene, which has been disproportionally strong for such a small nation.
It’s healthy. It’s ever-changing. It doesn’t care. It cares too much. It’s a lone wolf and an old-boy’s network simultaneously. It punches well above its weight. People outside of Scotland mostly don’t care (even only a select few in Scotland actually care), but it’s always been like that since the days of Postcard Records. I can’t much comment on the rise of guitar bands vs. electronic music in Scotland as I don’t get out of the house much since becoming a father. I do know that when a big hype band explodes, such as your Franz or CHVRCHES, there are always a slew of acts trying to emulate that hoping to ride the coat-tails. Then as a counter-reaction something totally new comes along and that becomes the next big hype and so on…
Is playing live something you relish or dread? Your upcoming gig in Glasgow brings you up close and personal with the audience. A nightmare or a delight?
It’s both really. There is a lot of margin for error in the live sets and it’s taken a lot of dedicated practice to be able to pull it off. Because of this I still get nervous and still find being on stage a little unnatural and intimidating, but it really is addictive, especially when it is going well and the audience are on your side. The objective is to reach that intangible trance state during the performance where time becomes obsolete and nothing matters in the spaces between yourself and the music.
How did working with Song, By Toad come about? Seems they have quite a lively set up.
I think Matthew at the label was always aware of me, but he came to a gig where I was supporting The Twilight Sad. He was very enthusiastic and wrote a lovely review that night and published it online. The next night I was also playing in Edinburgh and he came down to the show – two nights in a row! We got talking and I was going through a period of… crisis at the time. Matthew offered to put out a record and it has gone from there. He is, honestly, a fantastic guy to work with and has one of the best labels in the UK, in my opinion. He is just so consumed by and passionate about alternative music and has got to the stage where the label is operating up there with Chemikal Underground, Ghost Box and Fat Cat in terms of quality output (I just wish he replied to emails quicker).
Where next? Where would Adam Stafford like to be in 5 years?
I can’t even think about five years time to be honest. The place that I thought I’d be in my life five years ago is different from where I am now – so much has changed but weirdly stayed the same. I’m planning more music for sure. I have about three or four albums I’d like to do including a compositional orchestral suite and a bunch of acoustic songs that I’ve been carrying about for a while. I’d also like to do an improvisational LP and cut wild jams together like Can used to. I have lots of feature film ideas as well, but it’s finding the time to commit to writing and developing them. And I really am a lazy man at the best of times, my wife will vouch for that.
What’s your favourite cheese?
Either Edam or Leerdammer on a poppyseed cracker. Any blue cheese, mouldy cheese or gooey cheese can just fucking bolt!
Catch Adam live in Edinburgh March 11, Glasgow March 20 with dates in Inverness and Aberdeen in between.
Taser Revelations released on Song, By Toad Records March 14.
A supremely talented individual with a highly complex but deliciously accessible approach to his art; Taser Revelations is the sound of someone completely on top of their game.
Words: Vosne Malconsorts