Adam Gnade is a rebel and a vagabond, a walking, talking, song-writing, book-writing, modern-day George Hayduke. His “talking songs” have taken him all over the world — virtually and actually — but his focus is good ol’ America. Though he’s found home all over the map, he currently resides in Portland, Oregon, where he says, “the air smells good.” Adam has several records out, a book coming out, and more of both on the way — if he’s not sinking poaching ships soon.
Roy Christopher: Though you’re often lumped in with the “New Weird America folk music scene,” you’re not really of that. How do you describe what you’re doing
beyond the tag “talking songs”?
Adam Gnade: The songs I’ve recorded vary pretty widely. A lot of ’em, especially what’s online, like the tracks with Youthmovies, are collaborations with bands or solo people, so it
more or less sounds like a mix between me and them. The newest batch of songs, Palaces, which is the last thing I recorded, is basically just me and banjo. There’s some 5-string guitar, piano, and noise, but the heart of the thing is me with the banjo. Live, it’s been just that. Lots of fingerpicking. Lots of screaming. Lots of stomping. Somebody told me last night that the live set is “spooky.” If anybody reading this wants a good idea of what the new stuff and the live shows sound like, the song “Palaces” on our MySpace page is pretty much it. I call it all “talking songs,” yeah, because that’s how I see it. It’s talking, but, especially with the newer songs, it’s all anchored by and based around traditional song structure, y’know, choruses and bridges and all that crap; the music is always written first.
I’ve always had a lot of distaste for spoken word, which never seems like it has any connection to the music. Most of it that I’ve heard is total shit. My songs are just songs with talking — and screaming and shouting. I’ve tried to sing, but this is how it comes out.
RC: How do you define “Americana”?
AG: Americana for me just takes cues from American roots music and tries its best to feel like America sounds. I see my songs as Americana, though they don’t sound anything like most Americana bands. I don’t want to try and sound like I’m from the 30s. I’m not. I live in 2007. While there’s a lot of elements of old blues and mountain music in Palaces, I want my music to feel like it lives in 2007.
RC: Why Portland?
AG: It’s beautiful. Blackberries and cherries in the summer. River-swimmin’. Trees. The air smells good. Old houses. Midnight runs to Mt. Tabor to scare the stoners. I kind of stopped playing shows in Portland since I’m on tour all the time so I’ve more or less dropped out of the local music scene. I could care less about Portland music or clubs or magazines. I just like the countryside, the falls, the Willamette. Which is not to say there aren’t a lot of great Portland bands. I just don’t spend much time looking for them. Though there are a couple I always keep tabs on.
RC: Tell me about your book that’s coming out, Hymn California.
AG: It’s coming out on Dutchmoney Books on Valentine’s Day. Besides that I’m pretty superstitious about talking about books. It takes the magic out of ’em when you have to start laying ’em on a table, cutting ’em open, and poking through their guts. I will say it’s fiction. There’s a lot of death, a lot of fighting, a lot of traveling around, and a lot of rowdiness. Also, it continues the stories of a lot of my songs, or at least just follows my characters. A lot of the same people pop up, the same stories, and themes.
RC: What else is coming up?
AG: I’m on tour right now in England and will be until the end of next month. After that I’m going to try and just live off the money I made out here and basically chill the fuck out. Might try and hibernate through the winter. I’m in a lucky position where I make pretty okay money off my records, so I’m going to try and take advantage of that and do whatever feels right at the time, just live according to desire. I can’t do office jobs. Just kills me. Would rather be sort of poor and live the way I want to live. Fucking hate being told what to do and right now no one is telling me to do shit. Feels amazing.
We’re recording on the road every time we stop in a city with a studio, so I probably won’t record anything new in the US for a while.
I’m writing my second book, but this one is a long slow process and probably won’t be done for another year. About a quarter done with that. Oh, and I wrote a 68-page novella. Had copies of it on tour, but we sold out of them. I’ll probably do another novella since this second book will be so long in the making. I’d like to get a bunch of Southern stories out. This new novella is all west coast shit, so it’ll be good to leave that world for a while and put my head in something fresh.
And I’m working through the application process to be a Sea Shepherd. If that happens, I’m basically stepping off the map for a while to ram and sink poaching ships off Japan. Fuckin’ can’t wait! I’m ready to fuck their shit up.
[photo by Jessie Duquette]