One late night evening in April: Adam Green is slightly tipsy and can be found with Binki Shapiro on the upper level of a Brighton venue. The pair are in high spirits on this, the final night of a UK tour to promote a collaborative album that they once thought might never see the light of day. The previous night their van had been broken into in Manchester, but that matters little as they ride the post-gig (and post-tour) high.
An hour and a half earlier on the stage below, the pair and their delicately assembled cast of backing musicians had just started rattling through a set of songs from the eponymous ‘Adam Green & Binki Shapiro’ and several of Green’s solo numbers to a humble sized, appreciative audience. Two more hours from now, when they leave the venue, they will push through paparazzi, crash out, wake up and discover that they’re side-characters in a Macaulay Culkin tabloid story. That’s what happens when you recruit Kevin McAllister as your guest vocalist.
“This is one of the few interviews I’ve done drunk in a long time,” says Shapiro, the LA heralding singer-songwriter who first came to prominence as the co-front person of Little Joy. When Binki talks she answers any question in an increasingly free flowing, unguarded manner. Green (the floppy haired, oddball singer who first found cult fame in leading anti-folk proponents The Moldy Peaches, before going on to create a number of well received and musically adventurous solo albums), on the other hand, is in an unexpected quieter mood, perched next to her on a brown level couch. The last time we spoke to him was for Loud And Quiet 2 in January 2009. Tipsy doesn’t cover it.
The seeds for Adam and Binki’s collaboration were sown by Green, little more than two and a half years ago.
He says: “Well, I guess I was the catalyst for it, you know? I asked Binki to do the project with me. I had thought of the idea of me and her singing together and writing together… I don’t know… We had known each other for a while, we were already friends, so… the honest truth is that I was stoned on my couch and I just thought of it. There are many great things that have been thought of that way… the difference was that I wrote this one down!
“We started writing soon after,” he says. “Binki lived about ten minutes away, maybe even less, it was really close and we went and got Chinese food, went to the wine shop and we had some conversations and the conversations became what the songs are about.”
“We lived four blocks from each other in New York,” Binki clarifies midway through Adams recollection.
At the turn of the year the creative offspring of this musical partnership at long last found its way out and entered public view. Critically well received, it is an album of Baroque-pop that was both quickly created and saw each artist move out of their creative comfort zones. It’s quite unlike what either had previously created.
“It was definitely the most fast moving song writing that I’ve ever experienced,” says Binki. “I feel like we sat together and laughed a lot, we wrote together a lot and we got a lot of things done that we are very proud of, very quickly.”
“Likewise!” Adam punctuates, swigging a bottle of lager.
“He says likewise, but I feel that Adam is a much faster writer than I am,” says Binki. “I take a lot more time and I never get anything done because I take so much time putting thought into and scrutinising things. I admire Adams ability to get shit done and I was very much happy to be part of that getting shit done process.”
With the rawest of raw ingredients in hand (“the songs were written just like acoustic folk songs – we didn’t know what they sounded like; they were just chords and music”), the pair headed into the studio with producer Noah Georgeson to help shape the tracks they had into the pieces that Adam had envisioned back on his home couch.
“I think working with Noah, who’s done the Little Joy record with Binki and my last solo one, ‘Minor Love’, he creates a certain environment in the studio, so, obviously, he also helped – he had a big part in how our record sounds.”
It was a very loose frame that the pair had set themselves to work within, Binki recalls. “We didn’t even really know who was going to sing what until we got into the studio,” she says. “We sort of had a arm-wrestling-match-slash-debate over who was going to sing what once we got in.
“I’m in this business to work with friends and keep the spirit alive of, like, having that familiar feeling, you know? And I feel that Adam and I have that with each other. Incorporating Noah and our friends that have recorded on our own other records – the Little Joy record and Adam’s solo records and what not – I feel like we are in this world to, like, have fun and keep true to the spirit of that, and keeping it in the family, which I think we’ve managed to do a pretty good job of. Our friend Todd who is playing bass with us tonight, played cello and upright bass on our record, Matt who plays guitar with us, he played guitar on both of our separate live shows – we like to keep music old school and in the family.
“I feel it’s really important for me to feel like that,” Binki continues. “You’re on the road with people and you make music with people and I’m trying not to wait for hindsight to be able to appreciate what is happening now, and I really like to keep people that I feel happy and comfortable with in my life constantly, and create things together. It just makes everything much more fun. To be able to create things with those that you love, and I love and admire Adam, I love and admire all of the people playing on our band, it’s cool. It just feels like a warmer way to live, to have that.”
Touring the record wasn’t something that either had expected. “We didn’t even really know if it was going to come out,” says Adam. “We recorded it on our own dime, we recorded with our own kroner. We weren’t really sure that it was going to come out at all. It took a year to find someone to put it out, so it sort of sat there. It was like Groundhog Day, honestly. Every day we were like, ‘we wrote this really cool album, we hope people will hear it’, right, next. Who knows, it was very much like Groundhog Day.”
When the album finally saw the light of day in January 2013, it was quick to encounter one specific comparison, to the classic pairing of Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. “People really like comparing things to other things,” says Binki, “but we didn’t have anything in mind. We were just sitting in either my apartment, or Adam’s apartment, writing these songs. There was nothing beyond just writing songs together and I feel that our voice, the tones of our voices compared to the tone of other peoples voice together, makes people think of something or whatever. I feel like it is just us. We weren’t trying to put anything else into our music apart from what we embody ourselves, you know?
“It’s funny because Adam had The Moldy Peaches and I have Little Joy where Rodrigo and I sing all the songs together and people feel the need to compare us to others rather than to ourselves.”
Though they were both wary of being compared to their previous musical endeavours, moving away from their past and adopting a new mindset was something the pair both had in mind early on. “I guess, something I had never done was make a self consciously adult album,” says Adam, “so, you know, it’s a very new frontier for me.” For Binki, she wanted to go the other way – to “let loose a little.”
“We found some common ground with a very mature album, as opposed to a very, very mature album,” she laughs.
Adam and Binki’s future together as a writing team remains uncertain. Tonight they end a tour that was never going to happen; tomorrow they fly back to New York. Then what?
“I don’t feel like there is anything that anyone expects us to work on,” Binki shrugs.
“We’re kind of lucky,” says Adam. “I know this is going to sound silly, but no one really expects us to do anything. I think we’re known as total fucking weirdos that people think might not be able to do whatever or would want to do whatever.”
“I do feel like it’s important to work on the projects you want to, not the ones people think you should,” says Binki. “Especially being born and raised in Los Angeles, I feel like I know so many musicians and actors who are thin and successful. They have millions of dollars and beautiful homes and all of these things, but they’re trying to find a place where they are happy, and I feel that we are happy, we’re stoked! We’re doing what we want to be doing, we have really fun shows and we laugh a lot on tour, we make enough money to be able to get by and sure, it would be nice to make a little bit more, but we are doing what we are happy doing and we make music that we are proud of and I feel so much happier for going out and performing music that I’m proud of, rather than music that I’m not proud of but is a top ten hit. I don’t know what having a top ten hit would be like, but I imagine it wouldn’t be quite as fun.
“We’re playing small clubs right now and whatever, we’re making enough money to scrape by. We’ve been fucking robbed, I’ve had food poisoning and it’s been a brutal run on this tour, but all the while we’re still having fun and laughing. Sometimes I feel sorry for people who are saving their pennies for a rainy day as we are having fun. I’m not saving my pennies for anything, I’m spending them as they come and it feels really nice.”