Adam Green: conversations with a non-conformist

Everything's peachy

See if you can spot the blatant lie: In Germany, Adam Green is indie’s answer to David Hasselhoff. Adam Green’s grandmother romanced Franz Kafka and appears – albeit disguised – in several of his major works. Adam is famous in South America after one of his songs was used in a toothpaste advert, however, no one asked to use ‘Jorge Regula’ to flog the breath freshener and Green only discovered its existence after he was invited to pick up an Argentinean award.

Remarkably, all are true. We could also add that the former Moldy Peach once sold Albert Hammond Jr the very suit from his own back. Or that off the back of teen-pregnancy comedy, ‘Juno’, New York’s indie kingpin was invited on the US’ equivalent of Loose Women to perform ‘Anyone Else But You’.

For its sheer berserker glory we could also recount that live on German TV’s biggest chat show he claimed that he and the brothers from Hanson had fought together in Iraq in a special celebrity unit (look it up on Youtube).

However, to merely restate these colourful chapters provides us with nothing of the man himself. Adam Green does not do these things for attention, they happen to him simply because he is Adam Green. To celebrate and toast one of music’s last true mavericks, Loud And Quiet met with him in his bus, backstage at some European festival. A tape recorder was left running, but what happened was not an interview in any conventional sense. Instead what surged from Green’s lips could be called an epistle, a pronouncement, an edict. It could also be called an unhinged conversation between two people whose minds were temporarily not their own.

The choice is yours, but with X Factor homogenisation coming from the left, the credit crunch eroding indie’s ability to fund gloriously doomed experiments from the right, Loud And Quiet is happy to doff its cap and genuflect before a true non-conformist.

The tape recorder has been running for a few minutes, pleasantries are exchanged, the noise of bottles being moved can be heard

Adam: I made up a joke about my Keds. What’s the similarity between my Keds and the devil?

P: Your kids?

A: My Keds, they’re a wonderful brand of shoes.

P: Oh your shoes?

A: Yeah. What’s the similarity between my Keds and the devil?

P: I don’t know.

A: They both have basically no sole/soul. [sniggering] It’s good right? A biting political joke, religious too. I have a religious riddle for you too.

P: Ok.

A: Four people are the last people remaining on planet earth, Two men, two women. They’re both relegated to two islands, on each island a man and a woman. One island is located in the Philippines, the other is off the coast of Ecuador. Now for some reason, these people on the islands can’t procreate. It’s not because of fertility, it’s not because of sexual attraction. Nothing to do with age or whatever… Why can’t they procreate, the last four remaining people on the planet?

P: Mmm. It’s a religious riddle?

A: I would normally say the hint was science or history.

P: Give up.

A: It’s because of the ten commandments!

P: They’re brothers and sisters?

A: No because both of their island partners are each other’s spouses, and the Ten Commandments says ‘thou shalt not commit adultery’ and that’s why they can’t procreate. It’s an interesting riddle.

P: Religion ends the world.

A: It’s complicated.

P: You got married recently, didn’t you?

A: Yeah this tour has been like a marathon because I got married right before then we we’re off to do a couple of festivals and we took a honeymoon in Rome. We found a private swimming pool under the aqueduct and we spent like seven days in the swimming pool, which was really lovely. Then all of a sudden we are getting divorced and we both have lawyers and shit. Her lawyer is a girl and mine is a guy so it’s almost like THEY are getting divorced. It’s really a mess. It makes me sick the whole thing…

P: It doesn’t sound like you want to talk about it.

A: Yeah my interviewing style is incredibly personal. So anyway, I found a Roman coin in the ruins of the Palentine Hill. I was walking around the Palentine Hill, beside where the forum was and I found a coin under some sand. I don’t know how much it’s worth. I’m going to have to take it to the antique roadshow. Isn’t that lucky?

P: It’s probably some ancient antiquity. It’s probably against the law to take it out of Italy.

A: They can’t arrest me ‘cos my music is too handsome. Also, I tried to get an orange from one of the trees up there. I shook it and a rotten orange fell from the branch. I picked it up, realised it was rotten, inedible and then some punk came up to me and tried to charge me a Euro for it!

P: Was it his tree?

A: (pause) He was delusional. He was dressed as a Roman centurion.

The conversation continues, Green suddenly announces he’s had the worst day of his life in Nottingham

A: …it was all separate incidents, that’s what makes it so puzzling. How many things can go wrong in one night? I severed my ankle from my body, it was during a ridiculous stage antic and I wasn’t able to walk. After the concert my backing singer and bassist went to a kebab shop to get some chips and humus and they found themselves in the middle of a catfight… so then the boyfriends joined in and a pregnant lady got kicked in the stomach and my backing singer got scratched in the face by some really long nails. Elsewhere in town, my guitarist Jon Whiskey Wiley was walking back to the bus when he came across a few baby girls, maybe like 16 year-old rock fans, and some dudes tried to move in on his thing with the girls and he got punched, which resulted in a black-eye. The girls, I would describe them as mingers, were hideous looking. They came into the back lounge on the bus when I was icing my foot, and first thing they did was ask me how old I was. I said ‘get the fuck out of the bus.’ As they were leaving they stole my bus driver’s computer and ran away into the night giggling. So Nottingham ruined us and it made me think ‘how many things could go wrong in a row before I would turn to heroin?’. I mean what if days like that just kept on coming one after another? I think at some point heroin would have to come around (laughs) and for the first time it would be welcome in my life.

P: It feels like you should have an equation. Days in misery divided by outlook on life…

A: It’s good to know it’s always out there waiting for me! Like a light at the end of a tunnel! So I found out we have an avid following in Eastern Europe, it was the first time I went over there. I went over to Budapest in Hungary. I found out that my family lineage is Romanian. My great grandfather was Nathan Abonick and he’s from Transylvania, we played in Budapest to like 10,000 people who were singing all the lyrics. I don’t know how they know the lyrics as my records haven’t even been released there. I started thinking we should just start moving one country over each time, we could go to Romania, then the Ukraine, push it down to go to Croatia, Bosnia and then over to Bulgaria.

P: Turkmenistan.

A: What place? I have to read about this place.

P: The leader is the last dictator in Europe, he built a glass palace for no reason.

A: I was touring with Sophie Ellis Bextor’s crew and I heard about her private performance for a Russian billionaire. That sounds like fun. I’d like to shake my ass in front of some real big money one day.

P: that’s the dream for everyone really. Keep going east, head towards the oil.

A: Yeah, keep going. Anyway Eastern Europe, I thought the people looked vampric, I was talking to a friend of mine, Francesco Mandelli, he’s an Italian screen-actor, and he wants to become a first time director so we were going to try to write an Italian vampire film and shoot it in Transylvania, meanwhile we’re going to try to find my family. It’s funny because I traced the other side of my family to a shtetl-town in Russia called Rechesha near Kiev, incidentally the population is 200. Regina Spektor’s great grandmother is from the same town so we’re probably related. Like almost definitely, it’s a pretty small town. That was funny.

P: Have you been tracing your heritage a lot?

A: I had it really thrust in my face when I grew in popularity in Germany, because my mother’s grandmother was engaged to Franz Kafka. She’s well known there as Kafka’s muse and there’s a book published of love letters that he wrote to her and their correspondence. Her name was Felice Bauer. Bauer means farmer in German. My Grandfather grew up on a farm in Brooklyn where they grew marijuana. But anyway, Kafka wrote The Metamorphosis when they were together and she’s Fraulein Burstein in The Trial, hence the F.B. similarity. I had a meeting with a Kafka scholar last time I was in Berlin and he told me that my great, great grandfather is the Judge character in The Trial because apparently him and Kafka had a volatile… well they didn’t like each other. Apparently he humiliated Kafka by essentially “trying” him in a hotel room after my family heard that he’d made some advances on a friend of Felice’s. The Trial is essentially a situation of feeling guilty but feeling justified as well. There’s a Robert Crumb drawing I saw in a book of my great grandmother. I was trying to find out how I could get in touch with his estate because I want to purchase the drawing. He’s done so many, like one million drawings, so it shouldn’t be that much, he should just give it to me, Jesus it’s my great grandmother! I’ll pay him for the ink and the paper, and the postage. I’ll give him 500 bones. Dollars! Pounds are too expensive. So I don’t know if I’ve been that much into my family linage but it’s been thrust in my face because of the internet. Two things wrong with the world: the internet, gangsta rap… ah Lil’ Wayne is cool, you know, and Ice-T the original.

P: Why?

A: Gangsta rap is dead, it’s about to seriously perish. And the internet unfortunately is still thriving. About a month ago I made a policy of no internet and my life has improved dramatically. Before I had the internet my life was much better, same with cell phones. I remember I used to go searching in record stores for obscure albums you could never find. Now it’s Amazon. There’s something to it man, you have to earn your weirdness you can’t just get it all on one day through Google. Whatever, it’s beyond the superficial, it lowers the quality of life. It’s like smoking four packs of cigarettes a day or something, it’s just a bad fucking… a bad idea. My new life, no internet.

P: How is that working out for you?

A: I read books and things, shit I’ve read like an Ernest Hemmingway novel. I read a book about organic farming. I don’t even like organic farming, I just read the book because I had so much free time, I was just checking my email for business. Fuck you internet! I went outside and stuff, it was interesting. There were no clips, I didn’t watch any clips.

P: And what’s wrong with Gangsta rap

A: Gangsta rap? It was responsible for my entire abuse as a child. I grew up in this neighbourhood where everyone was, I don’t know, everyone was from what I call the ghetto of their house. I know they’re not from the ghetto, but I guess they grew up in the shitest room in their house. That was the connection. And I wasn’t allowed to show my feelings back then.

P: The box room?

A: Yeah. These kids tormented me when I was a little kid, I used to get thrown down the stairs by these fucking meatheads that went to my school. I broke my leg once, which is weird because ever since I started playing music I’ve become absolutely impervious to injury. That’s what surprised me about when I busted my ankle the other night, because I consider myself to be invincible. I’ve learnt now I am not invincible but it’s just like Achilles had his heel, I have an Achilles ankle. But this shit has already healed in like one day and I’m ready to rock the arse offa Cork, Ireland where they make Murphy’s which I do believe is better than Guinness. I do believe Murphy’s is a superior recipe and I’m not scared to say it.

The discussion turns from stout beers to Picasso and his love of sailor’s outfits. Green states his desire to acquire a similar look, before explaining his love of military chic

A: I just bought some Russian sailors’ shirts from this old Nazi but he was so nice, he didn’t even know he was a Nazi; it was as if he didn’t know.

P: You like military chic, you have that East German jacket on the ‘Jacket Full Of Danger’ album sleeve.

A: I enjoy it. I was thinking about making a line of Military Jackets from tweeny-girls called Little Pervert. Now that the wall is down, I don’t fucking fuck with western any more, it’s all east for me! When I go to Germany, east! I love hanging out in busted out warehouses filled with rubble and propaganda.

P: How is it going in Germany now?

A: I think they’ve turned their back on me slightly, but it’s not a full turn. When ‘Gemstones’ came out – and I think this will surprise people in England because it wasn’t well received over there or in the States – it was so incredibly well received that it created an impossible standard or expectation that nobody could fulfil. Then I put out ‘Jacket Full Of Danger’ only nine months later because I was on a roll I thought, but that was the start of the backlash in Germany, ‘oh is he only going to do more of this’. The irony is it’s one of those records is really influenced by Germany. Like ‘The Idiot’ from Iggy. It’s just one of those German records that are really dark, people will like it one day. Recording that record is when I turned bisexual and I never looked back.”

Then we’re on to Green’s recent tour, with the singer recounting the experience of eating a Langos, a deep-fat fried mix of sour cream and garlic found at a Hungarian “gypsy festival”. The artery thickening national dish is just the first of a series of new influences Green is keen to embrace. He praises avant-garde Hungarian composer Goran Bregovic, Indonesia’s Gamelan Orchestra and Spanish dancer Jose Carrate. The latter blends Flamenco and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula and the Malaga dancer has clearly touched Green.

A:… Jose Carrete was the most intense guy I’ve ever seen onstage. He was like Beethoven’s ninth as a man.

P: Just through the sheer physicality of his performance?

A: He had this little pocket watch and chain, and he was a skeleton- like guy, he’s really old, like maybe in his 60s, grey hair all back, just this watch chain and vest and did this crazy creepy dance with these Dracula like hands and nobody spoke. There wasn’t a sound, he did it for 20 minutes and it was just mesmerising. I went and introduced myself to him after the show and he gave me his vest. I have the vest from that performance, it’s one of my most treasured possessions. He actually really inspired me by giving me the vest and made me realize that people should be giving more sentimental stuff to strangers. Like today I’ve been touring around with Yeasayer a lot and I really like them and find them really interesting. I was wearing this necklace and I realised it has two things, it has Baltimore and Pennsylvania on it and we were talking and I realised that’s where they are from as a band so I gave them the necklace, that’s how it should be.

P: Like the country music tradition of handing your guitar on to the newcomer.

A: I love that. I don’t know what it means I just think it’s a wonderful thing, especially when you spend half your life travelling. I keep that stuff, the relics and things, like I have a lyric sheet of ‘What A Waster’ that the Libertines wrote out for me so when I was recording it I would know all the words. I kept it.

Discussing his European tour further, Green produces a plastic bag of vinyl record’s he’s plundered from second hand shops while on the road.

A: That’s the thing about going to Europe a lot you get to raid record stores for records that you can’t really find in America. Look at this, I found it in a Berlin antique store: Alan Vega from Suicide’s solo album. Why were they selling it in an antique store? Anyway, one of the greatest things on this tour for the band was that we played a festival in France with The Stooges. We got to dance onstage with Iggy Pop. After the show he came up to me and said ‘I just saw the Juno movie and I was laughing because they sang your song really sincere and I always thought that song was more ridiculous’. I thought that was amazing that Iggy Pop had an opinion about the Moldy Peaches at all… and Juno. I would love to do a record with him, like co-write the songs and work on something like that. He’s one of those wonderful people, Iggy Pop, true blue one hundred percent. The Greatest ever.

P: Did you ever get any response from Bowie after offering to write a record for him.

A: No, I think Bowie is inundated with – well he’s working out a lot I think. My friend told me Bowie was working out at her gym. She was on the treadmill and all of a sudden Bowie comes right next to her and starts doing the elliptical. When she went back the next week he was right there again. I don’t know why Bowie wants to work out at the gym with the other gay people. That’s really strange. That being said I had a great idea for a Bowie record. It was a great, great idea that would have changed history. I’m not going to tell anyone he might take me up on it, he should. It’s his last great transformation and I figured it out and it’s right there waiting for him if he wants it.

P: Are you doing a record soon?

A: Yeah I am, when I get home that’s all I’m working on. I’ve recently rented an office in Williamsburg. So I’m going to be in my office which I’m going to cover in shit-brown velvet and I’ll hang on the wall a piece by Al Hanson. Also I’m going to hang a picture of Mandy Moore eating a meatless-hamburger at McDonalds. A big print of that. Then I’m just going to work from there. This one I’m going to spend some time on, my intention is for it to be a hundred days so this one is going to be real. I’m going off the deep end for this album, we’ll see what happens. I hope it’s the most fabulous record I’ve ever created.

P: Will you have your name frosted on the door, like a PI?

A: Yes. I need to soundproof this shit. It’s in a warehouse. I’m writing this novel where it’s set in medieval times called ‘The Court Jester’ so I’m trying to work on multiple things. I’m trying to finish that and also I’m doing an artshow with Cory Kennedy that is sort of Graffiti based.

P: How much work do you do a day?
A: Not enough (laughs).

P: Are you disciplined?
A: I’m on tour now so I’m drinking a lot of beer, but when I get home I’ll be regimented again. I look forward to it so much; I just want to be back in gay old New York in the Gay scene. I think if I was bisexual that’s when I’d make my best records.