Detroit Electro-Punk Duo ADULT.: “One of the most satisfying things about releasing work is helping create a community of likeminded individuals…”

Handmade collage by B.

ADULT. have been in existence for over two decades! Their darkwave, electronic, synthpunk is always interesting, always pushing boundaries and always reinventing itself. Towards the beginnings of isolation we caught up with ADULT.’s Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus from their home in Michigan to find out more about their eight studio album – Perception is/as/of Deception. Recorded in their basement, which they painted all black in an effort to deprive their senses and see what would come creatively, the result is a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, thrilling record!

How have you both been doing? I remember reading an interview with you from way back and you mentioned that you liked working isolation.

ADAM LEE MILLER: [Laughs] We do. We also enjoy knowing that there is going to be a very public part of our lives after the isolation.

NICOLA KUPERUS: We’re beginning to wonder; when is that public time for musicians?

I know it’s an interesting time. We’ve been hearing here in Australia that we might not see live music until 2021!

NK: Same!

ALM: Our European booking agent just nuked our tour that was supposed to be at the end of August.

On the brighter side, you’ve released this incredible new album – Perception is/as/of Deception – on Dais Records! It’s one of my favourites that you’ve made so far.

NK: Thank you! It really feels like someone pulled the rug out from under us with the cancelation of our tour.

You had the launch for the album online?

NK: Yeah.

ALM: Yeah, you know how it works, the record cycle for things is so far ahead, the way it’s planned. If the record label has to push ours back then they have to push everyone else’s back and no one knows when to push it back to, that’s the problem. If we knew it was going to last for four months then we could reschedule according to that. Our North American tour that was supposed to start next Thursday, we’ve rescheduled it three times! Now we’re trying to start October 5th in Boston, but we don’t even know if that will happen. Our Governor today sent out another emergency alert extending the quarantine. We have a very severe lockdown in Detroit, we’re not allowed to visit anyone. We were just watching some of our neighbours taking a walk in the rain a couple of nights ago.

NK: Everyone’s losing their fucking minds!

ALM: They didn’t take an umbrella and it was 36 degrees out [laughs].

Why do you love to create?

NK: I don’t know? I don’t know what else we would do! [laughs]. My entire life I’ve just been interested in making stuff. It doesn’t mean just music, it means creating your own world. No one has ever asked that before… it’s just something that’s innately in you.

ALM: When we started hanging out, that was one of the main things that we had in common, we both liked to make things. It’s not like we were going to a movie and make out point! [laughs]. It was let’s stay in and work on a photograph or something. When we started making music together—the rest is history!

What do you get from creating stuff?

NK: It’s just a satisfaction.

ALM: It’s a compulsion. It’s not always fun!

NK: [Laughs].

As an artist what are the things you value?

ALM: The work that we like the most is the work that has its own vocabulary; the work that you know is always that person’s work. I get satisfaction when we’re making work like that. One of the most satisfying things about releasing work is helping create a community of likeminded individuals that feel like they can have a space place outside of society that we can all feel together in. I’m satisfied when the work is very against what we feel is wrong.

NK: It’s interesting because I think in 2008, we were basically fed up with the music industry and the way things were shifting. We were really burnt out! So we said, fuck it! We didn’t make a public announcement and we also didn’t say to ourselves that it would be forever; we said, we don’t want to do it anymore, the way that we’d been doing it. We actually made a short film and did construction work. We did construction work for money for three years. It’s 12 to 14 hour days of hard labour!

ALM: The work we was making wasn’t satisfying us.

NK: What that did was allow us to recharge and revaluate. It makes you realise that for us making visual work and making music it’s something that’s unavoidable, we can’t stop doing it for whatever reason.

I understand that. No matter what job I do and no matter what I try, I always end up coming back to doing interviews and making zines. I guess something inside you just tells you that it’s your passion, so do it! Like you were saying just before, you feel compelled to do it.

I really love the title of your new album Perception is/as/of Deception. Looking at it made me think; how do I say it? It has options.

ALM: Those lyrics are in the song ‘Total Total Damage’. I don’t see the words before Nicola starts singing them, she was rehearsing and I asked her if I could see those lyrics and we both got talking about how interesting it was… when it’s written as more say a poem on paper, you start seeing if/as/of all together. We thought it would be a great t-shirt if it said: is/as/of. That was before we had an album title. We drew it and put it on the wall and just kept looking at it thinking it was a cool image, somehow that then became the title. It came from designing merch, we weren’t trying to design merch thoug; it was just inspired from one medium to the other. I don’t know a lot of bands that have titles that can be read in different ways.

NK: Choose your own adventure! [laughs].

I love that it made me stop and think. I love words and new ways of looking at them. I’ve worked in libraries for the last twenty years so I read a lot; I’m a total word nerd. It’s really cool what you’ve done with the title.

NK: That’s great! It’s interesting too because it’s the first time in our history of albums that we have not actually put the text on the proper album jacket, so it’s just an image for the album art. I like that too because is/as/of; what does this mean? There is no title in the traditional sense of how titles normally are on the front cover.

I think that makes you more curious to want to know what it is, all you have to go on is the image. It makes you want to open up the sleeve and check out the record or go online to learn more about it, it becomes a different level of interactive experience.

When you recorded the LP I understand that you made it in your basement, painting the whole room black to use sensory deprivation to see where that would lead; where did you get this idea from?

NK: I’m not really certain where the moment was that the idea came to me. I was reading Aldous Huxley The Doors Of Perception and I was thinking of how interesting it is that he was taking LSD to intensify his visual writing experience. I was thinking sonically; what could you do to intensify your experience? What would make you use your ears more? I was thinking about spaces that were just visually void, that’s what led me to do this to our basement; what would it be like to be in this space that is visually void? What would it do to the sound? What would it do to how we’re feeling?

ALM: The basement was, we’re talking walls black, floors black, no windows, lights on dimmers, it was extremely dark. The record we wrote before called This Behavior we also worked in isolation up in a cabin in northern Michigan, in February when the temperature was -14 and there was two-feet of snow in the Great Lake. There were big plates of ice from the lake shifting on top of each other. We were in a beautiful knotty wood cabin with glass windows overlooking on this small cliff, it was cold, outside was beautiful, but you couldn’t go out there; you were isolated with a view. It had the complete opposite effect. This is just when we do the demo process… it was done in the summer for this album, you had this beautiful outside that was warm enough to go out but this time you couldn’t even see it.

Did anything surprise you about the experience of recording in these conditions?

NK: It was really hard. It was really exciting at first but then it just became like… wow! To go into that environment day after day after day for however many months… it’s funny because it’s a problem that you put on yourself, you created the circumstance, you don’t have to stay in it. That’s kind of the way we are though, we’re gonna do it and labour through it.

ALM: We’re changing the formula so we don’t repeat ourselves. It’s so easy for some bands after 20 years where you’re just like… oh, that’s the new Ministry single, it came out today and I heard it and really liked it and I was trying to tell Nicola why. I guess it’s ‘cause I liked it because it sounded like how they sounded ten years ago, that’s not a reason to like it. Anyways, we’re always just trying not to repeat ourselves so if we don’t follow our own rules then we’re not…

NK: We’re not pushing ourselves.

What mood were you in when making the album?

ALM: Well, super happy! [laughs]. Just kidding! It did start to really wear on you to go down there… we’d come up for lunch and be like, oh man, it’s so nice up here! I don’t want to have to go back down into the black hole! Once you were there, time was not an issue. We didn’t bring our phones down. There was just no sense of time, that was something that was amazing. You can get into routines. You’d come up from downstairs and suddenly it would be night-time or there’d be a thunderstorm. A song like ‘Total Total Damage’ was one of the last songs we wrote. I think that’s interesting how you can take a song like ‘Untroubled Mind’ which is one of the early songs along with ‘Second Nature’ and they have a lighter feel, as the record proceeds you get more into…

NK: Tension. Frustration.

I got that when I was listening to it. As the album unfolds I feel we’re along with you for the journey and we get a real insight into where you were at/what you were going through when making it. At the start you have ‘We Look Between Each Other’ like things are exciting at the start and then you get to the middle portion of the album there’s more frustration and by the time you get to the end you have ‘Untroubled Mind’… the synth parts in that one really soar!

ALM: [Laughs]. Thank you.

It’s like you’re ending on a happy note. The LP feels really introspective to me.

NK: When we put an album together we always try to work really hard on there being a journey you’re taking through the album. I do feel like it’s something we’ve done three times, where the end song… I don’t want to say that ‘Untroubled Mind’ is a meditation but, I think it has a relief from the rest of the album. I feel like it’s the song that’s most different from the other songs on the record, it almost has a coda, or a final thought that it’s saying. We did that on Why Bother?, the last song ‘Harvest’ it sounds like bees in a lawnmower almost; it has a strange meditation to me. On Detroit House Guests the last song [‘As You Dream’] on that with Michael Gira, feels like it’s a total “Namaste” wrap up song.

ALM: Just a little trivia on that song, we have this rule that you have to write the whole song in two to three days and if you haven’t got it by then you have to leave it. We could not get that song to go anywhere because it’s a really strange sequence line for us. It was the third day and it was getting late and I said, we just have to document what we have and move on! Nicola was like, ‘yeah, you’re right’. Then she just got on the delay pedal and went on over to the PRO-1 and wrote it. I was like, holy shit! You just finished the demo at the eleventh hour!

It’s my favourite track on the album. I love how it leaves things on a positive note and there’s a real freeness about it. It makes me curious as to where you’ll go next.

NK: I love that! That’s really nice,

ALM: Thank you.

Your record has been making me really happy while in isolation.

NK: The most amazing thing about music compared to visual art is that it is something that everyone can have, it’s out there. A painting is a painting on a wall, you can’t really…

ALM: Experience that on the internet.

I wanted to talk about your film clip for song ‘Why Always Why’. At the start of the clip there’s a quote from GJ Ballard’s book Millennium People: At times you feel like you’re living someone else’s life, in a strange house you’ve rented by accident. Why did you chose this quote?

ALM: We went through four billion quotes! [laughs]. We wanted to make sure that we don’t lead the audience that they feel what they want to feel and look into the work but we also felt the work could have a reading that was a critique of individual humans and their individual behaviours. It was more about us not feeling a part of this world. It was a way to gently say…

NK: That this is a foreshadowing of what you’re going to watch.

I love how in the film clip you’re at the mall and at Home Depot. I’s really fun!

NK & ALM: [Laughter].

ALM: It was so funny, we shot it in Florida. We shot it all on an iPhone. It was funny watching people, everyone was in shorts and flip flops, and we come in with full leather! People are like ‘what the fuck are these people doing!’ [laughs].

NK: It was entertaining.

It was funny too because the way your music is and how you dress etc. is a real juxtapose from the environment you were in. It gives that feeling of being out of place and out of step with the rest of the world.

NK: Certainly.

I especially love the bit where Adam, you’re standing in the foreground just looking at the camera and then there’s kids in the background on trampolines!

ALM & NK: [Laughter].

ALM: We actually went back the next day to get that shot. It felt funny because… we didn’t want it to be me standing there being like, I hate you people! Its more just, I don’t understand what’s going on behind me… you took your kids indoors to play on stuff that should be outdoors, you have no idea of the safety rating on this!

I know that feeling sometimes, like I go to the shops or a café and you’ll hear the conversations of people around you and you think, wow! I really am different from most people.

NK: Absolutely!

ALM: It’s funny how people would love to stare at us but the minute we stare back at them they’d be like, ‘oh shit!’ and run [laughs].

It’s funny how we can be more accepting of other people even if they’re not into what we are but then on the flip side, they can’t accept us. It’s so weird.

NK: It’s totally true!

I also love the ‘Total Total Damage’ film clip too. I know you built that set. It’s fun how Nicola is completely destroying the set and Adam, you’re just crouched down in the middle of it all totally calm. What were you thinking of in that moment to stay calm and in the zone?

ALM: You should see the very first time she swung the sledgehammer about an inch from my head! I grabbed her leg and was like; what are you doing?! [laughs]. Once that was established…

NK: There’s a lot of trust!

ALM: We always say, that if we die on an aeroplane going to a show or on stage or making a music video… well, there’s a lot of worse ways to go [laughs].

I’ve noticed in both film clips lampshades make an appearance.

NK: I think a lot of our visual work deals with domesticity and domestic situations and ritual.

ALM: We also love that the idiot always puts the lampshade on their head! [laughs]. We’ve used it in a lot of our video visuals…. we did a performance piece with Dorit Chrysler at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York; she’s a theremin player from Austria. We created a performance piece together called We’re Thinking About These Lamps. Nicola put contact mics on a bunch of lamps, while Dorit and I performed music, Nicola played lamps. We’re always just playing on putting the domestic into a public situation, which has a lot to do with being in isolation and going out into the public.

It’s so cool that you both work across so many different mediums whether it’s music, visual art, performance art, film, photography or whatever.

ALM: When you work in a different medium you suddenly perceive things differently. You start to see what you’re really talking about and maybe not what’s superficial.

NK: Everything starts informing each other. If you start getting burnt out on music… really I think that back in 2008 that was the big problem that we were only doing music and we weren’t doing visual work, that’s why we had to stop. When we started back up again we knew we had to have a better balance of visual and music because otherwise it becomes too one-sided and it’s not interesting and it’s not inspiring.

Are there any books that you’ve read that have had a profound impact on you?

ALM: That would be the Holy Bible and The Art Of The Deal by Donald Trump! [laughs].

NK: [Laughs] Oh geeze! We have a lot of books and I read a lot of books but I don’t have something that’s become a staple.

ALM: It depends on what kind of inspiration we’re looking for.

Are you working on anything else now?

NK: Oh, yeah. We’re working on our live set.

ALM: Which is so hard because we want to work on it and we’ve rebuilt what the live rig is, obviously there’s tons of new songs in the set but, you just don’t know when you’re gonna do it. It’s such a strange feeling! I’ve always been more of a deadline orientated artist. It’s going well though.

NK: I’m actually working on… going into the isolation and lockdown and “shelter in place” it really brought up the realisation of how many songs throughout the past 25 years of working, how appropriate the lyrics are for this time and moment in our lives. I’ve been working on the idea of working on a book that’s the lyrics of these songs but, it’s more in form of a poetry book… also doing a recording of the words. I’ve been researching about poets who cross the line between visual artist, and music… it’s a whole new inspiration and world that I’m learning about. It’s exciting!

Anything else you’d like to tell me or add?

ALM: When I got the email from you, Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie zine… our album is called Gimmie Trouble, it comes from the [Black Flag] song ‘Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie’… I asked Nicola if we could spell the title that way because when I was fourteen I grew up in a small town in Indiana and a future friend moved up from Atlanta. I was like; how do you know about all this weird music I want to hear but can’t find it anywhere? He said his older brother had lots of that stuff and would make me a tape. The next day he brought me a tape which was my first tape; side A was Everything Went Black by Black Flag and side B was Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame. I always say to this day that, that’s who I am as a musician  because of that tape, I have both parts in me!

Please check out: ADULT. / ADULT. bandcamp / Perception is/as/of Deception out on Dais Records.

Claire Birchall’s Running In Slow Motion: “It’s a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality & a dream… you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream”

Melbourne musician Claire Birchall is set to release album Running In Slow Motion April 24th through It Records. It’s a moody, emotive, darkwave synth-pop collection of songs that Claire wrote and recorded herself on a 4-track, and is a departure from her usual indie rock exploits. Today we’re premiering the album’s title track which sounds somewhere between UK band Broadcast, France’s Marie Davidson and the Australian cult classic “Cold Café” by Karen Marks. We chatted with Claire about Running In Slow Motion and her musical journey.

Tell us a little bit about your music journey.

CLAIRE BIRCHALL: I grew up in a musical family down the coast, just outside of Geelong. Dad and Mum both played guitar and sang, and they bought a piano when my sister Bec and I were quite young, so we got lessons. Dad also taught us both how to play guitar, which quickly became our favoured instrument. By high school, I was already playing guitar constantly, joined my first band, and also did some busking in the Geelong mall in the summertime.

My high school music room had a cassette 4-track that I was fascinated with. I borrowed it once, and was completely smitten.  I ended up buying one myself at age 17, and got hooked on home recording, churning out tapes that I would swap with friends. Through recording, I started trying out as many different instruments as I could get my hands on, and ended up picking up a bit of drums, bass, mandolin and other things. I finally properly released my debut album, the acoustic based Captain Captain in 2001, which I played most of the instruments on.  The album did pretty well on community radio, and got some great support from RRR and PBS in particular.

I formed my own band, Paper Planes, which started out playing the songs from Captain Captain.  I’m not sure how, but we gradually morphed into a full tilt rock band. We got some decent support slots over the years, Magic Dirt, Catpower, Ed Kuepper, Band Of Horses….  We also released a self titled album, and two 7” singles (all recorded at the legendary Birdland Studios) which were all quite well received. Also around the same time as Paper Planes, my partner (Matt Green) and I, formed country rock band the Happy Lonesome, which I still play in today.  Though I started out on guitar in that band, then moved to keys and mandolin, and back to guitar, these days I’m the drummer!

After Paper Planes I released two solo albums, both recorded on the 4-track (PP and Electricity), then formed another band, Claire Birchall the Phantom Hitchhikers, to launch Electricity.  Though it wasn’t properly discussed or intended to be a full time band, we really hit it off, and we’ve been playing ever since.  We released our debut single, “All That Matters (it’s Christmas time)” in 2016, then our debut album Nothing Ever Gets Lost in 2017, and we’ve played a hell of a lot of shows. Also unintentional, was the small break the Phantom Hitchhikers ended up having towards the end of 2018, which unusually took me to this synth pop place I’m in now.

You’re more known for your rock, guitar-based music; what inspired you to make a synth record Running In Slow Motion by yourself on 4-track in your bedroom?

CB: It was a bit of an accident really. My band mates (the Phantom Hitchhikers) were pretty busy with various things at the time, and it was getting hard to get everyone together. I got an idea for a song one day, and decided to get out my old 4-track and demo it, for something to do.  Using my Casio keyboard for drums, and laying down a simple keyboard line, it somehow didn’t feel like it needed much guitar. The song was “Dead Air”, which turned out being the first single from the album. I liked the relative sparseness of the recording compared to my usual wall of sound, fuzz rock stuff, and it kicked off the inspiration for more writing and recording.

I wasn’t planning on making an album, but I got more and more addicted to experimenting with the new sound and returning to my roots of recording on the old 4-track.  It was really refreshing to step away from the guitar and sit there at my Casio, get a beat and a keyboard line going and write a song.  It completely changed my way of writing, and got me away from using the same old guitar chords/rhythms etc. Before I knew it, I was programming beats on a drum machine, scouring my collection of dinky little keyboards for cool sounds, and recording at every spare minute.  I ended up writing and recording the entire album in just a few months (plus a few songs to spare!).

What vision did you have for the record?

CB: It just happened.  But as I got further into recording, things started to take shape. I felt like the Casio keyboard drums weren’t sounding punchy enough on a few songs I’d already recorded, and maybe sounded a little too lo-fi. So I re-recorded a couple of them with programmed drum machine instead, and it really gave the songs the kick they needed. I instantly got hooked on programming my own beats, it’s so much fun. I then started digging the idea of getting the most hi-fi sounding recordings out of my lo-fi 4-track.  And I liked the idea of minimal tracks, minimal instrumentation, to let the songs talk without clogging them up with a million overdubs. I wanted to write the sort of songs that’d get stuck in your head. Pop songs.  I agonised over the track list for ages, cutting quite a few that weren’t up to scratch to make the poppiest catchy album I could muster. I can’t help that it’s pretty dark too, I’ve always had a little of that in my songwriting.

We’re premiering the third single, title track, “Running In Slow Motion”; what’s the song about?

CB: The song came together super quickly, and I used a little old cream coloured Yamaha keyboard for the drums. I still think the song’s got one of the best drum sounds on the whole album. It sounded kind of eerie, and I guess that inspired the eerie lyrics. It’s kind of a nightmare song. A waking nightmare, or a blurred line between reality and a dream, where people’s faces become distorted and turn into something/someone you don’t know. And you’re trying to escape your demons or run away from monsters, but you can’t scream, and you can only manage to run in slow motion.  It’s crazy how fitting it is to be releasing such a nightmarish song right at this point in time, when the whole world is truly living in a nightmare.

What was the best things about working alone on your new collection of songs?

CB: As much as I adore my band and bandmates and what they bring to my songs, there’s something to be said about being able to completely follow through with your sole vision for a song. When I write, I often instantly get ideas for multiple instrument parts, not just guitar or vocals, so it’s interesting to try and lay it all down just as I hear it in my head.

Also, I just love recording on the 4-track. Time absolutely flies by. I forget to eat, to drink water, anything. I just get so engrossed and obsessed. Often I’d write and record the whole song in one night, and end up with a tangle of leads and equipment all over the floor. I really love getting into that headspace, where the inspiration is positively flowing and you don’t want to waste time packing up anything, you’ve just got to keep going. I love the no bullshit simplicity of recording on the 4-track, it allows me to be completely spontaneous.

What was the most challenging?

CB: Definitely the mixing. I lost track of how many hours/days/months I spent doing that! I mix down from the cassette 4-track onto the computer, and then occasionally I’ll add some extra bits and pieces there.  Some of this involved tedious synching up and cutting/pasting individual tracks loaded in from the 4-track.  Plus, I’m so used to doing more lo-fi stuff, where the vocals are a little more buried. I had to work really hard on getting the vocals to stick out and sound more present and poppy. This involved double tracking, FX, and plenty of other little “secret” tricks. 

As a songwriter how do you feel you’ve grown while continuing to evolve, making a different kind of album than what your listeners are used to? Do you feel you took a risk?

CB: Even though I hadn’t made a synth-pop album before, I don’t really feel like I’ve strayed too much into the unknown. Every album I’ve ever done has been different from the previous one. I’ve experimented with all kinds of different sounds, instruments, and recording techniques over the years. Being a multi-instrumentalist really lends itself to experimentation. Plus I’ve got a pretty diverse taste in music. My first album, Captain Captain was a real acoustic guitar based album, totally different to my next one, which was the debut full tilt rock album with my band, Paper Planes. There’s also hints of my keyboard/programmed drums leanings throughout all of my solo albums. That being said, this is a very different sounding album, sure. It’s the first one that is a dedicated synth/drum machine album. But I think it still sounds like me.

What are some things you do to nurture your creativity?

CB: I absolutely always carry a notebook with me. It’s so great having an abundance of snippets of ideas to flick through when I’m stuck for ideas/lyrics.  I’ve pieced together many a song from individual lines I’ve written in that book.

I also think it’s also incredibly important to not force creativity. I try not to get too worried if I have a dry spell and don’t get inspired to write any new songs for a while. Sometimes it’s good to have a break, clear your head. The songs come when they’re ready.

You’ve played with Kim Salmon; what’s something you’ve learnt from working with him?

CB: You know, I was really quite scared that I wasn’t going to be capable of playing the stuff that I needed to be able to play with Kim. Some of the guitar stuff I felt was completely out of my league!  He really is an incredible guitarist.  I couldn’t believe he was trusting in me to pull this off!  But I worked my arse off, rehearsing by myself at home. I rehearsed more than I’d ever rehearsed for anything in my life. And incredibly I got it together. I surprised even myself. And it goes to show, you really shouldn’t write yourself off and think you’re not capable of something that looks hard and scary, cause it can turn out totally fine and you can have so much fun!

Kim’s taught me heaps. He’s the ultimate professional, but doesn’t like to over-rehearse to the point where you’re “wasting it all up” and losing the spark. I love that, I really agree with that. I love being kept on my toes when I play with him.  It keeps it super exciting and fun. I’m always grinning so much on stage with him. He’s a super lovely guy, he’s great to his fans, talks to everyone, signs stuff, all that. It’s no surprise that people really love him.

Why is making music important to you?

CB: I’ve been doing it for so long, I don’t know how not to do it!  It’s essential for my soul, my wellbeing.  I feel incredibly lucky to be able to write songs, especially when they feel like they’ve simply fallen out of the sky like a gift from the gods. You can’t ignore that shit, you’ve got to see it through. Music has also allowed me to play with and connect with so many wonderful and talented people over the years. I’m currently playing in multiple bands/projects, two of which I play drums in (The Happy Lonesome, and Teresa Duffy-Richards & the Fifty Foot Women), plus the Phantom Hitchhikers, my solo synth thing, and Kim’s band. It’s hectic, but I wouldn’t give this up for the world.  My life would not be the same without it.

Please check out: Claire Burchill. It Records. Claire on Facebook. Claire on Instagram.