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.