Adam Sewell, known as the leading man for Juno-winning Monster Voodoo Machine, has just released a new album under Def Con Sound System. He’s worked with and produced for several artists including Simone Denny of Love Inc., but this time he’s gone solo. Adam sat down with RX Music to chat about the new album. why it took so long to come out, his influences and working with Simone Denny among other things.
RX Music LIVE: Talk to me about the journey. How did it all start?
Adam: I wish that there was an easy answer for it. I suppose the real genesis of this album goes back to probably 1982 or 1983. This is the record that I had wanted to make when I was very young. I was 11 or 12 at that time and I just had no talent or ability of any kind to make something like this happen. I’ve been on this sort of long crazy musical journey over the past 30 years or so and I finally got to the point about 10 years ago where I just sort of put my nose to the grindstone and said ‘damn it I’m going to make that record that I always wanted to make,’ knowing that it was going to be very eclectic and incorporate a lot of juxtaposing styles of music and influences and things. It wasn’t necessarily going to be easy and I also felt like there really wasn’t a blueprint for what I wanted to do.
So, you know just from having to put my head down and get busy on it and luckily the exact same friends that I had back in 1982 and 1983 who I was playing music with, they play on the majority of the record as well.
Unfortunately, it took so long because a couple of us got pulled aside and we did the Simone Denny solo album a few years ago and we’ve all been involved with other projects as well.
RX Music LIVE: So, getting the project out was a bit of a lengthy process being tied up in other projects, I assume it’s also something you don’t want to rush.
Adam: It’s just been really hard. Life sometimes throws weird curveballs at you and you start out doing one thing and it has a tendency to sort of pull you in a different direction or sidetrack you for long periods of time and with this project in particular that happened a lot in my life. And so, you know if I found a little bit of time here or there over the years to work on songs or ideas, that’s how it really came together. Also, looking at Simone Denny’s solo record, the genesis of that record was this one. There were a number of songs that ended up on her solo record that were intended for this album. I had asked her to come and sing on Silver Bullets and she loved what she’d heard and said, ‘let’s make a record for me!”. So, you know we took those songs and spun them out into a full album for her but unfortunately that sort of left me having to pick up the pieces and then try to rebuild Silver Bullets.
RX Music LIVE: How was it working with Simone? What did you learn from her?
Adam: It was probably the greatest musical education I’ve ever had. I love Simone. She’s one of the greatest vocalists that Canada’s ever produced. To know her is to love her. It’s a weird thing knowing that you aren’t writing for yourself that you’re writing specifically for somebody else and somebody else can really sort of veto ideas that you may think are great and they may not love and you have to keep your ego in check. Also, I think the other thing is that when you write for yourself sometimes you become too close to the songs and you may not have that quality control meter set at 11 and you may think something’s great and other people may hate it. For Simone, there’s a built-in audience there and people who are paying very close attention to what she was doing. So, you had to really make sure that the song structures and the ideas and everything were as good as they could possibly be. She is wonderful in that she was very encouraging and really gave us a lot of support through the process of working on that record for her.
RX Music LIVE: She does have a voice of gold.
Adam: Unbelievable. You can hear her all over Silver Bullets as well. The layering and the vocals that she added, especially to a song like “Fool’s Gold”. That’s exactly how I’d always envisioned the song and for her to realize that for me was great.
RX Music LIVE: You collaborated with Jon Drew for this album. Did working with Jon relieve the pressure of having to make so many decisions knowing you’re in the hands of such a reputable producer?
Adam: (Laughs) You know Jon and I have a weird relationship. We’ve done a lot of co-productions over the years on a few projects and remixes for other artists and bands and you know, there are times I wish Jon would beat up on me a lot more than he does. I know how Jon is with a lot of other artists and sometimes I wish he would be that way with me. Jon lets me get a look get away with a lot of stuff. That said, I absolutely love working with him. Jon is one of very few people in the world who has the capacity and patience and vision to really help a klutz like me make sense of everything and I love him for it.
RX Music LIVE: Since the album was supposed to come out so long ago, with the music industry constantly evolving, did that change your approach to making it from when you first started?
Adam: Not at all. I’ve worked in the industry for decades, so I work primarily in artist management and with international record labels all over the world so I’m very aware of all these little changes and what people are looking for and how the industry changes. If you’re a commercial artist, then yes, pay attention to all of that as you’re making a record. If you’re going for as a Top 40 single and videos everywhere then sure, pay attention to that. I’m very aware of the fact that the record I was making is very non-commercial that’s going to have, at best, a cult following and it’s not the kind of thing that Billboard is going to care about or anything. It’s a very bizarre record and there was no point in paying attention to anything, and that was the most freeing thing about it.
RX Music LIVE: Is there a song on the album that sticks out to you for any specific reason?
Adam: Not really. That whole album is exactly what I wanted it to be. For that reason, every song is very special to me. There are certainly highlights on the record with a song like “Fool’s Gold” where I got to play with childhood friends, and I got to sing with Simone on it and it came out in a way that I love it.
Then there are other songs like “Don’t You Come Around My Grave” which is a nasty downer but it’s incredibly personal in a lot of ways and same with “My Love Is the Dagger”, which is something that I don’t think anybody who knows me would have expected me to write a song like that and lyrically it’s very cutting and very direct but those things are incredibly personal to me.
I also love “Escape Through the Casino” and “Theme From Silver Bullets” which are just fun soundtrack-y kind of songs too.
RX Music LIVE: I read somewhere that you’re not a fan of listening to like full length records and you’re more so a soundtrack kind of guy. I found that very interesting. Is there a specific reason for that?
Adam: I’ve been a music fan since birth and I was very fortunate that I was born into a very musical family. All of my friends growing up were part of musical families as well. And so, full albums and bands and everything we’re a big part of my life since I was maybe 5 or 6 years old. I think because I’ve listened to so much music and so many records and I’ve worked in the music industry for so long, I’m kind of at this weird point my life I’m just not interested in that formula anymore where an artist essentially has 3 songs. They have their up-tempo song, their mid-tempo hit and then their ballad. An entire album nowadays has 12 to 15 versions of those 3 songs and that’s it. There’s no great experimentation and no real dynamic.
Sadly, that goes for underground artists straight up to mainstream artists. I’m far more excited about DJ production and Hip-Hop production than I am in anything Rock oriented.
To know what someone like RZA could do with The Man in the Iron Fist soundtrack, or David Holmes with did the Ocean’s 11, 12 and 13 films. Composers like that where you’re taking a little bit of a Rock and Roll foundation perhaps, but the orchestration and the experimentation within the actual song structures, and never knowing what it is that you’re going to hear from track to track to track. That, to me, is really important. If I put on an album today and I hear one song I don’t want to hear 12 versions of it. I need more than that.
RX Music LIVE: As you’re making this album, after you’re done writing and recording a song, how do you know that’s the version that’s going on the album for everyone to hear?
Adam: It’s a great question because that’s a problem that artists have now because recording is done digitally and there is no definitive version of a song or recording anymore, there’s just versions. I tend to get to a point with songs where I’m going to completely deconstruct everything if I keep going and pull it all apart and start over again. As soon as I get to that point that’s when I know to step away for a couple of months and not listen to it, then pull it out and if it sounds okay and I play it for a few people, and they seem to be cool with it, learn to live with it. Otherwise it would just drive you insane. The options are endless now. There are about 300 remixes of “Old Town Road” on the charts right now, and I’m not sure that the world needs it but that’ s where we’re at now.
RX Music LIVE: You said weren’t necessarily worried about the commercial side of it, but were there any specific classic artists or songs that you drew influence from for this album?
Adam: Yes and no. For me, The Clash are my favorite band of all time. If you look at their entire body of work, it’s a long road going from “White Riot” straight through to “Straight to Hell”. There’s a wide variety of music in there. Moving on to Big Audio Dynamite or the Joe Strummer solo stuff, that to me is really inspiring that they always stay eclectic. So, it would be great if some older Clash fans might hear a bit of what in what I’m doing.
RX Music LIVE: What’s next for you?
Adam: We’re filming a video tomorrow for “My Love Is the Dagger” and we’re doing another video a couple of weeks after that for “My Crooked, Crooked Teeth”. We’re also looking at starting to play live in November. I think one of the things I really wanted to do was let the music kind of circulate and breathe a little bit before going out. Doing any live shows just didn’t make any sense to me, playing to people who have absolutely no idea what to expect. So, I’m sort of purposely delaying doing anything live. But I’m excited about that because I haven’t performed in 5 years. I’m sort of working my way up to it.