In Steve Adey’s music, time seems to melt like a watch in a Dalì painting: a slow expansion where the echo of a whisper is enough sound to fill up the space of silence. Adey belongs to the same school of Mark Kozelek, Low, Dakota Suite: to him notes are like the secret rhythm of a heartbeat. The Edinburgh songwriter, who caught the attention in 2006 with the solemn and fascinating album “All Things Real”, bring us in a dimension made of winter landscapes, organ pipes and ancient naves, revealing some details about his second record, expected this year.
In this age where speed is the rule, where all the new things wear out in the time of a download, your music seems to belong to a different world, when time run in slow-motion indeed: your songs seems to slowly develop and also your records are quite rare. What does the concept of slowness means to you?
The slower the tempo, the more space you have to play within. The space between the notes is a very important part of this music. I hate to rush things at the best of times and sometimes it could be slower still. Yes, sure, I’m pleased the music slowly develops. My favourite records are usually like that.
In your first record you had two “important” songs covered - "Shelter From The Storm" by Bob Dylan and "I See A Darkness" by Bonnie "Prince" Billy - through which you demonstrated a truly originality in interpretation. More recently you realized a cover, effective just as the same, of "Everything In Its Right Place" by Radiohead. In your opinion what’s the key to really make someone else’s song your own?
The key is firstly, not to be afraid to take chances and, probably even more importantly, to have a good reason. On "Shelter From The Storm" I went for a big shift in tempo and dynamic – a dramatic change – but kept it understated also. "Everything In Its Right Place" was more Doug MacDonald’s (the guitarist’s) idea. He played banks of acoustic tracks – about 10 I think - and then I selected different parts and mixed them. I played an organ, feeding back (just one note) on the bridge and I put down the vocals quickly. It was an unusual approach, because normally I start with piano.
There is no songwriter who didn’t try to challenge himself with a Bob Dylan song: is it because of his fame or do you think it has something to do with the core of Dylan’s songwriting?
More to do with the songwriting, for sure. With Dylan, the lyrics are always an important factor and the challenge is to get the delivery right – to channel the words and not fuck it up. There is always a great sense of fluidity with his writing – pure genius. It isn’t best to consider too much when doing his songs: wait until after and then diagnose it. I recorded an (unreleased) album of Dylan songs before it was fashionable and I learned a lot from that experience.
The songs you compose have a sort of cinematographic perspective and the videoclips of "Find The Way", "Mississippi" and the new "Burning Fields" all have a very suggesting atmosphere. What’s the relationship between music and image, in your opinion?
I’m concerned with the music, almost solely, when I’m making it – but then it’s very interesting using film to take it someplace else. We’ve done some interesting things so far, but I would love to get into it more. You know, really go for it with different people involved. Collaboration is the thing.
"Death To All Things Real" it’s the opening song of your first record and it’s also the inspiration for its title: the death you’re talking of is contradiction to life or maybe the sign of a mysterious essence that embodies “all things real”?
Both. Yes, I like real things, of course, and the title is more ironic and self deprecating.
Another song of "All Things Real", "Mississippi", refers to Jeff Buckley’s death; he was an artist that relied more upon the intensity of the interpretation than upon the songwriting itself; do you feel like you have a similar approach?
He possessed an immense voice – both technically and emotionally – an amazing facility. He could take someone else’s song to another level. It has to be said that his writing was also very important. "Grace" is finely balanced between well chosen covers and Buckley’s own songs. I like this idea of composing much of the music, but throwing in two or three covers.
A lot of your songs are recorded within ancient churches. What kind of fascination do this thing have on you and what relationship does it have with your music?
The acoustic is an important thing for me and increasingly so with the new LP where most of band performances are recorded in a big room - the gallery of a church. Also, you get good togetherness in a church – there is usually a better feeling and a more homogenous core to the proceedings.
These old churches were built with great human endeavour and it feels perfectly natural to be creating music in this way. I like this way of recording much more so than going into a generic studio.
We take some minimal recording equipment – mics, pre amps – we set up and go for it. Probably 80% of this new record was recorded this way.
"All Things Real" was recorded in Longformacus, in the Scottish Borders – miles away from anywhere. I went for the same approach then. We set everything up and hired an expensive piano, but it was fairly problematic. It was the middle of winter, the instruments didn’t like the extreme cold and we couldn’t feel our fingers most of the time, so we recorded the majority of it in a rented cottage just up the road.
Your songwriting sounds more American than European: what relationship do you have with your musical roots?
American music is an important influence, of course. I used to live in the United States also and I would say that was a major influence.
What hit you so much in the artistic personality of Mary Margareth O'Hara that pushed you to dedicate her a song?
I was a big fan of the "Miss America" LP. The songwriting on that album was very interesting to me, but the voice was something else. I’d never really heard anything like that before – mesmerizing and beautiful – but yet really edgy.
Some artists made out some remix of your song "Mississippi". How did the idea was born and what’s your opinion about remixes in general?
I was aware of Kramer, initially, through his work with the band Low and the Second Shimmy label. I was talking with Tim (from Sweet Billy Pilgrim) about working on something for a while. The same goes for Peter Chilvers (A Marble Calm).
I thought it would be an usual song to put forward for remix. It’s an anti single – a throw-back to the typical single idea. It was a little unusual in that I only gave them the lead vocal and piano tracks. Normally a remix engineer would have at least 24 tracks to work with, but in this case it was just two. So they had a very skeletal frame to work from.
I’m open to reinterpreting songs – whether it is a re-recording or a remix from the original track.
In which way your music is affected by your former experience as a sound engineer?
It’s good in that I can realize ideas in a hands-on way. For example, if I want to get a specific sound, I have a fairly good idea how to achieve that without having to explain it to an engineer.
I have a small collection of microphones and some minimal equipment that I use. For this new record, the process is very structured and disciplined. I’m producing it myself, but it feels more like a group - more so with this album than the first.
What does it take for a song to reach your soul?
I appreciate honesty and whatever moves me moves me. I couldn’t really explain that...
The record that changed your life.
The record I go back to time and time again is "Master And Everyone" by Bonnie “Prince” Billy. It works on many different levels. Beautiful melodies and arrangements and the singing is effortless with every supporting note carefully thought about so there is nothing that doesn’t work. I love everything about that record.
What do we have do expect from the new record planned for this year?
A good record, I hope! Something that is a little different too. I’m totally into songs, but I’m going against the whole singer-songwriter movement. I’ve nothing against people who are doing that, but it isn’t for me.
With the initial recording I was going for a band playing live in a room, then we recorded strings and I started tracking. It’s a big sound with an interesting production, but then some of it came together quickly and is pretty much untouched. The voice and lyric is more to the fore this time. I’m looking forward to the final mixing, and then, mastering: that’s where the record is fully realized - an exciting time.