Former member of experimental/indie project The Moldy Peaches, the enigmatic Adam Green has been going it solo for the past four years. His latest release, Jacket Full of Danger, is a daring collection of songs that defy the too boring title of “folk.” His deep baritone has colors of Leonard Cohen and Jim Morrison, and his simple melodies would sound comfortable in the days of Frank Sinatra. I gave Adam a call after his brief tour in Europe (where he’s popular enough to have made the cover of Rolling Stone, by the way) and talked about gigs he played as an 11 year old, getting fired from Starbucks, and why he needs to come play a show in Florida!
So, you just got back from Europe. How’d that go?
Uh… I don’t know. It wasn’t a good one, because of the circumstances. I missed a lot of shows, people got sick, bus broke down.
Well, that sucks.
Yeah… but I want to go back so bad.
First off, I want to let you know that I love your cd- and I’m not bullshitting. You know, when I first got your cd, I kind of tossed it aside ’cause the whole singer/songwriter thing has gotten a bit played out, and I just didn’t think I’d be into it. One day I put it on anyway, to give it a chance, and I was like ‘HOLY SHIT!’ I loved it! You have such a unique voice, and great lyrics…
Thank you, very much!
Yeah, I totally dug it, so I’m glad that we were finally able to match up schedules and have a chat.
Well, anything you want to know- I’ll tell you!
Why do you think the ‘solo artist’ has such a negative stigma surrounding it these days?
Oh, I don’t know. There aren’t a lot of solo rock singers, you know. There are just these like solo pop, folk pop… I really don’t listen to any of that.
So what do you listen to? Your inspirations seem to come from all over the place.
Yeah, a lot of old music. Sly Stone… Roy Orbison… Howlin’ Wolf… Wanda Jackson… I listen to Bikini Kill… and also Iggy Pop. And a lot of newer folk singer type people, anti-folk dudes from NY like Jeffrey Lewis, Turner Cody, Diane Clark. They’re very poetic. I love old music, I also like The Strokes. I don’t know, I always have my ears out, but I like to also make up my own music a lot. Make some kind of a soundtrack so that I don’t need to listen to so much music from everybody.
Do you feel like you were born in the wrong decade, since a lot of your inspirations are from decades back?
No, I don’t think so (laughs). Oh, and I really like The Misfits and The Ramones.
Do you remember the moment when you first decided you wanted to somehow be involved with music?
Well, I’ve been writing songs since I was 11. I used to play the piano. I remember getting into the guitar because I knew you could write songs on it… but that wasn’t when I was 11, I don’t know what I was thinking. But I remember when I got a guitar, writing songs on it before I could play very well. I used to go, I used to have a gig every week at a coffee shop in my town, my mom would drive me.
This was when you were 11?
Yeah- 11,12. I played some covers like Hank Williams, traditional American folk music like Mississippi John Hurt, and Leadbelly. Also I’d do some originals that I wrote, some of which was Nirvana-ish (laughs). You know, some of it was- I guess it was almost like old rock, or something.
How do you approach playing to a large crowd, as opposed to playing to a small club audience? Is it a different experience, or is a crowd just a crowd? Like doing a solo show in a small club and then touring with The Strokes and playing bigger venues.
Well, I mean, I’ve played for all different types of crowds. I mean, it’s not just… I don’t want to be a dick or anything, but it’s not just because I’m playing with The Strokes. I’ve played some of my own concerts- especially in Europe, where I’m a lot more popular- where it’s for 2,000-3,000 people. And, you know, but people don’t really know that here (in the States).
I found that interesting, in doing my research, that you were on the cover of Rolling Stone in Germany.
Yeah, yeah. It’s just totally different.
Is it just a different scene that’s popular in different countries?
Yeah, but I did open for The Strokes, and I really enjoyed doing that. I’m happy to be able to play all different places. I certainly don’t look to a show that’s in a bar as any less exciting than playing a big show, but there’s a totally different approach I take. A lot of times even the shape of the room, or the amount of the room is full, will shape how I do a concert. Sometimes I might be much more reserved, sometimes I’ll do a lot more dancing, or a lot more physical kind of energy into the show. Then sometimes, if I realize it’s not that type of thing, I’ll do a much more mellow show- play different songs even. About an hour before the show I try to gauge how it’s gonna be and then I write the setlist for that night.
So it keeps it fresh every night?
Yeah, it’s certainly a way to keep it fresh. The other way is just by doing newer songs, and also by just talking to the audience. I mean, I used to be a very shy performer- at the beginning. But I like to see what the audience is like, and talk with them. I really don’t even know the people who come to my shows. There was a time when I was around 18 when the people coming to my shows that I didn’t know exceeded the amount of people who were my friends. Ever since then, I just don’t really know who comes. At first it was just my friends.
I read that you took a job at Starbucks while you were finishing this record. How was that- going from life on tour to having people bitch to you about their lattes every day?
Well, I didn’t really care. I wasn’t taking that job very seriously. I got fired after a month.
Why’d you get fired?
I’m just very slow. Too slow. The thing is, I was living with my brother up in Rochester, NY, and his girlfriend is kind of born-again. We’re a Jewish family, and she’s trying to get my brother to convert to Christianity. I didn’t really like being in the house with her. I told them one day, “I’m just gonna go work at Starbucks.”
Just to get out of the house?
Yeah. But it wasn’t a tense shift or anything. Just a couple days a week, it was fun. Sometimes when I was just mopping the floor, or something boring like that, I’d think of some songs. And they’re not about that, it’s just the natural rhythm of doing something. Sometimes if I’m just walking down the street I’ll get an idea for a song. Anything that can provide you with some kind of natural momentum- an elevator or an escalator, it’s very good for me, I dont’ know why.
So, you’ve got a US tour coming up later this year?
Yeah, but it’s pretty mild. I’ll do some shows around NY, and up to Boston, Philladelphia, Canada. Then out to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. And I’m gonna play in Chicago. Unfortunately I won’t be getting down to Texas, or Florida- truth is, I’ve never played Florida in six years of touring, I’ve never had a show there.
Why is it that so many artists skip Florida?
I don’t know. There’s not a lot of offers. And I’d love to play Florida, especially when it gets cold in New York… but at the same time, I’ve never played Hawaii either! I go to the cold places, it sucks! It’s a thrill to go to California.
So are you able to survive solely on your music?
Yeah, I don’t have to do anything else. I think that happened about four or five years ago.
So what’s on your agenda after your short tour?
Just recording an album in New Jersey. I’m just taking a train into NJ.
And you need to keep Orlando in mind! There’s a great club here called The Social.
The Social. Ok, I will, if I hear something. Do you think that people know of me though? You said that you didn’t know of me till you got the cd in the mail.
Well, I had recognized your name and didn’t know why and then I read your press pack and was like “The Moldy Peaches,” ok, yeah, I know them.
Oh ok. So maybe there would be people then.
Yeah, it’s hard to tell… I go to a lot of shows here in town, and I’m always surprised about which ones sell out. There’s a big indie scene here, and most of it surrounds that club, The Social.
Cool, I’ll look into it. You can come up to New York and come see me play… actually I don’t play here that much anymore.
‘Cause it’s your hometown, you want to chill when your home, right?
It’s true. I play here, like, once a year. But anyway, it was nice talking with you. I’m gonna go get some breakfast.
Nice talking with you.