INTERVIEW: Indie Pop Adam Lempel

Hi Adam, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Pretty good, just back in New York for the holidays and it feels really good. I’ve been living in Amsterdam for the past year and half, and I didn’t realize how much I miss the US and New York City in particular. I feel so American 🙂

Can you tell us more about the story behind your track ¨Don´t Know Why¨?

It’s a really simple song, so simple I think I even hesitated making it every step of the way. Like when I just first started singing the phrase into my cellphone as a voice memo, I doubted if I would ever use it but for some reason it just felt good and stood out. It’s a 12 bar blues progression, which for me feels totally forbidden, like its the most overdone thing in the world, and I felt like “am I really writing this kind of song?” And then when I recorded it with Chris Freeland, it felt really poppy and good, especially laying down this kind of Bill Haley and The Comets piano part, but it sounded different than all the other songs and I wasn’t sure if it would ever be on the record. The whole thing was a combination of moves I just made in the moment, without thinking about it too hard, without overthinking it, and probably if I thought about it too hard I wouldn’t have made it in the first place.

Did any event in particular inspire the song?

This is actually one of those songs that was kind of inspired by this one girl, but it’s funny cause I kind of don’t know her at all. I mean we’ve talked and said hi, but not much more than that. It was just the feeling that I had about her.

How was the film experience?

Shooting the video was really fun, I just kind of roped in Juliet to shoot the video in the garage where I’m living in Amsterdam Noord. She lived in a weird office space around the block, so I think one morning she just got up and took a shower and came over and we just filmed for a couple hours. There was no real plan. I just started doing these takes of myself singing along to the track in my kitchen, and then the washing machine and dryer were right there, so i started singing on top of them, and then we went outside to the roof, and to the front yard and just kind of filmed me and my roommates throwing blue bouncy balls. I think the only ideas I had before the shoot was me singing, the projections, the blue raincoat and the blue bouncy balls.

The single comes off your new EP Still Life – what´s the story behind the title? 

I picked the title Still Life, cause it’s kind of plain and generic and sounds like a Boz Scaggs album title, or like a smooth jazz album title from the 70’s. It’s trying to be poetic and beautiful but it ends up coming off the equivalent of an office plant or it makes me think of a reproduction of a still life painting hanging in a doctors office. A still life painting once signified fine art but now it is an art cliche.

There’s a Baltimore slang word ‘furd’ that I use to talk about things that are kind of just outdated and broken and I think the idea of a still life painting is furd. But all cliches are cliche because they are true. And love and relationships are cliche topics to write about because they happen to so many people and are common and true. Love and breakups are things that everyone goes through, and you can recognize that they are cliche but when you are in the middle of it it feels real to you.

Also, Still Life has to do with trying to freeze time, like a freeze frame. This album is so heavily a relationship album, dealing with not being able to let go of the past, and the concept of trying to create a still life out of a reality that is always moving forward. Also you can read it as no matter what happens its still life. Even this idea of having this kind of vague album title that can be read in many meanings so as to be profound is kind of furd.

How was the recording and writing process?

Some of these songs, like “Boo Radley” and “Blue Rooms,” have been hanging around since 2011 when I started recording the self-titled Adam Lempel and the Heartbeats album with Chris Freeland. I kind of cut some of the sadder songs from that record, I didn’t want it to be too much of a downer. But now I feel that my melancholy is a kind of strength. I put some of the sadder songs, like “Wishful Thinking” and “Blue Rooms,” towards the beginning of the record to feature it. I’d been recording with Chris for a couple days a here and there for the past 4 years, and some of the songs much more recent.

“So In Love,” “Berlin” and “Say You Wanna Be My Boy,” were finished Christmas-time 2014, when I was home from Amsterdam for the holidays. I was staying at my Weekends bandmate Brendan’s house and I didn’t have any of the lyrics finished, and a recording date with Amanda was already set for that Monday, and I think I just stayed in on a Saturday night screaming along to the instrumental tracks coming up with lyrics for all the songs. It was pretty manic. I thought no one was home, but I think his girlfriend Marian was home in her room. I kind of feel bad about putting her through that.

Would you say this is a departure of your previous project or is it more like a follow up?

This record is kind of a followup to the Adam Lempel and the Heartbeats record, but probably a little sadder. The songs were recorded with the same producer, Chris Freeland, and Amanda Glasser is back singing lead on a bunch of the songs, but overall Still Life has a different feel, it’s a bit more melancholic.

Where did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?

The lyrics are mostly about an on-again, off-again relationship I had a couple years back. They mostly deal with different phases of being in love, from the naive idealistic beginning of “Don’t Know Why” and “So In Love” to the kind of post-hurt, post-breakup feelings of “Boo Radley” and “Wishful Thinking.” The only two songs on the record that are not really about a romantic relationship are “Berlin” and “Me And Kenny.”

“Berlin” is a about the feeling I got of that whole city being topsy turvy, upside down, when I went there on tour with Weekends in 2012 and stayed up every night going out to bars and clubs until 11am and then slept til 5pm and did it again. It felt like a place with a lot of heavy history that everyone is constantly trying to get past, but it’s kind impossible. I actually heard someone whistling a part of this melody from another room, but then when I went out to ask my friend Claire what the song was, she said no one was whistling. It was pretty strange. That’s how I came up with the song and to this day I still don’t know if I really heard it or if it was just in my imagination.

“Me And Kenny” is about a guy who would come into the bar where I used to work at in Baltimore called 1919, and there were many nights in there were it would be just me and him in there. And we would watch YouTube videos together of The Stranglers, Link Wray, Cab Calloway or Hank Williams, he was kind of in love with the way things used to be. He would have a tab on the wall that I would add to when he didn’t have the money to pay for drinks, and he once told me this story of how him and his dad had a falling out and he hadn’t seen his parents in years. It was just this overwhelming feeling of the friendship that we had; many nights I would give him a ride home after the bar closed, and we would walk to the car parked a block away in silence. I think his story is kind of emblematic of a certain American tragic story; the blue collar factory worker who got laid off and can’t cope with the society is changing all around him, and here he was in my bar and I knew him and got to romanticize him into something bigger, and kind of give him this triumphant ending with Hollywood strings.

How did your health issues influence your music and this album in particular?

Umm… well I had a pneumothorax (a hole in my lung) in 2011, and that actually derailed a Weekends european tour, and being in the hospital kind of got me thinking that I would also like to make my own solo records, that were more in the style of the songs that I was writing since I was a kid; like more direct pop songs with clear lyrics. So when I got out of the hospital, I booked studio time with Chris Freeland, and the earliest songs on Still Life date from this time period. So the initial push to be a solo artist in the first place stems from this time in the hospital and realizing that if I have any ambitions I have to pursue them right away, because I don’t know how much time I have here.

Any plans to hit the road?

I’m planning on playing a bunch of shows in the US in the summer 2016, and right now I’m booking shows in Europe for the spring. We’re planning a record release show for Amsterdam in February.

What else is happening next in Adam Lempel´s world?

Well I’m currently in school in the Netherlands pursuing a masters in music design at HKU. I’ve been recording some new songs with my classmate and producer Friso Hoekstra. I’m hoping to have the next record done by the end of the year. Don’t freak out but it’s gonna be even more pop. Also working on a dance/music performance with the choreographer Mao Nakagawa that will be performed in April at de Theaterschool in Amsterdam.


About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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