You probably best know 28-year-old Adam Green as one-half (along with Kimya Dawson) of pioneering anti-folk duo The Moldy Peaches.
The band split up in 2004, but since then Green has enjoyed an impressively prolific solo career, releasing six solo albums in the last eight years, including this year’s Minor Love
(out now). On the new album, he takes a more subdued musical approach but leaves his trademark wit on full display; those who have long adored his crude sense of humor will appreciate the occasional lyrical gems like “Castles and tassels and flatulent assholes / I love you.”
Also on the horizon is the super-limited release (just 500 copies!) of his Musik for a Play, a commissioned instrumental score Green wrote for a recent theatrical adaptation of Paul Auster’s novel Timbuktu. It’s a more complex undertaking than Green’s fans might be used to, featuring snatches of everything from ’40s jazz to ’90s electronica in it, and it’s certainly worth a listen once upon its May 11 release. Paste recently caught up with Green during a short break between the end of his European tour and the beginning of an American one (he’ll be hitting a city near you sometime between March 18 and April 24) to talk about his two new projects, his love for New York and his fleeting German superstardom.
Paste: People make a big deal out of your being from New York—they always say, “Adam Green, New York singer-songwriter.” What’s so great about New York?
Adam **Green:** I was just thinking about it today, whether or not it’s a little bit overemphasized that I’m from New York. I mean, I’ve lived here my whole life, but I’ve also spent a lot of my life traveling. And I’ve always said to myself, “It doesn’t really matter if I’m in New York to write songs.” But everyone knows what’s good about New York—I don’t think I need to endorse it any more.
Paste: Is there anywhere else that you’ve been that you’d want to live?
Green: Well, there’s these places that I go to, like Italy or Spain, that are really appealing when I’m passing through. But then I wonder if that’s because they’re the types of places people go on vacation, and to live there would end up being unfulfilling. I’ve always been really attracted to Italy.
Paste: You just got back from Europe, right? How was that?
Green: Awesome. Yeah, I got back two days ago. The last day I was there, I was just feeling like I was already back here. Like, I was playing Paris, and the show ended, and instantly I wished I could’ve been transported back to New York. For whatever reason, I was ready to come back. And I was really preoccupied. We were trying to party and celebrate the end of the tour, but I was so preoccupied with getting back I couldn’t smile through the whole night. I don’t know why.
Paste: So you’ve traveled a lot, throughout your life—people always talk about how the world is getting more globalized and Europe is getting more Americanized. Have you noticed that?
Green: The thing that’s most remarkable to me is just how everywhere you go in the world, there’s the same stores. That’s kind of weird. But it’s done a world of good for England’s food. England used to have terrible food when I started going there, and now it’s pretty good.
Paste: You’re really big in Germany, right? Why do you think that happened?
Green: Well, I think I was really big in Germany. I think that used to be the case, maybe a few years ago, but not really anymore. It’s sort of evened out. The difference is that I had a pretty massive rise to being famous in a way in Germany that people would never be aware of here. I don’t really feel like anyone could understand it who’s not from Germany.
Paste: Does that include you?
Green: Actually, yeah, it includes me most of all. But the level of fame I reached in Germany was really, really super-famous—I couldn’t really go out by myself on the street. But that only lasted for a couple of months, at the peak. For a few years, it hasn’t been a big deal for me to go walk around in Germany. I mean, people recognize me occasionally, but it’s not like I’m at the forefront of anyone’s mind.
Paste: It’s weird how Germany latches on to American figures that you wouldn’t expect.
Green: Is it, really? I don’t necessarily think that they do. I think they really did in my case, but I don’t necessarily know anyone else who’s had the experience that I’ve had.
Paste: I wanted to ask you about Musik for a Play. How did you come upon that project, and how did it unfold?
Green: Oh, yeah. There was an adaptation, a play based on Paul Auster’s Timbuktu, and I got commissioned to write the music for it. So I did. It’s instrumental. ... This was the first time I’ve ever tried to do that. I found myself kind of suited for it—like, I could imagine doing it again. I really thought that that record was one of the best records that I’d ever made, so I wanted it to be released as a normal album, but it was really hard. I guess Rough Trade didn’t really feel like it has a big commercial prospect—instrumental music traditionally, and especially Musik for a Play, I guess it’s something really cerebral and it’s a pretty small demographic of people who are interested in hearing it. But that being said, I think it would really defy anyone’s expectations of what it is. There’s no way that anyone could expect it to be what it is. I’d never really heard a record like it before.
Paste: How is it different to do a commissioned project like that, versus starting to write an album of your own songs?
Green: In this particular instance, it was very free, because it’s instrumental, and it’s very abstract of a project. I didn’t really have to write that much at all to anyone’s kind of master plan. So in that way, it was easy. I’ve never really had anyone kind of tell me what to do, artistically. I don’t know how that would go. I’m tempted to say that it would go really badly, but you never know. And I don’t know, I might have to eat a shit sandwich someday and do fucking exactly what somebody wants.
Paste: Well, I hope you don’t!
Green: Well, I mean, you know, everyone has to eat a shit sandwich sometimes.
Paste: I want to know if it’s true that no girls were allowed in the studio during the recording of Minor Love.
Green: Just no one in general came by, because I didn’t have a car, I don’t drive. I was in a house in the Hollywood Hills, and it’s pretty isolated. From the time I’ve spent in LA, I’ve just sort of realized that when I’m there, I’m kind of at the mercy of anyone who has a car.
Paste: Was that conducive to writing and recording, or did you get lonely?
Green: I was pretty lonely, but it definitely gave me a good opportunity to focus on the task at hand. I don’t know that there’s a better way to record, because, I mean… this was the only thing I was supposed to be doing in a whole year, really, was record this record and tour. So I had to do it well.
Paste: What were you listening to during the time when you were writing the songs for the album?
Green: I listened to a lot of Serge Gainsbourg, and the version of “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” that Joan Baez sang. I was listening to a blues singer called Tommy Johnson. And I was listening to music from Hungary, because I went to Budapest and I had some CD’s from Budapest. But it wasn’t a time where I was discovering a lot of new stuff, I was just playing a lot of guitar myself. I had a little guitar that I was carrying around with me, and it was really special to me. I don’t have it anymore.
Paste: What happened to it?
Green: It’s just in LA. I carried that thing around with me everywhere, and it was like a tiny little guitar, like half-sized.
Paste: Like a child’s guitar?
Green: Yeah, pretty much. Just a pretty little guitar. It was fun. I got to carry it everywhere and play it. And I had a little recorder in my pocket, so I wrote a lot of songs.
Paste: One of the things I noticed when I was listening to the album was that it seems like you’re being more honest on Minor Love, like the songs are a little more intimate. Do you perceive that to be true, and also, is it weird to hear that from other people? Like, to hear “this sixth album is Adam Green’s intimate album”—is that weird?
Green: It’s funny, because I feel like all the albums have been pretty personal, insomuch as I was pretty generous with my idiosyncrasies, and there’s really no other way that you can see an idiosyncrasy than as something that’s personal, sort of by definition. And I think all my records are filled with that. And in a way, I don’t like it when it seems like, by people saying that, that they’re taking away from all the other records that I’ve done. The new record is less abstract, so people can understand what the songs are about more easily. I really don’t know. I mean, yeah, but people change all the time. I feel like I change every year. I wonder what it will be like next year. I have no idea.