Monday, October 17, 2011

Interview: Adam Klein

Adam Klein is a singer/songwriter based in Georgia that recently released his third album, Wounded Electric Youth. Adam Klein & The Wild Fires graced the WUOG station with their presence two weeks ago, kicking off their set with a gusto and a zeal unmatched by many other bands I’ve seen play at the station.  His recent country-folk album evokes the sting of past relationships and the harrows of faded youth, among other subjects, and is at once poignant, warm, and beautifully crafted.  Klein also traveled to Mali in early 2010 to devote time to a record there that was performed in the native Mande style of music. As a preface to this Mali album, Dugu Wolo,  which will be released around late 2011/early 2012 on Cowboy Angel Music, and the band's forthcoming show in Athens, Adam agreed to answer a few questions for us.

Adam Klein & The Wild Fires

WED OCT 19th @ 40 Watt
w/ American Aquarium + Jason Boland & The Stragglers
Doors 8pm, show 9pm
$8 door/$10 adv 

WUOG LOCAL MUSIC: What was it like to make music in Mali and how did the local Mande music affect your instrumentation and vocals?
Adam Klein: Mali is a crazy rich place musically. Malian musicians seem to live and breathe music. They play complicated rhythms and are all about the felt moment. There’s a joyful, deep, and very real expressive element to musical performance there. As far as instrumentation, I wrote songs on acoustic guitar and intended for them to be colored by certain instruments- kora, ngoni, calabash, tama (talking drum). We didn’t get a balafon (West African wooden xylophone) on this record but hopefully there will be balafon on my next Malian recording, whenever that comes around. There’s a lot of rocking, groove-heavy Mande stuff, but I was going for the rustic acoustic approach. So the style in which the songs were written lent itself to the particular instruments we used. For the vocals, some folks who’ve heard the songs have mentioned that my vocals and the delivery are different on this record, called Dugu Wolo, than my normal Americana material. Not sure how to explain that. The melodic style of the songs, vocal phrasings, and of course sound of the words are different on Dugu Wolo, and I adopted a vocal delivery that felt fitting for Mande music.  

WLM: I know that many African songs are very politically and socially driven. How do your songs on Dugu Wolo thematically compare with songs from your previous albums?
Adam Klein: Yeah, Dugu Wolo is totally different lyrically from my country folk/Americana English records. You’re spot on- lots of African, and certainly Malian music is socially-driven lyrically- offering messages about development and African society. I wanted these songs to resonate with Malians in a meaningful way, so the lyrics are about Malian life and relevant development issues there like public health and disease, high-skilled emigration (brain drain), importance of work, and women’s rights. There’s an instrumental, a fun pop love song in Bambara, and two English songs on there, too. Here are a few cool lyrics and Bambara proverbs on the record translated into English:
“Let us gather together.. A single finger cannot carry a stone.” 
“He who seeks a camel will not see a goat.”
“Your enemy is not your enemy. Disease is your enemy.”
“No matter how long a log remains in the water it will never become a crocodile.” 

WLM: You took some pretty big leaps with this upcoming album, not only having your traditional rustic Americana style be eclipsed by the Mande style of music, but also singing in Bambara, a native language of Mali. Do you think as an artist it’s important to challenge yourself to continually redefine your sound and incorporate different influences into your music?
Adam Klein: Absolutely, I think it’s great to explore different music, whether that’s music of other cultures or trying out different western and American styles. A lot of the musicians I have tremendous respect for try out different styles. Neil Young, Paul Simon, Dylan, Elvis Costello,- you can never now what to expect. And some of their more obscure work doesn’t necessarily get the attention it deserves but is either just totally cool or significant musically. Dylan and Elvis Costello have been all over the map. Neil Young & The Shocking Pink’s Everybody’s Rockin’ is a fun doo-wop record to check out. I’ve got this Mali album and I’m also recording with local band Nutria right now. That’s gonna be a cool garage rock-type album in the spirit of Neil’s Zuma or Ragged Glory. I want each record I do to be a different experience in songwriting and recording. That keeps it exciting for me and any listeners, and allows me to grow as a writer and player. 
WLM: Your latest album, Wounded Electric Youth, has been described as very nostalgic. What did you gain in writing about your past on this album? 
Adam Kein: I’d call Wounded Electric Youth nostalgic only in part for any references to my personal past, but mainly nostalgic for the feeling and experience of the record. It inhabits a place on the brink of the end of youth, so to speak (but never youthfulness), which is basically a universal experience. I think channeling a sense of pure, lived, raw emotion in a song, whether it tells the precise truth or not, is powerful. So the real value of Wounded Electric Youth, and I’d say this about a number of songs from my previous two records as well, is that it captures and expresses something real, something felt. With some fun times and stories thrown in for good measure. 
WLM: How do you feel about playing in a more intimate setting, like WUOG’s Live in the Lobby, as opposed to a larger stage setting? In which setting do you think your music comes across the best?
Adam Klein: It depends on the presentation really. If I’m playing with The Wild Fires and we’re doing the full band, more rocking version of the songs, then any stage works great, especially if the sound is good. I think it comes across well with the energy of a lot of people in the room. We want to see people at the show and want them to have a good time and enjoy the material. Live in the Lobby is a lot of fun. The audience was behind us most of the time when we played last week but that won’t stop us from actually performing the songs. Then again, if it’s a solo or duo show, then a listening room experience is always a pleasure to play in. Places like Eddie’s Attic in Decatur, Rockwood or The Living Room in New York, Club Passim in Cambridge, MA, and a number of the spots I’ve played in Netherlands and UK are conducive to a more intimate experience between the audience and band/duo/solo artist. So when everybody’s really hearing and feeling the song- that’s hard to beat.   
WLM: Your sound has been compared to that of The Beatles and Wilco. Would you consider them among some of your biggest musical influences? If not, which artists do influence your sound the most?  
Adam Klein: I love tons of music, of course, so it’s hard to whittle it down to most influential. I’m into both The Beatles and Wilco, so I’d count them for sure. I think the sound is mostly influenced by both the vision for the song in its writing stages and the players. Distant Music has no bass and drums because the drummer I had spoken with about playing on the record couldn’t make the recording dates. He’d given me a heads-up that might happen. So no drums, no bass, and we made a really good debut record that was sparse, acoustic, and rustic. As far as artists influencing my sound- for the Americana stuff I’d have a whole big list in no particular order including Townes Van Zandt, The Jayhawks, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Wilco, Josh Ritter, Gillian Welch and lesser known in these parts singer/songwriters like Grant Lee Phillips, Nels Andrews, Justin Rutledge. And the record producer, which has been AJ Adams for the last two in town. For the Malian music, I’d name Kar Kar Traore, Salif Keita, and Ali Farka Toure.  

-Lori K.

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