Prime Time | Adam Gnade
Adam’s one of the good guys. His work is vital and succinct; released as a series of books and records that share characters and continue each other’s plotlines in an attempt to document a personal history of America, in a tone which is unmistakably his own. With regard to the sonic, this year has seen the release of two EPs (‘AMERICANS‘ on the Blessing Force label and ‘Greater Mythology Blues‘ on Punch Drunk Press), while his first nonfiction book, ‘The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad’, has since sold out of 11 printings, and is the subject of an indigogo fundraiser for it to remain available. His next novel, ‘Caveworld’, will be released on December 6th via Pioneers Press, thanks again to a hugely successful crowdsourcing project. Speaking candidly to TV is Better, Adam fills the plot holes in his extraordinary journey to date.
Where do you find inspiration?
You name it. Everywhere. Listening to people talk. The quality of light in certain places and on certain days. Feeling close to death. Doing shit I’m afraid of. Good people who remind me that not everyone is shitty and evil. And William Faulkner.
How do you personally approach the writing process? Is there a long period of drafting and character development, or are the core ideas already in your mind when you take to the keyboard?
Well, I have a map of all the characters and plots and how they connect in my head, so it’s just a matter of choosing a section from that story and sitting down to write it. Caveworld’s story was more or less done before I put pen to paper. I’ve been asked a bunch of times to draw out the map and timeline and how everyone connects but I don’t think I’m going to do it. It would cover a wall.
How much of yourself do you see reflected in your characters? It must be impossible to remain completely detached from them…
My characters are fictional as much as anything can be fictional but I put a lot of myself into all of them. Especially the bad stuff. I’m a little wary of saying what’s what and who’s who but there’s no detachment at all. I love all my characters. Even the assholes and villains, of which there are a few. Caveworld’s pretty devastating I’ve been told. A lot of people doing a lot of terrible shit to each other. Jessie Duke, who edited it, and read it first, said: “If Trainspotting was a 10 in the whole make you feel awful scale, your book is at least an eight.” She meant that in a good way but it’s definitely a brutal ride. There’s humor and fun or whatever but it’s a dark fucking book.
How hard is it to crowdsource an unwritten novel, and how much of a validation is it to receive such support based purely on your concept?
Well, the novel is very much written. It’s written, laid-out, and in the hands of the printer awaiting payment. Finished it this summer. As far as the validation and all that, it’s overwhelmingly incredible. When Rio from Pioneers Press pitched a crowd-sourcing campaign, I was pretty pessimistic. I figured we’d clear a thousand bucks in all (maybe) but we did that in one day. Now we’re about $1500 or $1600 something shy of getting it funded with 12 days to go. I think it’s actually going to happen. I never thought I’d get this far. I think my audience might be bigger than I thought.
When was the last time you drank Mad Dog 2020?
“My characters are fictional as much as anything can be fictional but I put a lot of myself into all of them. Especially the bad stuff.”
Not since I left Portland. Once I discovered moonshine everything else dropped by the wayside. I also don’t really have time to drink. My rule is don’t drink until the work is done but lately the work is never done. It’s been a busy year. There’s a lot I want to do before I die.
Is there anything you’ve written which hasn’t felt complete? So as to say, you didn’t convey what you wished, or it didn’t come out as you’d intended? Further from this, is there a particular topic or theme you’ve had to shy away from because you felt you couldn’t grasp it in prose?
Pretty much everything. I’m never happy with the completed thing. The only records I like are the one I did with Youthmovies and the AMERICANS EP (Blessing Force) that came out this spring. As far as topics, no, not really. If I’m afraid of writing something I go for it.
Do you ever find yourself being precious with your prose when it comes to backing it with music, or do you work closely with the musicians so that the theme and tone is clear?
I work very closely with the musicians. Most of the time I record it all myself but lately I’ve been playing with a full-time band. If I don’t do another solo acoustic record again I’d be very happy. Sick of the sound of myself. Better playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band. I want to be in the Rolling Stones when they made ‘Exile on Main Street‘.
What in particular about documenting the ep left you with ‘pretty much shit for brains’?
We wrote and recorded everything in something like five days. Sixteen-hour writing and recording sessions. It was a lot of work, to say the very least. I was only in Georgia for that week and we had to get things done. Felt really good though, working that hard. I believe in hard work above all. I always hate my records but that one worked. I gotta give it to Blessing Force for believing in that one and putting it out. They did it justice.
You focus on three characters, were they always the ones intended for the ep (they’re key in the book) or were they reflective of the music?
They’re three characters from the Caveworld novel. One of them (I won’t say which one because I don’t want to spoil anything) is only briefly mentioned but shows up in the newest record, ‘Greater Mythology Blues‘, which is AMERICANS’ sequel. The other two are the book’s main characters. Those two records are companion pieces to the book. I mean, all the records and books are connected, but those three are linked pretty heavy.
‘Supper’s Waiting on The Table’ is a real watershed moment for me, but it’s wrong to highlight one track on that release… can you summarise your thoughts and feelings towards the record?
It’s everything I wanted to say at the time.
How’s life on the farm and what, if anything, do you miss of the city?
It’s hard. It’s very hard as someone coming from the city but at the end of the day I feel pretty good about it. Living deliberately and all, like Thoreau said. I miss the city all the time but I travel a lot so I get my kicks out. I was just in New Orleans. That’s a damn fine city. Off to London next week and they don’t get any finer than that. I need the balance.
Do you feel any pressure when working on new projects and how have you learned to deal with that? Do you ever feel like you have a responsibility to your audience?
Yeah, pressure, definitely, but only from myself. My general idea is everything I do needs to be better than the last thing I released. I don’t always pull that off but that’s the plan. As far as responsibility to my audience, yeah, for sure. I want to give them something good. Again, I don’t always pull it off but I try. I’ve done a lot of failing. Bad experiments and all.
Your recently published DIY Guide addresses ‘the root causes of sadness, anxiety, and general malaise/boredom‘ – what drove you to confront these issues? Was it something you were experiencing in your own life at the time and if so, was the writing process cathartic?
“At this point, this is such a part of who I am, I’d have to become a different person to do something different. You never know though. One thing life has taught me is never make definite statements because you’ll always change; you’ll never be the person you were before.”
Yeah, that’s how I deal with a problem. I make a list and go at it from there. Those lists (written in a very dark period) became the book. It was necessary to my survival, I can’t understate that enough.
Considering the deeply personal topics you had to face in ‘…Big Motherfucking Sad’, how do you feel knowing so many others were able to take solace in that zine?
I don’t believe in destiny or fate but I think that book might be the reason I’m here. Knowing it’s helped people makes the hard stuff at the end of the day kind of dissipate. I get a lot of letters and emails about it and it makes me feel like I’m on an okay path, which is a good thing to be able to say. We’re all just blindly stumbling ahead but sometimes the moon is out and you see a little bit of where you’re going. That’s an okay thing. You take what you can get.
“Don’t sabotage yourself. There are enough people out there who’ll do it for you. Don’t let the assholes win” – when was the last time you felt they were winning?
I don’t let that happen anymore. I believe too much in sticking around and doing the right thing to let them gain any ground. For instance, Joe Biel, the owner of Microcosm Publishing is suing Pioneers Press for $48,000. We were just served with the lawsuit papers this week. Most of it is what he considers character defamation for Jessie speaking out about how people shouldn’t do business with him because she believes he’s unethical. Is he winning? Not at all. Don’t ever let anyone silence you. Speak out. Always.
For you, what is the importance of having something like Pioneers Press existing today? As an outsider, publishing books seems a very exclusive world, so would you agree voices aren’t being heard as an immediate reflection of this?
Small press is incredibly important. Big publishers are all driven by capitalism and while great books do squeak by, most of what comes of it is pretty weak and lifeless. People read differently now, so you won’t see a Joyce or Faulkner popping up in the majors. Small press forever. Pioneers Press is fucking great. I’m glad Jessie Duke lets me be a part of it.
I know you’re grateful to have both prose and music as a means of speaking your soul, is there one medium you take more from? Do you draw things from writing (which is a very personal and often individual endeavor) that you can’t from creating music, and visa versa?
It’s all the same. I can’t really see any separation anymore. It’s like trying to pull one ocean’s water from another ocean. It’s two of the same thing.
It’s great to hear that you’ll be back in the UK soon, especially due to the collaboration with members of Youthmovies. Can you still drink like you used to on tour, or do you see it as a young man’s game? Do you remember the final Youthmovies show and any overriding feelings from that?
Well, it was just a few years ago, so give me a decade or so then ask me about failing memory and drinking. Youthmovies’ last show was great but I spent all the after-time in the hospital with Al, sitting in the waiting room. He got a nasty head wound on stage and I took him to the ER right after the set. We were there until dawn. No party. The best part of that 24 hours though was leaving the hospital at 7am and getting bottles of wine with Andrew and drinking them in the park while the heavy clouds rolled in. I didn’t sleep for a long time. I think I flew back that night.
Is there anything in particular you love about the UK, or at least, anything you find more comfortable or suitable to your morals and personality that you can’t find in the States?
Maybe too many things to mention. Friends, mostly. And vine leaves. They’re really expensive in the US. I also miss the way things look, the stone walls, the architecture, packaged food, Turkish bread, the cars, Purdy’s, the way the grocery stores look, the way the rest stop gas stations are lighted, the sky, which is different than our sky. I love England. It has my heart.
Can you imagine a day where you wouldn’t want to do this any more?
At this point, this is such a part of who I am, I’d have to become a different person to do something different. You never know though. One thing life has taught me is never make definite statements because you’ll always change; you’ll never be the person you were before.