Nine Songs: Saul Adamczewski
Taking in the insurrection of punk, dreamy jazz-folk and early 2000s' hip-hop, the pivotal songs in Saul Adamczewski's muscial journey tell a story of teenage rebellion and self-discovery.
A love of music coupled with the travails of school life provided the adolescent Adamczewski with a clear desire for rebellion. ‘I noticed that if I had a guitar in my hand the teacher’s didn’t mind if I didn’t go to lessons, because I was doing something creative. So I thought, ‘This is good actually, if I hold this guitar then I don’t have to work.’
Discovering creativity through musical expression led to teenage years obsessing over punk rock, subsequently getting kicked out of school and starting his first band Gut Rot Cider with his friend Freddy. ‘We never played gigs or anything like that. We’d just rehearse in his Mum’s house, he’d yell and play guitar whilst I smashed the drums.’
When we talk about his love of punk as a teenager Adamczewski explains it was inspired by the ‘energy and passion and character’ of the music, as well as the artists that created it. ‘Those are the things that make something worth listening to, rather than someone who’s just technically proficient.’
As a writer Adamczewski understands the need to provoke and move his listeners. Much like the songs he grew up listening to and found inspiration from, his favourite songs are all performed or written by artists whose work is a direct expression of their personal identity and individual take on the world. All those years spent listening to such enigmatic and distinctive songwriters have helped him to become a maverick game-changer in the world of modern indie, whether it’s his work with Fat White Family, Insecure Men or Warmduscher.
From falling in love with the idiosyncratic humour of Television Personalities to being stunned by the beauty of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, these songs have not only pushed him to find his own unique style of expression but also shaped his personal identity.
“I must have been around twelve when I first heard this song. It was during the time when I was first getting into music and me and all my friends were really into it. This was the moment that changed the lives of lots of people of my generation in a way; it was like our Sex Pistols and it was a revolution really. It was banned from school and I remember burning a CD, giving it to friend of mine and getting in trouble with his parents. It was basically black-market distribution!
“I think that’s lost now, how young people identify with certain groups. There were kids who were into this and kids who were into that, whereas now, because of the internet, there isn’t really the same physical exchange of music anymore. I feel like it’s less of a shared experience these days. Back then you’d all get together and listen to a CD whereas now it’s all about the live thing rather than listening to records, especially for the younger generation, like my little brother.
“Revisiting this song now, it’s such a brilliant introduction to an artist. If I was an A&R man I would be very happy with that as it just says his name over and over again. Eminem actually made me want to become a rapper for a while because his lyrics were so excellent, but more than anything he made me want to be rebellious, in a way he was the first idol I had.”
“I remember my Mum went on holiday to the Caribbean and brought me back Bleach on CD and a bag of peanuts, so whenever I hear this song I can taste those peanuts. This was another life changing moment, mostly because of the lyrics and its infantile rebellion.
“I heard that album and suddenly I wanted to wear converse and checked shirts, grow my hair long and be a moody teenager. This is when I got into guitar music but I didn’t try to play guitar or anything for a while, it was more about me starting to define my place in my social circle. In secondary school I was the grunge kid.
“’School’ was my favourite track off that record and still is. It’s so concise and boils down that sense of teenage angst into a really finite, two minute burst of energy. It stills gets put on every now and then, like in the tour van, and whenever I listen to it I always get hit with nostalgia.”
“Punk was a real revelation to me and I really bought the T-shirt. I was fourteen, I was kicked out of school and I met this kid called Freddy who lived in Peckham. We just hung around and drank cider and it was Freddy who introduced me to the Sex Pistols. He had their CD and I remember playing it and my Mum couldn’t believe I was listening to them! She thought it was really funny, because it was such a throwback, she was like, ‘Why would kids want to listen to that?’
“I liked everything about punk and all the different sides of it. You could align yourself with it - it had a certain gang mentality. It became our whole lives; you’re a kid but on the weekends we would go to gigs and hang around and get Japanese tourists to take photos with us. They’d give us a pound or two cigarettes for a photo.
“Sid Vicious seemed the epitome of cool at that age. I even had a padlock round my neck and threw the key away - people used to call me Sid, that was my nickname back then. This song is the only thing he ever did, he’s not even playing bass on any of the Sex Pistols recordings, he’s more a style icon than anything else. I love this song and the snarliness of it.
“It has a great video which he performs on The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle. He has a white tuxedo jacket on and shoots the audience, which I thought was the best thing I had ever seen, it appealed to my childish sense of wanting to be a rebel or a bad guy. There are a lot of punk covers that I love, but Sid’s is top of the list. It signified me getting into punk rock and hanging out on Camden Bridge.”
“So this track is me getting a little older but I’m still into punk rock. I’m about nineteen or twenty, I’ve already been in a band myself and my friend Anna said ‘You’re going to love this band called Television Personalities.’
“I was into London-centric music at this point anyway, but their style stood out to me. They had a very naive and sweet way with melodies and lyrics, their songs had a certain childlike innocence to them but they also retained that abrasive punk attitude, only it was from the heart. As a band they really influenced me as a songwriter and they’re still one of the biggest influences on me to this day. They were a band I completely fell in love with.
“I got into the record Yes Darling, But Is It Art? and ‘Where’s Bill Grundy Now?’ was one of the stand-out tracks, I think it’s one of their best songs. Lyrically it’s a funny concept, which was a big influence on my lyrical approach - singing about things that were obscure and could be seen as bland, but told in an interesting way, finding points of interest in things that are usually overlooked.”
“My Mum had this song on a cassette that her boyfriend made for her. I remember hearing this song all my life, even as a little kid, but not really knowing anything about it. I was massively into Ian Dury around the time I formed my first band, I thought he was the best. Then I went back through his entire back catalogue and finally came to the Kilburn and The High Roads album.
“This track just stands out and looking at everything he’s done it’s completely different. It’s like an old vaudeville, seaside song, it’s really theatrical and the music is so beautifully done and put together. It has these amazing choir backing vocals, like those Disney women and I’ve always loved that.
“’Pam’s Moods’ was a big influence on Insecure Men. This idea of some old man sitting in the corner of a pub and playing a nice little love song on a piano. It’s kind of wobbly and warbly but it has a slightly underwater feel to it, as if it’s submerged. Some of the stuff with Insecure Men has been about trying to capture that dream-like state and ‘Pam’s Moods’ was definitely the song that sent me in that direction.
“As a young man, it was all about being rebellious and loud and jumping around, but as I’ve gotten older the subtleties of music have started to appeal to me.”
“I remember someone showed me a video of The Monks playing on German television, all dressed up as monks and it’s just two minutes of them going ‘Ooh!’ It was so striking and beautiful, yet the arrangements were so simple. They’re really a proto-punk rock band, like they were making punk rock ten years before it was even a thing.
‘The Monks as a band heavily influenced Fat White Family. We loved how they functioned as group, how their managers, who were Dadaists, were like ‘You have to shave your head like a monk. You are no longer yourself, you are a monk. You have to cut all the crap from your songs and trim them down to the bare bones to get to the primal core.’
“We wanted to be a reactionary group but with a very primal beat, so that style and intensity really appealed to us - songs that functioned as charged chants with these aggressive lyrics. Lias even shaved his head at one point so he could have a monk’s haircut.
“‘I Hate You’ was an important song for the Fat White Family, it was the first song we ever played live and learned how to play together and we did a version of it with us and The Black Lips at our Brixton Academy show. It’s been a song that’s come up again and again for us as a band.”
“Astral Weeks is my standalone favourite album ever and my favourite song from it is always changing. When I first discovered Astral Weeks it was a summer of love period of my life, an opiated dream of this album and what it represented. I couldn’t stop listening to it, to the point where I drove all my friends’ nuts and no one wanted to hear it anymore. The neighbours would be complaining, but I played it for days and days. It was a record that I was into exclusively for a good couple of years.
“I still haven’t gotten my head around this music, which is why I still find it fascinating, it’s even hard to articulate how it makes me feel, I’d never thought anything could be so soulful, earnest or beautiful. My approach to music has always been so much more tongue in cheek and obviously this album is made by amazingly talented musicians. It’s hardly punk rock, but it’s a life changing record and it raised the bar significantly for me as to what I could expect from music as a listener. It’s so transcendent and it isn’t supposed to be explained.
“Because I became so obsessed with the album, I was looking up all the things I could read about it. I found this great article by Lester Bangs where he tries to describe the record in a similar stream of consciousness narrative that the album has - the huge peaks, the repetition of words, this swelling of emotion and Van Morrison’s vocals screaming and howling.
“It didn’t change the way I consciously made music, but it has made me strive to make music that’s more beautiful and earnest and real. It just means you attempt to make something that’s higher and as a performer and writer, you could imagine playing this album would be such a release.”
‘So now we’re in the present day and this is the stuff I’ve been listening to in the past few years. I didn’t actually know that much about Harry Nilsson, I have a few friends that are into him but I just couldn’t get my head around him, he was too drama school sounding. ‘Me and My Arrow’ was the song that was the way into Harry Nilsson for me, especially with the next Insecure Men record - which is written but hasn’t been recorded - it’s heavily influenced by his songwriting.
“I love the melody along with this great chugging beat, it’s something that’s been put together in a Beatles sort of way, understated and simple, but sweet. With Harry Nilsson it’s more about the music than the lyrics; it’s playful and has that children’s music quality to it, which in the last few years I’ve been getting in to, music that can be appreciated by both children and adults. It has a warped fairground feel that I’ve taken from him and tried to put into my music.”
“I’ve been listening to a lot of classical music in the past few years, looking for space and peace of mind. I heard about this track by reading a list of Tom Waits’ favourite songs and everything about it is amazing. I love the idea of how it’s a piece of music that had been written down and therefore performed a bunch of different times in a bunch of different ways. I loved the concept of the piece too, how it’s the orchestra on The Titanic that’s still playing.
“It’s very meditative but interesting. A lot of that music can be quite boring but this has a fun, strange, outsider quality. Some of Bryers’ sounds can be pretty horrible, he did that Portsmouth Sinfonia thing, which is this orchestra playing all of the most famous pieces of classical music but no one could play, and even though it sounds like shit, I love it because it’s so funny. There’s a weird element to everything he does and it seems to have a foot in some other strange world.
“I’m still writing two minute, Television Personality style songs but epic works like ‘The Sinking of The Titanic’ make you aim for something a little broader and richer, so in that way he’s been a big influence, that I’m only just really getting into. Gavin Bryers is the first composer where I’ve devoured everything that he's done. I’ve heard other pieces of experimental or classical pieces before, but I’ve never really been a fan of one particular person and listened to everything they’ve done.
“When I used to think of classical music I would think it was this unapproachable, higher art that I wasn’t educated enough to understand, but Gavin Bryers has opened up that world to me and now I’m finding different people that I like all the time. It’s become a new obsession of mine, this world of weird experimental composers.”