A bitter cold February afternoon sets the scene for our sweet time with London based musician Adam French. Taking refuge inside an intimate studio, Boys by Girls laughed and chatted with a delightful and animated Adam, exploring everything from his musical career as a solo artist thus far, to his nimble green fingers, and a few little bits in between. Making noise for pleasure and for work, his affinity for music and childhood obsession with Fantasia has beautifully shaped his musical expression today. He will make the cello cool, just watch this space.
A knack for experimenting musically and continuously cross-pollinating bits and pieces of his work, Adam seeks to seep aspects of his lyrics, visuals, and ideas to be a wholly new entity within itself. Inspired by names such as Burial, Bon Iver, and Johnny Cash, we found ourselves in a mellow moment, the dulcet tones of Bon Iver accompanying the work of photographer Vic Lentaigne… “this is when everyone falls into a dream world, sleeping and crying on each other.” Fashion was brought to the table by Nathan Henry.
A high-spirited conversation ensued, lively hands painting vibrant visuals as he described his haphazard home slash studio slash rehearsal space, and exactly where his beloved orange tree lives. Sipping away at tea (we lost count of how many), a comfortable familiarity allowed the conversation to fill the room - the white walls listening to every word he had to say. His pleasant persona and authentic words exhibit a refreshing truth, drawing a smile on the lips of listeners.
Adam’s latest EP ‘Weightless’ is available now - an honest and emotive collective of songs reflecting the importance of shared burdens, halved worries, and the ever-changing landscape of a relationship. Close your eyes and allow yourself to be suspended in time, wistfully encapsulated in the cinematic melodies. 2018 holds an exciting number of ventures, so it’s probably time he books in friends to pay his plants a visit.
Who is Adam?
Who is Adam? Adam is a man, Adam is inquisitive, experimental… maybe annoying at times. I guess I’m a bit full on and intense, but only for the right reasons. I’m just focused, I guess.
How would you describe your journey as a musician?
Long. Painful at times, but you know, with a light at the end of the tunnel. It feels like things are starting to happen now, so although things have taken a while, the pieces of the puzzle have gradually been coming together. It feels like things are heading in the right direction.
How long have you been playing?
I picked up a guitar when I was about eight and ever since then I’ve just been teaching myself and learning, picking things up as I went along. I started doing the solo thing about four years ago. I was in bands as a teenager, so I spent my years from 16-19 with a group of mates playing guitar music in Congleton - which, as we have found out, is a place where nobody has heard of. We played shows in Stoke and Manchester, Birmingham and that sort of hub of the world. We did a few gigs in London near the end with the band, but then the guys went off to university and I was just in a mindset of; ‘I don’t want to go to university, I don’t want a degree, I want a music career’ - so I didn’t really see the benefit of doing the uni thing at the time. I stayed behind and thought; ‘fuck it, I’ll do my own thing’ and not have to rely on anybody else. I started writing music for me instead of for the band, performing as just me, and getting into the acoustic side of things - stripping everything back and figuring out new ways to make noise.
How many instruments do you play?
I play guitar and piano mainly, and then drums, bass, and keys.
You don’t need anyone else, you are a one-man band.
Oh, I don’t know about that, you always need people around you, but I was always picking up different things when I was younger and trying to figure out how to use different instruments in the right way. I’ve always been keen on experimenting with things - a kinetic learner.
Your ‘Weightless’ EP was released three months ago, what has the reaction been like?
Really good! The audience has really accepted it and gone with it, because it is different to the things I’ve put out in the past and it is a lot more sort of mellow and chilled out in places, but then also there are probably a lot of people that weren’t as into what I was doing before that have been introduced to me with ‘Weightless’ as the first time. It’s been really cool, we’ve had all sorts of mental support from - Kylie Minogue and Dua Lipa are into it, which is like ‘the fuck?’. It’s insane, but that’s the power of the internet isn’t it? The access to music, or with anything you do now, it’s there, out in the big bad world and anyone can get a hold of it.
They’re very emotional songs, what inspired them?
I think, with the ‘Weightless’ EP particularly, I’ve always been a huge believer in the fact that lyrics have to be meaningful and you have to be able to take the music away from something and read it as a piece of literature almost, and just be like; ‘I get what this is about’- it’s still emotional, it still has meaning. So yeah, my music has always been lyrically led in that regard, but ‘Weightless’ was the first time where I was willing to write honest love songs, like the torment and the pressure and pains of relationships and the importance of sticking out something if it’s good and getting well away from it if it’s bad.
‘Weightless’, in particular, I can imagine is something that resonates with a lot of young people. How did the concept of the video come about? And it was done in one slow-mo shot - how many times did you have to attempt that?
Yeah, and it was reversed as well! It was quite a few times… 46… I think. The director duo that did that was called Silent Tapes, they did that and ‘My Addiction’. Basically, we had a meeting with the two of them, my video commissioner and David, and they brought their little baby with them, because they were like; ‘oh we didn’t have a sitter so…’- cute kid- but the point was we just sat down and started throwing ideas back and forth. They’d seen the artwork to 'Weightless' and seen the orange tree, and I mentioned I wanted to allow this to seep through and touch everything that the music’s gonna touch, and for it to become this immersive full world of being absorbed by the visual rather than just having songs. They totally got it, and we were able to allow meaning to come through in different ways; how the video looks, how the angles were shot and the cast.
Their initial thing was that they thought it should be a one-take video, and so to be able to do that was great, in slow motion and everything else. ‘Weightless’ lends itself really nicely to slow-motion. The reverse thing was the difficult thing about shooting it, because everything as you see it was shot the other way round. When you see the girl, for example, coming down the hallway forwards - she had to do that all backward and there are loads of different takes where we’d knock something off a shelf, and quite a few takes where I’d drop the orange right as the camera was on me. My flat at home is full of plants and I was like; 'let’s just create a rainforest, get loads in'. There were loads of different things that went wrong with each take and if just one little thing goes wrong when you’re shooting a one-take video, the whole thing has to start again. Every time somebody cocked it up, it was like this group ‘*sigh* right let’s do it again’. There was blame, just silent blame.
What things generally inspire your writing process?
Relationships, bad days, good days, conversations, or if I pass a person on the street that makes me think; ‘I wonder what they’re going home to today or what their day’s been about?’. I like to put myself in other people’s shoes. I try to not cut off anything, so if there is something that I think; ‘oh, there’s a story there, there’s something to be said about that’, I try to let myself get involved with that.
I know you’re quite experimental when it comes to the making of your music, and you shot the cover of the EP - are there any other things that you like to play around with?
I love photography. I’m constantly an avid learner, just experimenting with cameras and stuff. I guess that’s something on the side of music and it also that lends itself quite well to music.
The cello at your latest gig was a big hit with our Editor - it’s a genius move. Thoughts, comments, feelings?
It’s interesting, because it’s not naturally a cool instrument. I love it, and I don’t really care about what’s cool - I just care about what sounds beautiful and makes me think, 'I really like that'. Ultimately, somebody’s got to do a good job of something for everyone to decide if it’s cool anyway. I’m not really interested in copying what everyone else is doing with their setup or finding the most hipster instrument of the moment. I love cello, I love strings, I love orchestras. I was mad into 'Fantasia' as a kid, you know the Disney film? I had it on VHS and played it over and over and over again - I love orchestral music. I’m big into Hans Zimmer, the film composer, and Einaudi Ludovico - I’ve always been into that kind of music and sound, and so to be able to incorporate it a little bit when we were recording was really cool because it’s emotional. If you listen to a cello played well, immediately you are smacked in the heart with this big hammer - it’s a really emotive instrument and there will be more of that to come.
Let’s talk about feelings, are you an emotional person?
I am. I cry all the time at films, literally. I remember I was watching this TV show, ‘Hunted’, when people go on the run or whatever, and there was some lad on it who had gone through some things in his life and I just well up at all kinds of things. I’m so in touch with my emotions it’s a little bit unhealthy, but you’ve got to let it out. I was always the opposite of a man’s man as a teenager - my brother is a rugby player, my dad is into sports, and I was just the emotional one - but I’m not ashamed of that, it’s cool.
Communion music listed you as one to watch for 2018, what does that mean to you?
Those watch lists are great and it’s always nice to have to nod from people, it’s a really nice thing for them to say about you, but ultimately it’s all about the people that turn up to your shows. Those that sing your songs and support your music or whatever else, are gonna make the difference. I try not to pay too much attention to what’s hot, because if it’s honest and meaningful then it gets what it deserves. I appreciate it all, I do, but I try not to look at it and be as though ‘I’ve made it’.
What’s been the best show that you’ve performed for yourself?
We did a show recently in Manchester that was part of the last headline thing that we’ve done and that was just incredible. We’ve had a new line-up with the band and it had been a long time since I had toured with a band, and to have the response of everybody singing along to every word of every song is just like; ‘yes!’. That is exactly the feeling you want just as often as possible, but it’s nice to know that something can come out of your head, your bedroom, or your kitchen and then be blared out by a group of people that don’t even know you - it’s pretty special. We did a few shows with Jake Bugg last year, and I hadn’t played any shows at all for at least eight months before then, because we had just been recording and piecing together the bulk of what’s going to be my album, head deep in the studio - and I stepped out onto that stage for the first night at a full 3,000 capacity venue. To go from that to this huge theatre of people, I did sh*t myself if I’m honest when I first got out there, shaking a little bit. I played one song and remembered why I started doing this.
What makes you happy when you’re not on stage in the day-to-day?
I don’t take anything too seriously - even music - unless I really need to in the middle of recording something or a vocal take, but I don’t really believe that putting yourself on the pedestal of seriousness and straight-faced is the way to go about living if I’m honest. Life’s too short.
What is the power of music?
I don’t think anyone fully understands what the power of music is. I mean, I always think that if you can transfer emotion from one human to another, whether they know each other or not, or whether they’re in one country or a totally different country or the other side of the word - that transfer of feeling is pretty powerful. That’s what I like to think about when songwriting. If you can put the emphasis on emotion over anything else like instruments and can transfer emotion from one human being to another, that’s the reason I listen to music. I want to know what that person was going through when they wrote that song, and I want to be able to interpret that in my own way and give me therapy with whatever I’m going through at this stage. I think that is the power of music.
What does 2018 hold for you? Should we expect to see you on the festival circuit again this year? Is there an album in the works?
All of the above, really. We’ve got a tour in April/May, and then a festival circuit throughout the summer. At the back end of festival-season, I think we’re due to be touring again in September/October, and I guess around the back end of this year we are hopefully going to put an album out. But just releasing music from now till then and another EP out before we hit the festival season. It’ll be busy.
What do you do to ‘let your hair down’ and chill out?
All of it? Well, to be honest, to let my hair down I do more of what I do now, which is sit and write music. I like to see my mates and relax, have fun and just enjoy ourselves and step away from the intensity of this. But not for too long, because I do enjoy it a lot. I don’t think I could ever complain.
What’s the goal? What mark do you want to leave on the world?
I like the fact that you can leave stuff behind. Hopefully, there’s plenty more of this and whatever else, but I like the idea that music or any form of art is here longer than you are. That can be the goal - to leave a footprint of some description.
I have to ask, what’s with the oranges?
Do you get this a lot?
I’m not surprised.
My flat is basically my demo studio, I have my desk and all my recording gear and my synths, and up to my left is my door to the balcony. On the balcony is where the orange tree lives during the summer, and while we were like recording and bits, every time I’d get up to get a cup of tea or drink, or if I had friends round grabbing a beer, you sort of turn around and see this beautifully framed orange tree. I always thought, when I looked at it on my way walking past, that it was so good to look at and I always enjoy looking at it - maybe there is something that I could do with that to allow it to become part of this. So I took that photo and showed it to a few people and they thought it was really cool and could be used as artwork. I liked the idea of it being full immersive, so we allowed it to filter into everything. Oranges are just the natural progression from there, they just started falling everywhere. It’s nothing spiritual.
Adam’s latest EP ‘Weightless’ is available now.