Based out of Falkirk in the Central Lowlands of Scotland, Adam Stafford has been releasing music since 2005, originally as Y’all Is Fantasy Island and, for the last decade, under his own name. Like many musicians when the pandemic hit and Scotland went into lockdown back in March, Adam started looking for new outlets for his creativity. For Adam that process began with, “the discovery of a little red book hidden beneath some tupperware in a cardboard box”. Within the book were old lyrics he had written, old memories, serving as a preserved snapshot of Adam’s life. Then working, “like a detective looking over an old case“, he began to re-imagine old tracks, re-cutting, re-assessing and discovering something new along the way. The result is Adam’s latest album, Diamonds of a Horse Famine, released last week on Song, By Toad Records.
Across it’s nine tracks, Diamonds of a Horse Famine is a fascinating blend of cinematic soundscapes and ragged edged folk, coming across like the middle ground of Jason Molina and A Silver Mt. Zion. While much of his recent material has been instrumental, here Adam’s voice returns to the limelight, allowing his rich, raw tones, and intriguing, sometimes disorienting lyrics to shine. It’s a record that flicks between personal missives and societal struggles, whether he’s tackling his own feelingd on ageing on What Kind Of Man, or toxic controlling relationships on Slave. At times it’s difficult to split personal tales from story-telling, his words laced with a coal-black humour whether tackling his own mental health or painting a frankly bonkers picture of rural living on the Skip James tribute, Calf And Cow Blues. Written at a time when many of us have been seeking fresh streams of creativity, Adam Stafford seems to have hit new highs, with a record that seems to race between ideas, the restless fluttering of an uneasy mind;, the result is his most unique, unnerving and intriguing record to date.
FTR: For those who don’t know, who is Adam Stafford?
It’s a question I’m still fairly confused about. Who am I?
(Voice in my head):… don’t know.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
It was a local band called Dying Shrew Under Thermal Pressure Optics and it consisted of a huge guy who played bagpipes made out of flesh, organs and bones. Every time he blew into the instrument, black blood would bubble out of the valve holes. He also tap-danced an impossibly complex rhythm that would perplex even Aphex Twin. The other guy was strapped to a bondage style harness fixed to a zip wire and went back and forth on the venue ceiling, spraying the audience with urine from a calf’s bladder. I think I was four.
FTR: Why do you make music? Why not another art form?
I make music to drown out the perpetual, persistent internal screaming and to soothe my cat Howard who has been mentally unsound since we removed the giant tick on his chin. He has taken to pulling out a book of ‘Practical Geography’ from the shelf and staring intensely at the diagrams of soil erosion.
I also make films and music videos. I was due to start shooting an erotic musical comedy with Robert Michael Schneider and Robert Anton Wilson for Netflix before the pandemic hit.
FTR: What can people expect from the Adam Stafford live show?
Not bloody much nowadays! But before the apocalypse, you could describe my live show as watching the awkward mental decline of a sweaty office worker dancing himself to death to the sound of machine-like loops of his own screaming with the visual intensity of Robocop 2.
FTR: What’s next for Adam Stafford?
Hopefully I’ll continue to successfully dodge the zeitgeist.
They Listen To…
Songs: Ohia – The Big Game is Every Night
“It’ll get so quiet when the record ends/you can hear the first hour of
the world” is one of my favourite opening lines of a song. There is a
full band version of this on the Magnolia Electrical Co. Lp, but I adore
this bare bones recording of Jason Molina, in what sounds like him just
playing live into a room unaccompanied. It’s pretty much the template
for Diamonds of a Horse Famine.
Dory Previn – The Lady With the Braid
I’m of the opinion this is one of the finest songs ever written. The
songcraft is just outstanding. The way Previn sets the scene and gives
you detail in minutiae, she tells you everything and nothing at once. To
write from a character’s perspective where you are laying their/your
vulnerabilities and neuroses so bare and then twisting off down a canyon
road of esoteric conversational tangents was something I tried to
achieve with the new record. This song also reminds me of Barbara
Loden’s film Wanda (1971) about a female drifter whose vulnerability is
exploited by men.
Karen Dalton- Katie Cruel
Karen Dalton’s voice floats like coal smoke on a bitter winter’s air.
This is a traditional Scottish folk song re-done as a West Virginian
lament. Dalton led a troubled life and was certainly not appreciated in
her time. She was an artist whose experience you could hear in a few
notes of her singing, the sadness and the liminal space between where
love ends and pain begins.
Red Red Meat – Sad Cadillac
From one of my favourite favourite albums ever, Bunny Gets Paid. This
track in particular sonically translates the heaviness of what
depression feels like. It’s damp and filled with stale smoke, the
percussion thrums and thuds like a dull hangover, the piano hasn’t been
tuned in a decade. “It takes an hour just to watch your jaw move/sounds
like engines when you’re breathing”. Tim Rutili wrote this album when
his bandmate was dying of AIDS apparently and the whole lp is imbued
with pain and regret that transcends miserablism and taps into a raw,
Blind Willie Johnson- Nobody’s Fault But Mine
I was 17 or 18 when I heard Blind Willie Johnson and it was a tremendous
revelation to me. I could trace the whole lineage of rock music I’d been
listening to up to that point back to him, from white blues rock, punk,
grunge and post rock. His slide guitar playing seemed supernatural, his
voice so visceral and hoarse it sounded like an 80-year-old preacher,
yet he was only 23 when he recorded most of his surviving records. It
had a profound impact on me and I immediately tried to learn slide
guitar. Willie Johnson’s influence can be heard all over Diamonds of a
Diamonds of a Horse Famine is out now via Song, By Toad. Click HERE for more information on Adam Stafford.