Interview by Michael McCarthy
Sweden’s Adiam makes delicous, dark pop that splits the difference between Lykki Li and Marina and The Diamonds, having the starkness of the former and the insanely catchy beats of the latter. Or perhaps she’s better described as Fiona Apple meets Little Boots, melding Fiona’s tormented and vengeful lyrics with Boots’ irresistible electronic textures. There are several artists you could compare Adiam’s songs to, but you can never pin her down to just one artist. There simply isn’t anyone whose songs she mirrors exactly. Even comparing her to all of the above artists doesn’t quite do her justice. She’s truly an original, thanks to her lyrics, which are both deeply personal and open to interpretation, and her music, all of which thus far has been produced by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek.
The first song of Adiam’s that I heard was “Dark Lake” from her EP1 of the same name and before it was even over I knew I had found a new favorite artist. Her sound was gorgeous and hypnotic and commanded my full attention in a way that only the best music does. By the time the Dark Lake was over, I knew that I had to interview her. In preparation for doing so, I was given a listen to her forthcoming EP 2, Quiet Desperation, and it’s every bit as brilliant as Dark Lake. If you like pop that is artsy, not bubblegum, then listen to “Quiet Desperation” from her second below and I am certain you’ll want to read this interview.
I understand you’re from Stockholm but live in Germany now. Whereabouts in Germany and how long have you been living there?
I moved from Stockholm to Berlin about three years ago. I call both cities home now. Berlin is a very open-minded and relaxed place, and at the time I just needed a creative break from Stockholm. Stockholm is still my favorite place in the world. My parents, my four sisters and all my friends are in Stockholm and Upssalla, where I was born.
Do you come from a musical family?
None of my parents actually played any instruments but my father had the most amazing and super eclectic vinyl collection that I literally grew up on. He’s a very musical person. In his record collection I could find everything from Sam Cooke, Bruce Springsten, and Lee Perry to Donna Summer, Boney M and Simon & Garfunkel. Apart from that me and my older sister started singing in the local church choir already at the age of four.
Did you learn an instrument, growing up?
Yes, the piano.
Do you play any instruments today?
I can play both the guitar and the piano. But not very well.
What were you like in high school?
Different. I dropped out off high-school at 16.
How old were you when you wrote your first song?
About 12, I think.
Was your music always in the fairly dark vein it is today?
Yes. I’ve always loved the darkness.
Did you make any other music before you started making electronic pop? For example, were you in a band when you were younger?
The first album I released as Adiam Dymott in Sweden is actually rather punk with a lot of guitar in it. The grittiness is still there but I have developed musically over the years. At the end it’s always me.
Do you produce all of your songs yourself?
I work together with different producers. My upcoming album is produced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. He’s a musical wizard.
Are any of the beats on your EPs live drums or are they all programmed?
It’s a mix of electronic and organic drums.
How do you usually describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it?
I usually describe my music as dark pop.
Who are your influences?
I listen to a lot of different music. Currently Telepathy, Ty Dolla $ign, Young Fathers and HNNY are on my playlist. The Hip Hop and RnB from the Nineties I grew up with however still has the biggest influence on me to this day.
The lyrics of “Quiet Desperation” seem to be about a woman who’s had her heart broken by her love and is now suffering in silence. Is that a correct observation? If not, what is the story you’re conveying there?
Generally all of my songs are about the realities of very basic but complex emotions like love and hate, promise and despair. Feelings we all know very well but are often afraid to really express.
Did you have a broken heart when you wrote “Quiet Desperation”?
I always have a broken heart.
“Runaway” seems to tell a story that’s opposite of “Quiet Desperation,” as it finds you breaking the guy’s heart instead. (It could be the person from “Quiet Desperation” seeking revenge by being the heartbreaker this time.) Is that a true story from your life or is it just a song you wrote?
For me the process of song-writing is basically some sort of story-telling. Each song is a story that’s based on real-life experiences and emotions. Things I have witnessed in one way or another. So they are vey personal to me. At the same time they are metaphorical. They are not to be understood literally. They are all open for individual interpretation.
If your career could mirror that of any artist, which artist would you most want your career to be like?
The EXILE remix of “Runaway” features a rap part by Blu. What can you tell us about him? How did the two of you come to collaborate together?
I have been a fan of Blu’s raw and gritty flow since his debut album Below the Heavens. His latest collaboration with Madlib and MED for Bad Neighbor is also amazing. My manager eventually got in touch with Exile and Blu for the remix.
Were you in the studio with Blu when he recorded his part or did he record it on his own and then send it to you?
Even though I originally recorded my album in Los Angeles, Blu was invited to do a guest-feature on Exile’s remix of Runaway much later. They then send it to us.
Between your two EPs, six artists have remixed your music now. Which ones do you think are the best? Could you tell us about the people who did the remixes you think are best? [I especially love the Robot Koch remix of “Runaway” and the Savage Skulls remix of “Dark Lake.] If you don’t have any favorites, you could just write about how you connected with a few of the remixers and where they’re from.
I am very excited about all of the remixes. The Robot Koch remix of Runaway is quiet a masterpiece indeed. Multi-layerd and perfectly crafted. We actually first met a couple of years ago in Berlin. Carli and Mans of Savage Skulls are old time friends of mine from Stockholm. They turned the almost dub-like original into a real club-banger. Tyler Pope of LCD Soundsystem also did a very nice remix of Dark Lake. We met via a mutual friend from New York. Love him. LUKA’s remix of that song is also fascinating. Last but not least I love the Symbiz Sound remix for Quiet Desperation. They completely deconstructed the original up-tempo song and created this slow-creeping yet equally pushing rhythm. It’s always inspiring to hear what other creative minds do with your sound. I love the moment of surprise.
Which artists would you like to remix your songs next, if you could get any artists in the world to remix your songs?
Telepathy, HNNY, Salaam Remi, and Caribou.
You have videos for three of your songs, which you call “Mood Videos”. What do you mean by that? I’ve never heard anyone call their videos mood videos before.
We originally shot 7 super short music video teasers for my album ranging from 20 to 120 sec each. From these teasers we then created the so called “Mood Videos“ for my singles, that transport the overall atmosphere and mood, but were not intended as real music-videos. In those “Mood Videos“ we played a lot with repeating patterns and images to create an almost hypnotic spell.
Who directed your videos?
The concept for the videos I developed together with my art director Marek Polewski and Lukas Feireiss in Berlin. Mauri Chifflét was the director with whom we shot all the videos on Gotland, an island in Sweden.
Will you be making a video for “Runaway”? If so, how soon? Have you found a director yet?
Yes, another “Mood Video“ is coming up. It’s very beautiful.
Have you been performing live? If so, will you be going on a tour to promote your eps? Since you only have four songs out, what else do you perform to fill your set? Do you have songs that aren’t released yet that you do or do you do some covers?
Yes, I am currently rehearsing with my band. I will start playing at a number of events and venues soon. I will also be playing new songs that aren’t released yet.
Do you prefer making music or performing live?
It’s two very different things. Playing live is always exciting but I also enjoy writing and recording music in creative seclusion.
Have you started thinking about making a full-length album yet? If you’re already working on it, could you tell us something about it, maybe tell us about a couple of the songs?
Yes, I recorded my entire upcoming album with Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio. He’s a genius. It’s very dark and uplifting at the same time.
At the end of our interviews, we ask some random questions. Here are yours:
Are you ever recognized in public?
Name five of your favorite movies, books, albums or TV shows.
The Wire (TV Series)
The Godfather (Movie)
Trouble Man: The Life and Death of Marvin Gaye (Book)
Notorious B.I.G.: Ready to Die (Album)
Fleetwood Mac: Rumors (Album)
How many languages do you speak? What languages are they?
Swedish, English and poor Tigrinya. Still trying to pick up some German.
What was the last day job (not music related) you had?
Working in a sneaker store.
Extra special thanks to Adiam for taking the time to answer our many questions and to Sarah Fleisher at Conerstone for arranging it.
“Quiet Desperation” iTunes Link: www.smarturl.it/iTunes_desperation
Adiam on Spotify Link: bit.ly/1j5hg4Q