COLLABORATION AND COLLISION: ADULT. ON 20 YEARS OF MAKING MUSIC IN DETROIT
On Saturday, September 8th, Detroit legends ADULT. and Universal Eyes will present a double record release show at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport along with a dizzying array of performers spanning various genres and performative inclinations. This highly anticipated event is a prime example of Detroit at its finest: showcasing underground culture and some extreme cross-genre collaboration with performances by Boy Hershner, John “Jammin” Collins, and Zola Jesus to name a few.
Twenty year music industry and DIY veterans ADULT. will be releasing their newest record entitled THIS BEHAVIOR, a culmination of recent inspirations as well as a critique of current electronic music. Read our interview with bandmates Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller on the process of organizing the album release, what it means to be a DIY musician in a changing music landscape and unexpected breakthroughs as a result from such an unconventional collaborative event.
Broccoli: To start things off, do you remember what the first album you ever purchased was?
Adam Lee Miller: Yes.
B: Would you care to share?
Adam Lee Miller: It was the Jaws soundtrack, I was probably 12.
Nicola Kuperus: The first album that I tried to purchase was Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls, but it had a parental warning so my mother wouldn’t let me buy that from Kmart. That was the first attempt, but I think the first actual purchase was Prince’s Around the World in a Day.
ALM: The first record I bought that I care about still to this day, not that Jaws isn’t an amazing soundtrack, but it was Dead Kennedys, a bootleg from a live show in Belgium called A Skateboard Party.
NK: I would say the first one that I cared about was The Cramps, Bad Music for Bad People. It’s like you’re in 7th grade, and you’re just discovering what music can really be, and I bought it because of the way it looked, not because I knew anything about The Cramps, and I also bought The Cure’s Top album, which I hated, but today I think it’s one of their best albums. Maybe not best, but it is a really good album.
ALM: I had the same issue with purchasing Public Image Ltd’s second edition, it was more advanced than I was. It changed everything, but it takes you a while when it’s so foreign.
B: It’s crazy the way our feelings about music can change, especially from earlier in an artist’s musical progression. But with you both as artists that have making music through the entire span of your career, ten years can make a big difference in how you hear a piece of music- even your own.
ALM: Oh yeah, we’ll be getting ready for a tour and we’ll be choosing songs, looking at an older song we might be like, “this song is terrible,” and then two years later it might sound great. It does change contextually.
B: And you brought up the skateboard party thing, I heard from Johnny that there’s supposed to be a mini ramp at the show.
ALM: There will be, as far as we’ve been told.
B: Going into that a little bit, the venue itself is interesting. I saw your performance on the Detroit Princess [boat] at the Protomartyr show, I’m curious about how these different types of venues can influence the your approach to the shows?
NK: We’re coming up on 20 years here- and we’ve been playing in Detroit for 20 years, so it is something that is really important for us to consider, and to try to do things that are a little different. I think that’s what’s great about Graeme (El Club), coming with this outside of the box type of attitude.
When he heard that we were having this release, he was like, what do you want to do? What can we do? And it’s really serendipitous in a way, because in 2001 we released this kind of culmination of our first four records into a CD, which was called Resuscitation, and the cover is a runway at this small airport in the thumb of Michigan. So it has this kind of flashback to how we started. Even when we were touring around the airport it was like, wow, this is so strange, just an uncanny situation.ALM: Yeah, and adding onto that, I’ve lived in downtown Detroit since 1989, Nikola has since ’94. The city has without a doubt changed during that time, and even now small parts of it are changing very rapidly, which is very strange for us and for many people. For instance, our friend just getting evicted from her apartment- a women that’s been living in Eastern Market for like 35 years, someone who is a cultural staple of sorts, is now out of her home [due to a large purchase of building acquisitions and real estate development].
So people always say, “Detroit’s getting better,” is that an example? Is the UFO factory getting attacked by another development considered “improvement?” No, it’s not. So when we drove up to the hangar- and it’s this Art Deco from 1937- it really felt like something like this needed to happen right now, because these spaces are less and less common as time goes on.
NK: Right, there needs to be the awareness of it, and it’s also strange how underutilized it really is. Like, the FAA doesn’t just build airports.
ALM: And there are the politics, the city and its relationship to the airport…
like many things in Detroit, it’s complicated.
B: Right, which might inform the central point of the show, in some ways.
NK: That all being said, the space is really beautiful, and going into your next question about the whole point of this, really it’s about doing an event that goes beyond something we could do at another venue in town. I hate to use the word “curating,” but for lack of a better term, creating a group of really interesting artists together and presenting this evening together.
There are a lot of people involved at this point, and the thing is we’re kind of control freaks, it’s just the two of us, so we’re not used to doing this push and pull, but I think it’s actually made for a really interesting event.
You have to work hard for it; we knew it was going to be a monstrous event, which takes a lot of more work, more energy, more consideration. I just feel like it’s something that hasn’t been done in Detroit before, which is really exciting.
ALM: Graeme came to us and said, “I want to do something really special,” so we started talking ideas with just the three of us. Then when he realized that Universal Eyes were going to have their release around the same time, and the idea was like, what if we made these both into this bigger thing? and grow from there.
So it’s really become bigger than anything we could have done ourselves, because now it’s this collaborative endeavor. We’re getting ideas from Gretchen (of Universal Eyes) that we never would have thought of ourselves. There’s also this serendipitous aspect, with John Olsen (of U.E.) who’s in Violent Ramp, and he was like I think Violent Ramp should play, and all of the sudden they got this Vans sponsorship, and they’re like yeah we can build a ramp now. It’s just those sorts of things that have made it a really fruitful collaborative process.
I would also like to state, it’s pretty wild that for over 20 years, Wolf Eyes has always been a band that we’ve respected- very DIY, always evolving, always unpredictable, and I knew Universal Indians, and I’m really excited that they’re back. We’ve never shared a stage with any of them, except for I think Aaron Dilloway. I think that also brings something to the event, because while there’s something sonically different about us…
NK: There’s an ethos that I think we all share…
ALM: So, to have two hardcore, 20+ year independent bands doing their record releases together at the same show, that really means something.
NK: And I’m sure Gretchen probably wouldn’t share this, but… I think it’s amazing that in Kim Gordon’s book, she basically starts out a chapter saying she was feeling this loss of spark in the noise scene, and then she comes to Detroit and sees this woman playing a guitar with a rock, and that woman was Gretchen playing with either Universal Indians or Terror of the Opera. So Gretchen, outside of that group has been doing a lot of shit, and she’s a f*ckin’ badass, and maybe a lot of people don’t know that side of her.
ALM: A lot of people might also not know that when Aaron moved, the original lineup of Wolf Eyes was never quite the same, and to have all three of them plus Gretchen who’s been involved for a long time in various ways, it’s quite an amazing project. All of that collaboration within even that one act, which is within this larger collaboration for the show as a whole. Even collaboration across venues, which you don’t see all that often.
NK: Yeah, and with the fact that UFO has been getting screwed over with their whole situation, it’s a good thing to see [them involved].
B: Definitely. In my conversation with Universal Eyes, Johnny said something similar. Even though there’s some sonic dissonance across the lineup, (he didn’t use the word ethos) but a similar vibe that is consistent across everyone that’s involved in the event. Having that ability to curate a night so holistically, working with so many people, that’s an opportunity that isn’t always available to artists. Hopefully this piece will be able to provide some of that backstory, to share the significance of what the event means for everyone involved.
At the same time, there are many ways to understand and experience the event, for people that have been aware and involved for these 20 years and even for those that are just getting familiar. Johnny had said something about questioning why everyone wants to gravitate towards people that are just like them, which can be great, but that tension is what makes these unexpected things possible. These collaborative collisions are what releases that potential.
ALM: I love that you said collision and collaboration, that could be the title of the article.B: What was it like to have this strong hand in making everything happen? It seems like an opportunity to flex some of those creative muscles.
ALM: Yes, but it is something we work hard to do. If you’re coming to see an ADULT. Show, unless it’s a festival, we try to be very deliberate. I mean we have 37 U.S. shows coming up, and we’ve picked every direct support act and every opening act.
NK: And sometimes it gets really exhausting, like, “Why am I having such a hard time picking this specific opener on this date?” or working with promoters that don’t seem to understand who we are. But maybe that’s the nice thing about this, I mean Graeme knows who we are, we’ve had conversations and done shows in the past together. Like FlucT for example, I think they’re f*cking amazing, I’ve never met them, I only know who they are because I’ve watched stuff online and I follow them, so when I said I think it would be really sweet if we could get FlucT, Graeme was like I know them, and that was that.
ALM: That’s what I was going to say; because this is so collaborative between all of us involved, it’s a living, breathing thing now.
NK: I think it’s going to be like “The Shining” in a hangar. It’s all of these things at once, this classy, weird scene with a crazy playlist all night. Which is so exciting especially when there is so much information overload, I think it’s incredible that everything down to the necktie is a considered thought.
ALM: Which is why there have been so many meetings, and conversations that need to be had.
People ask us how we can be in a band and be married, and I say it’s because when we fight, we don’t take it personally. It’s about the art in that moment, it’s not about two people, and you’re talking about your work in psychology, it’s such an interesting feat of interpersonal dynamics and ideas. You can disagree, and then you can come back and say oh, ok, we can make that work.
For example, Nate really wanted the poster to be both of our album covers- he saw a connection in the titles- I would have never saw that, and those posters are f*cking cool. So that’s where it’s just about making things bigger than yourself.
NK: It’s also kind of like this crazy celebration of Detroit underground music.
ALM: I hope it’s well attended, because that will be a reaffirmation for me and for others that Detroit is still about the underground, and that at least that much has stayed true, despite the other changes in the city.
B: I think that’s so true. It’s this invitation, a celebration, and also a way of seeing how Detroit’s music base will react to such an event.
NK: A barometer…
B: Yeah, with the appeal of established acts mixed with the newer aspects of the event. To be frank, I wouldn’t have known much of what we have discussed today without this conversation, even with my efforts to be aware of everything that’s going on. The depth of it all brings more meaning to it, and it’s also interesting to think about who is going to see that poster, or hear something about it, and decide “ I want to go to that.” Different things will draw in different types of people, and how they’ll interact with everything going on.
ALM: If you look at the whole line-up, you’ve got us and Universal Eyes, both are very underground. For us writing this new album, we’re really disgusted with the way that electronic dance music has been going, and we kind of went back to our roots with Underground Resistance.
Those early raves were so punk- and I mean that in the truest definition of punk; for me seeing the Underground Resistance DJs in the early 90’s was one of the most life changing things for me. So to have John “Jammin” Collins on the bill… it’s what inspired us to make this record, and to be able to bring him in and for him to say ‘yes’ is a validation. And then you’ve got newer acts on the other end of the spectrum that make me feel like, ‘Detroit is still keeping it weird, doing exactly what they want to do.’NK: And they’re the younger generation showing what people are doing in Detroit right now.
ALM: It’s all so cool. Having Boy Harsher’s first show in Detroit, that’s really just awesome. They’re younger, but we see ourselves in them in some ways. There are other types of performances, and Violent Ramp skating in the f*cking venue, like when does that happen? And Zola Jesus, I didn’t even know that she DJ’d- and I love that now we’ve got someone who people might know, but she’s doing something different.
NK: This bill is kind of a freedom for some of those acts to come to Detroit and to do something different, something you don’t normally do.
ALM: And we always love those opportunities, DJ’ing somewhere and just having that freedom, we don’t really do it and we’re not the best at it but it’s so fun and the crowd knows us so they enjoy it too.
NK: Yeah, it’s just this visceral thing.
B: Maybe in some ways they trust you to explore those situations based on what they know of you, being fans of your music they may also like your taste; I imagine someone like Zola Jesus might feel the same way.
ALM: And we’ve still never met her, but we have a lot of respect for some of the ways that she has navigated the music industry, so to be able to have her out is a really special thing.
B: I’m seeing many parallel timelines, where things are on this continuum that precede/follow /coexist with one another, which all represent these parts of Detroit music history that now combine to form a larger picture of all that has happened with music in the city.
ALM: You have punk, techno and Motown, all from one city.
NK: I think that’s one thing that keeps us here, and I don’t know if it’s some sort of Midwest work ethic, but it’s something that drives that delivery, that intention, that dedication to what it is you’re doing.
It’s not that you’re just doing it, it’s like you have to do it, because if you don’t do it you’re going to go mad.
ALM: And feeling this sense of responsibility to the legacy of the city. I think that’s one thing that really pushes me to give 110%, because I’m putting Detroit next to my band’s name, within this history along with all of these bands that really changed the world.
B: Thank you both again for sitting down with me, it’s been a pleasure to hear about this show, and I hope it’s been a good experience for you to maybe digest some of it before this weekend.
ALM: It’s kind of made it a reality, in a way.
NK: Yeah, sometimes we’ll be like, “Really? We have to have another meeting about this?,” and everything that has happened in the planning which inevitably will always happen, but this has been like, “Oh, yeah! It’s pretty sweet.”
B: It’s so much grinding it out behind the scenes, which then manifests in this romanticized occurrence that seems to appear out of thin air, followed by a sigh of relief and sometimes even an insatiable desire to start planning the next one.
NK: It’s like making anything. The audience doesn’t necessarily need to know all of blood, sweat, and tears that goes into whatever it is that you’re doing, but it is something that most people don’t know. They don’t know the front stage and the backstage, and that’s okay, because that’s what makes it something magical.
ALM: And that was something we’ve learned over the course of our career, there was a period of time where we were a bit bitter, and we thought people needed to know how hard it was to do what we were doing.
NK: Like we needed to school them or something- it was definitely a sort of disdain for the music industry.
ALM: But then there was this moment after analyzing that concept that we said actually, the audience should not know how much work went into it, because then how the fuck would they go out, get some drinks, enjoy the music and have fun? For me, it’s hard to go to a concert and have “fun” anymore, we’re looking at the projections, or about these different production choices and ideas, or what equipment they’re using, or sound technicalities…
NK: I really can’t tell you the last time I went to a show without doing all of that. It would probably have to be Pink Floyd or something.
ALM: But even then you would still probably be thinking about all of that subconsciously. So it actually is the audiences job to not know, in some sense, so that they can have fun and have an experience. You can’t do that if you’re thinking about every small detail.
B: I do think there is a line to be drawn. I like the idea of the audience have some form of understanding, if only to appreciate what’s going on and feel compelled to take in the moment, but there’s certainly a reason why people try to keep that fourth wall intact.
ALM: That’s what I would like the audience to walk away with…. Thinking, “Wow, how did that just happen? That was insane.”
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