It's always nice to get together with friends and family at Christmas time, and it's no different in the music industry. An example of such could be found at the Notting Hill Arts Club in West London on a chilly Sunday evening in early December. The occasion was the annual Winter showcase of acts associated with Communion Music, the independent, London-based conglomerate of a label, promoter, and publisher that was founded by Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons back in 2006. The cosy grotto environment that has been created in the small basement venue, replete with a floor covered in fake snow and plates stacked full of mince pies, feels as apt for Communion as its name - there is a genuine sense of community here tonight.
First on tonight's bill, playing ahead of acts including Lucy Rose and Isaac Gracie, is Adam French, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from the small town of Congleton in the North West of England. The delicate, pensive sound of his recent EP 'Weightless' hypnotises a growing crowd of captivated revellers. He's had practice in grabbing attention, recently opening for a couple of huge Jake Bugg shows in the U.K., getting shout-outs on Twitter from Kylie Minogue and Dua Lipa. The song that they posted, the EP's title track, proves just as popular with this crowd, as does his reconstructed cover of The Walkmen's 2004 indie hit 'The Rat'.
After his set, we got to chat to Adam (in a Subway, no less) about the EP, why oranges have such a strong presence in his visuals, the importance of lyrics that have meaning, and his desire to make music that outlives him.
COUP DE MAIN: You’re here tonight performing in Communion’s annual December show. How important is it to be a part of a label that has a strong sense of – literally – community?
ADAM FRENCH: It is a cool little family, more so than with a lot of labels. They’ve been good, we’ve been with them for, like, a year now. I also go to shows for other artists that they represent. It’s a nice little family.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT COMMUNION...
CDM: How did your songwriting process change when working on the ‘Weightless’ EP, as opposed to your previous releases?
ADAM: I don’t know if I consciously changed what I wanted to do. I guess we’re now at a point where I’m writing and playing music that I would listen to, which is probably where the change has come from. I’m doing what I enjoy doing. It’s the first time I’ve worked with a producer that I wanted to work with. Before it had been demos in my bedroom with friends or whatever. This is the first step up with Rich Cooper, who’s done all our music for the last year. He’s a great producer, he’s worked with Lucy Rose, he’s done some Tom Odell stuff, and he’s worked with a band called Half Moon Run, who I absolutely love. As soon as we started recording together it all just clicked. It was the first time that I felt as though we were recording music where both of the people totally wanted the same thing and knew how to go about it. I’m happy with where we are, recording wise. We’re still recording, there’s still stuff that we’re doing now. I’m not sure when we’ll draw the line under what the album is, but it’ll be at some point.
CDM: The video for ‘Weightless’ is hypnotic and surreal. What was the shoot like?
ADAM: We were approached by Silent Tapes, who directed it. As soon as we met with them, it was like, “Okay, we’re on the same wavelength.” I think it’s the same with producers and directors: if you can be surrounded by people understand what it is you’re trying to do, it ends up feeling more cohesive, and the end result ends up being what you actually wanted. I was really happy with those guys. It was a fun shoot. It was all one take, too. It took about thirty goes or something. All the way through, I’m throwing this orange to the ceiling and catching it again, and I reckon I fucked up six or seven takes by dropping it at the crucial moment. When we finally got the take, everyone was just like, “YEAAAAH!” We were there until about three in the morning, about 15 or 20 people in quite a small flat, so everyone’s hoping, praying that this is the take. And you get to the point where someone fucks it up, and it’s like, “Oh, fucking hell.” But each take that was destroyed by me or somebody else ended up being quite amusing.
CDM: Why did you decide to cover ‘The Rat’ by The Walkmen on the EP?
ADAM: I’ve always covered stuff and dropped it into live sets. But then we started discussing the idea that we should chuck a cover on the EP. Immediately I was like, “I’m really liking ‘The Rat’ at the moment.” It’s such an important song to me and my youth that it made total sense to do that, so I was really happy for that to be what we ended up doing, and for everyone else to be cool for me to go in and doing it with Rich. It was good to deconstruct it and put it back together again.
CDM: What role did music play in your life when you were growing up? Did you go to a lot of gigs?
ADAM: I went to loads of shows as a kid, and throughout my teens, and into moving to London. I enjoy live music. A lot of my friends are massively into DJs exclusively, and I can enjoy that, but I think it’s a completely different proposal. There’s something that live music will always be able to do for me that a DJ won’t. I’d go up to Manchester, Stoke. Liverpool was quite close. Birmingham, once. I also had quite a few friends who went off to university in different cities, so it made that easier as a young, skint, wannabe musician. Plenty of floors to sleep on and sofa-surfing to go to watch gigs in whatever city I could get into.
CDM: How old were you when you wrote your first song and what was it about?
ADAM: I was probably about 14, 15. It was called ‘Face The Music’. <laughs> Terrible title. It was with my first band. That was the first time I’d shown anyone anything. I was actually the guitarist in the band, rather than the singer, at the time. We played a lot of covers and that was the first original song we played. From then on, I started writing more and more and ended up becoming the singer of the band, and the dynamic shifted a bit. That was the first song. It definitely wasn’t the best song.
CDM: Do you write your lyrics specifically for the songs, or do you write poems or prose and then evolve them into song-form?
ADAM: I do write poetry, but I never show it to anybody. I like lyrics to mean something. I definitely think that’s important. I mean, obviously it’s not if you’re putting together electronic music. I truly respect electronic music, but if you’re putting out songs and there’s lyrics in the songs, then why make them shit? There should be a lot of thought that goes into that, in my opinion. It’s also something that I truly respect. If you listen to lyricism and it’s honest and it means something and it’s personal and you can connect with it and put it into your own life and existence, for me, that’s the whole point of music. That transfer of emotion from person A to person B, and hopefully a fair few alphabet letters outside of those two. That’s the whole point of writing songs, so that they mean something to people.
CDM: Lyrically, what's your favourite song that you’ve written?
ADAM: A track called ‘Wanna Be Here’. We haven’t recorded it yet, we’re due to record it in January. When I listen to it back, there’s nothing that I would change about it, lyrically. To be honest, I’m pretty strict with myself about settling for lyrics. I’ll revisit songs all the time and change bits out or swap bits in until I’m like, “I can’t better this.” The thing is, it’s gonna be there forever, and that, to me, is the most important thing. It’s something that is going to be there that’s tangible, that exists for longer than I ever will. The first time that I clocked how important that was, my dad was showing me Nirvana. I was probably about 11 or 12. He was explaining to me, “This is this band, see if you like this.” He showed me stuff all the time, but that particular conversation stayed with me forever. He was like, “The singer killed himself a long time ago.” Getting your head around the idea that you’re listening to somebody that’s already dead, it sparked a desire to [write music].
CDM: Please explain the hold that oranges have over you and your visuals.
ADAM: Where I sit and write and record stuff in my flat, to the left of that is a window with a black outline, and it framed that orange tree perfectly. Every time I’d get up to make a tea or whatever, I’d look at it and it was this perfectly formed artwork already. So I took that photo, and from that, we started thinking about letting it fizzle into everything else, into different bits of artwork, and the video, the socials, and just the internet in general.
CDM: Can you explain the difference between a satsuma, a tangerine, a mandarin and a clementine?
ADAM: I don’t think if you put them in a line-up I’d be able to identify them. No. Not at all. Absolutely not. I think I’ve probably eaten all [four]. Oranges are massive, so that’s easy. Same size as a grapefruit. Exactly the same size. Most of the time.
CDM: Did you ever get a satsuma at the bottom of your stocking at Christmas?
ADAM: No, but I think I’m gonna get shitloads this year. I’m genuinely worried. Just loads of people playing the same joke over and over again. I’ll just laugh along.
CDM: Are you ever worried about people throwing oranges at you at live shows?
ADAM: No, but let’s not feed that seed to people!
CDM: Hopefully they would be satsumas or clementines, rather than full sized oranges.
ADAM: Yeah, it’s still gonna hurt. They’re heavy enough to smack you in the face.
CDM: They’ve been doing that to Harry Styles, throwing kiwis onstage because he’s got a song called ‘Kiwi’, and he’s been slipping up on them.
ADAM: I know that Glass Animals had pineapples banned from several festivals because there was a pineapple outbreak.
CDM: With the Harry one, he was playing a gig in Birmingham and an Asda nearby stopped selling kiwis.
ADAM: Oh, for fuck’s sake. Kiwis are probably quite easy to smuggle into a gig, whereas pineapple… There’s some thought going into that.
CDM: You have a Spotify playlist called the ‘Sunday Comedown Machine’, which is for “contemplating life on a Sunday.” As today is a Sunday, how much contemplation did you engage in today?
ADAM: None, because I didn’t go out last night. I don’t really do things by halves, so if I go out, I’m not playing a gig the next day. I try to be as strict as possible with myself.
CDM: Kylie Minogue recently showed you love on Twitter--
ADAM: Ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.
CDM: What’s it like to know that such an iconic artist is appreciating your music?
ADAM: It’s just mental. That’s just the Internet in 2017. Her and Dua Lipa both did. The Dua Lipa one, I’d never had anything like that before. I woke up to my phone going, buzz, buzz, buzz, buzz. I was like, what the fuck is this? I picked it up, and I thought, how has she got hold of that song? But Spotify being what it is enables anyone on the planet to listen to your music, which is great.
CDM: Have you got any other exciting things coming up that you can tell us about?
ADAM: We have shows and bits of touring in the new year, so I’ve got a couple of shows in February, and we’ll add shows after those. I think we’re gonna release music again in January or February. There’s loads we’ve already recorded that will go out. I think we’re in a really good place with what we’ve recorded. To move forward as we’ve started feels right and feels good.
CDM: Have you got any plans to play outside of the UK?
ADAM: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of shows in Belgium in April. I know we’re talking about going back to America, because we did that last year. I think over the next six months we’ll be doing quite a lot of travelling here, there and everywhere. Germany, we did last year, and I think we’re going to go back relatively soon. The crowds were massive and people singing along to lyrics and everything. Again, Spotify being what it is, it opens the door to every man and his dog. And every lady and her dog. I look forward to travelling. I enjoy the travelling aspect of touring.
HOW I'M FEELING ABOUT 2018...
The 'Weightless' EP is out now. Watch the video for 'My Addiction' below: