An Interview with Adam Ant

Posted July 9, 2013 in

Adam Ant. Photo: Edward Fielding

Adam Ant recently released his ninth album, Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter, and is setting to start another tour of the U.S. After a 17 year hiatus from the music industry, Ant's record is not only a new beginning as an artist, but a new approach to the business side of the music industry. Forming his own label, Blue Black Hussar, Ant's decision to go independent from major record labels has paid off in the form of packed concert halls around the world, which includes a date in Salt Lake at The Complex on July 23. SLUG had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Ant to discuss his new label, his experiences with major labels and his perspective on modern day “Antmania.”

SLUG: Prior to “Cool Zombie,” you hadn't released a single or an album in almost 20 years, what have you been up to since then?
Ant: It was quite a busy time really. A large portion of time I was living in California, doing some acting. I did some TV and film work out there like Amazing Stories and Northern Exposure. Then I went to live in Tennessee for a couple years, I wrote a book. A large potion of time was spent bringing up my daughter. I spent the first five years of her life being a bit of a house dad. When that was all through, there weren't that many years left and I sort of got the bug back to start writing music again. It was about 17 years in total.

SLUG: You run your own record label, Blueblack Hussar, what is it like running your own record label and what are your plans for the label?
Ant: It's something I never imagined, that I'd end up with my own label, but I think it (what with the demise of the record industry) is somewhat expected, really. The advantages of it is you don't have a lot of interference. You have a lot more time to work on the album. In the past, with other labels, you're obviously one of a large roster, so when an album comes out, if the album doesn't hit, they drop it in, move on to the next act and then you're dead in the water. So things like that, I don't want to run into again. Having my own label means that I do things like a double gatefold vinyl and a booklet with the CD and really just getting involved with the production of the shows and promotion of the shows. Tours are less hectic and planned or plotted. You run into the things you don't normally run into, like the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of an album, therefore I can appreciate what the record label did for me in the past--it's an enormous amount of work--but it's not worth 90 percent of the profit. Now, there's the rub. I think I'm earning more from my records now than I ever did on the record labels.

SLUG: How does you're experience differ from working with labels like Columbia or CBS?
Ant: I had artistic freedom with the labels. The problem was, I did encounter situations, repeatedly, where I'd be working on an album and there would be a change in leadership in the company. All those people you've been working with were gone overnight. It was like a shootout at the O.K. Corral on three or four occasions. That's very disastrous for the life of an album. With this, it's a very small setup, there's only three of us. When we bring a record out, I hire a few specialists and a publicist for the album. They're employed for the promotion of the album, so there's not a lot of money wasted. It is very to the bone setup, which is a healthy thing to do. You know exactly how many records you're selling, where they're selling and the distribution I have set up in the North America is pretty much the company that is distributing for the major labels anyway. The people I'm working with for the US distribute for Metallica and people like that. After many years, having to get out of those contracts is a bit like an octopus. You definitely learn more about the music industry and the records they're putting out.

SLUG: In your recent album, Adam Ant Is The BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner's Daughter, there are hints of Wild Frontier. Was this intentional?
Ant: The whole concept of it was a story to imagine the character from Wild Frontier, what he looked like 35 years later. Perhaps he went to Moscow with Napoleon and back during the Napoleonic Wars, which I've read quite a lot about and is a passion of mine, that part of history--the experience being a metaphor for some of the business dealings I've gotten into, which is “marrying the gunner's daughter”--a naval term for punishment. The original idea was to do a double vinyl with four sides of music--those songs are positioned to be quite eclectic. It allowed me to place the songs in a kind of four-sided order as opposed to just listing them. That had a large part to play in the whole concept of the album.

SLUG: Has your writing process changed since Wild Frontier or Friend or Foe?
Ant: Not really. In one way it's a completely different industry, going back into it, the emphasis being live performance, which I like anyway. I've always been a live performer and toured with every release anyways. But the actual writing of the songs, nothing’s change at all. It starts out on the guitar, I always have a dictaphone by my bed or nearby if I get an idea for a riff, and I write lyrics pretty much every day. So nothing has really changed on that side of things, and in a way, that’s quite a healthy thing. The nittygritty, artistic process hasn't changed at all. Because of the Internet, it's more of a global thing. That can be an advantage of, if you're doing a concert, someone has a mobile phone, takes a picture and everyone knows what that gig looked like. In terms of songwriting, it's killed it stone dead because people have this assumption that music should be free and I don't with agree with that because it costs money to make it.

SLUG: You've been touring for a while now, have you enjoyed touring again?
Ant: We've been touring for about two and a half years, halfway through 2010. It was a conscience decision to hold the album back and do quite a lot of touring work to get a feel for what kind of audience there was for the album. I've never done that before, usually I would release an album and then tour around. I love playing live. I figured out I'll be quite happy if I can sell an album to every person I play in front of. […] We've been to Belgium and Holland and recently got back from Italy last week. There are a lot more opportunities to play live now the Eastern Bloc is opened up, and it wasn't around then. So it's much more focused on live performance and that's more of traditional approach as well.

SLUG: Here in the U.S., your music remained mostly part of the alternative scene, whereas in the U.K., you were huge. Some would compare your success to that of One Direction or the Spice Girls. What was it like to be that kind of a phenomenon and were there any drawbacks to it?
Ant: I think with Adam and the Ants, something enormous happened. The one advantage was, A: We were put together by an A&R man, and B: We were a real group--we did three years of shows in clubs before we got a sniff of success. In a way, when the success did come, I personally was ready for it, to a degree, but you can't be ready for sudden fame. One day you're on TV, the next day two hundred thousand people are buying the record. No one can prepare you for that. It's something you have to button down the hatches and keep your head down. I just got sucked into the work, did all the interviews and that become my life. I think it’s a very surreal experience--it depends on who the manager is, the accountants, the lawyers who suddenly become your best friends. It came to a time when I was spending more time with them than the band. No one is telling you to take a holiday, no one ever in those nine years said, “Why don't you guys take a month off.” I'm pretty sure if we took six months to a year off after Prince Charming, we would have stayed together. At that point, we were just sick of the sight of each other. It's worse for the kids now, there is no privacy at all for any of them, so they have a much harder job now.

SLUG: In previous interviews, you talk about missing the love and dedication of the punk community, do you still consider yourself to be part of the punk community?
Ant: I think that is where my roots are. I think it was really being part of a particular creative movement and attitude that happen in London, which was fortunate for me because I lived in London. You could feel it before it happened. You could feel it, that something was going to happen, and the Sex Pistols were sort of the catalyst for that. I was involved in it, supporting the band I was in, Bazooka Joe, and we saw them from the very start. It was kind of all over and by the time it become popular, it dissipated because of the media jumping on it, but … it inspired me to form a band, so I'm happy to call myself a punk rocker. I think [my music] is more post-punk, because it took a couple years to get the album out. They call me Neo-Romantic, which I have no idea what that is about, it's just nonsense.

SLUG: After the tour, what are your plans for the music industry?
Ant: After this tour, it's back to the drawing board, having a more regular output of work, getting the next record done, learn from the experiences I've had from this one. Until you actually put a record out on your own label, you don't know what it is like. You imagine it is a piece of cake, but we learned a lot. Hopefully next time around, we'll save energy on the things we don't need to do.

Adam Ant will be in Salt Lake City, in full Prince Charming gear, on July 23 at The Complex for one of the most anticipated concerts of the summer. If you're a super-fan, like myself, find his official Facebook page and be ready for hours of amazing music, new and old.

Adam Ant. Photo: Edward Fielding Adam Ant. Photo Courtesy Adam Ant