Adam Ant on going DIY with his new record
Born Stuart Goddard in London, Adam Ant was the bass player for a band called Bazooka Joe, an outfit that opened for the Sex Pistols for its first live gig. In 1977, he formed Adam and the Ants, and while early on the group was coming out of punk, after Malcolm McLaren recruited the players to form Bow Wow Wow, Goddard put together a new group that was less straight ahead punk and more aligned with new wave. The act's classic 1980 album Kings of the Wild Frontier yielded its first major hit, "Antmusic."
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By 1982, Adam and the Ants had split, but that October, Goddard began a career as more of a pop artist with the release of Friend or Foe, which yielded a string of hit videos that got played on MTV. Goddard had a surprise late-career, best-selling album with 1995's Wonderful, but shortly after, he got married and had a kid and focused on being a full-fledged adult. Fast forward fifteen years, Goddard is back to writing music, and after having lived in various places in America, he has returned to England to be near his family.
In January of this year, Goddard released Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter, a fairly autobiographical affair filled with the kind of vivid imagery and clever turns of phrase for which Goddard is known. The album has been hailed as his best work since his days in Adam and the Ants.
In advance of his show next week with his new outfit, Adam Ant & the Good, the Mad and the Lovely Posse, we spoke with Goddard about Malcolm McLaren and his fascination with the history of Europe from the French Revolution through the Napoleonic era, as well as his long-standing admiration for the culture and spiritual beliefs of Native American peoples.
Westword: You have a song called "Vince Taylor" on your new album. Why did you want to write a song about him at this time?
Adam Ant: A lot the things on this album are autobiographical. But it was something that happened to me in 1977. A girlfriend of mine gave me a gold chain, or gold plated, and I used to wear it on stage quite a lot. Then about a year later, I talked to her about it, "This is really good." And she said, "It belonged to an ex-boyfriend of mine; it was actually Vince Taylor. It was given to me by Vince Taylor."
I honestly really liked it and [its connection to] an old rock and roll singer. He was British, but he moved to the U.S.A. when he was a kid and became a very big star in France in the late '50s, and he had the song "Brand New Cadillac," which was sung by the Clash. He's quite an interesting character, and I think he deserved a name-check.
You have the new video out for "Cool Zombie." You lived in Dayton, Tennessee, for a few years?
I think it was 1997 that I moved there.
It seemed like you took a hiatus from music while you were there. Would say that's the case?
It wasn't really a planned move. I was getting married at the time. My wife at the time and I drove up from Miami to Las Vegas, and one of our many stops was in Dayton, Tennessee. We enjoyed the countryside, and we looked at a house, and we made the decision to move there as a great and beautiful place.
We decided that if we didn't do it then we were never going to do it. It ended up we bought the house, and got married there in the little town hall. It was a romantic period that lasted for years. I'd been living in L.A. for six years prior to that. And I've gone back to the U.K.. I'm glad I did it.
When you returned to the U.K., was there anything you realized that you had missed that you hadn't thought of for a while?
My family. My mum lives in London. I'd been living abroad for quite a while. The main decision for returning to England was to be closer to my family.
Your album being autobiographical, you have a song called "Who's A Goofy Bunny?" that you dedicated to Malcolm McLaren. How did you meet him?
I met Malcolm in 1975 or 1976, when he had a clothes shop called SEX. I met him at a party around 1979, and he was interested in working with Adam and the Ants at the time. After about a month, he was our manager; then we had a bit of a [a falling out when he took my band and formed] Bow Wow Wow. I'm very close to his son Joe and Vivienne Westwood, of course. I went into the studio the night after Malcolm passed away, so it's a tribute to Malcolm really. I've got a lot of respect for Malcolm.
What do you feel his significance was to music in general? Clearly he was an innovator in many ways even as a musician.
I think his contribution to music was the fact that what the public saw was based on a great knowledge of the history of rock and roll. He had a vast recollection. I never met anyone with as eclectic a knowledge of music as Malcolm. I think he always wanted to give you an understanding of the idea that rock and roll should have three key elements: sex, subversion and style. I think those were the three things he tried to incorporate into a scene that had become very tired and a bit bland.
He was someone that wasn't afraid to speak his mind whatever the cost. He ran into a lot of trouble with that. But he was far more articulate than he let on. I think he's one of the four great rock and roll managers of all time. You know, Colonel Tom Parker, Peter Grant included. But I think Malcolm was far too intelligent to just be a rock manager. He did a lot of things, [though he is probably most well-remembered for being the manager of rock bands].
You've always had really interesting hats over the years. Is that something you've developed yourself?
The hats I've designed with a friend of mine called Mich Dulce, who lives in the Philippines. It's made of a material that is actually grown in the Philippines from a natural fiber. There's a work program over there making hats for her company. They're being sold all over the world.
You have that song on the new album titled "Marrying the Gunner's Daughter." That expression is interesting and apparently that relates to your experience with major labels.
I think the whole thing came really from when I was developing the character of the Blueblack Hussar, who looks back on a blockade, imagining a scenario [of] perhaps going to Napoleon in 1812 and coming back. I've read a lot of books about that because I'm highly fascinated by that period in history. I just thought it was a nice metaphor for some of the contracts I might have been involved with over the years, you know?
That's a naval term for a major punishment. My grandfather was in the Royal Navy, and he was a great influence on my life. I'm a big fan of Nelson and those uniforms. There's really a filmic quality [to that period that I thought suited the story for an] album. The album is a double gatefold vinyl with four sides of music. So there was an opportunity there to present the idea as a tale in four parts.
When you mentioned Lord Nelson, is that a subject that has interested you since you were a kid?
When I was a child, I was fascinated by that period. In college, my favorite subject was history, and I studied the French Revolution. That fascination remains with me today.
Over the years, you've mixed in that look with a Native American style. What got you interested in that?
That was really something that [came out of being raised in the culture in which I was born and at a certain point] I think you start to look at other cultures and other religions, as I did. It began from there. There was a film I saw called Soldier Blue, which is a very hard film about the Native Americans.
So that kind of lead me into wanting to read more about it and study it a bit more. I spent quite a lot of time reading about it and studying it. Little Big Man and Soldier Blue showed me a side of American history I had not been aware of.
I found the philosophy, if you like, of Native American society more attractive, if you know what I mean. More spiritual and connected to nature. I took it on board, and right around that time was when I did the Kings of the Wild Frontier album, and incorporated some of that into the lyrics of the album and the look. I found that belief had more respect for nature, and it's a better way of thinking, and it went into my psychology.
Your last album was 1995's Wonderful. What made it attractive to come back to music at this point in your life?
I'd been involved in music since 1975 to 1995 without really a break. I thought that was a good time to get out of it. Certainly, having a family and having a daughter and wanting to spend the first five years with her, I made a conscious decision to do that. I wanted to wait until there was something I really wanted to say and that sounded a little different from everything else going on out there.
Around about three years ago in 2010, I was in a position to begin writing with my friend Boz Boorer and putting together some of these ideas and compiling it into something that would work. I also wanted to have my own label and that's not the easiest thing to set up correctly. It does take time when you're involved with manufacturing and distribution and doing the things normally a record company does for you.
Having done it, I appreciate the hard work that goes into putting a record out. That was a big learning curve for me. I also think there's no exception to actually doing that and realizing that these things can't be rushed.
I also made the decision that I wanted to do the tour myself and get the live show [to where it needs to be]. So I've been touring for the last two and a half years, and I've played in a hundred forty countries during that time. So I came to America last year and did forty shows and this time I'm doing forty-four. I'm trying to pace myself, and I really don't waste my time anymore. You've got to get it right and go out and be happy with it.