Having left his Philosophy PhD studies some time ago, circa when he was submerged by a fresh movement of punk rock, our interview guest has crafted his own articulate circuitry thoroughfare which has seen his releases featured on the likes of Clink, Poker Flat and Audiomatique.
We wind the clock forward to September 2011, and as the hand rolls over midday in New York City, we’ve taken some time with one of the most innovative purveyors of minimal and house on the global touring scene. With an imminent Australian tour on the door step as well as further releases and progress on Scissor & Thread, all the furtherance in recent years appears to be nothing more than an introduction. Deep thinking, an eclectic venture into other musical vices and electronica paves the way for this weeks spotlight to be firmly placed on Francis Harris, aka: Adultnapper.
Kn: It’s been some years since your foray into punk rock and a higher educational venture into philosophy, but you now call the electronic world home – a complex mix that you’ve reflected on surely?
A: I guess I mean life is kind of strange like that. The funny thing is, is that a lot of people I knew that used to be into more hardcore music and indie rock ended up in electronic music. Its just that punk rock became really commercialised in a lot of ways, with every single teen movie having a punk rock soundtrack to it. It sort of became something that really wasn’t reflective of an alternative lifestyle or culture which is really what always attracted me to, you know, whether it be literature or philosophy or music or a different way to live or some sort of subversive culture which is something that I’ve always been attracted to for whatever reason that might be.
Now a lot of club music isn’t subversive at all. I’d say 99.9% of it is quite trite and superficial and a duplication of a high school popularity contest, without having to do your homework. Lots of people getting A’s without actually doing the work for it. But there are those really special moments that are the reason that you keep doing it. There’s something quite primal and real about it in a world that doesn’t have much in it other than mediated feelings and mediated experiences. I would say that when a dance floor is right and a groove is really tight, there’s something somewhat pure about it.
Kn: The move to the Adultnapper alias would no doubt have meant something to you and the direction you’ve proceeded into. What’s the moniker’s purpose and why was it created?
A: I used the moniker before with a couple of art projects when I was in college. The first one was an installation piece that I did where I took a bunch of guitars and took the pick-ups out of them and put transistor radios and created this feedback loop with radio signals and delay pedals. I would sing the top ten music videos from MTV one step out of key and it was called ‘Adultnapper’. It was kind of a joke.
I’ve always been attracted to graphic novels and Adultnapper was meant to be sort of like a joke, a graphic novel character with this sort of dystopian piss-take on post-modernism. Which I think a lot of people take as really dark, because the music is really dark but there’s always something kind of funny and strange about the music. I’ve always had a sense of humor about it. Mostly Americans get the joke and that’s why my popularity in America has been more prominent than what it has been in Europe. Adultnapper was meant to be somewhat of a humorous jab at post modernism.
Kn: On the subject of concepts, lets talk about the concept behind the Ransom Note label and the art and literature associated with it?
A: Ultimately Ransom Note was meant to be a part of a graphic novel. Really what it is, is making fun of postmodern literature. The language is extremely verbose and it’s written in this dystopian philosophic language. It’s not meant to be serious.
Kn: Well there’s a direct correlation with your music there. There’s always been an element of quirkiness and playfulness in the Adultnapper sound.
A: Yeah, I’ve always attempted to do that. I think that any kind of one-dimensional music can be a bit of a downer to me. I always try and have the music and the compositions to be multi dimensional. It’s always good to have any kind of humor in any project that’s somewhat serious. It’s the balance that makes the message all the more clear. That’s what we were attempting to do with Ransom Note – was create this comic book figure. It was supposed to be a full concept. I’ve always appreciated record labels that were ‘full’ concepts, both from artwork design, conceptually, artistically, where every element of it is important. It’s not just putting out records. So that’s where we were going with Ransom Note. Then things started to change for me and its pretty much come to a close.
A: Well at this point I’m working with very few labels. Now that I have a new imprint, I feel like I’ve started developing and honing in on a sound that I’ve been looking for. The only other labels other than my own that I’m working with are Get Physical and Poker Flat. Get Physical, mostly collaborations, and Poker Flat because Steve and Tobias – the managing director of superstition – are good friends of mine and I trust them wholeheartedly with pretty much everything that they do. I can always trust that the choices Steve is making has nothing to do with trends and nothing to do with trying to remain hip. He’s just releasing music that he loves. They do it the right way and they take care of the artist. The business is right, contracts are done right and I can trust them. The older you get the more you want to feel somewhat grounded in a career. I just want to work with people that I trust, that really have my best interests and their own interests in mind, working together where we cover mutual interests.
Kn: You’ve mentioned in the past that you like working with an A&R strategy, how have you developed personally as an artist from this process?
A: I think I’ve developed a great deal, not only in the A&R process. I think in any artists’ life there are two developments that get you over the hump and to becoming confident enough to start creating things that have significance. In terms of developing yourself, I think the biggest developmental aspect of it, is firstly, understanding that not everyone is going to like what you do and being ok with that – not being swayed by that. And number two, being able to take criticism from people who matter – who know what they’re talking about, without being personally offended or hurt by it. And lastly, being able to let go when you’re finished with something and move on, and understand that its not going to be the last piece your going to do. I think when you’re first starting out, you hold onto the music that you’ve made like it’s the most important thing. But as you go along you begin to realize that there’s different stages and you are always going to be developing and moving in a different direction. If you’re stuck on one thing then you really not going to go anywhere. That was a big step for me. Being able to swallow my pride and not be paranoid about what people think – and I really just don’t care what people think, at this point. I just do what I do. They can take it or leave it.
Kn: Staying with production, your new album ‘Leland’ on Scissor and Thread should see the light of day shortly. Tell us about the idea behind the album?
A: The album is a requiem for my father who past away in February of 2010. It was written almost immediately. The music was written within two to three months after he passed away. I recorded all the instruments for it, recorded all the players on it, and it was mixed over the course of last summer, over a course of three months on 48-channel SSL board – all very organic, in a style that is the exact opposite of the trends in dance music – and the trend in dance music is ‘volume’ or I should say ‘loudness’, not ‘volume’. I don’t think a lot of producers understand the difference between loudness and volume – “a limiter is not volume, its loudness” or the perception of volume. We mixed everything very low, very soft and organic. We did an experiment and did everything very soft and didn’t sacrifice dynamics for any aspect, so the album took a long time to mix.
It went through a few different stages of possibly working with labels, but I really wasn’t willing to compromise. In the end, the guy who helped mix the album with me ended up being the main artist on our label – Black Light Smoke – who is a guy named Jordan Lieb. We realized we have a sound here and a concept and an idea of how we want to do things – “so lets do it ourselves”.
We’re starting out as vinyl only format and eventually we’ll do digital. The Album is being released as a triple pack vinyl. Because the music that we’re making for the label is format specific. Meaning – we’re making it analogue; we’re making it for vinyl. That’s one of the things that I think is left out of the debate between vinyl and digital. Music that is made for vinyl should come out on vinyl, and music that is made inside of a computer, release it as digital. Why would you make something completely in a computer that never leaves the box and then put it on vinyl? It doesn’t make any sense to me. It’s not format specific. This isn’t a judgment. There’s great digital music out there and great producers producing on laptops for electronic music and just because it sounds digital doesn’t mean its bad. You know, Richie Hawtin’s music is digital and its great, it’s just not the kind of music that I want to do. A lot of the former Adultnapper stuff was digital, but now its become more and more organic and that’s an aesthetic choice, its not right or wrong. The only criticism I would make of the digital industry is that there’s too much amateur music being made and being released because nobody wants to invest – neither in A&R or in an artist. That’s a big element of our label, we’re not signing EP’s, we’re signing artists and album deals and investing in an artist.
Kn: The Scissor & Thread label is New York based and you’ve expressed your love for the city in the past. Places and their space have, and will always have, an impact on people – how has it affected both your life and the evolution of your sound?
A: I love New York! It’s a love hate thing with New York. The New York vibe is the fact that you always have to hustle and work and there’s a consequence to all the actions that you have.
No decision that you make in this city comes without a price, so you get some true artists that come out of this city. You have to work really hard, there’s no laziness, you know. There’s no cheap rent, and hanging out, and going to parties if you want to get something accomplished. You have to make a lot of sacrifices, but there’s no greater city in the world for musicians in my mind. The multicultural vibe and its economic diversity produce an energy in the city that is unmatchable.