Aorta To The Blade Of The Day: Doseone On Alan Moore & More
, July 28th, 2010 11:30
Kiran Acharya talks to Anticon's leftfield lyrical laureate about Alan Moore's Unearthing, Jack Kerouac, and battle-rapping in your underpants
As bright-eyed lyricist with Themselves, Subtle, and 13 & God, Adam 'Doseone' Drucker has established himself as one of the most hard working and prolific vocalists in contemporary music. These three acts alone, in which Drucker and longtime partner Jeffrey 'Jel' Logan work with four other musicians (Subtle) and Markus and Micha Acher of the Notwist (13 & God), have released seven acclaimed albums since 2000, as well as three remix albums, a collation of early Subtle EPs and a free mixtape to whet appetites in advance of Themselves' third album Crownsdown.
An alumnus of the American battle-rap scene, Drucker has gone on to release two limited-edition collections of wayward poetry, The Pelt and The Ought Almanac of Amassed Fact, spoken-word disc Soft Skulls, and 100 copies of a Subtle-themed chess set.
In addition to selling characteristically oddball watercolours at live shows – which he also painted on commission for fans to raise funds after Subtle were robbed in Spain in November 2006 – the upcoming Nevermen project sees him working with Tunde Adebimpe of TV on the Radio, and Mike Patton. But his most recent collaboration is with Andrew Broder of Fog, working under the name Crook & Flail, soundtracking graphic novelist Alan Moore's Unearthing. The full release is preceded by the 33-track Unearthing Influences mix, featuring Mogwai, Boards of Canada, and Genghis Tron, available to download from Lex Records.
We meet in London before Drucker and Logan perform as Themselves, at the City Arts and Music Project basement on Old Street. After that it's off to Glasgow and Edinburgh, before Drucker returns to London to perform with Broder as Crook & Flail over two nights with Moore, before a third performance with Fog. As articulate with strangers as he is onstage, he's keen to cover as many topics as possible.
The Alan Moore project is generating a lot of interest. How did you begin making the soundtrack?
Dose: We are Alan's dogs and we seized upon his novel. Andrew and I always wanted to make something together. This was the first thing that came up. We were sent Unearthing in text form, and as a reading. The first job was to understand it, to know it well enough to even approach it. So we listened to it fifty times, talked about it, and I made a long list of all the recurring themes, like a kid in school would do. I got them all down and when Andrew and I were in agreement, we made theme songs. That's a very simplified version.
I've never done anything like it: there are two hours of dense, borderline-philosophical text, that we had to take care of. You couldn't add drums as they were distracting. You couldn't sing as it makes you not listen to Alan. You don't know what a book on tape is like until you do one I guess. But now we're gonna play with him, and rock out.
With the free mix, they were like, 'do something that represents your influences.' Now, in all reality, when Andrew and I did the thing we didn't have any influences. We jammed in a room together and made things out of that. But we had a palette that was formed by Andrew's love of drone and heavy metal, and my love of drone and ambient, so that's what informed us.
We had to make something you could listen to that allowed you to take in Alan's really intense content. There aren't any lyrics, except a little baby at the end. So the Unearthing Influences mix was the closest we could get to estimating where we came from when we made the final piece, but the music in the final piece had to work with where Alan was going. A lot of the stuff that's on that mixtape we couldn't do on the final version. The death metal stuff, say, is not gonna fly.
How do you apportion your material between all your active projects?
D: Sonically, there are samples and sounds that are on Subtle records, 13 & God records, and on Themselves records. Lyrically it's the same thing. I mean I'm working out my issues here, to the best of my ability, performing for all these people. But there are some guys, y'know, who always sing about breaking up with a woman, like they had eighty relationships in one year? I like to keep my motifs, but they're never about breaking up with women. And I always know when I write something whether it's for Themselves, 13 & God or Subtle.
How do you know?
D: Well, when I write something and it's I-me-me-I, something personal, it tends to be Themselves. With Subtle and 13 & God I'm speaking for six grown men. There are certain things that I might say that they wouldn't. Some of the more intense me-in-a-room stuff, goes with Themselves.
The more contemplative age-based death poetry goes to 13 & God. Subtle was a very specific epic that I was writing. Certain languages went there. I could always tell when I was working on that epic, when I was writing a death-poem, and then on something that I want to say in Themselves. I'd say Themselves is more rap, but it's not. It's more broken prose and brave.
You refer to the lyrics for Subtle in the past tense. Does that mean to say you're finished with the characters and the story of Hour Hero Yes?
D: No. I mean the 'take take take' concept from [Subtle's third album] Exiting Arm is one of the choruses on 'The Mark' on the new Themselves record. I also have it on the Nevermen record, and some of those themes appear on the new 13 & God. So I will do Yes again but I'm only doing that shit when the world's ready for it. That shit was painful, made me feel like I was crazy and barking up the wrong tree. And I didn't like that feeling at all.
I really love everything I've made with Subtle, and I put more than I had into it. I really went there. I did that because of the car accident. [In 2005, Subtle's tour van crashed after sliding on black ice in Iowa. Five of the group were unharmed but keyboardist Dax Piersen was paralysed from the neck down.]
After the crash, it was utter reality. Other bands were just blowing up, getting blowjobs and rider beer... and we were dealing with severe loss and a whole load of reality. My response to that was, I gotta make something that I can die after. I want to make an epic. But going back to this Themselves record, we wanted to cut loose and kick back, make some stylistic, difficult, challenging, interesting 'boy music'.
If I could ask, can you offer an update on Dax?
D: Dax is awesome now, but he just spent a year in fucking bed. Fourteen months with bed sores. Which are pretty much what you have to worry about as a quad-or-paraplegic. They are what give you infections and take you, y'know, to the big bed in the sky. Dax had one that was pretty severe. But he kicked it, finally got a skin graft, everything was better. He's back in his chair now, making music on Ableton, working on the new 13 & God. But I think this was the hardest year of his life.
The new Themselves record, Crownsdown, might be stylistically difficult but there's a lot of outright rap attitude on it. On the track 'Oversleeping', is that your home address you're putting out to people?
Dose: Sure is. I've gotten weird fan mail. Nobody's rang my doorbell yet, but I had someone on Facebook say 'I went to your address...' But they had heard it wrong. And so I did not correct them. But they're like 'I wanna smoke a blunt with you.' And I'm like, no, I put that on there for all the women in men's skin who talk shit on me from far away.
Jeff and I took a lot of time putting our twist on all this rap slang and bravado that we've always loved. So my whole thing was not like [dumb rapper voice] 'Yo when I see you at the fuckin' club I'm gonna punch you.' My shit's like, 'Here is my home address. Come on over. I'll take your face off.' I don't care if you wake me up and I'm in my underwear. That was my take on all the shit-talking that people do but never back up.
With Themselves you have the bravado, but also the more formal poetic moments as heard on 'Roman Is As Roman Does'. In the chorus I count 48 rhymed syllables.
Dose: Yeah. The lines are 'aorta to the blade of the day / and the stay of decay / left embedded when I'm dead it in the sing bone poem stone say.'
D: 'Push it.' And the line 'the only heart in hell', I don't know if a European said that to me, or if I just thought I heard it. I think someone got their English wrong, and I was like 'god damn. That's what I'm talking about.'
I feel like sometimes with all this MP3 stealing and all our fans, they love us, but they have so much on CD-R. And they're the ones that love us a lot. But my whole thing was like 'y'all motherfuckers are going to hell for that shit.' You're gonna go to the big pearly gates and they're gonna be like 'Wooo! Y'all took a lot of shit from Dose and Jel here!' It's gonna take you a second to clear it up at the hellgates. So when I heard 'only heart in hell' I thought about us, we're good people that make mistakes, we do wrong too, we'll probably get hell also... but at least out hearts will be intact. That whole song is a very fun, poppy, ode to this share/stealing line that people are drawing or not drawing for themselves.
OK. The first that many people in the UK heard of you was in 2000 on the album Circle, with Boom Bip, or with cLOUDDEAD. At that time you were interested in Beat poetry, in spontaneous composition, as when Jack Kerouac would sit at the typewriter and just jam it out. So in that spirit, I brought this...
D: Oh you brought me a typewriter!
Well you can't take it away, I need it—
I didn't know if you'd be up to the challenge. Can you battle-rap on paper?
D: Oh shit, ha ha! Battle-rap? Sure! I'd love to man. You want to know something about Kerouac though? Unfortunately he is another blues thief. He stole the majority of his persona and spontaneous generation stuff from - [sits down at the typewriter] - Bob Kaufman. Kaufman is the original black Beat poet. He invented the word which became 'beat'. I'm losing ink here... how do these things work again?
Jam it across, all the way until you hear the ding.
D: Yeah! So Bob Kaufman was the original black beat, the majority of his poems were spontaneous, performed on tables and at corners. You know all the jazz poetry that Kerouac does rather poorly, like 'zip zang, badow!' Bob started that on the spot. Kerouac did it on Carson but Kaufman did it for real. Kaufman's Abomunist Manifesto is some of the most influential poetry I've ever read. And the best thing about him is that in the height of his career, when all those Beats were blowing up and he was blowing up less, John F Kennedy got shot. Kaufman was distraught, he couldn't believe where the world was going. And so, he took a vow of silence.
And after a few minutes of joyful clacking at the typewriter, Drucker is summoned to the stage. 'Wait,' he says, pulling the sheet of notepaper from the reel, scrutinizing the words. 'You're within your rights to keep that and burn it,' I say. 'No!' he replies. 'It's good... yeah, it's good.'
He quickly tells me about the poets Marilyn Hacker and Galway Kinnell, about how Kinnell has translated Lorca and makes Walt Whitman 'sound like a bitch.' By way of a signature he leaves an elaborate squiggle and curling line, punctuated with a lopsided heart broken with zig-zags down the middle.
There are 22 lines, gradually indented from the left. The final words: 'bright and waiting for the happy poems to feel like heat / and for the sleep to set like rest, along the happy / brideless sharing of a self with other selves on all this earth / yet always... in a night club.'
Crook & Flail perform with Alan Moore at the Unearthing launch parties in the Old Vic Tunnels, London, on Thursday July 29 and Friday 30. Click here for tickets and info
A Fog performance followed by Crook & Flail takes place in Cafe OTO on Saturday July 31. Click here for tickets and info Crownsdown by Themselves is out now on Anticon.