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A Quietus Interview

An Existential Namaste: ADULT. Interviewed
Luke Turner , August 1st, 2017 08:14

For their most recent album Adult.'s Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus invited the likes of Douglas McCarthy and Shannon Furness into their Detroit home for a uniquely intimate recording process. Ahead of their UK tour this week, they discuss the pre-session hoovering with Luke Turner. Scroll down for an exclusive look at their new video below.

There's always been an air of the domestic to Adult., the Detroit duo of Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller whose songs like 'Dispassionate Furniture', 'Human Wreck' and 'Hand to Phone' from their debut collection, 2001's Resuscitation were tough, bleakly funny and skittered with intimate energy. As a listener you were never quite sure whether they were fucking or about to kill each other - or both. It's curious then that Detroit House Guests, their latest and best album, was made by inviting guest singers and body music fellow-travellers including Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb, Swans' Michael Gira and Shannon Funchess of Light Asylum, into their home. "Somebody told me they were amazed that we were doing it," says Miller. "They said 'You're one of the most shrouded in mystery, private bands that I know of, yet you're opening your home to all these people'. I had a cold sweat, oh shit, what have we done!'." Over two decades together have given Miller and Kuperus that rare connection where they seem to pick up each other's thoughts, finish sentences, sent jokes zipping back and forth. You'd call it couple banter but they wear too much black and are much too smart for that, and the wry but dark humour of their music (or in the video for 'Uncomfortable Positions' below) comes across in their conversation, too. "A lot the early albums talk about a lot of neurosis and anxiety," says Kuperus. "We're definitely the people who before we start anything have to vacuum and scrub every nook and cranny."

The vacuuming before the Detroit house guests arrived to start work took place in their home on the edge of the city's old downtown. The wrecked old town house had been used as a commercial photographer's shop and studio before Miller and Kuperus purchased it and carried out long and painstaking restoration process, doing the work themselves. As well as bottles of Prohibition-era booze hidden and forgotten beneath the floorboards, the restoration work has given them a secure base for their operations, with space in the roof for a studio and, out back, a giant old photo studio they now use for shooting their own music videos. Detroit House Guests felt like the best way of making use of the space, and they applied for and got a grant from the John S. and James L.Knight Foundation to make it happen. "With this grant there was no strings attached, they just wanted us to do the process," Miller explains. "The concept was for us to have a collaborative experience, and it even specified in the contract that they were to have no rights or ties to the physical album."

In theory they could they just have had friends to stay, gone out for dinner and had a nice time. "We wondered if that might be what happened," says Adam. "What if you're just not getting along with someone?". Yet first guest Douglas McCarthy brought an atmosphere of work work with him to the house, as his wife Hazel immediately set up in the spare office working on her film featuring Genesis P-Orridge, Bight Of The Twin. Everyone tapped into McCarthy's ferocious work ethic ("I loved The Quietus interview where he said 'I'm still looking for a way to get paid for hiding under the covers cowering from the fear of the day'" says Miller) that meant they launched into writing hours after he arrived. "What I think is important about the underground is that you have to be self-motivated," says Adam. Nicola continues "once we had the two songs done with Douglas the competition was on - everyone wanted to do the same thing".

None of the artists were allowed to begin work on anything before they arrived, and nobody was able to listen to the other songs. There's therefore a great progression and focus to the album, keeping all the voices together into the Adult. sound. "I think by not knowing it provides the freedom to work and go wherever the music is telling you to go," says Kuperus.

Now Detroit House Guests is put to bed and Miller rather emphatically says their won't be a second edition, can they reveal any surprising habits? Did Douglas McCarthy leave the loo seat up? Robert Aubrey Lowe caught raiding the fridge? "We can't say - that's in our doctor patient confidentiality agreement," says Miller. "There's a trust element to the domestic situation, when you're sat around in the morning in your slippers having a coffee talking about what you're working on it's very personal and I really think that came across in the record." 
 As part of each three week residency Kuperus and Miller took their guests on different trips to notable places around Detroit, took Lun*na Meno was escorted around the Motown Museum, Rob Lowe to the United Sound and techno museums, Douglas to the Detroit Institute Of Art to see the Diego Rivera murals, and Shannon Funchess to dance music festival Movement, which they feel resulted in the fact that her tracks are the most club-friendly on the record. Miller thinks that Gira's contributions are so laid back as mornings were spent checking the masters for Swans' latest LP The Glowing Man at "full, full" volume in the Adult. studio. "It's interesting that when that was done we actually wrote some of the most peaceful music". Kuperus adds that "It's odd that how the album ends with this piece thats almost like a namaste but it's funny because it's Gira and he's such a fucking powerhouse".

Miller: "The three of us translating 'namaste'... it's not going to be come across that way - it's going to be 'namaste, asshole'. 'Have a great day, shithead'. 'Life's 'pointless, who cares'". 

Kuperus: "An existential namaste".

Miller: "That was the alternate title of the album".


Those visits to key landmarks of the city's musical history combined with the domestic intimacy and Adult. retaining a firm hand on the musical tiller is what gives the album a terrific cohesion. It is decidedly more than the sum of its parts, quite an achievement given the powerful voices and personalities involved. It sits, as Adult. albums always do, somewhere between tough Motor City electronics and punk rock attitude. Indeed, more than any other of their past records, Detroit House Guests feels like a celebration and a culmination of their relationship with the city and their enthusiasm for showing their guests the place inhabits every note of the music. "Because we've lived here so long it's just a given, it's inherently in there," as Nicola puts it. "There is almost a resonating sound to the city, you've been here and seen how vast some of the open spaces are. It's obviously very different from Tulsa Oklahoma, I don't know how inspiring that would be."


Despite all the problems that still exist in the Detroit (during Douglas McCarthy's recording sessions they had to duck from the windows thanks to the New Year habit of residents firing their guns into the air), they have a deep love for the place. They spent much of the 90s immersed in the Detroit techno scene. "Going to raves in the early 90s was just incredible. I was blown away by it," Miller recalls. "I would go to them with a notebook and a pen and sit and write down musical ideas. I was such a nerd, it was incredible. Then I got to know everybody via the record labels and the parties. It was an incredible time." He invited Mad Mike of Underground Resistance to one of his early art shows. "Mike came down and said 'man, thanks for inviting me, I've never been to an art gallery before, I've never been invited, people assume that I'm ignorant and not into this stuff and I really appreciate you not pre-judging me'. Back then everybody knew each other, you knew where everybody's homes or offices were and you could just go in brainstorm and hang out."

Adult. were curiously out of time, an anomaly in an age that still thrived on binaries, which was why they existed, as they still do, across the different Detroit music scenes: "It's really hilarious when you look at the history of music as obviously vocals and electronics have gone together since the 70s, but at that moment because techno was gaining so much momentum and we were from Detroit people said 'oh they're a Detroit techno band', which we weren't," says Miller. They collaborated with The Dirtbombs yet weren't a garage rock group "and that confused the hell out of the garage rock people. We always straddled so many worlds."


This week, house guests departed, Adult. head to the UK for a series of live dates, including one for the 20th birthday of Glasgow club Optimo that takes place on the exact anniversary of Adult.'s own first gig, which happened in Berlin in front of 20 people. "I'd never played live before and it was horrifying," says Kuperus before Miller continues, "we were pretty much in the middle of the performance and I'm looking around and can't find Nicola anywhere. She had slowly backed up until she was hidden in the black curtain at the back of the stage".

These days they're much more confident with the live set-up, looking forward to translating their old tracks to the stage in a similar process to working out how to play the new album without the guest singers. "It's kinda wild that it's taken us 20 years to get this shit worked out," says Kuperus. "I'm excited as to what our next record is going to sound like because it's going to have all the leashes let loose - here we go!"

"Nicola and I can't wait to go back to working just the two of us," concludes Miller; "not because anything was wrong with the house guest process, it's just to us this is total freedom - it's been 20 years, we don't even need to talk to each other!" Now that's a special sort of domestic bliss.

Adult. play the Moth Club in Hackney this Thursday, 3rd August and Optimo's 20th birthday party in Glasgow on 6th August. Detroit House Guests is out now on Mute

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