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Strange World Of...

The Strange World Of… ADULT.
Dustin Krcatovich , February 15th, 2022 07:44

On the eve of a new album and within spitting distance of 25 years as a band, ADULT.'s Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller join Dustin Krcatovich on a venture into the void of their back catalogue

"I'm so bored of talking about it, it's like sticking your finger in a wound."

The Detroit electronic duo ADULT. are no strangers to wrenching, nigh-Cronenbergian imagery – among the more evocative titles in their catalogue are 'Glue Your Eyelids Together', 'Inclined To Vomit', and 'Violent Shakes' – but here, band cofounder Adam Lee Miller isn't riffing on ideas for new songs. He's talking about the big, ugly elephant that's overstayed its welcome in all of our rooms since early 2020.

Miller and Nicola Kuperus, his longtime bandmate and wife, have no illusions that their difficulties compare to the broader COVID-related suffering of which we're all keenly aware, but fatigue has nonetheless set in many times over. "Our last record, Perception Is/as/of Deception, was released into a void in April 2020, when no record stores were open. It took us a bit to get our bearings, but we didn't want to lose the time where we were going to be at home together, anyway. When we started working on our new record Becoming Undone (out 25 February on Dais Records), we figured in two years, it would be over, but the joke's on us. Appropriately, the first single is called 'Fools (We Are)'."

"Maybe we should go into soothsaying," says Kuperus. "We're working towards two tours, a European tour in March and a US tour in April, and it's just like, how the fuck are we in the same spot again?!"

ADULT., however, have always thrived on uneasy precipices (they reference "the void" with a frequency that would make Werner Herzog smile ruefully). The band started in 1998 in Detroit, well before the city's ballyhooed "renaissance". In the popular consciousness of the time, the city was synonymous with dread and desolation. It was also a time when the duo's smeared composite of EDM iciness, techno locomotion, and midwestern art-punk fury fitted in with precious little else.

Finding popular purchase first in Europe, the band spent the early 2000s unhappily lumped in with electroclash. Miller and Kuperus spent years fending off the label and its concomitant hedonism and shallowness. "Our void was completely different from their void", says Kuperus. "We were talking about real life shit."

The band approaches their silver anniversary with that unpleasantness well in the rear view and plenty of other notable credits and accomplishments under their belt. They've worked with one of the more enviable lists of labels in music ('Hand To Phone' alone has been released in some form on their own Ersatz Audio, Clone and Ghostly International; it's even on a live record they did for Third Man). They've made horror films, art installations, and collaborated closely with many of their heroes.

At heart, though, they're still a socially oriented band, hungry to get in front of people again. "A big thing we like about music is connecting with our community. That's part of what's been so hard about the pandemic: all you see is news from the right wing, and you don't get to go out with your crazy friends and realise that together we're part of this whole other universe".

'Hand To Phone' from New-Phonies (2000)

Nicola Kuperus: I thought 'Hand To Phone' was terrible. Good thing I'm not an A&R person! I've come around to it, but for years, people would yell for it at shows and I'd just say, "Fuck you, you do it!"

Adam Lee Miller: I really liked it, so I asked Nicola if we could at least put it on the b-side! For our first couple of records, we didn't go anywhere we didn't expect to go, but 'Hand To Phone' was a song where we didn't know how to process what happened with it. Thanks to this song, I was able to quit my job in 2000, and Nicola quit hers in 2002. That was a key moment.

Death In Vegas – 'Hands Around My Throat' (remix & album version) from Scorpio Rising (2002)

ALM: Our first show in London was us, Death In Vegas and Andrew Weatherall. We got picked up at the airport, and I didn't know what Andrew looked like. We got to talking in the cab, and I asked him his name and if he did music! "Oh, what's the name of your band?". "Uh, Primal Scream?" What was he doing picking us up at the airport? This was just too much for a band that was two years old at this point.

NK: Death In Vegas basically gave us these parts (on a mailed CD) and told us to make a remix of a song that didn't yet exist. It was the first collaboration like that that we had done with anybody, so it was very intimidating.

ALM: NME gave it "Best Single Of The Month". This was only two years after 'Hand To Phone', so we know: songs with "hand" in the title, that's the trick! Then the music video, which we didn't know beforehand, came out and Emmanuelle Seigner was lip-syncing Nicola's vocals.

NK: It was bananas.

'Glue Your Eyelids Together' from Anxiety Always (2003)

NK: This was our response to the angst of getting lumped in with electroclash shit. It was our anthem to the idiocy of the whole thing, the glueing your eyes shut to the hard stuff of life.

ALM: I had added little bits of bass guitar here and there on the Nausea EP, but we really brought it in on Anxiety Always. We thought it would cause a really divisive reaction, but people didn't mind it.

NK: Well, we lost a lot of fans, but we gained a different group of fans.

'Get Me Out' from D.U.M.E. (2005)

ALM: Between Anxiety Always and D.U.M.E., we bought a house in Detroit that was fucked. I grew up a builder, my dad was a builder, so we could do the work, but we didn't realise the extent of it.

NK: It had a toilet and that was basically it. We didn't have a kitchen for about five months! We couldn't afford to put out D.U.M.E. because we'd put all of our money into this house, which in part precipitated our jump to Thrill Jockey.

ALM: We brought in a guitar player to play shows with us, Samuel Consiglio from Tamion 12 Inch. When we were working on Why Bother?, we asked him to permanently join the band. The tours for that album were really difficult, and Sam didn't enjoy it and wanted out. It was an amicable breakup, but his being there had changed our sound quite a bit.

'The Importance Of Being Folk PT I & PTII' from Why Bother? (2007)

ALM: We were really burnt out, and Napster happened, so we weren't selling nearly as many records. We went from feeling appreciated and making a living to just having that all taken away. Part of why the album was called Why Bother? is because all that had made it hard to keep going.

NK: We were also still trying to shake the electroclash thing loose, so we wrote an entire album about serial killers and cult leaders, and did something more like a horror movie soundtrack. For these tracks, we made these little horror films, and that really created a wave of ideas for our next few years of work. It changed things a lot; making these videos helped get us out of the traditional album/tour cycle for years.

'Killing & Dragging' from Decampment 7" series (2008)

DECAMPMENT from ADULT. on Vimeo.

ALM: We'd decided not to tour anymore, and thought it would be interesting if we made a short film and played the soundtrack live. We really needed to bring in a visual component, and record covers weren't enough.

NK: The plan was to just take this film around and perform it in venues, but our booking agent wouldn't touch it. It was too confusing.

ALM: John Carpenter and Goblin hadn't quite become really popular again, so people weren't doing this quite yet. We thought museums would eat it up; the Detroit Institute of the Arts did, but that was it. We made three films, and we went $14000 in debt making the second one, so we had a budget of $500 for the third!

The tracks from the films' soundtracks came out on three 7"s with prints of Nicola's work, each in an edition of 100. It was a very anti-internet thing so there were no download codes. The films are still not online at all.

'Work' from Work/Wreck (2013)

NK: We did construction work for about three years to get out of debt from the films.

ALM: It was heavy work. I jackhammered through concrete in the basement in one building because there was no plumbing.

NK: We were literally shovelling shit. Adam looked like he was in a Matthew Barney film. Work/Wreck was a really cathartic response to that part of our lives. In the video that was the central part of the installation, we perform as these contractor buffoons, which basically represents us working in construction.

ALM: Being knee-deep in shit water makes you ask: was it really so bad touring? We got an invitation from The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh to do an art installation, and we knew we wanted sound to be part of the installation, so we approached them and asked if they'd want to contribute to a vinyl release of the sound pieces. It was the first release on Ersatz Audio in five years.

'A Day Like Forever' from The Way Things Fall (2013)

ALM: Ghostly had contacted us about reissuing Resuscitation on vinyl. We hadn't done an album in six years and only did like eight shows, not counting the films. We didn't want to look like a retro band or something, so Sam (Valenti IV, Ghostly founder) suggested we put out a 7" of us covering 'Shari Vari' by (Detroit techno legends) A Number of Names and '122 Hours of Fear' by The Screamers. That still seemed kind of lame like we were just doing covers and reissues. So, we said we were going to write a 12". It was the first time in our career where we didn't feel we had any baggage; we weren't angry about music industry stuff, anything like that. It's the most depressing record we've put out, but we had the most fun writing it!

'They’re Just Words' (ft Douglas J McCarthy) from Detroit House Guests (2017)

ALM: Nitzer Ebb has been a big band for both of us since high school, so having Douglas J. McCarthy work with us was major. It was also the first track we wrote for Detroit House Guests. Nicola lost her voice two days before Douglas arrived; in the background near the end, you can hear Nicola screaming with no voice, which I think is quite beautiful and haunting. When Douglas got here, I was playing him the skeleton of the track and trying to break the ice. I looked over, and he was on his phone. I'd check in to see what he thought, and he would just say, "Yeah, it's cool, it's cool."

After 40 minutes or so, I got annoyed that he'd been on his phone so long, and he just laughed. He'd been singing into the phone's voice recorder and coming up with ideas the whole time. I'll never forget that. I was so tense, but he was already working! He was also the one that played the album for (Mute label head) Daniel Miller, and who told us Daniel wanted it. To release a record on Mute was a life dream for both of us, and that was through Douglas.

'This Behavior' from This Behavior (2018)

NK: We recorded This Behavior in a cabin outside of Cheboygan, Michigan. Our friends have a place there that's about 50 steps from Lake Huron, overlooking a bluff onto the lake. The idea was to write this album on a kitchen table with limited gear, knowing that we wanted to be able to perform it live. We'd been all over the board over the years, and made a bunch of songs that we couldn't actually perform as a duo.

ALM: We'd gone back to listening to Underground Resistance, Drexciya, Dan Bell... that influence isn't upfront in a lot of our music, and that was kind of intentional early on because so much of techno quickly got cheesy. Now that all the EDM shit has completely destroyed it, we kind of wanted to re-integrate some of what we think is good about techno.

'Total Total Damage' from Perception Is/As/Of Deception (2020)

NK: 'Total Total Damage' kinda became like a premonition of what was going to happen in 2020. Also, in a way, the video for this song saved us: at the start of quarantine, we were losing our record, our tour, our minds. It gave us something to do in the first weeks of lockdown.

ALM: The video resonated, I think, because it was what everyone wanted to do to their fucking room at that time.

NK: We really liked the change of environment that we'd done with 'This Behavior', so for this one we painted our entire basement black and worked in a void. It was the middle of summer, and we were in this damp fucking basement for hours every day!

I got very sick about halfway through the writing process. I got a really bad cough for a month and was hospitalised, coughing up blood. I was laying in the hospital wondering if I was going to die, but I also spent a lot of time wondering if we were going to finish the record.

ALM: If you'd told me there was going to be a global pandemic the following year, I would not have chosen to write a record in an isolated black void!

Becoming Undone is out on February 25