The Last Mohican – An Interview with Adam Ant
Words by Ayisha Khan / photos by Imelda Michalczyk
Adam Ant is the last punk rocker of his generation. A smouldering icon of masco-sexuality, his multiple top 10 UK chart hits and 3 number 1 singles have given the world the likes of Stand and Deliver, Goody Two Shoes and Prince Charming. But underneath is an angry middle-aged man, once bitten by bipolar disorder and without a record release in 15 years. Now he’s back from the dead with a new album – Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter – a prolithic upcoming tour and yet another intriguing tattoo. Ayisha Khan visited him at his home to learn more about the latest installment of Antmusic.
You’ve been playing some low key gigs in Paris. You haven’t been playing out of the UK for quite some time now – about 16 years isn’t it?
Yeah well I live in Paris part-time so it was just a local pub; a Scottish pub. And I’m part Scottish. So I went down there and [the owner] gave me a Guinness, and we chatted and he said, “Well would you do a gig here?” And I said, “Alright.” So I just turned up with an acoustic and did it. And that was it. It’s always good to practice; I’ve always played guitar. I like to be able to do it for 30 people in a bar without any amplification.
You got back into the studio last year and since then you’ve been working hard on your new album. What progress have you got to on that?
It’s finished. It’s been finished for six months – I did it with Boz Boorer, co-producing with Boz Boorer, and with Chris McCormack of ’3 Colours Red’. [I] co-wrote with them and some are my own. And we produced it in Boz’s front room, which is called ‘House of Boz’ – Boz’s studio – and Chris McCormack’s [studio], ‘House of Noise’. And it’s the first time that I’ve really been able to kick out all the fucking producers, ’cause they took night and day to get the drum sound and fucking wasted my money. And it ended up costing no money because we just did it with a laptop, mic-c, and our ability. And that’s wonderful – it’s a great sound and I love it. And it’s 18 tracks; it will be a vinyl gatefold sleeve, CD, cassette and they’ll be limited editions and old fashioned singles. And I’m not doing downloads.
Yeah you don’t do downloads?
No, no ’cause I don’t want to. But I think it’s making a point. You know I may do later…I don’t make [digital] records.
What are the new tracks about?
Yeah, well all the songs I do are about things that interest me – stories, or experiences, or conversations that I’ve overheard, or things that annoy me; things that don’t. Certainly, I’ve been away for 15 years, and been sectioned illegally – which I was, and got out. There’s a lot about mental health, which I think is a very serious issue. I went on John Humphrys’ yesterday and sort of tried to explain it, but it’s just ignorance; some people are scared ’cause it’s a taboo. If you’re in the poor house, you’re in the shit; if you’re in the mad house, your family don’t wanna know ya. And we live in a society where a government just want people to sit at home and watch fucking ‘Crossroads’.
Is that what ‘Shrink’ is about too?
Absolutely – you’re fucking right it is! I think psychiatry should be locked up. I think they should see psychiatrists. Why do they get paid for an hour’s work for 50 minutes? So they can get 10 minutes to write out the fucking bill, that’s why. Their philosophy is based on two old Germans and Austrians – Jung and Freud. You can’t talk to your family ’cause they’re ashamed of ya. You can’t talk to your friends ’cause they don’t wanna know ya; ’cause you’re a nut job. So you go and see a ‘neutral zone’; you’re supposed to be going in to express your inner thoughts. If you’ve got a tattoo, you are likely to be a drug addict. [With] Jung and Freud, you’ve got two guys – in an era when seeing a woman’s ankle a guy could jerk himself to death – in a room in the 18-1900s with a beautiful, young, confused, rich middle-class woman, for an hour, with the door locked. Now, I think there’s a high possibility that talking to a woman from that area about, “You’re dreaming about penises aren’t you? Have a look at mine”…I think they can fuck off! I think psychiatry should be fucking banned! Or do it for free, you pricks. I fucking hate it. And ‘Shrink’ is gonna be terrifying!
What else have you brought in and concentrated on in the new album which you felt was an issue that needed to be explained?
There’s a song called ‘Bullshit’ [which is] about the whole internet Steve Jobs family. And that’s what I think it is – bullshit. I don’t want kids buying iPads and all that – [use] the fucking library! I want them to read books; books that they can keep forever or give away. I tell you the next thing Steve Jobs is gonna come up with is a little socket in his laptop to stick his dick in and jerk him off. ‘Cause they’re nerds; it’s the nerd culture (Adam does his nerd impression), “Oh let’s have a table; you can do Star Trek!” What they should do is go and see Richard Branson, all get in that first trip up into space, and fuck off to Mars, where they’ll be a higher intelligence to say, “You’re primitive.” It’s digital sound; analogue is the only way to listen to music – digital is shit; [it's] so you can cram. It’s all about money – the guy’s a fucking snake-horse salesman! You see him [say], “Hey you can put your family album in it!” No you don’t, Steve! You put it in a fucking album, you prick! Anyway, look at the fucking state of him – who wants to look like that?!
What are the styles of music on the album? Your past albums have varied in terms of what you cover.
It’s quite simply the next Adam Ant record and I can’t discuss it ’cause that’s for you to make your mind up. I can – I can tell you the titles and what they’re about – but I think really the beauty of rock ‘n’ roll is [that] the audience has that quiet time to listen. And if they wanna listen to it they can do it a 1,000 times; and if they don’t they can put it in whatever. But I make records. This is the first in 15 years: I want it to be as good as I can make it, then I let it go – you gotta let it go. It’s like a kid: you teach it to wear its nappies, you love it, and then one day it gives you lip at 16 – [it] say[s], “Right now fuck off out of it.” With an album, that’s it. It’s literally like the next collection of paintings; people may love it or hate it. But if they buy it they’re gonna know how I put everything I can – my heart, my guts, my soul – into it, and my own money this time ’cause it’s my label. I think style is consistency and I think I’ve always been consistent.
Could you describe the overall meaning of the new album?
Yeah, it’s kind of a manifesto. It’s stories of events that have happened. It’s about a relationship I was in for a long time that was not particularly nice – in fact shit. And it’s about my feelings about the internet. And it’s my feelings about Liam Gallagher, and that fucking monobrow, fucking crew of monsters and how music went down the shitter. And it’s an angry middle-aged man’s view of the world, put to music. It’s going to be a beautiful record; I’ll do the best I can. If people buy it, they won’t want to take it back, ’cause all my records are worth money.
And you worked with Boz and Chris on that. There was a bit of controversy with Marco Pirroni and Andy Bell – there were some tracks originally written by them. Did you get rid of all the material that they worked on previously?
No, Marco was not involved in it – he played guitar on one track. I got rid of him. And I don’t work with him; I don’t speak to him. And that’s between him and me. I never wanna see him again. And he’s quite happy getting half of the royalties for the songs that I wrote. I wrote the songs; he was in the room. He had a go in ‘Kings’; I mean we got to ‘Prince Charming’ and he was too fucking tired to work. So let him get on with it.
And with Andy Bell?
I never met Andy Bell. I don’t like Oasis. I don’t like Liam Gallagher. I shit bigger than Liam Gallagher.
Did you take Andy’s track off the new album?
No, no. That track’s on the album. It’s called ‘Cool Zombie’. It might be a fucking single. I wrote it with Chris. I’ve got nothing to do with Andy Bell; he never wrote shit. Writing ‘boom, boom, boom, ba-boom’ – that’s by me and Chris McCormack. But I did it and let Chris have the courtesy to play it to Andy – he’s probably a very nice chap – [and] he loved it! Then he tells Liam and Liam goes (Adam does his Liam impression), “He’s not fucking putting that on the album”, ’cause I did an interview saying that I thought Liam Gallagher was a card-carrying, monobrow cunt. Which he is. And if I see him in a room, he better fucking duck. So I get a message third-hand from Andy via Chris, “Well it’s gotta fucking come off the album.” No it ain’t – tell Liam to fucking duck. And I’ve been training with Chris Eubank, so when I do hit him…The reason I hate Oasis is ’cause Ian Brown did their fucking act and didn’t get the money. Noel’s a nice fella, and his big brother’s lovely; but Liam – he’s got a problem. He’s got it, not me. I’ve written a song called ‘Gun in Your Pocket’, which is about him and Jonathan Ross and that other fucking idiot, the scarecrow [Russell] Brand, who fucked off Georgie [Baillie]. I tell you, when I’ve finished with [Brand], he’ll be playing shithouse comedy clubs in fucking Everton. Forever. ‘Cause Georgie girl’s made a fucking great record and I co-wrote it, and it’s gonna nail him. I’ve written a song with her that’s gonna last forever, and ever, and ever. And he’s gotta live with that.
[Gallagher's] too ugly to be in the charts; he’s too stupid to be in the charts; he has no talent – his new group are shit! Duran [Duran] have written a good record – fuck me! Oooohhhh! That [Mark] Ronson is a very talented young man – Ooh! They’ve made a great record – they’ve got Burundi in it; they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at it. Good! That’s what I want. That’s not retrospective, that’s now. That’s showing that if you’ve written a fucking hit record that went to number one, you’ve always got the potential to write another. See those two statuettes up there? (Adam points to the awards on his bookcase) One’s a ‘Lifetime Songwriter’ award and the other one’s a ‘Top 7 Single’ award for ‘Stand and Deliver’. They’re the only two fuckers that I had in here ’til them (Adam points to his numerous disk awards on the wall). But those two [statuettes] are the only two I fucking looked at ’cause they’re for songwriting. Now, “Experience is the name we give [to] our mistake in life”, that’s what Oscar Wilde said, and I’m very experienced. I’m just trying to pass [this] on to the new bands sitting in their bedrooms who don’t wanna go on the X Factor, because they think there’s a little bit more in the world. Every year we end up with another Whitney Houston and another fucking Soulboy and it’s getting fucking boring! And they will run out of steam.
What do you think about bands/singers on the X factor?
I’ll tell you what: I love Take That – I think they’re The Beatles of the X Factor generation. That’s why I might join them on stage at Wembley Stadium…soon. ‘ Cause I love ‘em. Robbie recorded ‘Antmusic’ and paid my rent for a year. And I met Jason Orange in Starbucks – lovely fella. So I’m gonna fucking go and sing with ‘em. You know why?! ‘Cause they’re a pop group! And they write fucking good songs. Good! That’s what I like. But I can also go on stage with the fucking Klaxons.
What are you working on with The Klaxons?
I’m going to go meet The Klaxons in the studio; they’re fans of mine. They’ve financed this film, this documentary that Jack Bond is directing, who did a film called ‘Dali in New York’ in 1965. And he’s been filming me for the last six months. And that was purely [The Klaxons] saying that they’d like to meet me, and I’m going to go down and have a little play with them. And they’re good-looking kids and they play good music. They’re trying to do something a bit different. And, erm, they’re good.
What’s the artwork on the new album?
There’s the front cover; there’s the back cover (Adam points to two paintings on his wall). Mary Jane-Ansell. [She] won the BP [portrait] award and I collect art, as you can see. And I love her work; and there ain’t that many female artists in art; and I’m a collector and I think she’s wonderful. So I’m doing something a bit different. The portrait’s called ‘Girl in a Cocked Hat’; I saw it in a shop window and it’s great. And ’cause the album’s called ['Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in] Marrying the Gunners Daughter’, she’s the Gunner’s daughter. And the little girl in [the portrait] is called Georgie and she’s a little punk rocker.
What’s the title of the album about? It’s you coming back from the dead and the kind of terminator theme. Could you expand a bit about what the actual title means?
Yeah. Right. Adam Ant’s me. The Blueblack Hussar is the warrior. Let’s say that Napoleon had gone to Moscow and walked back through the snow. And he’s an experienced person now – he’s older, he’s harder, he’s not the same person, and he’s been killed. So he’s like the terminator. His spirit’s still there, but his body is physically different; but he looks good, ’cause he’s got older. But that character’s now gone up in the ranks, and he’s kinda a sort of Napoleonic survivor. And ‘marrying the gunner’s daughter’ is a naval term for getting punished – you’d get put over a cannon and whipped – which I think is a metaphor for being involved with Sony for 30 years, which was financial sodomy. And that’s it. You get to a point when you do a piece of work and it’s finished – I’m already writing the third Adam and The Ants album.
How are you enjoying getting back into the touring experience? You seem to be very natural and you’ve got a real presence on stage; you’re very comfortable in your own flesh. Have you got any plans to do any future tours? I know you had a recent one to promote the new album…
Thank you. Love it. Love it. Well I formed a promotion company called ‘Blueblack Hussar Promotions’ and I put those shows on. And I learned how to put a show on. That was really to get the band together – there’s been personal changes – but I’ve got a great band now. They’re called ‘The Good, The Mad & The Lovely’ possey. And they are great and all good kids. And we’re ready to play anywhere. So I then went into business with Live Nation; they’re the biggest promoters. They offered me the O2 arena ala Spandau, 4 years ago, and I said ‘no’. ‘Cause a) it’s not the kind of think I want to do at this point, and b) I wasn’t ready. So now I’ve sort of gone back to roots; reacquainted myself with stage craft and playing the guitar; getting my spirit and love back, which was there. I mean I had to overcome a 7 year illness, and a 15 year gap. Coming back and delivering the goods, ’cause now there are only 2 ways that any musician can make money – merchandise and live. Everything else has been fucked up: you don’t get paid, and [with] the record companies – and this is a big warning – don’t fucking sign with them ’cause they’ll want a piece of your merchandise and your live work. And your publishing. Fuck them! No! That’s thievery. Don’t sign a fucking deal with ‘em. Keep your publishing. Never give a manager anything. Managers are thieves; they can crawl back under the fucking rocks they came from. No one can manage me – I’ll wear ‘em out. They’re pricks. Never fucking give anybody anything unless they’re gonna do the work, and most of them don’t.
You were talking about stage craft. There have been a few reviews – some good ones, some dubious ones – about your various performances at the end of last year and this year, saying you “stormed off stage” etc. I don’t know if they realise that your live performance is an act rather than who you are. How much of the live performances are yourself, and how much are the Adam Ant image that is projected?
Well that’s a good question. Well those [gigs] were when I thought the audience were taking the piss, ’cause [when] they’re seeing me up that close, they’re like next to nothing. I’m working my bollocks off and they sound like a bunch of fucking Teletubbies. That’s why I spat at them, ’cause if they want punk rock, we used to spit – have that! And the other one was some fucking idiot in the audience [who] started giving me a lot of lip, so I was gonna hit him over the head with the fucking guitar. And that’s punk rock – if you don’t like it, don’t fucking come. ‘Cause I tell you what, I’m the last punk rocker; there’s no one left – they’re all fucking old.
What about the ticket costs – there’s been a bit of controversy over that?
Good. I’m worth more than that. Fifty quid is just the start mate. You’re paying one hundred and sixty quid to see fucking Michael Bublé. Fuck it! No. I gotta pay the rent!
Your stage presence is interesting, ’cause a lot of musicians just stand up there and play. But with you it’s more the character of Adam Ant; you’re more three dimensional; you’re an entertainer. You’ve got the songs, but also the jokes and it’s fleshed out. Is that something that you want to bring across about yourself now as you did back in the prime of your career?
Well I enjoy it more now, ’cause I know what I’m doing. I say when I wanna play, where I wanna play and how much I wanna play. But then again I’m a 56 year old man; I’m not a 20 year old guy who will just do anything to get on stage. You know getting told to fuck off for 4 years, or 3 years, [and then] turning 50 you get told you’re shit…and then [they're] calling you a bunch of fascists ’cause you wrote a song called ‘Deutscher Girls’ – they don’t notice I’m a Romany which means I’m a mix race – that’s ignorance. Now [when] you go up against ignorance year in and year out, it’s very hard to grab defeat from the jaws of victory – and they said we did and we fucking didn’t – so it’s good to have something to fight for. When I go on stage it isn’t a character, well it is, but it’s the way I feel. If someone upsets me before I go on stage or on stage, they’d better fucking look out, ’cause they will get it. ‘Cause an audience is there to see and not be seen and hear and not be heard. And if they wanna make a point, you’d better carry a fucking club or you better be a good fucking fighter, ’cause I will knock you spark out. And that’s the end of it. It’s like a boxing ring. When I walk on a stage, my life depends on it, and when I stop feeling that way, I’ll fuck off. ‘Cause I’m not fucking Bono, I’m not a self-righteous sanctimonious cunt, and I’m not interested in people who don’t dress up good. And I’m not interested in people who just wanna see…
…you play the hits?
Well I play my hits but I’ve got a fucking lot of them.
But you don’t have to play what people are calling out. You’re not a jukebox…
No. But when you play them, you’ve got to play them in the ilk [that] they are. Like I’ve got a six-piece band; ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ was made by four guys; the second one’s made by five guys; this is made by six guys.
In some of the reviews, such as in the newspapers, they were commenting a lot about your health. And I find that now people know about it so much, it’s not really relevant anymore.
Yeah, yeah. No [The Independent] was a good review, except for the question mark. But that’s [the writer's] opinion. You see people are gonna have to get over it. I have.’Cause I’m from the mad school of rock ‘n’ roll. I’m with Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard. If I’m ill, then my illness is rock ‘n’ roll. I’m fucking stark raving mad when I go on stage. But I’m on stage and they can’t get their head around the fact that on stage is my work, and that isn’t me. Like Liza Minnelli doesn’t get up in the morning and go, “Oooh Cabaret!!” You know they can’t get their head around it. But never mind. They’ll learn.
Finally, this is difficult but could you ‘genre-lise’ your music?
Antmusic. Antmusic. That’s why I called it Antmusic. They call it ‘New Romantic’ – they can fuck off! There’s nothing new about it; there’s nothing romantic about it. New Romantic – here’s a little secret – was made up by a guy called Richard James Burgess or Richard Bogie-Ball Burgess, and they jumped onto it. New Romantic is Spandau and all that lot. All that kind of council flat and art school [stuff]. I never set foot in the fucking Blitz [club] – I would have bombed it. [My music] is a hybrid. It’s a mutant. It’s an experiment in the test tube that went wrong, but came out pretty good. It shouldn’t have worked but it fucking did.