Adam Stafford’s career is one that’s prolific in all of the right ways. He’s been involved with music and film, but never in a generalised way. Taking the stance of an actual creative rather than doing things purely for the sake of it, each of his projects has a unique and experimental approach that leaves no two projects sounding a like. His previous band, Y’all Is Fantasy Island were a part of a blossoming scene of bands, that unfortunately saw them fail to get the attention they deserved. Not letting this deter him, Stafford began a solo career and even his own mini-label (Wise Blood Industries).
Finally, teaming up with Song, By Toad (SBT), a Scottish Independent label, he’s now gearing up to release his second album, ‘Taser Revelations’, with SBT. Throughout all the madness approaching he was kind enough to answer some questions for us about record labels, the case for and against, along with his complex stage setup and approach to creativity.
What’s the background between you and SBT? Will Wise blood Industries end up partnering for physical releases or will it remain your own separate entity?
I was a big fan of the label for years and Matthew and Ian (who used to help run the label) saw me perform before The Twilight Sad in Edinburgh. Matthew wrote a rave review of the gig and a couple of months later I became really depressed and despondent and told Song, by Toad that I was going to give up playing music. Matthew told me to just record the next album and they would look into releasing it. I’m glad they did because I think Imaginary Walls Collapse is probably the best album I’ve made.
In terms of collaborating with Wise Blood Industries, I can’t see that happening as Matthew is quite focused with SBT now and WBI isn’t really a label any more, I’m trying to wind-down operations.
With SBT are you more comfortable creating whatever comes into your head? Do they actually have any input as to what you release or are they just supporting your creativity by giving you the means to physically release your materials?
Pretty much yes. It is a good, transparent and collaborative relationship. They had made suggestions on track sequencing before but that was all really, as far as creativity is concerned they are extremely trusting with that aspect of things, which is just as well as I can be a right stubborn controlling bastard!
All labels have their own aesthetic and approach to presenting themselves and their artists, SBT are very free flowing it seems with emphasis put upon the personableness of the artists rather than a specific agenda, how important does that feel to you as an artist being represented by them?
I like it very much, I mean it is essentially Matthew putting out albums that he likes and that is as complicated as it gets. He also wants to collaborate a lot with musicians and does a lot of session work where he will record a band and release split EPs, there’s one coming up with Micah P. Hinson and Willard Grant Conspiracy I think. As an artist represented by that ethos, I think it is philosophically sound.
Small labels are an integral part of the music industry because without these the smaller acts who are just starting out won’t get the recognition they may deserve. SBT is a great example of a label that do things for all the right reasons and keep things local, but by keeping things local could this potentially hinder the wider success or is there a more positive outcome by keeping things local and niche?
You are right in saying that SBT has a mostly local roster but they have also put out music from wider geographical locations too; one of their groups Trips and Falls are Canadian and Matthew is currently working on a split 4-way EP recorded in New York with four bands from Manhattan. I think the wider success element has a lot to do with distribution channels – whether that be by internet or by physical distribution on a grander scale. At its essence it is niche Left-field Indie, so your opportunities are always narrow.
In terms of labels and releases, do you see any merit in a band looking to secure that major deal or instead, as you’ve done yourself, set up you’re own one and keep it DIY? It’s where the trend appears to be heading at the moment, with focus falling back toward the more minimalistic ideas of say the 70’s/80’s
I don’t see much point in chasing that elusive major-label deal other than the networking opportunities it offers, such as, y’know, getting on a tour support with Depeche Mode or something. Kickstarter and the likes have eradicated the need for Major labels and even large Indies, let’s be honest. You will have the luxury of becoming more visible on a bigger label but then afterwards you are having to compete with the next new thing and the next thing after that and before you know it you used to be on top of the world like MGMT and Klaxons but now you are superfluous and half-forgotten. I always remember Jeff Tweedy of Wilco once saying in an interview that labels were like “weird banks”.
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Do you think audiences find it easier to digest a solo artist rather a band?
Yes, less names and faces to remember.
Your sound is intricate and relies upon a heavy use of pedals to make it come to fruition live, do you have any contingency plans in case anything goes wrong or is it a “cross that bridge” situation?
Not really. The margin for error is huge! A lot of the time if I don’t get the timing right on the first loop I lay down – the bed – then the whole thing collapses. Terrible things have happened before, like the time I was playing on bill with Emma Pollock and my loop pedal just kept stopping without reason, I’d build up the loop and the power to the pedal would cut-out and the layering was lost. Three songs in I just had to apologise and leave the stage as I hadn’t rehearsed anything else. Worst thing was, Emma gave me a lift back home that night and I was all sulky and like, “Man, I suck!” Hahaha.
How would you describe your career progression both musically and personally?
To be honest, I don’t see any of this as a career, I don’t think you can call it that. It does not pay much and I have to work a nine-to-five to still keeping things ticking over. Personally I find it’s something that I have to translate, to get out of my head what I hear on an hourly basis: melodies and rhythms tap-dancing across my mind; phrases and sections looping over; patterns and cadenzas and reverberating shapes. If I can’t communicate that stuff I would almost certainly go insane. On a deeply personal level I love the act of performance and the trance state that can be reached through being on stage in front of an audience. I find the control I have of the music really empowering because – in that moment – I am able to bend it and sculpt it in real-time.
There is absolutely no doubting that Stafford has, rightfully so, gained a certain viewpoint. He also has the sensibility to see that music, and creativity as a whole, is something you should do for you and anything else that happens around it is just an added bonus. With his second album fast approaching, now is a good a time as any to support an artist like Stafford. Someone who has the guts to speak his mind, in the most approachable of ways, along with the output that makes him stand out from the crowd just the little bit more with each release.
This Adam Stafford article was written by Steven Loftin, a GIGsoup contributor