Self-taught multi-instrumentalist Adam French’s sound will play havoc with your heartstrings. Crafting earthy, cinematic songs, French’s vocals are blisteringly sincere, cutting straight to the heart of the emotions he writes about. French recently took The Walkmen’s hit ‘The Rat’ into the studio for a cover delivered with his signature vocal power, transforming the anguished distortion and thrash of the original into a stripped-back appeal to the heart. We caught up with Adam to talk the last year of songwriting, transforming ‘The Rat’, and what’s coming up in 2018.
If you had to describe your sound for someone who’s never heard it before, what would you describe it as?
I guess… I’m a singer-songwriter naturally, but I guess it’s a little bit band-y in places? My background is being in bands as a teenager so it’s kind of crept into my music now.
Yeah – tell me a bit about how you started playing music in the first place.
I’ve always been interested in listening to music as a kid and discovering new artists and bands and stuff. I got my first guitar when I was about 8 so I just started making as much racket with that as possible from then on. I was always pretty inquisitive – generally trying to pick up other instruments and things as a young teenager – through, I guess, to when I moved down South, down to London.
I got into bands when I was probably sixteen/ seventeen and that sort of took me a little bit around the country, but not massively. We did shows mainly in Stoke, Manchester, London, Liverpool – I kind of cut my teeth there. And then eventually moved down South, down here, to try to do it properly as a solo artist.
So what kind of music were you playing when you were in bands? Was it similar to what you’re doing now or was it totally different?
No, definitely different – we were all massive Queens of the Stone Age fans, we were all into Nirvana and stuff so it was quite grungey, rocky. I mean it gradually got less so toward the end of the band but it was definitely more in that territory than anything like what I do now. I enjoyed it a lot – you know, that was the main thing all of us were worried about that the time: enjoying what we was doing.
Yeah, that’s a good priority to have. So is that where you first heard ‘The Rat’, the song you’ve just covered – is that when you first heard that song?
Yeah, definitely! Yeah, well, that song was sort of on every playlist going. You know, pretty much every show that we played, whether it’d be in Stoke or Manchester or whatever, as soon as the DJ was taking over between bands or after the show itself, that was played pretty much every single time we had a show together. It was a massively important song for me growing up as well, we all absolutely loved it – the energy is incredible and lyrically, it’s great. You know, a lot of indie songs at the time weren’t as… I guess honest and intense as that one is. When you strip it back to the roots of it, it is actually a really meaningful, powerful song.
A lot of indie songs weren’t as honest and intense as [‘The Rat’] is. When you strip it back to the roots of it, it is actually a really meaningful, powerful song.
Yeah – was it fun to get to strip it back in the way that you did for your version of it?
Yeah, it was really… Like, I have done bits and pieces of that before, but I’ve never taken a cover into the studio and recorded one. It was always like, I’d rework things and play them for shows and just drop a cover in here and there, but to actually go and properly deconstruct something and play it back together again in a recording scenario was – yeah, it was really incredible.
That’s really cool. Do you wanna tell me the story behind your single ‘Weightless’?
Yeah, I can do! I mean, first and foremost it’s a love song. Like an honest view of the idea that when you’re with somebody or seeing somebody that the emotions and stress that you both carry is harmful and you should talk about it and allow the other person to [alleviate] it and vice versa. Just being able to relieve each other’s burdens is hugely important for both of your mental wellbeing and happiness. Just the idea of, I guess, relieving somebody else’s pain and hopefully they would return the favour.
Yeah, so how did you write it? Was it one of those songs where you started with a lyric, or a hook, or what was it?
Yeah, well I started with the guitar and then sort of it gradually evolved. I kind of left it for a while and then came back for it and jigged it around a few times. But it finally took its final form, should I say, about eighteen months ago – we just never got round to recording it until about January, February this year?
And it was the first time that I’d recorded a track in the way that we recorded it, which was a live performance, recorded on the guitar and the vocal at the same time. It wasn’t actually something I was comfortable doing, it was something I’d never done before. It was my producer, Richard Cooper, who basically forced me into doing it that way because he’d seen it live and he’d seen videos of it and stuff and he said ‘The emotion comes from you playing it so… play it! And we’ll record it like that.’ You know, so he literally just mic’d me up, mic’d up the guitar and we just played it as if it was a show or whatever.
And we ended up – it was actually part of a recording session we were doing at the time. Over the course of three days, we did three takes of that at the end of each night. We did it nine times all the way through and just chose the one that we liked… there was no pressure on it. If we got to the end of that and didn’t get one that we liked, then we’d just start again the next time we’d do a session together. Yeah, it was a really pleasant experience for something that I thought was gonna be majorly stressful and it wasn’t. It was good. And it felt good to capture it in that way because Rich was right, it does sell itself as a performance and without that I don’t think it’s the same song.
Yeah, that’s really cool. What’s been the highlight of this year for you, do you think?
[Sighs] To be honest, we’ve only literally just started releasing music – the best part of this year, I’ve been recording. We’ve literally just been stacking up songs for the best part of the year and the last show I did before we started recording was Reeperbahn Festival which is over in Hamburg, so that’s like September of… almost a year and a couple of months ago. So since then we’ve just been recording things and stockpiling and writing over the last eighteen months or whatever. So we’ve pretty much only just come out of the door with the first thing that we wanna release, which is the Weightless EP. So, the first shows that we do that are part of that release aren’t until February next year.
But to be honest the whole recording process itself and being able to work with a producer that I really wanted to work with made everything feel that it was really coming together and clicking and working so I guess that is the highlight in itself for me. You spend so much time writing songs and trying to get to a point where you can start recording your album or whatever it’s gonna be, so to finally feel like you’re there is a really great thing.
What are you most looking forward to that’s coming up in the next year, then? After all this long time that you’ve been writing, are you looking forward to getting everything out there?
Yeah! Well, we’re gonna be releasing new music again pretty early in the year – it’s either January or February, I can’t remember. And then we’ve got a headline tour in February, and then we’re already starting to map out where we’re gonna be doing the next tour after that… I guess it’ll gradually pick up with each release that we put out. I think we’re gonna be doing a few more support tours as well – the last couple of weeks we’ve had some nice offers from other artists come through. We just finished the Jake Bugg tour about a week ago.
Yeah, it was great – to be fair, that was probably quite a highlight for me. Those were definitely the biggest venues that I’ve played before – we’ve done festivals and things but in terms of actual venues and shows, they were definitely the largest I’ve played. And to go out to audiences that big and play and for it to be so well-received was definitely a massive highlight for music in the last year as well, so that was cool.
Thanks so much Adam! Watch Adam’s gorgeous cover of The Walkmen’s ‘The Rat’ below.
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