As you may have seen around the site, I've been talking up Kyle Adem quite a bit lately. I've reviewed both his debut, armour., and stellar sophomore effort, Syracuse. For those as interested in the up-and-coming singer/songwriter as I am, here is an in-depth interview I conducted with Adem about Syracuse, its differences from armour. and what kind of things have been going on in the Kyle Adem camp since its release.
Vance: So tell me, how did you get from armour. to Syracuse?
Adem: Well, armour. kind of started out as a Christian kid working out his own faith and ended with a resolution to part with it. Syracuse picks up, I guess, in the aftermath of that. There are a lot of existential themes that follow out of that path - the idea that all of our conclusions are founded on outside factors that are beyond our control calls into question the concept of free will. The album talks about that and, I guess, sort of explores a really dysfunctional season with decadent imagery. It's a dark album written from the perspective of a chemically dependent, mentally unstable individual.
V: I definitely recognized that going into the armour. review, and it's actually part of what drew me to it; I was a punk kid who had these outliers like Pedro the Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Manchester Orchestra, and as someone who was also having some trouble leaving the faith I grew up in, it seemed like a perfect oppurtunity. I gotta tell you, that album resonated with me a lot. Now with Syracuse, I can see a lot of that afermath you mentioned - almost like wrestling with guilt. I really enjoyed the spoken word bits and the dark imagery put into Syracuse.
A: Yeah, if armour. was my C.S. Lewis/Kierkegaard record, then Syracuse is definitely my Nietzsche/"God Is Dead" record. Honestly, a lot of the spoken word bits were just poems that were collected haphazardly. Someone gave me this midi keyboard for vacuuming their house and a few of the songs like "I Am Not" and "After Jackson" were basically just a very stoned version of myself toying around with that dingy keyboard.
V: That's perfect, because my next question related to "Nietzche." Mostly, I hear Syracuse as more of a refined sound, even during some of the more experimental moments. What kind of influences would you name? I hear bits of Ryan Adams, Conor Oberst and Andy Hull throughout.
A: I'm glad to hear that armour. really resonated with you. To be honest, I had spent a lot of time with my prior releases (Living Room Tapes being the exception, as it was recorded after armour. though released a year prior) really concentrated on relaying a message of faith and love and redemption. So, this was my departure from that and I really tried to convey the message the way that I was experiencing it spiritually and emotionally, as more of a transcendental shift from one faith to another and less of a spiritual death that gives way to just carnal existence.
I'll be honest, I know Conor Oberst and his sound and a few of his songs but I have never considered him a very heavy influence of mine. I have only heard a handful of songs and they're all brilliant, and to say that his vocal style hasn't impacted me at all would be a really small thing to say, but I think in a lot of ways my emotionalism gets mistaken as an attempt at Oberst-ism. With this record, I would name John Darnielle as a significant influence, especially musically on tracks like "Learning To Drive Again" and "The Sunset Alone." Lyrically, his phrasing is noticeably present in "St. John" and "David's Song." I think also Yeasayer is another band that I was listening to a lot. The title track and "After Jackson" specifically are very reflective of those sounds that sonically were becoming really appealing to me - especially as I discovered marijuana for the first time. Additionally, I would probably consider the authors Thom Jones and Rainer Maria Rilke as individuals that had a lot to do with this record.
V: That's a fanastic way to put it. The poetry (and your lyricism in general) is definitely a stong point in your music, and the keyboard made for an interesting sonic departure. If we're being honest, the only misstep in my opinion on Syracuse is "I Am Not," although "After Jackson" is terrific. I can also clearly see the literary influence here. I actually wanted to ask you about "St. John" as well. Do you mind me asking about the substance abuse?
A: "I Am Not" is the one song that I wasn't thrilled with. I love the track but the mixing is poor, some of the instruments were bad choices and the vocals at the end were out of key sometimes- a lot of the levels are off as well. It was one that I didn't save the session for and didn't want to redo the entire thing so I just put it out as is. It's certainly the weakest track on the album aesthetically. I don't mind talking about substance abuse or "St. John". What would you like to know?
V: I feel as though Syracuse is an overall natural progression from armour. The storytelling lyricism on "St. John" is beautiful- where did it come from? And did the substance abuse come as a direct result of parting with your faith? How do you feel it has affected yourself and the music since?
A: Well, to begin, I should say that Syracuse is inspired by a really traumatic love affair that ended in true Hitchcock fashion. "St. John" is the most directly inspired considering the beginning is based on a visit to a church called St. John's Ukranian Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York with said woman. The scene was an innocent one, a tour of the church and some uncomfortable emotional moments that were tense and confusing. The storm that comes is representative of the development of our relationship; the drugs, the lies, the lawsuits, etc. It rips everything apart.
V: Okay. A love affair that really happened to you, or a concept? If that isn't too personal of a question.
A: A real love affair. The concept developed as a metaphorical exploration of the actual event. Basically, I told the story in parable.
V: Got it. That's terrible to hear, but as I said, the emotionalism, albeit sometimes numbing, really shines throughout Syacuse.
A: Thanks. It was an album that had no intention of being an album...it was really just cheap therapy that a year after, I would rework and create this album.
V: Really? I can see that...I'm glad that this collection of songs is being released this way. Dylen [manager] mentioned somthing about producing your next album?
A: We are working on a lot right now, actually. I'm writing to hopefully put out a couple of EP's this year and he is producing another album. It is a collection similar to Living Room Tapes but with an armour.-styled production.
V: That's great! Can you tell me if the writing differs at all from Syracuse?
A: Going back, I would just like to say that substance abuse is part of the allegory. I mean, after the break up I became pretty desperate for pot and it froze me in time for awhile there. I used a lot of those thoughts and feelings to relate with people who have more intense drug problems. I was just a stoner for awhile. The writing on the new stuff is not very Syracuse-y at all. I'm not in the place I was when those songs were written so the next release will probably be much happier and upbeat.
The record that Dylen is producing has some extremely radio-friendly pop songs and the overall feeling of the songs is very optimistic. The darkest song on that album is probably "Seeds," which is a song about dying and going to Hell. But, it describes Hell the same way that I did on armour. in "Brother, Follow" - more as a doorway into Heaven. So, even my "Hell song" is kind of happy.
V: I can understand that. As someone else who enjoys making music, I know that sometimes the shittiest circumstances can lead to the most realistic of songs. That relationship with substance abuse explains a lot of the dark themes, like escape and confrontation, that I heard even on my first listen of Syracuse. I enjoy this record for so many reasons, and I'm definitely excited to see how these next few releases will turn out and where your journey will take you next.
You can find my reviews for each of Kyle Adem's albums on this site. Syracuse was released May 17th via Ghost Motel Records.