Adam West feature in Snap Pop! magazine - June 2001
So the first thing I learn: Adam West is no joke.
When I showed up at Phase Recording, on the first full day of sessions for the band's third long-player, I really didn't know what to expect. I'd seen the band a few times over the years (although not since a major line-up shift about a year ago) and I thought I had their number: high-testosterone hard rock longer on sincerity and energy than on originality. I grew up reading Circus, Creem and Kerrang! magazines; these days I read Mix, Recording, and Tape-Op, and, OK, I've seen Spinal Tap once or twice - all of which combined to make me think I knew what going into the studio with a hard rock band would be like. I was ready for the guitar player who only listened to his own part, for the bassist who always wanted to be louder in the mix, and for the drummer who has imbibed just a little too much of something to play at his peak.
There's none of that - when this band is working, it works seriously. Lead guitarist Kevin Hoffman impressed me immediately - not only does he obviously pay attention to what's going on around him musically, but he's also got a damn good ear for timing and pitch - especially for a guy who makes a habit of playing such eardrum-rattling music.
When I think of recording, I also think of hours of knob-twiddling to get that elusive "sound" as par for the studio course. So, when I showed up in the early afternoon and nothing much had been put to tape, it didn't strike me as anything unusual - my idea of a bad day in the studio is one in which nothing usable happens all day. It took me a few minutes to figure out that the band didn't think this was ordinary at all, and tensions were running high.
When I arrived, the band was working on basic tracks for what will probably be the opening track of the new record, a fast and furious, time-change-spiked punch-in-the-face of a tune with the thoroughly appropriate name "C'mon and Bludgeon Me." Adam West has recorded with engineer Bruce Falkinburg at the old Phase location a half-dozen times or so, but earlier this year the small College Park studio in back of Atomic Music became a big studio in the front of Drums Unlimited, and the band was having a little trouble getting used to the cavernous 1600 square-foot new "A" room. Guitarists Kevin and Steve, sequestered in a glass-walled isolation room and hidden by their amps, missed a visual cue from Jake, who's standing some yards away or so. Meanwhile Bruce still wasn't totally happy with the way the drums sounded; he went out to swap out a kick drum mic, and the mix in the control room began to gel. I wandered into the main room with my camera to take the first few shots of four reels of film which the developer would screw up later. Jake assured me everyone is cool with me being in the room trying to take some pictures. When I'm there though, I can suddenly sense the tension, and when someone grumbles about "take sixteen," I realize that the band, seasoned though they are, is genuinely frustrated with how little progress has been made so far. Fortunately, with the last of the drum and guitar miking questions solved. the band finally gets a solid take of "bludgeon," and the mood eases considerably.
Hours later, after a pizza break, Jake told me exactly how ambitious his recording schedule really is. By then the band has long since settled into a groove, they've nailed five or six tunes, usually on the first or second take. Jake says he wants to do basics for sixteen songs in two days, nine on Saturday and seven on Sunday, with another day, maybe two, for overdubs and vocals. After my head stops reeling - sixteen songs in two days!? Is he _nuts!?_ - I do a little fast arithmetic in my head. Why not just eight each day? I wonder. That's not what Jake wants - he's very sure of this. He wants to do more than half of the tracks the first day, because he wants everyone to go home with a sense of having made a little extra push and triumphed over the odds. It's a typical example of the determination and focus this over-achiever brings to his band - as he tells me, prompting me to turn on my micro-cassette recorder so I can get the quote right for a change, Adam West has just released "four records, on three different labels, in five weeks."
Listening to this band lay down tracks, it's easy for me to hear why Jake wants it to be as prolific as possible. Everyone is very carefully polite when the name of departed guitarist Derrick Baranowsky comes up, but it's obvious that that the line-up shuffle has done nothing but good for the band. Longtime bassist Steve has switched to rhythm guitar, and the band's friends Johnny May (on bass) and Kevin have joined founders Tom Barrick (drums) and Jake (who prefers to be credited as "throat"). The dual guitar line-up sounds ballsier than ever, and the band is tight and energetic. Listening back in the control room, Bruce messes with the tracks a little bit, adding some reverb here, a touch of delay there. After trying a few variations, he begins to back away from what he's been adding, returning to the raw sound of the mics in the room. "It just sounds better without all that shit on it," he chuckles. Jake amazes me further when he tells me that a lot of these tunes have just come together in the last five weeks. "I finished writing the lyrics just two weeks ago," he points out, "and a lot of these songs are really new." Based on the level of comfort the band seems to have with the tunes, I never would have guessed that they didn't know them better, but maybe that's why the session is sounding so fresh. They're cut from the same cloth as the bands earlier material, but they sound punchier and catchier than ever.
Of course, there's plenty of clowning around between takes. There's a stack of old _Playboys_ and 70s motorcycle magazines for guys to flip through, Kevin lugged in some sort of Playstation thing, and when not playing guitar, he spent a lot of time annihilating his band-mates at Quake. And the band definitely has a "locker-room" sense of humor; Jake tells a lot of jokes he makes me promise not to print. But one of the themes that keeps cropping up is the band's firm, but unassuming, work ethic. Jake seems equally upset by "slacker" musicians who don't bother to sing or play very well and by "rock stars" who take themselves too seriously. "That's bullshit," he snarls with evident heat. "We take it seriously in that we want to play well, but we don't have any big political statement, and if anybody is self-deprecating, it's me. This macho seventies rock star singer image that I put on, it's incredibly tongue-in-cheek, and what's happened is I'm misunderstood by some of these indie rock people, that are so detached, they look at me, and they think I really think I'm like that - the Robert Plant macho bullshit. And the whole point is, it's funny - and people that get it think it's funny, and think it's cool too. That's what's great about this band: that we're serious about the music, we're serious about our songwriting, but we're not some bullshit band like Creed - I've seen that _Behind the Music_ like three times now - and to hear this guy say 'I was going to be a minister, but I realized I could turn more people on to God by being a rock star,' that just makes me so sick I can't even believe it."
Kevin takes time out from whupping ass on some fire-breathing snake-demon to wax philosophical for a minute or two: "You need to have a job, you need to have an irritating wife or girlfriend, you need to struggle in your life, otherwise you're probably a really shallow person. I think that the best music usually comes from either people who make an effort to make their lives full of a lot of interesting things - well-rounded, or disturbingly-rounded people - or it comes out of people who are really struggling. It's always hassle to find a night to practice, and when you finally agree on a night, it's like, this week I can't make it, I got this, I got that, but then again, if were all just sitting around trying to come up with songs - I know that a lot of my best guitar ideas, and other stuff, comes around when I feel like I've succeeded in some aspect of my life, like I pull off some big project at work, or I had a great orgasm with my girlfriend, or whatever. That's when you go and you play, and you hear something in your head. If all I had to do was sit around and play guitar and fuck beautiful women, it would suck." He gives me a challenging glare. "And you can quote me on that."
It's wearing on toward Sunday evening when Steve and Jake inadvertently give me the title for the article. The love that dare not speak it's name? Rock. Seventies rock. Album-oriented FM radio. You know - (look around to make sure know one's listening and whisper it) - _classic_ rock. By now they seem to have forgotten that I'm a journalist; their guard is all the way the down, and they're grousing good-naturedly about what they don't like about the DC "scene" (briefly put: y'all don't shake your asses enough. Plus, a few of you are hypocritical jerks.) and what they do love about music (stuff that rocks). And Jake has been telling me about some of the gems of his record collection, a lot of old Who singles along with the early Dischord stuff. And Kevin has been playing a variation on spot-that-riff: sing a line from a Ronnie James Dio song, he challenges, and I'll play it, so I unsteadily warble something about the "last in line," and of course he nails it. "We all grew up listening to Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Sabbath and the Doors, that's always there, that classic rock foundation," Jake confesses. "That's what distinguishes us from almost every other DC band, because DC's such a hotbed of staying away from all that . . . trying to do everything in your power _not_ to rock," and he laments that he doesn't have the range to tackle a cover of Heart's "Crazy on You." And it dawns on me slowly (because, when all is said and done, I'm pretty dense) that Adam West, their love for the Stooges and Misfits notwithstanding, really is pretty much a classic rock band that's not playing covers - or, rather, it's what "classic rock" could be if its head hadn't vanished up its ass a long time ago.
Leave it to Steve to sum it all up. "The bottom line," he says, "is we're all guys. Some guys drive muscle cars, and that's what makes them cool. We're just guys, we're in a band, we have fun, and we grew up with all these bands, like Kiss, Led Zeppelin, AC-DC - Bon Scott was such a badass, we all grew up looking at him, going 'Man, he's such badass . . . I wanna do that.'" Except for part where you die in your own vomit? I wonder. Steve chuckles. "Well, sure," he says. "That's going to happen eventually."
by Doug Mayo-Wells, Snap Pop!, June 2001
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