Adam Stafford – Fire Behind the Curtain: track-by-track
Ahead of Fire Behind the Curtain's release, Adam Stafford talks us through his latest album track-by-track
Adam Stafford's latest album Fire Behind the Curtain is our album of the month; a rich and haunting record of intelligence, beauty, depth and darkness – it's a monumental piece of work. Ahead of its release on 4 May via Song, by Toad, you can listen to the album in full via the below SoundCloud player, and you can read about the record in more detail below as Stafford talks us through the album track-by-track.
An Abacus Designed to Calculate Infinity
I was fairly obsessed with Reich's Drumming and The Field's album Yesterday and Today back in 2013 when I wrote this track. It's a combination of wanting to merge the minimalist elements with a kind of techno-themed mechanical rhythm that gets introduced near the end. Pete Harvey's string arrangements lend an underscore of melancholy that was really missing from the track before.
We tracked the guitar with different reverbs, tones and distortion to try and make the lines distinct from one another. When the drums kick in it's a real dance party in my mind! The track is supposed to be disorientating and often turns into a psychedelic soup when I play it solo, but I love the clarity of voices of the choir on the recording.
Sails Cutting Through an Autumn Night
I was thinking of scenes in a film where somebody is driving at night – an autumn night – perhaps looking for a house or a missing person. Pete really stunned everyone when he turned up with his quartet to track the strings, because Robbie (Lesiuk, producer/engineer) and I hadn't heard a note of his arrangements beforehand and we were astonished by the nuances and dynamics of the compositions. The title is stolen from Richard Brautigan describing Halloween kids in his neighbourhood.
River Search Into the Night
Again, I had images in my head of a nocturnal river search in a film. This track is densely layered, there are probably around 30 different guitar sections that all compete. Again, Pete does this amazing thing midway through the track where he takes the strings off into a little tangent, creating a much needed middle-eight section. If you listen closely on headphones you can hear the crackle of the wood-burning stove in the studio at the start of the track.
Strangers Care When You Burn
Originally I wrote this as a standalone poem inspired by a few funerals I've been to where the orator sums up somebody's life in a thirty minute speech – like TV highlights of your life. It's the only lyrical content on the album and I revised the poem about three or four times before I was happy with it. The reason there is no lyrics sung on the rest of the record is because I wanted to attempt to create a set that envelops you emotionally without signposting it.
The Witch Hunt
I wrote this track in 2009 and have been performing it live since then. It was written as a reaction to watching Benjamin Christensen's Häxan (Witchcraft Through the Ages) and Dreyer's Day of Wrath. Those two films succinctly illustrate the barbarity and torture inflicted on women suffering from mental health problems during the witch trials all in the name of Christianity. This is the track with the most going on production-wise: strings, beatboxing, piano, percussion, layered choir all building up to this great tension then release.
Another track that was written in 2009 and appeared in a very rudimentary form on my first solo LP Awnings. The reason that I rerecorded it and put it on this record is that it has changed considerably in the intervening years and people keep asking where they can buy it from after a show. We recorded it in one live take with several different mics positioned around the room. It's a pure performance piece to me, a ritual chant or the closest I'll get to an exorcism.
Invade They Say Fine
This is a track that directly addresses depression and an on-set of a depressive period. I read Robin Williams' wife (Susan Schneider Williams) describe his struggles with mental health as being akin to "chemical warfare in his brain" and I can't think of a better description quite honestly. You have to sit there and try and regulate yourself as extreme dread and negativity invades your mind and shuts you down.
Museum of Grinding Dicks
The museum is always open, as it always has been. Age-old misogyny permeates every aspect of our culture, our institutions, our political systems and the corporate and Capital hierarchies. This is probably the most rock'n'roll, riff-based track on the album and we deliberately tried to make it sound as nasty as possible.
Holographic Tulsa Mezzanine
I bought a guitar pedal that simulates an old Melotron keyboard and all of the tracks on the second disc of the LP utilize this. I pumped the guitar through the 'Strings' setting and then through a tremolo pedal, so it has a How Soon is Now? vibe. I love when Robbie's piano and Jo Foster's vocals arrive in the coda, something that was improvised during the session.
I'm You Last Week
It's a simple finger-picked refrain but is endlessly dynamic in its emotional capacity. The ghostly, shimmering guitar sound at the end of the track is an old brass slide covered in pocks that I bowed across the strings – a direct rip-off of the sound from Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Slow Moving Trains.
Fanfare For the Mourning Tallow
It's the most maudlin track on the album. It's a basic funeral dirge, but there is beauty in it I think. This was the first track I wrote after suffering an intense period of depression in 2016 and I think it translates fairly well in the finished track.
I Dreamed I was a Murderer
My friend Jon McCall sometimes releases music under the name Bobby Womb – they are rich and abstract clarinet instrumentals. His first EP The Cona Glen, which came out on my old label (Wise Blood Industries) was a huge inspiration for this track. Jon's influence and inspiration can be found right across my back catalogue. He played drums and clarinet on the first Y'all is Fantasy Island album; he came up with the title Build a Harbour Immediately and Museum of Grinding Dicks and two of his incredible photographs are included on the label artwork on this record's vinyl.
Fire Behind the Curtain is released on 4 May via Song, by Toad; Adam Stafford plays Summerhall, Edinburgh, 3 May; The Hug & Pint, Glasgow, 4 May; The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, 12 May