“It’s time to plug the monster in!” Nevermen interviewed

Nearly a decade under wraps, Mike Patton, Adam Drucker and Tunde Adebimpe emerge as Nevermen this month. In their first full interview, the trio meditate on making music like tapas and driving around in a mega Godzilla.

Feature by Dave Kerr | 05 Feb 2016

“Make something, smash it, make it something else. Can't get bored, there's not enough time left for that.” Tunde Adebimpe cuts to the heart of Nevermen’s manifesto. With their debut LP finally in the post, the TV on the Radio co-founder, actor, director and visual artist finally gets to talk about the alliance he’s forged alongside two fellow outliers – Mike Patton (Faith No More/Tomahawk/ Fantômas) and Adam ‘Doseone’ Drucker (Themselves/Subtle/13&God) since joining Drucker in his Williamsburg warehouse rehearsal space for the first time eight years ago.

Although their collective discography reaches well into the dozens across myriad projects, this trio of journeymen – the minds who brought us groundbreaking work on fearless benchmark records like Return to Cookie MountaincLOUDDEAD and Angel Dust, no less – have never stopped questing for the next revelation. As our idols continue to move past this life, the transcendental spirit of a project like Nevermen becomes all the more precious.

Nevermen sets course for the far reaches of hip-hop and psychedelic soul music, its personel finding an almost paradoxical point of convergence on the journey. “Three chameleons,” says Drucker. “For me, it’s funny how – despite our obvious differences – we even sound alike at points on the record.”

“I think that if there's any intent at all,” Adebimpe notes of the project’s spirit, “it's to surprise ourselves.” The lyric sheet itself presents a lexicon that’ll take some cracking. “It’s about escaping, period,” Patton sums up. “Adam wrote 100% of the lyrics on this record… so I should defer to him. But I can say there is a general theme about responsibility and accountability in our line of work. And the consequences involved.” 

"They are the Nevermen, the greatest heroes who never existed – in the mission they never expected!" Did the Dark Horse comic book influence the project beyond its name?

Adam Drucker: You found it huh!? Actually we were all very unaware of the graphic novel – the name came to us, then we found that a while later. If Guy Davis ever does a Nevermen movie we will do all the music for free in order to compensate him for any wrongdoing he may feel the universe has done unto him via our synchronous minds finding the same name separated by time. 

Tell us about the circumstances of Nevermen’s genesis... I know Adam and Mike go back to Peeping Tom; is there a similarity in the way this project functions? What was your awareness of one another’s work prior to meeting and what compelled you to want to collaborate in this particular combination?

Adam: Somehow, all three of us are cut from the same hybrid cloth in one way or another, and I met both these guys as a fan long before I met them as a peer. The genesis was kinda threefold… Mike and I met and instantly were like, ‘We should do a thing together.’ Tunde and I met and instantly said, ‘We should do a thing together.’

A year or so after having met them both, Mike and I were chopping it up about a band with just frontmen in it. I immediately thought of Tunde and all the things his aesthetic/voice/brain do that Mike and mine don’t. So I asked Tunde if he was down, and poof – t’was the catalyst for becoming what we are today. 

Mike Patton: Peeping Tom was my thing, it was very dictatorial in a sense. Nevermen is a different beast, all three of us entered into the adventure with equal input and output. I wanted to work with these dudes ‘cause I respect and love, in a grand sense, what they do. And I felt that a collaboration between the three of us could construct something larger.... hope we achieved that!

Tunde Adebimpe: I was listening to a lot of cLOUDDEAD and other Anticon stuff right around the time I was writing a lot of things on four-track that would eventually become TVOTR songs. I loved it instantly. It was definitely one of those big ‘what the fuck is this?!?’ moments in art or music that happen – I feel – only a few times in your life if you're lucky. From there, I heard his solo work, Themselves, 13 & God and Subtle, who TVOTR toured with early on. He's a genius. That's that.

Mike I knew through Faith No More, of course, but I was in a two-piece noise band in 1996 or so, and my bandmate gave me a Mr. Bungle CD and that was it. Yet another ‘what the fuck is this?!?’ moment. Then I found Mike's solo work, the 8,000 other projects and bands he's in, and all of the stuff he's put out for bands on Ipecac. He's a huge inspiration and coincidentally, a total genius. I really don't toss that word around, but it totally applies to both of these fools. 

What compelled me to work with them? The opportunity was there and it sounded like it'd be a shitload of fun. It sounded like we'd get to scream and break a lot of things, which we can also file under ‘a shitload of fun.’ 

Adam: That’s what Nevermen is in a sense – the fleshing out of our connection. We have all lived completely similar but different lives bent around making music; this is a non-GMO adventure in exploring our combination, like we would if we were all in the same town and 20-ish, starting a first band.

There have been murmurs of the group for so long that it was beginning to feel like one of those projects that we might never hear. You’re busy men, of course, so what compelled you to push a full-length album over the finish line after all this time?

Mike: One of those instances was probably where one of us opened our mouths too soon, that’s all. Things take time, and become exciting once they take shape. Then, they live. The source of inspiration came from a talk I had with Adam many moons ago. We agreed to do something together, and have it be a singer-based affair, without band dynamics… when Tunde came aboard, it felt whole. Wish I could give you a specific band to reference, but honestly… I can’t think of one. We approached this adventure as ourselves, nothing more or less.

Adam: Nevermen just had a ‘raise one kid at a time’ energy around it since day one, all them days ago. Each song was worked on until it was done, and so each one grew and became what it was trying to be in demo form, and then we would move onto the next song. Honestly, not rushing your music to completion is a luxury that none of us are ever really afforded. For one reason or another, one rushes some aspect of album creation; with Nevermen we sort of treated ourselves to not rushing for once, and in the end there is not a drop of juice on this record that is squeezed out.

Tunde: I think that about two years in, with all that everyone was doing seperately, we hit the ‘It'll get done when it gets done and that's actually awesome’ point and we just kept piecing things together until it was time to plug the monster in and see if he danced funny enough.

Mike has previously remarked that the initial sessions were very loose and improvisational but you’d become surgeons in the editing. You all have form as abstract songwriters; was there a write-and-pass method to the way you built these songs (reflective of the way they’re performed)?

Adam: Yeah you kinda hit two nails on the head… the songs and their production are a product of editing this huge pile of improvised material we had made… and parts of it rose to the top and became demos. Simultaneously, we were working on words/lyrics that stood on their own. Then we intuitively sort of matched lyrics to demos and made crap-ass versions of everything. Once a song had demo bones and lyrics, it went to Mike for re-production, and he had carte blanche to embellish and delete whatever he wanted. One at a time, demos would emerge as songs from Mike’s oven. Then they went back on the chopping block for all three of us to alter, re-sing parts and make them what they wanted to be. Finally, every song got a group finish and polish and champagne bottle across its face.

Tunde: Adam came into the project with a lot of ideas and writing. He had poems and lyrics that he'd done and picked out/pieced together in the direction of whatever we'd be doing, and I had a bit too, then he and I bounced some stuff off of each other and edited and added when he came out to New York. I think the same thing happened with Adam and Mike on the west coast – music production and lyric wise – and then I'd come out there and we'd do more writing/vocals at Adam's place and so on.  

It's funny, one of the things I like the most about the project is that it's really been an exquisite corpse sort of deal, we were almost never all in the same place at the same time, writing or recording wise, and things would get sent off and come back with an entirely different arrangement, or chopped up or fuzzed out or whatever. Factor in to that the amount of time it took, and what everyone experienced separately during that time mixed in there, it's a weird one. It's like staring at a ton of evidence and having no idea who did the crime. Yeah, a lot of ‘Wait, is that me? That was you, right?’ happened while listening back. 

As principal lyricist, Adam, did you find yourself writing from multiple perspectives?

Adam: Yeah, I wrote about the ‘culminate us.’ I suppose the way to say it is: there is no me in these lyrics that isn't them. A lot of it was written with Tunde in the room too, and refined with the three of us in mind. So where I did run with the writing ball, I tried more to write about what we had in common, than multiple perspectives. So when we sing these songs, they mean what we are.

The inevitable question of influence: Were there any particular touchstones you referenced in the beginning? The vivid but often cryptic lyrics evoke Edgar Allan Poe, the layered delivery puts us in mind of Subtle, but the overall premise seems to aspire to the Crosby, Stills & Nash of outer limit hip-hop...

Adam: Shiiiiiiit, all that – except maybe Stills and Nash. All three of us are and always have been music fans, so this is kinda like three record collections colliding. We are influence-rich in our aesthetics in general, so that bleeds into all our choices and songs, but in the end there was very little ‘hey, make this part sound more like so and so.’ We more often made songs go where they were already trying to get, and in doing so pulled all kinds of shit out of our culminate bag of tricks.

Tunde: I think En Vogue, NSYNC, Boys II Men and The Three Tenors were brought up one evening but then we ran out of drinks and pretty much just referenced each others’ bad jokes from there on in. Diamond Dave Hosley was a big influence, we got to go see him once or twice while working on the album – he's the best. 

Mike: For me? Zero!  Maybe E.L.O.? Our palette, to my ears, was only limited by what wasn’t appropriate to our collective ears. For example, I wrote a fucking country ballad for these guys, and we didn’t use it... haha!

Adam: That actually became one of the Nevermen songs no one has heard yet – it is no longer very country though. One of my favorite things about picking demos out of Patton's hat was some of the shit he makes is so beyond my palette, it was like picking a fight with the biggest dude in the room. It was a blast and challenge to try to bring country into our fold.

Mike: We all approached this project from unique viewpoints and provided those instincts… but ultimately, it was an exercise carried out between the ears. Meaning: we trusted each other’s background and impulses. Nothing more. If you are looking for a ‘genre-flag', then keep looking.

The group’s ethos seems to be ‘three equal frontmen, no leader.’ Did you successfully circumvent the associated democratic problems of having a single ego in charge?

Adam: Yeah we became friends through the process of making these songs, and that to me is the big beautiful in all this. Three chefs and never a knife fight. Also, for me the album solves itself of this leadership dilemma, by no one having solos or alone verses, it’s a proper hydra of voices even down to the hooks.

Mike: This record was recorded in small pieces, ‘tapas’ style if you will, but we all knew that no one was leading, or dragging. Even when you are in a band, those things sort themselves out. This ‘band’ had no such problems or issues. Because we are all used to being assholes and getting the job done. All three of us have experienced ‘leader’ issues in the past. This project is a great way for all of us to step back and let the music lead. By the way, a frontman does not necessarily mean ‘ego-man’, ok?

Tunde: I think that not really having an actual, physical studio to record in all at once did away with that... it was more like, ‘I have an idea, I'll send it over.’ ‘I'm done! I'll email it to you soon!’ and ‘Cool, we got all that, I'll see you in two months to a year!’ 

Throughout this eight year period, was there much music left on the cutting room floor that you perhaps felt didn’t belong or was in some way incomplete?

Adam: Jesus, eight years!? One song a year, that’s how we do! Yeah, there’s a ton of cool crap, not enough trimmings to make a dress, but lots of cool scraps.

Mike: Yes, there’s plenty of stuff left over. And that is exactly why it didn’t make the record… we felt it wasn’t good enough. Outtakes are called that for a reason.

Does live performance seem like a logical next step for the group or do you picture this as more of a continuing studio endeavour? Or, indeed, is this it?

Adam: Oh no, we are coming to a theatre near you; hard at work on preparations now.

Tunde: I dunno, you spend eight years building a mega Godzilla, you gotta drive it around a little bit, right? We'll drive it around a little, it's just so shiny. And it has fins! 

Mike: We’ll see how she goes, maybe it is indeed a studio project? But why not try to bring this zombie to life?

Beyond a  Nevermen tour, what's next for the three of you this year?

Mike: A couple of records, a couple of projects, and a film or two… it means a lot to me to remain integrated, whether it translates to the public or not, who knows? Ha!

Adam: My other new band Go Dark – a female vocalist/producer named Ash and myself – are hard at work on our first LP. I have a little secret raw rap record I’ve been working on with another rapper to be named later, and a couple of indie videogames coming to PS4 this year where I did all the music, Enter the Gungeon and Gang Beasts. I’ve been busy!

Tunde: Right now I'm going for a walk, but everything else is super top secret.

Nevermen is out now via Lex. http://lexprojects.com/nevermen/