Inspired by her epic journeys across the States and the loves she left behind, Adele is back with a new album of tender countrified yearning. But you’d never know it from talking to her…
Adele laughs more in Clash’s hour-long meeting than in any other interview we’ve done. She has a lot to laugh about. The Grammy-winning Tottenham-born singer has won the hearts of her homeland and stormed her way across America, picking up plaudits, celebrity fans and renowned producers along the way.
Her debut, ‘19’, introduced a precocious teenage talent; a voice matured beyond its years and emotions so bare and vulnerable it was impossible not to fall under Adele’s spell. It arrived in the wake of the BRITS recognising her potential with their inaugural Critics Choice Award, pointing the limelight squarely on her young shoulders. A couple of years later, and the not-socleverly-titled ‘21’ presents a more worldly Adele Adkins: global superstar, critics’ darling, and still unlucky in love. Co-produced by Paul Epworth and Rick Rubin, it’s an album made from heartbreak, but don’t expect any self-pity and melancholia here; ‘21’ is a resplendent display of resilience, strength and self-assurance. An effervescent person to be around, it would seem Adele’s best music is born from those infrequent moments of despair.
Clash meets Adele in the Central London offices of her PR. The pair of us are not alone – a small pair of eyes penetrate Clash as we begin our conversation. It’s not her overprotective press officer; it’s Louis, her tiny brown dachshund, who sits on her lap and watches distrustfully over proceedings, until a jar of milk on the table between us proves too tempting and leads to one of us vomiting. Read on to find out whom!
This issue we are presenting our Ones To Watch for the year ahead. As someone who was in that position a few years ago, what was that experience like?
It was a bit overwhelming. I felt quite uncomfortable by it all. Everyone assuming…you know what I mean? It wasn’t actually like, ‘Oh, she’s won a BRIT award cos she’s done well’, it was everyone assuming I was gonna do well.
What advice would you give to someone who finds themselves in that position now?
Don’t believe the hype. Don’t read any press. Just do it for the reason you started and not because of what everyone’s saying. I read a lot of [my] press, and it makes you hate yourself a bit. (Laughs) So I’d say do the work and make the music how you did before anyone cared.
– – –
Rick Rubin produced some of the songs on the new album. How did he come on board?
Rick Rubin works for Sony, and then he came down to SNL – I’m not sure if he wanted to, but his girlfriend wanted to. And then he really loved it, then we met at Music Cares, which was a couple of nights before the Grammys, for Neil Diamond, and I sang there, and I was actually the worst of the night. He always tries to say, ‘No, you were one of the best’, but I wasn’t. I followed Jennifer Hudson and I just know I was shit. He tried to boost my confidence going, ‘It was brilliant! It was great’. And then, when I won Best New Artist he sent me an email saying, ‘Shall we do a record together?’ Nah, you’re alright! (Laughs)
Were you concerned at all about what music Rick Rubin normally produces, how it might differ from your own, and what he might do to your music?
I didn’t think we’d fit in together at all actually. That’s why I was so intrigued to do it, because when he said he wanted to do it, I was so like, ‘Eh?!’ I think it was a challenge for both of us, and I think that’s why we both wanted to do it. He seems to be a person you can’t really say no to, but understandably there must have been concerns that he wasn’t quite right for you. I mean, I wasn’t daunted by it at all – if it didn’t work, it didn’t work. It would be an expensive mistake if it didn’t work, but it did work and it was brilliant. It was just too much of a good opportunity to pass up really. He was just so wise. I’ve actually never been so chilled out, being involved in music, as I was when I was in Malibu with him and the band.
Were the songs on the album written in America?
Two songs were written in America, which was ‘Rumour Has It’, one I did with Ryan [Tedder, songwriter and producer], and ‘Someone Like You’, that I did with Dan Wilson; they were both done in LA. But the other ones, including about five that aren’t on the record, were done in London. I didn’t want to be travelling loads, back and forth, to write. I finally was at home and had to live a bit again and decide…well, I didn’t need to decide what I was going to write about; I knew what I was going to write about. I just wanted to be at home around my comforts and around my friends. Some of the lyrics are quite angry… Of course! (Laughs)
The album titles are named after the ages you were making them. Do they mark specific chapters of your life at that age? Will you be able to look back and remember how you were feeling at that time?
Yeah, totally. I didn’t want to call this record ‘21’ at first; I thought it was really obvious, I thought everyone would be like, ‘Ooh, she ain’t got much of an imagination, has she?’ I was trying to come up with something else, but in the back of my mind was always ‘21’ as a title, but I just kept swerving it. Then I listened back to ‘19’ and read reviews from live shows and stuff like that, and suddenly felt like that it is properly two years later, and twenty-one is really an official age, and I do feel like I’ve really become an adult in those last two years. So it was really an obvious title, but I think being obvious sometimes is right, rather than trying to be clever.
Do you think there’s a limit to how honest you can be in song and what emotions you put in there?
I dunno, because sometimes I’m like, ‘No, I like being honest’, and sometimes I’m like, ‘I wish I hadn’t written that’, so I really don’t know. I think it just depends on my mood. Sometimes I don’t want anyone knowing any of my business, and other times I’m like, ‘Maybe I’ll just say it how it is’.
Words by Simon Harper
Photo by Jesse John Jenkins