Within the first moments of hearing the wonderfully-accomplished ‘Nature Recordings‘ album from Adam Leonard, it is clear that there is something very special waiting in store. The rich production with its magically soothing warming tones sets the stage for an incredibly well-crafted, cohesive release which deftly displays Adam’s particular gift for blending traditional psychedelic-rock and psychedelic-folk elements whilst also maintaining a thoroughly ‘modern’ aesthetic to his work.
The release begins with something of a ‘double A-side’ of sorts, in the forms of ‘The Man Who Invented Himself’ and ‘Lillian, I Love You’, both of which hint at the Syd Barrett influence at work within the album. The opening song is a magically upbeat psychedelic-rock track with perfect whimsical lyrical motifs that draw you into nostalgic warmth of distant summer recollections, compounded by the sublime beauty of the charmingly honest up-tempo balladry which follows.
The album slowly draws you further into the psychedelic-folk world, with shades of the Incredible String Band resonating within compositions; more detailed melancholic guitar work, warming organ tones, ominous lyrics, a sense of drifting further away into the dreamscape which the album begins to detail with perfectly soothing vagueness, allowing thoughts to drift and re-focus to wonderfully reflective effect.
The finale is marked by the ‘Eighth Tower’ suite of four, replete with more poetic lyrical pieces, the onset of droning elements courtesy of PG Six’s very own Pat Gubler and the steadily-building sense of the other-worldly beauty which is conjured in ascending waves as works towards the end.
‘Nature Recordings’ was originally released as a limited edition vinyl release, now long since sold out, this new limited edition hand-crafted CD version, sublimely packaged and equally sublime in content.
So, firstly, might we dive right in and ask you be so kind as to explain how would you describe what you are trying to achieve with your music? What are you chief motivations, what are you trying to convey with your work?
Initially, I don’t think I was trying to achieve anything more than proving something to myself. Writing songs is like solving puzzles and I was just proving to myself I could solve that puzzle. Of course, it’s more than that – but initially that’s all I was doing. My motivation now is to get better. It’s always felt quite private though, and it’s still a surprise to me that anyone is listening to the results to be honest. A really pleasant surprise though. I’m a bit more aware that people will be listening now, but I think it’s still ultimately quite a selfish thing. There is a pleasure in just playing of course.
As for what I’m trying to convey, it’s usually at either end of a long spectrum. Something very specific (I like ‘subject’ songwriting), or something so vague I barely know what it is myself, and it just conveys a feeling, or describes fleeting moments.
You have been releasing albums for a little while now, and i wonder if each one is its own seperate entity, conveying your artistic wants of the time, or whether you have some larger, over-riding artistic vision which each release explores a certain facet of?
They’re definitely separate entities. I think I’m only finding my feet now to be honest. ‘How Music Sounds’ (2003) and ‘Leonardism’ (2007) were collections of songs. The songs were OK but I was never happy with the way they were recorded, it was all a bit rushed and certainly unconnected – idea overload in a way – whereas on ‘Nature Recordings’ I was thinking a lot more about the album as a whole, certainly in terms of how it would sound. I wanted it to have more flow, and I wanted it to be a bit more mature.
The ‘nature recordings’ album is a truly wonderful piece indeed, how did the songwriting process begin for this work, did you plan the shape of the album on paper first, or did the form slowly emerge through the creative process?
It was quite a messy and disjointed process really. I must have recorded ‘The Archaeologist’ in 10 different ways, never being happy with it. In the end, I just put the harmonium in the kitchen (next to the dishwasher, which was on) and recorded the really stripped down version that you hear. With ‘The Eighth Tower’, that was planned out to an extent. I liked the idea of something which covered the whole side of a vinyl LP – an idea I obviously stole from Roy Harper. I wanted something which would take you on a journey, through moods and emotions. My take on that was really helped along by Pat Gubler, who was kind enough to send me some sounds to work with, and that really spurred me on when I went through a phase of losing faith in what I was doing. Without Pat, ‘Nature Recordings’ wouldn’t exist. It’s massively influenced by his ‘Parlour Tricks’ and ‘Well Of Memory’ albums, which are phenomenal records. They exist in their own little universes – something I strived for with this album.
And roughly how long did you spend creating this album; was it a goodly amount of time, a specific chapter of your life, or did it come quicker, emerging over a shorter period, suddenly making itself known to you?
I started it in 2006. There was quite a lot of material left off it for one reason or another. Collaborations which didn’t work out, and songs which didn’t seem to fit in the end. I finished it at the start of 2009, and then it had it’s initial release at the end of 2010. So probably about 3 years. This would be massively slowed down by the 9 to 5 job I should point out. It would probably only be a few months work if I was able to totally focus on it – who knows. I’ve done a lot of stuff since then which hasn’t come out yet. I have many projects on the go at the moment.
Your lyrics are something most intruiging indeed. you seem to move between a kind of playful whimsy into much darker and more melancholic moments. What is your writing process as relating to your song texts? Do the words emerge before the music or vice versa? What do you find yourself most often driven to write on when the pen is in your hand?
I like Robyn Hitchcock’s trick of mixing the profound with the mundane. I try to do that, and of course I try to describe things in ways they’ve not been described before. That’s probably impossible, but I try. My lyrics are not lazy. In terms of the songwriting process, generally a few key words or lines would be my starting point, which would then suggest a melody. I then just know whether it’s working – I’d get a feeling that something was happening, and I’d stick with it, attempting to get all the music done in one go, and then filling in the words at the end like a puzzle. It’s a great feeling when you stumble onto something like that. Exciting.
And what of the lyric sheet for the nature recordings? Did you have a specific set of themes that you wanted to explore on this particular release, or did the subjects slowly emerge along with the music?
Lyrically, side 1 deals with Syd Barrett, Lillian Gish, Gus Grissom and archaeology. Subject songs. So there’s no theme there, other than they are things I’m interested in! But side 2 is variations on a pretty dark theme. Dying and death. All human life is here but there’s no reason why I should be. That was actually a joke made by a friend, but it sounds pretty bleak in the context of the song. And then at the end of The Eighth Tower, the senses fade and you enter into a kind of pleasurable flotation tank state. I like talking about and describing senses.
It would appear that the album is largely your own solo creative construction, with the exception of a few notable guest-spots. Could you take moment to shed a little light on this aspect of your work, do you prefer to write and record alone, do you call upon collaborators for a sense of musical communion, as it were, or do you bring in others when there is a specific feel you know you cannot achieve alone?
It’s not really the latter. I like working with others because it can take you in directions and to places you would not go to on your own. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But I am basically insular and introverted, so I think my main focus will always be working on songs alone.
Again, thank you ever so much for your time. It has been wonderfully illuminating indeed!
Nature Recordings is released on ‘The North Western Series’ and can be purchased here.