Washington, DC (TFC) – Adam Gnade’s work is released as a series of books and records that share characters and continue each other’s plotlines in an attempt to document a personal history of America. He has recorded his self-described “talking-songs” with members of Gang of Four, Youthmovies, Modest Mouse, 65DaysofStatic, Granddaddy, Brunch, Jonquil, Menomena, Damon Moon, Chad Valley, Pet Moon, Solid Gold Dragons, Under White Pines, Castanets, and Ohioan. Recent releases have included two EPs (AMERICANS on the Blessing Force label and Greater Mythology Blues on Punch Drunk Press) as well as his first nonfiction book, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin’ Sad, which has been Powell’s Books small press best-seller for the past two years. His novel Caveworld is out now via Pioneers Press and Punch Drunk Press. Adam Gnade lives and works on a farm in the rural Midwest.
FC: Who are the main influences on your writing style?
AG: James Joyce’s Dubliners. Been coming back to that one a lot lately. Especially as the summer starts to turn to fall and we get these heavy gray skies out here. It’s a chilly book and I like a book that feels like a certain time of year. But for my last novel Caveworld I was reading a lot of Faulkner. I don’t want to write like Faulkner but he helps.
FC: What types of issues do you see as most important for people to act on?
AG: I think people should only act on the issues that make their stomach clench up. I see too many people holding signs that are into it for reasons not connected to the cause. Don’t go to bat for something you don’t believe in. Especially if you’re just doing it to get laid. That just reminds me of a lot of shitty guys on every college campus in every city with Che shirts, talking like “revolutionaries,” trying to get laid, trying to impress someone. That’s dumb. Back off. Follow your heart, that’s it.
FC: You write about burn out and being able to come back from it. What tips can you give activists working toward liberation to avoid burn out or heal?
AG: You have to eat—well and healthy. You have to spend some time alone. You have to sleep every night and you have to treat yourself as well as you can. That goes for anyone trying to doing something they believe fanatically in. I’m the same way with writing books. I’m driven and it ends up fucking me a lot. There’s that Joanna Newsom line that says something like “never draw so close to the heat/that you forget to eat.” Everything you want to do will be done better if you treat yourself well. Which can be really hard but you have to do it. We’re machines. If you want a machine to keep running and do its job you have to treat it kindly. People have to get over that bullshit that says being good to yourself is self-indulgent. No, not at all, it’s essential.
FC: You make mention to several great lyricists and musicians in your work. How important is music to you, especially in a context of social change?
AG: I wish it were more important to everyone. I was driving across country with my sweetheart Elizabeth just recently and we were listening to some local radio station and it was a protest song. Something from the ’60s. I don’t remember what band but it was good! It was powerful and catchy at the same time. And it occurred to me that protest music used to be mainstream music. It was rock ‘n’ roll or it was R&B or soul and it was sexy but it also had a conscience. There’s protest music now but it’s so marginalized, and it’s generally pretty weak. I like some folk-punk but most of those political folk-punk bands aren’t good enough to do anything but preach to the masses. We need somebody huge like Foals or something to go political. That’s how you change people. I’m glad there are a lot of tiny protest bands but it’s not doing much good. Write better songs. Sing to more people. Sing about true things. Make a difference. Don’t hide in your scene.
FC We’re pretty desperate situation! What do you think in your studies you’ve seen to be the most promising answer toward a non exploitative sustainable world?
AG: I wish I knew! I wish more people knew. Capitalism is destroying the world. We’re de-stroying the world, and ourselves. We need to act kindly to each other and not take more than our share but how? I don’t know. There are too many people for not enough space and, even more so, not enough resources. That’s our main problem. We’re all like scared, greedy dogs. Which is a shame because people start off life so sweet and kind. The world fucks us up. At some point “real life” smashes us down. Staying away from the hardness should be everyone’s goal. I’m still figuring that shit out. I’m as clueless as anyone.
FC: I really like all your music I’ve heard. It’s what I guess most would describe as post rock and spoken word. Who has influenced your music the most?
AG: Well, anything that sounds like my music, anything with “talking vocals,” I generally hate. I really hate spoken word and have always tried to stay away from it by calling my songs “talking songs.” (I haven’t heard Slint before but I’ve been meaning to check out that Spiderland record). All the bands that have influenced me kind of sound nothing like me. I like singers. Weird singers with voices that feel like something different. My favorite lyric-writer is Shane MacGowan from the Pogues. Those first few records are outstandingly well-written. I also like a lot of instrumental music like Fuck Buttons or Godspeed! You Black Emperor. Been listening to classical music lately. The new Bully record is good, Lower Dens, Youth Lagoon, though none of that influences my songs. My favorite band is The Locust. Cut my head open and you’d see their song “Nice Tranquil Thumb in Mouth” playing on a loop. Pretty much into anything on Three One G. That shit speaks my language.
FC. Do you find any benefit in the matrixesque ‘awakened’ metaphor? and what was the catalyst for your awareness being raised?
AG: I’m not too knowledgeable about the Matrix but I think I know what you’re talking about. Blue pills and red pills? I think that rings true for a lot of people. I don’t know how awakened I am. I try to be but I’m also overwhelmed by the reality of awfulness every-where. Sometimes I just want to ignore everything and hide. My only real activism–if you can call it that–is from the Big Sad series. So I guess I can sort of hide and write to hope-fully help people. Maybe that’s chicken-shit. It probably is. I guess everyone has their job. Not all of us are direct action bad-asses.
FC. How did you find out about indie rock? It’s always cool to hear about how people discovered these strange sounds that really delve against the main stream. There’s a good allegory for dissidents in the seemingly dissonant here somewhere.
AG. I think I found indie rock via Jessica Hopper’s writing. I was into punk way before that but I guess reading Hit It Or Quit It turned me on to a whole different world.
FC. I’ve heard people refer to you as like the activist energy bar/ life coach, they go to your book “DIY guide to fighting the big mother fucking sad” in times of doubt and pain. How does it feel to have something you’ve written touch people in the same way scriptures touch others?
AG. Oh, I don’t think my stuff at all equates to scriptures but it feels pretty damn good. The fiction side of my work is so depressing, it’s nice to do something that doesn’t just rain down the darkness on people.
FC. Any shout outs, or projects you want to mention?
AG. Yeah, a shout out to my little god-sons Liam and Jack who started preschool this week up in Michigan. They’re the ones that’ll take this world to better places.
FC. In DIYGFBMFS: You say not to trust the prophets. Who have you found to be the “true” truth sayers in your journey?
AG. As far as truthsayers, nobody yet. I’m still looking.
FC: You wrote: “When It seems like all is lost, you have to find reasons why it’s not” This is such a beautiful statement of encouragement from “Simple steps to A life less Shitty”. Any Solace you can offer people who are hurting right now?
AG: I don’t know how much solace I can offer because I can’t pretend to know the weight of their problems. I guess if anything you need to remember that not everyone is awful, that there are people who will get you, who would love to be your friend, who would love to help you get out of the terrible place you’re in. Assholes are everywhere but not everyone is shitty. Don’t give up. Don’t go hard or bitter. Hang on because even though life is generally a shit-storm you will have moments where the storm lifts and that will make it all worthwhile.