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Interview: Band of the Week – Steve Adey

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Edinburgh, Scotland based Steve Adey’s bio tells you that, until recently, Steve prostituted his skills behind the mixing console, and mastering classical recordings. That he has worked with all genres of music, from recording heavy rock bands to the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Steve is a Brummie – someone born and bred in Birmingham, England – and an exceptionally interesting and intelligent man. To anyone in the know that could be consider an oxymoron – an interesting, intelligent Brummie – but Steve’s heterogeneous life so far, his work history, talent and the amazing far flung places he has lived have given him a unique outlook, an insight into our deepest desires. And this understanding has helped to shape his own debut album All Things Real.

The Scottish Borders – or “the borders” – is the lowland area between Edinburgh — Scotland’s Capital – and England. It is an area of remarkable natural beauty and intense, often violent history. But with the cessation of hostility with England it has become an area of farming and outdoor sports. This is where Steve Adey decided to stop his globetrotting lifestyle and write his debut album. Why the Borders? In summer, with their softly rolling hills and the fluffy clouds of sheep that dot the countryside, it can be warm, charming and utterly relaxing. In winter however, the sheep disappear to the shelter of the deep valleys, the hills freeze and the mists move in, covering the ground with the kind of eerie vapour and stillness that you might expect in a horror film. It is cold, desolate and more beautiful in its bleak, natural romance than the violent, wind swept moors of Wuthering Heights.

Steve AdeyHis music reflects this desolate beauty and also speaks of the raw, occasionally bleak emotions of never ending romantic love. And that Steve recorded All Things Real in churches – all at least 200 years old with some dating back to the 16th century – spread around Edinburgh only serves to intensify the austere atmosphere of his album. With a dark sensuality Steve sings of love and relationships and his remarkably honest, stark, intense vocals enhance this effect and are perfect for the exposed, moody piano driven All Things Real. The dead centre vocals and only the barest instrumentation gently guide the listener on a rich, emotive path through the touching lyrics.

I got a chance to talk to Steve on a freezing Edinburgh afternoon just after a terrible wind storm. Steve had chosen the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh as the location for his interview. It was a bright clear sunny day and the temperature had dipped below zero Celsius but we sat outside and discussed the wind storm for openers – the British are obsessed by the weather – and then moved on to talk about the Borders, churches, heart-break and, of course, Steve’s music.

Steve: I was renting a cottage for a while, in the Borders. It was in the middle of nowhere, it was great. I really miss it. I was lucky in that I was living in Edinburgh at the same time, so I would come back for a few days and I would go out there and work and do some recording and writing. I wrote most of the songs for the album there, during that period. So it was a great place to get away. Occasionally I wouldn’t even see anyone all day. And maybe a farmer would pass every second day.

Your music is very solitary. And now that makes perfect sense, writing it there in the middle of nowhere.

(laughing) It worked.
Steve in the mist
I like your album very much. All Things Real is very beautiful but it’s a bit melancholy.

Yeah. I’m glad you like it. I think when most people hear it for the first time it maybe kind of throws them a little bit. I guess it is unusual. I don’t really see it that way. I listen to a lot of music that is kind of similar. But…

It’s not traditional certainly. It’s not the type of music you are expecting

There are traditional aspect to it. Some of it could be considered folk music but I guess it has a progressive slant on it.

Progressive, yes. It has an almost orchestral feel to it.

Well, I didn’t use any orchestral type instruments in terms of orchestra string sections. I did mainly use keyboards, although the sounds obviously were symphonics but that fits with the feel of the music.

It does come across very symphonic, very textured and layered. But also very bleak.

Yeah it’s bleak. The cottage I was staying at was just very bleak. I also recorded in churches as well. Mainly in the winter, I picked the middle of winter, not the best time. I didn’t consciously try and go for that [bleak] but it… I think the music I make is fairly Steve at pianodark and melancholy. It’s quiet a big theme in my music. And I think that it just happened, that it made it more extreme, that I was recording in churches and it was, and I’m not saying that churches are cold, but the timing just wasn’t good.

It was December, January, and February sort of time and just freezing cold. You would start to play the piano and five minutes later you just couldn’t feel anything. (laughing) The piano was going out of tune every second day. It was a struggle just getting through it. There were times when you were like “I just can’t do this today, I’m going to go home and make a fire and just try and get some warmth into me.” (laughing)

Did you write it and record it all at once?

No, I wrote the songs over probably six months to a year. At first I demoed a few things. Some of the demos actually did make it onto the record because we did try to record them again but there was something about the demos that we liked so we kept them. So twelve months writing, and like I said, fifty percent of it was from that period just kind of basic piano vocal things. And then we recorded other musicians separately there wasn’t any kind of band playing and recording at the same time kind of thing. It was all done just two of us recording.

So it’s not just you? The album sounds singer-songwriter.

It is but it’s… the initial recording was vocal but sometimes I did it at the same time, I played and sang. Other times I would just be piano first then I would do a vocal and then I would put a few keyboards down and that would be the demo. I would give that to musicians for them to come up with parts that we would go over and do rough takes first before we did the actual recordings. We did a lot of recording and actually recorded with some orchestras as well. I recorded with the Scottish National Orchestra.

All Things Real CoverWhen first I started the record it was a big, big sound very different to the end result. But I felt that it just didn’t work for me. It was just too grand. It was just too professional sounding too overstated. I didn’t want that. I was in love with it for awhile and I thought it was great. But I think it was mainly the virtuoso playing that I was really attracted to and I kind of got bored of it. I always… when I finish doing a recording I leave it for awhile and when I come back to it has to give me a feeling of, I like it for this reason or for that reason but there always has to be something that I like about it. I am the biggest critic. No one can be as big a critic as I am of my own music.

If you would like to hear Steve’s beautiful, bleak debut album All Things Real you can hear a few tracks at his MySpace space.

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About A.L. Harper