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Broken Family Band - Interview with Steven J Adams

  by Emma Haigh

published: 14 / 4 / 2004

Broken Family Band - Interview  with Steven J Adams


Since forming three years ago, British alt. country band the Broken Family Band have met with increasing acclaim and attention. Frontman Steven J Adams talks to Emma Haigh about the group's rapid rise and their new album, 'Jesus Songs'

When asked where we were going to meet up, I had but one place in mind. The din of smoke and clatter, tight wooden crannies, and assortment of aged accordions floating from the rafters of my local has in my mind always spelled Excellent Location for Interview. Unfortunately, it’s always just been My Local, occasionally dubbed, for convenience and clarity between me and my flatmates, the Foreskin. "It’s the Fullback and the Fulcrum," I said with a measure of trepidation when giving directions. "The only pub that refers to rugby, and certainly the only one that mentions leverage of any sort." It’s generally packed solid, but I felt sure that on an Easter Sunday afternoon that wouldn’t be a problem. The wincing reality of such a daft conclusion combined with duly noting that the pub’s names has nothing to do with fulcrum and the fact that I was almost certain I got the street name wrong too served only to increase the panicked anxiety rising in my throat when six o’clock came and went and I was still sitting quite alone. At ten past, in a flurry of sheepish apologies, one Mr. Steven J Adams, sits himself down and rolls a cigarette. He’s been in the studio all day, helping out friend and producer Timothy Victor with a recording. Off-stage and in person, the Broken Family Band frontman is as wholly cheeky and gracious as he is on stage and at a distance; his ability to captivate and entertain is fluid and easy. He breaks into animated tangents about getting his phone nicked in Amsterdam while on tour with the Shins mid-April, and, relaying their experience at South By South West in January, melts into giggles over big-haired, big-toothed Texans who found their use of the word ‘cunt’ and accents on stage hilarious ("Why do you boys sing with American accents?" Imitating the bewildered drawl flawlessly), before pulling himself abruptly into strictly poker-faced mock-gravity about the importance of Country Music and his Art and "has this interview started yet? Jesus, woman." And speaking of Jesus… He sighs when I ask the inevitable. "We kind of regret pulling the Jesus angle," he explains. "We never realised people would take it seriously. Even John Peel, who knows we’re not, introduced us as a Christian rock outfit. Anyway," he reverts sharply into seriousness, "We swear too much to be proper Christians." This ‘Jesus angle’ was born of wanting to do the country thing right. In 2001, Steve headed out on a pilgrimage to Austin, Texas for the annual South/South West festival, the Mecca of country. Having become disillusioned with the self-described wankiness of indie band, Hofman, he and guitarist Jay Williams were in, he was entranced by the intrepid and unfussy energy of bands like Slim Cessner’s Auto Club and Knife In The Water. "I came away thinking, “I can do that.” When I got back I went over to Jay’s and played him a few songs, and he played a few he had written, and it went from there. I keep saying this" They had been friends with Gav Johnson for years ("This enormous scary dude with a pink mohawk we met at a party. Ah, but he’s lovely"), who would become the Family bassist. Mick Roman, on the other hand, was headhunted from a "hardrocking Nirvana band." They saw him drumming at a show in their home town of Cambridge, and asked if he wanted to join them. "He didn’t believe we were serious, and he showed up, and we were like, “No, you’ve got to play with brushes and be quiet.”’ He laughs at the memory before smiling wistfully and saying with such sincerity you can’t help but understand it to be true, "He’s turning into the best drummer in the country." Not long after that they were opening for the Frames, signed to Snowstorm Records and recording what would become their first mini album, 'The King Will Build a Disco,' which came out in Novermber 2002. "It took us ages to be any good at music because we both have terrible taste. Actually no, Jay has terrible taste in music." He giggles and makes me note an apology. "When we were in the first band, we were really just doing it to be famous. We were just any other indie band, which is why it was so rubbish. I wanted to be the next Damon Albarn from Blur, which would just be awful." I ask him if he still wants to be famous (because really, You’re a musician, Steve. You’re in a band, You gotta have it in you somewhere). "We used to get really mad whenever someone didn’t like us, or we’d get a bad review. “Can’t you see we’re great?” It’s funny, because on the one hand you want everyone to love you, to know what you do, but the thought of getting recognised in the street is just kind of repulsive. Not that it matters, we’re not likely to anyway." "Back then [when we first started the Broken Family Band] we thought the greatest thing would be if someone wanted to cover us. And that’s happened. It’s weird, it’s like, you have these points that you measure success by and they happen and you’re left thinking, “Ok, what’s next.” We were amazed at how much success we had in such a short period of time." I ask him about 'The Mardi Gras Rescue Mission' which, besides being one of those songs that simply makes me ache every time I hear it, was one of the songs that got them and their second album,Cold Water Song (June 2002), recognised. "That actually started out as a short story. I was trying to write this story about a guy who’s girlfriend goes to the Mardi Gras and gets trapped there, but it was too hard to write so I made it into a song." To my decidedly non-musical brain this just seems like crazy talk, and he must have noticed the look of incredulous because he laughs. "Well," I pause wondering if this is just going to sound stupid. "Ok. Then can I ask you this: How do you write a song?" He looks at me hard. "That’s a good question. Hang on, this is something I feel strongly about, can we come back to it? Do you want to know how I write a song as in the actual process, or as in how I decide…It’s something I think about a lot, and there’s no real answer to it. I want to get it right. Ask me another question." While I flick through the mental list of Things I Need to Know, he pulls out of his silence. "Well, usually I sit on my bed, or somewhere, and then I play a verse, and then I write it down. And then I play a bit, and then I put down my guitar and write out the rest of it. Don’t write that up in your review, it sounds really boring, doesn’t it? I read a book on this recently, kind of looking to see how other people do it, just a bunch of musicians like Carole King and loads of other people, all explaining how they write songs. And they all had different ways of doing it. I suppose there’s no real answer, you just do it." Which is precisely what they’ve been doing since completing their latest album, 'Jesus’ Songs' in December. "[Jesus Songs’] was done under the Track and Field label. It was just supposed to be a one-off, an art project, but in January we switched allegiances. We started recording a new album just after we finished Jesus Songs’, so since just before Christmas. It’s taking a long time because since I’ve moved down to London from Cambridge we can only really record on the weekends. But it’s some of the best stuff we’ve ever written." "I remember when we had just finished recording 'Cold Water Songs’. We were all in the studio, and the mixing was all done, and someone said, “Should we listen to it?” And we were all like, “Yeah.” And so we sat there, we went through the whole thing cover to cover, no one saying anything, in silence, And when it was over we all just kind of looked at each other, and slowly “Yeah, I think it was ok, do you think it was ok?” “Yeah it’s good, what do you think.” "It was funny because we were all doing it to please other people, hoping our friends and things would like it. I sang in a certain way because I thought Jay would like it; Jay would play because he thought Gav would like it. But now we don’t really care as much if other people like it, we’re more relaxed, and just kind of do what we’d like to hear. And I think we’re making better music because of it." So what’s next? "I think I’d like to do a punk album." At this point, whether or not you think he’s serious about pulling the punk angle is your affair. *Jesus’ Songs is out now on Track and Field.

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Broken Family Band - Interview  with Steven J Adams

Broken Family Band - Interview  with Steven J Adams

Broken Family Band - Interview  with Steven J Adams

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100 Club, London, 12/2/2004
Broken Family Band - 100 Club, London, 12/2/2004
At London's 100 Club Olga Sladeckova finds much acclaimed country group the Broken Family Band growing on her with each new song in their set


Jesus Songs (2004)
'Brilliantly catchy alt-country" from Cambridge, England based group, the Broken Family Band, back with a second album
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