The Collapse Board Interview | Adalita
Adalita Srsen has been a mainstay of the Australian music scene for almost two decades, first as a member of Magic Dirt and as a solo artist since 2010. We spoke to her about the influences on her most recent album, All Day Venus, and the challenges of being a solo artist.
I was reading your Wikipedia page and it mentioned mythology and in particular Joseph Campbell as key influences in your songwriting. In what ways did his writing influence you for All Day Venus?
I kinda feel that I take things in by osmosis. I will get immersed in something and get obsessed with it for a while. It’s not like I do it to get song material, more that I’m living my life being interested in things going about my normal day, but Joseph Campbell has been someone I’ve been into for quite a while and I’ve just bought a few more of his books. He’s like a staple now for me and I just really enjoy reading his thoughts on the ‘The Self’ which is something I’ve been interested in my whole life, in the psychology of ‘The Self’. I think Joseph Campbell’s writing really helps me to understand some of the really deep knowledge that he had acquired of ‘The Self’ through mythology. So I guess that feeds my subconscious which I tap into for songwriting and songs will morph out of whatever soup I’ve got going on inside that I feed by reading Joseph Campbell.
You did an interview for Sound Summit last year where they asked about you musical influences. Three of your four responses – Dinosaur Jr, Pixies and Neil Young – were fairly obvious given the music that you play, but I was intrigued by the fourth one, Kate Bush, as I wouldn’t have put it down as an obvious influence on the music you produce. What is it about Kate Bush and her music that influences you?
I’ve loved her my whole life. When I was young I used to relate to her and think “Oh, she’s just like me, really weird and kooky.” To me it was just these strange songs, really great songs but in her own style. It wasn’t just your normal kind of pop song. I just always loved her and felt aligned with her and what I was doing at the time. There’s a lot of stuff no one’s heard, that’s never seen the light of day and never will, just a lot of songs that I’ve written that are a bit weirder or a bit more unique. I don’t think anyone would get them, the lyrics are strange or nonsense or some of the arrangements are weird, the instrumentation’s weird. I think they’re too bespoke to put out there but maybe one day. There’s a big iceberg, below the tip of the iceberg, of things I’ve never released.
By doing that and making those decisions, is it a form of self-pigeonholing yourself as an artist?
No, definitely not. I always want to make sure that what I release was still in my unique style and it’s definitely a distillation of what I’m doing and it’s the best of what I’ve written. But these recordings, a lot of them are really lo-fi, short ideas, some of them might only be 10 seconds long. I definitely want to release them as their own little thing one day, and there’s a tonne, a whole bunch of stuff, and I know there will be people out there that will get it.
I read that you normally listening to old demos that you’ve recorded as a feedback loop to help write new songs, was this a process you used for All Day Venus ?
I always have a lot of demos lying around so before I start writing new things I’ll go back and sift through the demos and see if there’s anything leftover or something I’ve missed. I keep everything and I’ve got a lot of stuff but usually only one or two things will pop out and the rest of it will be brand new songs.
Unlike your first album, which was mainly just you by yourself, you used a band in the studio this time around. Was that a conscious decision from the outset or did it come out of the songs you were writing?
I really wanted a band from the word go. I missed having drums and a bass line. I just really needed the power. I missed having percussion and something driving the songs underneath the guitars. It was a pretty early decision.
From reading previous interviews with you, you talk about the intensity of playing solo and I get the impression that you find playing solo harder than when you’ve got a band behind you.
In the beginning it was a big change and I wasn’t sure if it was my cup of tea. So it took me probably a couple of years to settle in to playing just on my own. I think it’s good to do and I think some artists sound good on their own and it works. I think I have some songs where I can do a set on my own and I’m glad that I did it but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into that, I want to be able to get the song across.
For me it’s about the song and getting the song right, whatever the song needs, whether it’s better with me on my own or with a band or as a duo. Some songs that are in a band context sound just as good, if not better, in a solo situation. I’ve learnt a lot doing it in this way, from being in a massive sounding rock band to stripped-down solo, which was a complete shock to the system, and then back to having a band.
I feel really lucky and I feel really happy with myself for persevering with it because otherwise I probably would have just stopped and gone “It’s too hard”. I’m glad I persevered because I’m on the other side now where I really enjoy playing solo. I got past the shock of it, I know I can do it and I know it’s valid in delivering some of these songs and I can just do whatever. No, I didn’t enjoy it at first, I was terrified, it was really hard.
Did you also miss the camaraderie of not being in a band?
I did a little bit towards the end of the solo thing when I started jamming with people again, which was something I hadn’t done for two or three years, and it was really nice. It was just really nice to have someone else in the room and to then get a band together. I’ve been touring with this new band and they’re all really lovely and I’m having a great time. It’s really nice.
Did you find it difficult to put together a new band when you maybe don’t have that rapport with them on a musical level at the start? Do you know when you audition someone whether they might be the right person?
Yes, it’s like a blind date, you just don’t know how it’s going to go. And if you have to say “No”, it’s pretty horrible so I didn’t enjoy that. I’m very squeamish about that stuff and I definitely didn’t enjoy that stuff at all but you get used to it. So there were a few hits and misses but I finally got there in the end. I think it was a good experience to go through, but it was weird doing auditions.
Has it been a new expereince with you being in control as a solo artist and all those band decisions now coming down to you?
Yes, that’s right, it’s that responsibility you give yourself in making those decisions. I’m one of the worst people in the world with decision making. It’s horrible, can’t do it, so it was really difficult for me. I found it quite agonising. It was really hard work and this is the stuff that not a lot of people see or know about. A large portion of making the record was agonising over decisions. Like, seriously, it took up most of my time.
With the first album is was just me and I knew who to bring in for certain little bits and pieces. Dean [Turner] was there but it was just kinda me on my own so there wasn’t really much to organise so that was fairly easy flowing whereas this one was fairly agonising. Again it was something good to go through. The people that I got to play on the record, most of them were mates and I met a couple of new people too. It felt really good and they were great and it made the process so much easier. And then I finally got it all done and got the dream band together. After all those big decisions were made and everything was locked into place it was like “Oh, I can have fun now!” I guess it was always going to be that way, first time and all.
And what are you planning for the third album, still with a band or going back to just yourself?
It depends on the songs really. I’m writing at the moment and I’m going to try to write every week for however long it takes to get the right songs together. I usually just write a month or two before the album comes out but this time I’m going to build up a stockpile of songs. It’s kinda all I want to do, so it depends but I think I’ll have a few people on the next record. I don’t think it’ll just be me but who knows, I really don’t know how it’s going to go, so we’ll see.
Laneway’s coming up and you’re playing around the country as part of that. Are you looking forward to that?
Yeah, it’s going to be great, I really can’t wait. It’s such a great place to be part of in summer and we’re all really amped.
Who are you looking forward to seeing?
Kurt Vile, I’m a huge fan of Smoke Ring For My Halo so I can’t wait to see him. I want to check out Savages, I’ve heard a lot about them, Lorde, I don’t even know her hit song but I want to see her and maybe Dick Diver, a local Melbourne band.
One final question before we have to finish, as a photographer, I was really intrigued by your current press photo, the one that everyone has been using and which will probably be used for this interview. It’s you and you’re in front of some red velvet curtains and the flash reflected in the window. It almost looks like it’s an accidental photo as you’re waving your hand as if you didn’t want it to be taken so I just was interested if there was a story behind it.
The one with the Dead Moon t-shirt? That’s the my house, the lounge room of my share house in Melbourne. I’m just waving, there’s nothing more to it, it was just a kind of “Hey!”. I guess it looks semi-formal, it was probably between poses and just sort of relaxing. Warwick Baker, who I’m really good friends with took it. We have a good rapport so maybe he felt he caught one of those moments between worlds. Buy yeah, it’s just me doing a pose. It is a bit informal, we were going for those shots as well as the usual posed stuff.