Danny Adamson, guitarist for the sartorially superior Seattle pop-punkers The Not-Its, sometimes jokes about wanting to rock kids' faces off at upcoming shows. Thus, it might surprise you to learn that when asked to write about an album that influenced him for our "How I Got Here" series, he picked an album by Joni Mitchell. And also one by the Cure (who, I will note for the record, played the loudest show I've ever been to, at any rate).
But this isn't some fancy late-minute conversion -- check out his bio, he lists Mitchell and the Cure among his top 5 favorite artists there, too.
So read on for Adamson's stories of how the Cure saved his life (or at least from getting beat up) and singing along with Joni and how those helped him rawk melodically.
Which band or artist is your favorite of all time? Growing up, that was always the question asked. Since people could never choose just one, I started altering the question to “What are your top 5 bands or artists of all time?” This gained far better results, as people could no longer pull the “I’m so eclectic and well rounded, how can I possibly choose only one when I like soooo many styles of music?” card. This served me well at parties during my 20’s. Now I don’t ask, because I am stuck in the 80’s and 90’s and find that I no longer recognize bands that people list. I am lazy about discovering new music these days and find if you put on a Wilco album in a social setting, 95% of people will be generally pleased.
On to my attempt to sound interesting and eclectic! I wish I could write about 5 albums that influenced me musically, but nobody wants to read that much from a guy who’s not even the lead singer of The Not-Its! So I will limit myself to two, one which was huge in my world at the time I first started playing guitar in the 8th grade - The Cure's Head On The Door - and another album that made me realize that it’s actually a good thing to “try” to sing as well as you can (rather than just get by or do the punk rock screamy thing) - Joni Mitchell's Blue.
The Cure had many albums that were influential to me, and you can definitely make the case that my musical style leans toward their guitar heavy (less synth), earlier stuff, but Head On The Door was their first album that I obtained (would have said “purchased” but I probably stole that cassette as I was a sticky-fingered, hooligan in 8th grade). I was a skater kid back then, not the “gothed out” type of fan, but The Cure influenced me in many ways…. There may or may not be VHS video footage somewhere out there of me holding a magazine page photo of Robert Smith’s face with the mouth cut out, lip-syncing to the song “The Catch.” In junior high, just wearing a The Cure shirt once saved me from getting my ass kicked. I threw something at a car and the hot pursuit ended with the car full of 20 something year olds catching me (don’t ask me how that happened?) and letting me off STRICTLY because of that shirt!
Anyway, that album was something new, that didn’t sound like pop music, or the poorly produced skate rock compilations I had received via my subscription to Thrasher skateboarding magazine. I just liked how Head On The Door (and most of their other albums) sounded. I wouldn’t say it is their best album, but definitely my favorite and most influential, as it just got me at the right time. It was fun to try to figure their songs out on guitar. Something about bands from across the pond felt cool to my friends and me. Nobody at our suburban Seattle junior high was listening to The Cure or The Smiths and it felt nice to have something from far away that felt like our own. Still to this day I put my boys to bed by playing guitar and often songs by The Cure make it into the rotation.
I started playing in punk bands in 10th grade in 1991. I played guitar, my good friend also played guitar and a new buddy played bass. We eventually found someone who played drums but still nobody could or would sing. I started singing by default because nobody else was willing. I was not good and confidence took years to establish. I had a girlfriend with a hint of granola in her. She owned some fleece, a pair of Birkenstocks, and pounded me down with the obnoxious crooning of Joni Mitchell. I fought it hard with Fugazi and Superchunk, (which I believe she still loves today) but both sides triumphed in that battle as Joni Mitchell’s album Blue worked its way into my hard wired system.
That album and girlfriend both went away - the album for a few years and the girl forever - until I picked up Blue (purchased this one) on vinyl in 1997 or so. I lived with 4 guys in a dude/party house near the University of Washington at the time. A typical scene for one of my roommates to find when rolling home would be hearing Joni Mitchell blaring from my room with a giant speaker hauled into the bathroom, speaker wire stretched across the hall, and me screeching the high falsetto sounds of JM from the shower. I was singing along due to its obvious genius as it grew on me, but also because I was actually trying to get better at singing. Eventually I could sort of keep up with her and learned that breathing correctly and weird stuff like that were important elements to singing well. With the album Blue, I really think you can feel the energy and emotion she put into the album (which I don’t usually say because how the heck do I know what went down in that studio?), but it’s tough to ignore when it’s just one person and her guitar or piano. Pretty awesome.
For me, these two albums simply just sound good to me and hit me at that right time in my life. As I’m writing this, I’m finding it an interesting case study between albums that sound good and my association with music for children and families. I know many people relate to albums of their past by what the album said to them and how they emotionally connected with the lyrics. I’m quite the opposite. I could hear a song 5 times and still not really tell you what it’s all about. I just like it if a tune sounds good or has a nice harmony and I will always fall for an amazing little drum fill or hi-hat trick. So yes, the guy who has never paid attention to the deep meaning of love songs is now writing music for kids. I know kids are amazing, bright and full of potential, but what they really want is a good hook and a badass guitar riff.