A Conversation With Adam Ant

01/21/2017 05:21 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2017
Photo Credit Michael Sanderson

With his signature Burundi Beat, and riveting flamboyance, Adam Ant orchestrated a sophisticated anarchy that revolutionized the music industry, while his outrageous videos dared to evoke the threat of imagination. He defied music, while at the same time defined it. He challenged sensibility and at the same time created it.

Celebrating 35 years of "Kings of the Wild Frontier," Adam Ant will tour North America starting January 23. The recently released "Kings" deluxe, remastered, gold vinyl boxset is a heroic, dramatic, and colourful palette of glowing inspiration.

When you originally recorded the "Kings of the Wild Frontier" album, was there anything you weren't able to do because of available technology?

It would have been a lot quicker now, because you could just double things up, but it was actually a very traditionally-made album, just done by us in the studio hitting everything that we could find to get that sound.

Photo Credit Andy Gotts

It's the 40th anniversary of punk, but back then, did you know what was next for you?

Punk had become a caricature of itself, very grey and political. The kids were wearing the same drab outfits. I've never been a political artist, I keep that out of my work. The gigs were getting more violent and it was just not enjoyable. Post-punk brought out some interesting music, but I needed to make it colourful. I'd only used black and white in graphics, handbills, and record covers, so I wanted to do the opposite of that, something heroic and celebratory. That's where "Kings of the Wild Frontier" came out. I wanted to be like a King, not just some guy hanging on the corner, moaning about everything and spitting, and wearing safety pins, which I've never been interested in.

Was Malcolm McLaren's career advice to you worth the heartbreak of him stealing your band?

I think Malcolm saw a situation where he could conveniently get a really good band. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, we made up and everything, but it was devastating on a personal level. On a professional level, it turned out pretty good for both parties: Bow Wow Wow which was a really good project and sounded great, and I did "Kings" which was my view of things. We'd all sit around listening to hours of philosophy by Malcolm about taking rock n' roll back to basics, playing us all kinds of records. He'd talk for an hour, and you would understand a minute of it. But what he was talking about was the Bow Wow Wow sound. I had the name and threads of ideas, but nothing that fit in with what they were doing, so I started again. I thought, I'm not going to waste all this time sitting, listening and not use it, because I paid for it. I gave Malcolm £1,000 to manage the band. I think I got my money's worth.

When you released "Kings" in the USA, "Making History" was removed and "Physical" and "Press Darlings" replaced it.

They made the decision for me, I wasn't consulted. That was one of the nice things about doing this recent "Kings” gold boxset is having it in its original form.

Why didn't you tour "Kings" in the USA at the time?

I think there was a lot of suspicion about guys wearing makeup and outlandish clothing. There was a lot of excitement about “Kings” when I went to New York and LA, but the decision-making of budgets and record label commitment to get behind the band was not as I thought it would be. We did a few showcase gigs, the people that came seemed to love it. I remember doing a very serious chat with Tom Snyder as well, which was quite a challenge for my first interview in America. I didn't tour America with "Prince Charming" either. That was never going to be in the cards. By the time I did the "Friend or Foe" album solo, I was able to play a lot of gigs, that's what you have to do in America.

What was the significance of your famous Apache white stripe?

I'd been studying Native American tribal decorations, it was a declaration of war on all that nonsense in the music business, and political stuff. I always find that very inspiring, that whole philosophy.

How is it that “Kings” is still relevant after 35 years?

Really the blueprint of this album was "Dog Eat Dog". That was the first track in the studio with vocals, the crashing sound, and the arrangements of two drummers. So from that we applied the same premise to the rest. Chris (Merrick) Hughes behind the mixing desk played an important part. It wasn't like bringing in an outside producer to put their mark on it because he was playing drums every night.

There was an effort to make it look as good as it sounded. There was always this element to early punk rock that Malcolm and Vivienne (Westwood) were doing in SEX and Seditionaries, their shops. Those clothes were expensive, it wasn't tacky, there was always a sense of sartorial correctness. The attitude was like buccaneers: you'd docked the galleon, gone in and grabbed everything you could, so the jacket was as if I'd put it on and run off. The Highwayman, The Buccaneer, Native American Indian, it was this glorious, iconic imagery that appealed to me growing up, and still as an adult.

Do you recall your proudest moment as an artist?

I think being asked to do the Motown 25 by Berry Gordy was one of the proudest moments, on a personal level. It was a great compliment. I don't know why they asked me, but they did. Just doing that was a big challenge. Sharing the stage with Marvin Gaye was a real highlight. Coming to my dressing-room door, knocking on my door. I opened it up, he was in a white suit and said, "Hello I'm Marvin Gaye." I said "I know you are." That was a dream-like moment, working with all your heroes that you've grown up with. It was a great feeling.

We were outsiders, and to get a record like "Kings” together with all its conflicting contents, a recipe of different ideas musically, it's a hybrid. It was distinctive, people of all ages and backgrounds seemed to go "Ooh!" It took us by surprise. It was a proud moment to get it in shops and out to people.

Everyone is very excited about the American tour.

It's been a long time coming. I'm looking forward to it. I've tried to tour with every record. It's completely different performing an album in sequence, because you know that they know the album. It was nice to do "Dirk" and having done "Kings" the response was very good. I said "let's go to North America and do it". I feel very privileged to be able to make a living out of doing that because, basically it's showing off. When I come off stage I'm completely exhausted. You've given everything you could give, and the audience hopefully is as exhausted as you are. It's a great feeling to go to bed with that in your mind, "Oh Wow!", and do it all again.

From your point of view, is punk still musically alive and well, or just an ideology in our society?

Punk, for me, was always an idea, a spirit, an artistic explosion, a challenge, but most importantly an ATTITUDE with regard to my work.

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