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Project Adorno Interview 2011
Keith Haworth/Culture Deluxe  

Project Adorno 'not so much a pop group as a project then?'

R: It depends what you mean by ‘project’, as C E M Joad might have said. If we take it as meaning an undertaking with a clearly defined goal, then I don’t think our goals are much more complex than any other pop group’s. And our ways of achieving our goals, as I see them, are constantly shifting whilst staying reassuringly the same. What I mean here is our use of multimedia, which tends to ebb and flow. Arguably we’ve been more of a pop group since I joined, in terms of the kind of gigs we do – playing the toilet circuit and all that. I wouldn’t want ‘project’ to sound like an excuse for anything (‘Well, it was just an experiment’) – although I’ve sometimes used it as such, especially after bad reviews at Edinburgh.

P: I must confess that I quite like the idea of Project Adorno as a finite project (not that I’m suggesting we’re about to split or anything!). Rather than an “experiment” I think in the early days we always liked the idea of being “experimental” or aloof….My brother and I formed Project Adorno Mk 1 – he was studying critical theory at the time and came home from college one day full of the ideas of Adorno and Hawkheimer. Project Adorno seemed to be a great marriage of two disparate words, and worlds…the idea of combining high & low art was certainly in there somewhere.

With Russell on board we have perhaps become less experimental, but arguably better for it. That said our recent foray into film for Edinburgh Fringe 08 (Satie & Ministry of the Mundane) has taken us back into more experimental territory.

Maybe it was always deemed to be a “project” with a goal in mind but I don’t think we ever worked out exactly what it was or when it would be complete. For me it was always about striving to write the ultimate pop song….then we could all go home with a full stomach. Mission accomplished. Happily (or unhappily) I am still striving and still hungry. It’s worth reading Bill Drummond (KLF) on this subject – he articulates it much better.


Why should the kids be interested in a band named after a dead critical theorist?

P: More to the point I often wonder what the said dead critical theorist would make of it all! Spinning in his grave no doubt. I must admit that I haven’t read much Adorno but the ideas of philosophers and their ilk never seem to die – I’m still trying to write a great pop anthem on the life and times of Marx and Engels (re-cast as Batman & Robin naturally– watch this space). No, the ideas of the great thinkers may go out of fashion but they soon come round again. (Keynes and the Credit Crunch, anyone?). I often think the best way to learn anything is through the medium of art – and more specifically song -  the kids should have Project Adorno songs hard-wired into their ipods!

R: And the kids in the late ‘60s were interested in a band named after a dead 18th-century agriculturalist – right, Tull-fans? Seriously, all I know about Adorno is a four-word soundbite that someone gave me after a gig in Oxford: ‘Miserable German, hated jazz’. By the way, there’s a band in Liverpool or somewhere called The Adornos; I think we should do a gig together.


Your songs struck me as not so much being pop songs, but media student’s thesis disguised as electro pop?

R: I can’t speak for Praveen, but I always approach songwriting from a poet’s angle, in that I’m just using words to paint a visual picture, create a mood or sketch-in a character. Within the framework of a three-minute pop-song, I think it’s hard to do any more than that. My own grasp of popular culture and the media has been weakening since about 1983, to the extent of now being virtually non-existent.

P: Well, I was always interested in writing little social vignettes couched in melodies you could sing along to, much akin to the work of Matt Johnson/The The. Songs such as “Heartland” and “The Beat(en) Generation” spring to mind, both overtly “pop” in structure yet containing hard-hitting, thought-provoking lyrics which could easily wash over the listener given the nature of the melodies. I like the idea of the casual listener quietly and absent-mindedly singing lines like “This is the 51st state of the USA” to themselves as they go round the supermarket. I know I do it all the time…

I would love to deliver a lecture or presentation in the form of a Project Adorno performance. Thinking about, that’s perhaps what we do anyway…


I described you in my review of your recent show as the ultimate media student’s band, but are you not just perpetuating the myth of 'false consciousness'.

P: We probably are guilty of perpetuating the common and popular myths associated with icons of culture. For example we will write a song about Picasso and include within it all the things you probably already know about the man and his art. We’re taking a subject that isn’t often associated with the idiom of the pop song but using concepts and ideas that many of the audience will recognise. We’re galvanising preconceptions…. Then again, there will be some who don’t know anything about Picasso and hopefully will take something from the song that they didn’t previously know. Many’s the time people have said to me that Project Adorno lyrics have helped them out during the course of their local pub quiz! Perhaps that’s the best we can hope to achieve – we have found our level! Not sure if that answers your question…

R: I had to go into Richmond Reference Library (library library) to acquaint myself with the notion of false consciousness. So – you mean we’re just giving the public what they believe it’s beneficial for them to hear? In that many of the songs are replete with established pop-culture references? Maybe. But I’d be more inclined to take that theory on board if our last CD had gone platinum (it hasn’t). Gosh, now I know how Penny Rimbaud used to feel when people quizzed him about the theories of Bakunin.


Dan Le Sac and Scroobius Pip are doing a lit pop tour, everybody wants to play a show in a library these days, have you stolen their ideas?

R: I’d say it’s been stolen from us! We’ve been doing the song ‘Library’ for yonks, we took our Dr Dewey Decimal show to Edinburgh in 2003, and we started our annual Lyrics In Libraries festival the same year. I have nothing but respect for young Scroob, but has he ever played Gloucestershire Librarians’ Christmas party? I think not.

P: I would echo Russell entirely – when we first started organising gigs in libraries we were generally given a backroom to use away from the public area. Any suggestion of doing something amongst the books themselves was often met with a look of horror. Thankfully times have changed, libraries are no longer the places of dusty bookshelves and hushed reverence that they once were. I like to think we’ve played our part in this cultural shift/change.


Is lit-pop the new brit-pop?

P: I certainly think recent bands such as Franz Ferdinand and the Arctic Monkeys have helped make pop lyrics more “literate” and articulate again, something which hasn’t really been the case since the heyday of the Smiths, to my mind. Unfortunately I fear lit-pop as a genre is always destined to remain on the fringes of popular culture (Momus springs to mind – for me he epitomises all things lit-pop). People seem to shy away from anything that purports to be even remotely intellectual. I think the very mention of the word “literature” makes people break out into a cold sweat as they think of their A-levels, school and the like. Until we engender a love of learning where people go out to get “literatured” at their local library every Saturday night instead of plastered down at the pub this will always be the case. Not that I’m suggesting everything is dumbed down…

R: I think pop has always had that ‘lit’ element as an antithesis to all the painfully non-literate elements it also contains. It might be as obvious as The Cure referencing Camus, Kate Bush doing the whole ‘Wuthering Heights’ thing or Richard Jobson walking round with Sartre in his back pocket, bless him. People like Scroob are just making it more upfront by being unafraid to use the word ‘poetry’ in describing what they do. Speaking of which, I would say that Mike Skinner did lit-pop a great disservice by denying that he was a poet, presumably to preserve some misguided sense of geezerness. Only in Britain is ‘poetry’ a dirty word. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.  


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