May 12, 2010

An Interview with AM

You’d be forgiven if you mistook Future Sons & Daughters for a vintage reissue from some specialty label that houses obscure psychedelic, progressive, and bossa nova vinyl. With its laid-back, retro vibe and ethereal arrangements, the sophomore album by the artist who calls himself AM recalls some of the 60s and 70s most inventive pop.

“The sound of those records just really appeals to me,” AM says of that era’s music. “I’m sure a lot of it has to do with nostalgia, but I really do feel like that moment in time there was something a lot warmer and cozier.”

You’ve got eclectic taste in the music you make. Was that informed by your own discoveries growing up?

My parents had a pretty basic record collection growing up, but it was the good basics. But in terms of me, I just do a lot of digging. To me it’s the most enjoyable… I don’t know how to describe it. I guess it’s the same feeling a scientist gets when [he’s] in the lab messing around, that same kind of excitement and obsession. Just to start looking, find a record you like, and then put the pieces together and see what else that producer’s done or who else that artist has worked with and so on and so forth.

And friends are just essential. A good friend of mine who now lives in Brazil made me a bunch of records of other Brazilian stuff that I hadn’t heard. So had it not been for him, I wouldn’t have heard about this little segue. And I met this one guy many years ago whose dad once played with Sergio Mendes; he made a compilation for me of Brazilian music. To me it’s just a constant search and lately [I’ve discovered] a lot of Brazilian music, a lot of tropicalia, a lot of Italian soundtrack, a lot of Turkish psychedelia and folk — really just getting into what was happening around the globe in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

The Turkish had a psychedelic era?

Yeah, it’s amazing! Check out this artist, her name is Selda. There’s [also] a record label out there you should look into called Finders Keepers. They’re out of London and they reissue a bunch of really cool ‘60s and ‘70s psychedelic records.

What is it about the music of the ‘60s and ‘70s that resonates with you as much as it does?

The technology in terms of music came in and there were so many options all of a sudden. Recording technology had changed to where you could overdub and you could do more things so that really started opening up ground in terms of experimentation. And then, of course, The Beatles, showing everybody that artists can write their own songs, which we may have taken a little far these days. Because everyone thinks they can write a song.

Elvis Costello said in an interview once that just because you have access to a recording studio doesn’t mean you need to make a record.

Exactly. And back in the ‘60s and ‘70s that access was so hard to come by. You really had to prove yourself a lot of the time in order to get somebody to pay for you to go in and do that. It was an expensive thing and time was very scarce. You had to prove to people that you could write and perform before you stepped foot in there. Now people are just piecing it together and before they’ve even hit a stage they have a record done. It’s totally backwards.

How do you take to songwriting? Are you always thinking of ideas? Is it a struggle?

It’s not a struggle, but I’m definitely not one of those guys who walks around with music in his head all day. But what I’ve learned is that when you do get hit with an idea just to pay attention to it right then and there. So if I have a melody that comes into my head I immediately go and record it somehow. And I keep with that until I find that it sort of dies down. And if lyrics don’t happen on it right then and there, I’ll go back to it later when I have some more time to sit down with it and see what I’ve got. And what’s great is it’s almost like discovery too because I compile all these ideas and then I forget about them — I go on the road or something — and I go back to them and I forgot that I even did them. So when I hear them, a lot of times they’ll inspire, like “Oh, wow!” and from that I can build onto this and have this toying with this lyrical idea. So in a sense it’s all totally unorganized.

Once you get your ideas together, is it a discipline for you to then make sense of all that?

It’s fun and I really enjoy when I have the time to sit down and dig through things and write. And I’m the kind of person who needs deadlines. I like to tell myself, “If I’m going to make a record, I’m going to need to have some tunes done by this time.” Otherwise I’ll just tinker on it forever and never commit. I need sort of a deadline and that’s just how I’ve always been. You’ve got to decide. And if I don’t put a deadline on things, I just won’t decide. It’ll be like, “I could do this. Or I could do this. Or I could do that. Or I could do that.” That can go on… I also like being restricted in terms of instrumentation. I don’t want to have everything at my disposal to make a record. I want, “This is what I have. Let’s use these elements and make it sound the best we can.” Because if I have everything to choose from, then I’ll never decide. I hate having too many options.

How do you challenge yourself as a songwriter? Going forward, are there things that you want to do again and elements you don’t want to explore anymore?

What I’ve been listening to since I finished the record is definitely changing and that’s going to affect how I make another album. I’m definitely not into repeating myself. So I imagine there’ll be some elements of this album on the next album, but there’s going to be a whole new element of things introduced. I have some ideas. I want every record to be its own thing and have its own sound. That’s always a challenge, I think, for an artist. You want there to be some kind of consistency because hopefully that consistency is what keeps people liking your work. But you don’t want to bore your audience by giving them the same thing every time. I’d say the one for-sure quality that’s going to be there is groove. And that’s really all I can say.

For more information on AM, please visit the artist’s official website.

(First published at Blogcritics.)