It’s easy to be jaded with the state of the music industry today. It often seems as if money is the only driving factor and that the joy in the art of it all has been virtually lost. While this may be an exaggeration, there is no doubt that when an artist comes along who wants to make beautiful music by his own standards, and sacrifice absolutely no part of that in the process for money or fame, he should be held in the highest artistic esteem.
If any such enlightened individuals exist today, they are few and far between. Many have searched long and hard to find this elusive creature, and I think one member of this endangered species has finally been located. Hailing from northeast London (because “the house is cheaper”), Adem (pronounced Ahrdem) Ilhan is an artistic hero. Coming off of his well-received first effort, Homesongs (2004), the folksy singer-songwriter is back on the road to promote his most recent record, Love and Other Planets (2006).
One of the main ways I can immediately tell that Adem is of a different breed is his mode of speech. Before I am even able to finish my first question he launches into a minutes-long monologue. The rest of the interview is much the same, with my awkwardly forced half-questions interspersed among his intelligent and intense responses. “If I were to compromise my vision and integrity, I would risk losing part of myself and part of my music, which is a very selfish thing to do,” explains Adem. “It has always been important for me not to concede anything just to sell more.I don’t even think it would necessarily work.”
This lack of sell-out-itude shines brightly through in all of Adem’s work. Homesongs, his introspective 2004 debut, is a concept album (but not in the 1970s prog-rock sense) about home and family and “settling.” For Love and Other Planets, though, Adem made a “definite decision to deepen the lyrics and try for a new perspective.” He says that this time around he has “really tried to push and challenge himself musically,” in a genuine and meaningful attempt to make a record that “grows over time and takes work on the part of the listener.” Though it is again a concept album (still not prog-rock, though), this time the theme is outer space and looking down and having perspective. Adem says that, while at first he tried to “edge away” from making another concept album, it happened naturally because the songs began to overflow and overlap. He plays many of the instruments on L&OP, but the “good drumming and the violin are by someone else,” and he takes great and obvious pride in his in-home production of both of his albums. Adem says it would be “weird to hand it over to someone else” when he has such a clear vision of what he wants his art to be.
Though this album is not all solo, the tour Adem is embarking on this Saturday will be. “It will be liberating,” he says of having the stage to himself. He plays with other groups, including the experimental 3-man-group Fridge (Adem and his long-time school friends) and the 40-plus improvisational ensemble, Assembly. While these projects “bring him great joy” (especially Fridge), it’s hard to find time in his production-performing-recording-writing schedule for other bands. “I preferred working alone at first because of the independence of it,” Adem claims, but he says the lack of feedback can wear on you. “It gets lonely and you’re always wondering if it’s good,” he laments.
Adem truly appreciates the beauty of creation, and he is influenced by those whose music has stood the test of 30 or 40 years. He, too, strives to make his music “time-worthy,” and this is where I get my first impression of the enlightened Adem, who speaks in artful abstractions that seem to simply flow out of him. He describes how much he loves the feeling of creating something that will “exist from now on in the universe,” and talks quite lyrically about the “mind-blowing experience” of simple, everyday actions and, of course, making music. While he loves sitting around reading a book or watching a movie or staying in bed, which seems impossible with his action-packed life, Adem says that making music feels instinctive. “If I could do anything, this is it!” he says. “It’s just being!” It’s nice to see someone childishly and humbly excited about his own music. Just talking to Adem and hearing his music has made me equally eager and hopeful for the future of music as a whole.as long as he’s leading the way.
Adem will be opening for Badly Drawn Boy on Tuesday, March 6 at 7:30 at the 9:30 Club (U St./Cardozo on the Green line). Ticket are still available and cost $25.