Even though all musicians have a burning passion to play music, what made you get started in a “profession” as a musician? Or better put, what made you say “I can do this for a living” as opposed to a hobby?
AM: I think that idea came to me very young, because you’re supposed to pick out something you want to do when you grow up, and I had a lot of opportunities and abilities but nothing really held my attention other than playing music, so I went with that. I was actually going to be in the newspaper business originally. That was what my dad did, and that’s what I did all through high school.
As far as thinking of myself as “good enough” to do it, a turning point for me was doing the sessions with the guys from the Wrecking Crew. I was nervous going in but it turned out to be an environment I really thrived in, and after awhile the older guys made me feel like I belonged there. So after that I gained a lot of confidence in my ability to play, as opposed to perform or write songs. I figure if Hal Blaine thinks I can do it, I can do it.
When you were a self-described “young punk” – what gave you the motivation to continue to play in Cockeyed Ghost, despite all the well documented hardships?
AM: It’s in the “Burning Me Out” song — “that’s what made me happy, that’s my place.” One thing that always annoyed me around that time is the attitude people had…”Adam wanted so much to be a rock star, and it didn’t happen, why doesn’t he just go away?” I got accused of having delusions of grandeur and meanwhile I’m playing 6 days a week in some really crappy dive in Texas and I knew full well what the realities of the situation were. I wasn’t doing it because I thought I was going to make it somehow. I was doing it because it was my path. I always thought Cockeyed Ghost had way more integrity than we got credit for. People talked about our work ethic like it was a bad thing. That always irked me.
People get too hung up on success as a measure of everything. I knew I was doing good work, and that it was something that no one else was doing, and that I was writing about real things. I felt like I was standing for something, and doing what I was cut out to do, so I had to continue regardless of what anyone else thought. It is kind of a punk rock attitude I guess. As I get older, I find I’m in a unique position…I never blew up really big, but I never stopped playing, either. So I was in a position to just keep honing my craft and increasing my skills without the pressure of having to come up with a hit or something. The longer I go on the more I realize that was a lucky thing for me.
You’ve always been a Beach Boys fan – but how much have you learned since doing the Carl Wilson tribute?
AM: Besides the thrill of having pulled the whole thing off and again, the confidence that comes from that, I think it’s how much I like a lot of the Beach Boys people personally, the Wilson family in particular. The whole band is in love with Marilyn. We think she is about the coolest person we know. And I enjoyed playing with Carnie and Wendy immensely.
How has the story of “Ginna Ling” effected the way you feel about your fans?
AM: When I first came to L.A. it was the tail end of the whole metal thing and one thing I noticed was how much those bands respected their fans. It wasvery much a “you are our customer, our job is to treat you right and make you happy” attitude. I thought that was great, and when the shoegazer thing happened it went 180 degrees in the other direction. Meanwhile, it’s nearly 20 years later and there’s a club down the street from me where all the old metal bands can still draw a crowd because they created a bond that people still value. I try to keep things personal with my fans because again, I think it’s the right thing to do. They’re keeping you going. Don’t treat them like shit. To the extent you have time, take some interest in them, don’t make it a one-way thing.
As far as Ginna’s thing personally, I don’t think it changed how I thought about my fans as much as it made me aware of how divorced from reality a
lot of my ideas about people and relationships were. Here’s somebody that outwardly you think on a fantasy level you have something in common
with, and inwardly there’s turmoil that you have no conception of. Part of a real relationship is coming to grips with that and dealing with the whole person. If there’s a secondary idea to that song, it’s that it’s outwardly a happy-go-lucky pop love song and the narrator realizes that real life is a lot more complicated than that.
That’s really the kind of thing I like to write about… a pop song doesn’t have to be about callow things. I think of pop as a way to explore the way people really function and the emotions we don’t like to talk about. To me, having a good melody with those ideas just makes a resonant lyric more poignant.
You’ve played with a lot of different people while on the road. Does
anyone or any story really stand out for you?
AM: One of the best shows I ever did was with Glenn Tilbrook, opening for him in Omaha. It was a great crowd, and I remember agonizing over whether I should change strings and decided I didn’t have enough time. I just jumped onstage and was totally killing with that audience, and then the string broke at the end of the first song! And so I somehow managed to talk all the way through changing the string, and of course this helped win over the crowd too. I had an awesome gig after that. I really felt like I had to raise my game for that show, and I did.
So Tilbrook comes up afterwards and says, “man, you really had them going.
I’m scared to go on now!” And as nice as that was, I knew it was total bullshit! But the thing is, that’s the kind of guy he is. Totally gracious and good-natured. And then he goes onstage and completely schools me. I have never seen a guy work a crowd like that or have that much talent. Not only is he a great songwriter and singer, but he’s a MONSTER guitar player. And the thing was, he had just broken his foot! So at one point he’s off the stage and hobbling around the room playing, and the whole audience follows him like the Pied Piper until he’s standing in the corner of the lobby and there’s like 200 people around him.
I was in total awe and so grateful I got to play with him. I learned a
lot from him. I’ve been lucky to have had some of the greatest teachers… playing with people like Stew or Wondermints or whatever. There’s nothing better for learning than being in close proximity to people that really have it, y’know?
Tell me about your most embarassing moment while touring.
AM: I’m so used to getting into embarassing situations I almost don’t register it anymore! I do remember one thing that happened that made me really squirm and feel bad. Cockeyed Ghost was playing a show in a resort town in Utah and we used to do “December” and have this little rap beforehand that said “and now we’re going to do our happy suicide song!” which it really wasn’t, the song is kind of a parody of people who can’t take their emotions seriously. So in the middle of the song someone passes me a note that says “Please do not play any more suicide songs, a local girl killed herself last weekend.” And we all felt like shit! Needless to say “Ginna Ling” got dropped from the set.
Among newer active bands, who do you listen to and admire?
AM: I have to admit I’m not as up on this as I should be. Three years ago I got an IPod and got a lot of new bands on it, and I thought I knew what the hell was going on, and then of course a year later there’s a whole crop of bands to take their place. There’s a lot less continuity than there used to be. And I cannot get behind the whole American Idol thing at all. I completely ignore that whole deal. Having said that my favorite song of the last five years is probably “One Horse Town” by The Thrills, and my favorite new album is probably Belle and Sebastian’s last one. They really upped the ante there.
Likewise, the L.A. scene is very diffuse now. We don’t have much contact with the whole IPO deal anymore…that all seemed to go off in a different direction…but we actively seek out bands to play with here. There’s oneoutstanding band called The Resonant Heads. The lead singer is Dawn, who used to play drums in Lava Diva. GREAT pop band.
They aren’t exactly new, but I’ll tell you one indie band that I always admired and that’s still active, and that’s Sloan. When I was in Cockeyed Ghost they were the band that I always aspired to be like… I just liked the little career they had, they toured, they made great records, and they just kept going and going and trying new things along the way.
Where does Adam Marsland go from here?
AM: I’m working on a new album! It’s been five years since I’ve made an all new record and I’m really into it right now. I started really working on it as soon as I got off the road, and I’m recording every day. The plan is to have it done by the end of the year. I’ve got enough of it done to say with confidence it’s going to be the best thing I’ve ever put out. I’m trying to decide whether I want to do a big sprawling double album like “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” or something tighter. But we’re planning to have it out in March. There’s some things I’ve never tried on it. There’s even a rock-disco song which I think sounds totally kickass. It’s a much more uptempo album than “You Don’t Know Me” was.
Besides that, I’m hoping to keep doing more and more sideman work. I really enjoy it, and it pays the bills! Basically, I’m enjoying playing more now than at any point in my life. I’m finally able to pull off a lot of things I’ve always wanted to do, and so I just want to keep at it as long as I can and as much as I can.
Wow, that was an insightful interview. – I can’t wait to hear the next Adam Marsland album.