Formed in 1997, Detroit duo Adult.—the period is so much a part of the name that their Web site’s URL is www.adultperiod.com—spent the late ’90s and 2000s crafting some of the sharpest-angled electro-punk this side of late-’70s Suicide or the Normal. Over five albums, Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus—a real-life couple as well as a musical one—put Kuperus’s severely compressed voice over machine music as full of the jitters as the funk. It’s been six years since the two of them made a new full-length, but “The Way Things Fall” (Ghostly International), released May 14, sees little sonic softening—even if, as they told CODE, it may be their most emotional music to date.
Download album track “Tonight, We Fall” exclusively below:
You’ve put out some EPs and some singles over the last few years, but no albums, and I’m curious if you see this all as part of the same line. Do you look at the smaller releases as part of the major discography, or do you think of albums as the main focus?
Miller: I would say we put the exact same amount of care into everything we do, although it takes a lot more care to put an album together. But no, I think we’re very, I suppose, old school in [regards to] what an album should be and could be. So a lot more work goes into an album, and I do believe an album has a certain…
Nicola Kuperus: Purpose, I suppose.
Miller: Purpose, and severity. I take that seriously.
How did you know that these songs would be an album?
Kuperus: It started just to be a 12-inch. That’s what we wanted. We actually didn’t want to do an album, and the [songs] just kept coming. It was an insane process: “Well, we should write one more.” “Well, we should write one MORE.” We were only supposed to write four, and we ended up writing 14.
Miller: I think that’s interesting, because I went to school for painting, and I really believe that—not on a transcendental level—but you can really listen to your painting and it’ll tell you when it’s done, that type of thing. I know that sounds a little hokey, but…it’s more just about stopping and listening, looking and listening, whatever you’re working on. But I do feel like these songs had their own little voices that were going “No, no, I’m an album song. No no no, keep going, there’s more in here.” It was kind of comical, in a way, how much it just seemed like it was meant to be that we were going to write an album.
How did you end up working with Ghostly International for the new album?
Kuperus: We did one track for them in 2002 [for] the Disco Nouveau compilation. Between that and running our own record label here in Detroit, Ersatz Audio, we met [Ghostly owner] Sam Valenti very early on and just developed a really long relationship with him. About three years ago, he kept saying, “What are you doing with “Resuscitation”? That’s such a great album. You should really re-release it.” It was out of print and it was unavailable on iTunes. Finally, after three years, it was a good time, mentally, for us to make that happen. And we don’t want to be one of those bands that just re-releases an old record and then don’t put anything new out. We figured that’s why we’d do the 12-inch with new material. That then turned into an album.
Miller: Added to that, in two-and-a-half years we hadn’t played a live show. We knew if we reissued Resuscitation on top of that—we just weren’t into it. We were still on our sabbatical, so to speak. Then we got asked to play this live show that was an art opening for this artist, Gary Panter, that we really like. He designed the logo for the Screamers. We really wanted to do this show, and to do a Screamers cover. Once we played the live show, we realized we really enjoyed it, and that maybe more music was in our future. Then Sam Valenti saw some of the video clips of the live show, and he got in contact with us again. Everything came together, these different roads.
What had kept you busy during your sabbatical as a band?
Miller: The six years between our last album [and this one], we did a soundtrack to a feature film called Open. Then we made our three horror films, which total about an hour and 45 minutes, and all of that has continuous original music, so that’s an hour and 45 minutes of music there. There was 55 minutes of music in the film we scored for this director Jake Hughes.
Kuperus: [to Miller] You started concentrating on your painting.
Miller: I did. I concentrated very hard on my painting.
Kuperus: One of the biggest problems we were having with it all is that we’re both visual artists, and the balance between visual art and not doing visual art became really bad. Especially with the MP3s taking over in the music industry. You know, album covers aren’t still, but used to be, this very important side to us. Everything started just becoming out of balance, so, by taking a break from music, Adam was able to concentrate on painting, I was able to concentrate on my photography. We were able to make these films, do video work, just a ton of things that we never were able to do.
Did making a lot of film music help change the way you began to write proper songs again?
Kuperus: It really was liberating. You’re approaching it in such a different way: You’re writing material to something visual instead of just starting with this blank idea in your head—maybe a little narrative or an emotion, like a word. It seems like it did help.
Maybe in the sense that you had been doing one thing for so long, that you could exercise this other muscle. It sounds like the songs poured out.
Miller: Yeah, it did, and it’s interesting because they’re much more, in my opinion, emotional than a lot of our other stuff—at least the emotions of melancholia and that type of longing. When you’re doing film stuff you really have to watch a segment and decide what main emotion you’re going to try to get out of that film.
What has shifted the most in the way you actually make the music over the years: the equipment, or the method?
Miller: A mental attitude would be the biggest shift I’ve had.
Kuperus: [The studio] doesn’t travel. [laughs] It’s old.
Miller: It’s all vintage analog gear that doesn’t even like you to talk to it the wrong way. The live rig is new analog equipment. No digital.
I’m taking it that some of the studio equipment is limited in capability simply because of its age. Does that help you at all? Knowing your limits and what you can do with certain pieces of gear?
Kuperus: Absolutely. [laughs]
What is your favorite piece of gear that does the least?
Kuperus: It used to be the [Roland] CR-8000 [a vintage drum machine], but now we got that fixed. It was so broken it only had a few drum sounds you could work with. To be honest, if something’s really that limited, we’ll generally sell it and get something else. But even the MiniMoog has a very [unique] sound palette.
MILLER: What it does, it’s good at, but it doesn’t do a lot, in my opinion.
Kuperus: Even though it’s wonderful.
Miller: When it shines, it shines.
Have you been at all heartened by the success of groups like The Knife, groups that mine similar territory without necessarily sounding like you? Does that open up any avenues with you in terms of audience? Do people check for ADULT. after they get into this other stuff that’s getting popular now in a similar vein?
Kuperus: We’ve been a band since 1997 and when we started, we really didn’t belong anywhere. We didn’t belong in the pure electronic techno, even when we started, we would get in to these electro parties in the Netherlands and Germany, but we were using vocals and sometimes bass guitar, and it was really hard for people to place us. On the flip side, in the U.S., we were playing in rock venues and the sound guys were constantly irritated with us, and making fun of us: “Where’s your drum kit?” I feel like the more bands out there that share similarities, it makes it a hell of a lot easier for us to move around.
Miller: I can remember having to deal with a sexist ex-drummer soundman at a club in America that was literally giving us shit for not having a drummer and for [having a] woman singing—[Nicola] couldn’t even do her own mic check—and getting into it with this guy. I can remember playing a club in Berlin that was a total DJ-thing and they set us up on these stupid rickety tables. We went to dinner and came back, and people had knocked all of our gear over and were dancing on it. So we have dealt with everything. It is pleasant now when you go into a club and the sound engineers are used to electronics and computers and these kinds of issues.
Did being from Detroit help put ADULT. in any way?
MILLER: Yes. But I also feel like being from Detroit, and there’s so much good music from here, that’s there’s also a lot of hometown pressure that you have to go through.
Kuperus: You go through your training.
Miller: If you’re not [making] quality, innovative material, you’re going to get a lot of crap from other people from Detroit.
Is that on the electronic side or the rock side or all sides?
Miller: All sides. That’s what I like about it here.