Adventures in Limbo with Saul Adamczewski

It’s fitting that the final performance of Saul Adamczewski’s latest album, Adventures in Limbo, was staged in a gothic church in South London. Seated in a worn wooden chair on a dais banked with overblown white roses and candle-light, directly above a 300-year-old-crypt, in a church named for the patron saint of the disabled, Adamczewski leant forward into the mic and intoned: “Dearly beloved… we are gathered here today… to celebrate… me.” Everything changes, nothing changes at all. Selah!

After an extended period residing in France, Adamczewski spent the early spring on a sold-out UK tour of the album alongside Marley Mackey (Warmduscher, Insecure Men, the Coward) and Aidan Clough. The songs on Adventures in Limbo run the gamut from a tender ballad for notorious boxer Paul Sykes, a brutal obit to a love affair gone cold, a suitably dirge-y number dubbed “Kent” (“It used to be called ‘Old Bastard’ but I changed it to ‘Kent,’ ” Adamczewski prefaced with a knowing smirk) to a sweet lament about waiting around for Fat Whites guitarist Adam J Harmer. Accompanied by flute, clarinet, trumpet, piano, organ, drums, and a musical saw, and in the service of a frank but tender lyricism, Adamczewski’s voice sounded sweeter, smoother, than in previous years. All angles like Picasso’s guitarist, his blue eyes staring piercingly out from beneath a drifter’s newsboy cap, at intervals he would make a sound half-way between the whine of a kicked dog and the desolate bray of a sobbing child, as though mocking his own honesty. The overall effect of the show was to hold the audience in a perfect and vaguely disconcerting thrall.

A couple of days afterwards, I met with Adamczewski to talk about the album at a pie-and-mash shop in South London. He was accompanied by Jeanie Crystal, renowned DJ, filmmaker, and founder of FabooTV. On the ninth of this month, Crystal and Adamczewski are staging an all-night drone concert under a “secret” railway arch near Brixton station, with more collaborations to follow. (Upon their arrival, they announced that they’d just decided that the next incarnation of Insecure Men will be called, “Jeanie Crystal’s Insecure Men.”)

Totally Wired: When did you start writing Adventures in Limbo?
Saul Adamczewski: I started writing it on various Fat Whites tours around when Serf’s Up came out. Just on the tour bus. I found this new open guitar tuning, so all the songs on the album are written in the same key. I started writing these songs, but I thought they were a bit, like, wet. Soft. I was embarrassed about that. I was just embarrassed about being earnest in music. I wasn’t going to put it out as a record. It was only because my friend Marley Mackey, who’s in Warmduscher, and Ben Romans-Hopcraft, they kind of convinced me that I should try to make a record out of it. The melody and writing is all me, but Lias (Saoudi) came to the studio. Basically, all the songs were written, and I had some of the lyrics, and we just spent a week in the studio recording it and Lias was just in a room writing lyrics as we were making it. Like a kind of factory. Most of it’s a kind of collaboration, I’d say.

Totally Wired: Where does the title of the album come from?

Saul Adamczewski: Adventures in Limbo is the name of a book by this guy Austin Osman Spare who was a cult painter and writer and magician. He’s from Southwark, which is where I’m from. Or where I lived. So, I stole the name from him. And then the album got like, caught in limbo for three years. I think it’s cos I tormented his spirit, and he cursed me, basically. I really believe that. Yeah, cos I lived in his flat. I lived in his old flat. There’s too many weird connections. There’s a song on the album called ‘A.O.S’ and I wrote that song by taking magic mushrooms and going into a sauna and getting into this really uncomfortable yoga position. I tried to put my legs behind my head. It wasn’t a real yoga position, I made it up. I read that A.O.S used to do the same thing.

Totally Wired: Were you by yourself?

Saul Adamczewski: I was by myself. And then I tried to… I’m not going to pretend that I like, summoned the spirit of Austin Spare…

Totally Wired: Well, it sounds like you did manage it…

Saul Adamczewski: Well, yeah… I came out of the sauna, and I had the whole tune in my head. So, maybe he wrote that song.

Totally Wired: I think you can safely say that you summoned him. 

Saul Adamczewski: Yeah, I summoned him. He wrote the song and it’s on the record. Even though he’s dead.

Totally Wired: I mean, that is a lot of effort: mushrooms, extreme heat, contortion.

Saul Adamczewski: Yeah. 

Totally Wired: I was curious about “The Ballad of Paul Sykes.” What was it about Paul Sykes that made you want to write specifically a ballad about him? What drew you in?

Saul Adamczewski: Have you watched the videos of him and stuff like that? He was a boxer, and he wrote a book called Sweet Agony. He was a kind of debt-collector/gangster/criminal. You ever seen that video of him where he’s talking about beating up a shark? He goes, “I’ll tell you how to beat up a shark. Just punch sharks straight in the fooking face. That’s how you deal with sharks.” He’s just a bullshitter. He was like one of those psychopaths, but he’s like an artist. He was friends with Charles Bronson and Ronnie Kray. All the ones who were nuts and a bit fabulous. They killed people, but they were also very into painting and writing. There’s a really good documentary about him where he’s just talking about how most criminals are really boring idiots. Sweet Agony is about his life, but it’s full of lies. He had two kids—two sons—and in the documentary, there’s this scene where he, like, catches them taking money out of their mum’s purse. And he sits them down. And they’re like these little boys. And there’s this horrible, like, sense of serious violence and they’re just terrified of him. Both his sons are in prison for life for murder, and he ended up homeless in Wakefield. Kids used to set him on fire. He was like a local legend, but he ended up sleeping rough and so like it became kind of a local sport to like…they would, like, douse him, and he got set on fire. I dunno, it’s like a tragic story but also, he’s really funny, and he had an amazing way with words. So, I thought I’d write a ballad for him.

Totally Wired: The line, in “The Ballad of Paul Sykes,” that goes “I see a piece of myself in everybody,” …is that you talking, or you talking as him?

Saul Adamczewski: That’s him. I don’t think I’m anything like Paul Sykes. There was this side to him where he thought he was kind of like a do-gooder, a community man. And like, he set up this thing where he wanted people to send their kids to him so he could discipline them. He would do auctions where he auctioned off serial killers’ paintings so that he could build a community center for the local kids in Wakefield. He was like a working-class hero.

Saul Adamczewski and band shot at St Giles Cathedral in Camberwell, London by the inimitable Lou Smith @lousmithphoto.

Totally Wired: Do you have any plans to release the second Insecure Men album?

Saul Adamczewski: We’re still making it. We’re going to finish making it this year. 

Totally Wired: Is it going to be called Jeanie Crystal’s Insecure Men?

Saul: Well, me and Jeanie are going to start doing a lot of art and performance stuff together.

Jeanie Crystal: Saul’s been making a lot of drone music, and I have an interest in performance art, so it just seems like a natural thing to do, to meld those two things within a space. The first one we’re going to do is next month, with a drone orchestra and few of my most favorite performers are going to come in.

Saul Adamcewski: And do some weird shit.

Jeanie Crystal: Yeah!

Totally Wired: You’re known for your stellar ability to write melody. Making drone music must be quite a different process. When did your interest in drone music start?

Saul Adamczewski: Well, I really got into listening icicle music and long pieces of music. And I mean, honestly, it also goes hand-in-hand with doing lots of opiates. It’s a well-trodden path, I suppose. But what I really liked about making the music was this thing where you lose all sense of time while you’re making it… you don’t know how long you’ve been doing it for, until you just stop doing it. It’s like you can slow down time.

Totally Wired: Like you can kind of create your own space and then get lost in it?
Saul Adamczewski: Yeah, kind of! It’s like something where you can leave your mind.

Totally Wired: Because you’re not trying to enunciate anything or directly tell a story?
Saul Adamczewski: You don’t have to do anything. All you’re trying to do is nothing. 

Totally Wired: Which is not easy.
Saul Adamczewski: It isn’t! You’re trying to do as little as possible. It’s like a different way of thinking about music. And then I only wanted to do that. And then there’s the potential to do film stuff, performance stuff.

Photograph by Lou Smith @lousmithphoto

Totally Wired: When did you begin painting? 

Saul Adamczewski: I don’t know. When I was a teenager, when I was at school, I really wanted to go to art school. I would love to have gone to Central Saint Martins. I thought I was going to succeed in art, and I failed my art GCSE. It just disheartened me, so I gave up on making art. And then… how did that happen? I don’t know. I always liked drawing cartoons. And then people just said, “Oh, you should try painting.” You know John Lurie, Painting with John? John Lurie was in the band the Lounge Lizards. He has a TV show on HBO, Painting with John. He was friends with Basquiat and people like that. He’s not that great, technically, at painting, but what he said was, like, just don’t give up and keep going until you’re happy with it. Make loads of mistakes and then paint over them. I started doing that.

You can hear Saul Adamczewski’s latest project, the Penge Sinfonia, at the Hidden Railway Arch near Brixton Station on June 9th from 7pm to 5am with special performances curated by the inimitable Jeanie Crystal. You can purchase his paintings via occasional drops on Instagram @saul.adamczewski.