Earlier this month I spoke with Adam Faucett about his forthcoming record, “It Took the Shape of a Bird” (Last Chance Records). We’d just played a show together at Maxine’s in Hot Springs, and the next day he and his band — The Tall Grass — would set out on a nine-day tour through the Midwest to preview the album before its official release show on June 30 at White Water Tavern in Little Rock. We drove the hour back to his place in Little Rock following the Maxine’s show, where over a few beers he spoke with candor and humor of the album’s somber content, and how the songs which make it up came together.
William Blackart: I guess we’ll go ahead and start. Anyway. So, one thing I noticed about this record, that stood out a lot, that I think is really awesome, is that I see some reoccurring themes or phrases. And those are “king” and “snake.” Obviously, the opening track is “King Snake.” It has the line, “If poison wants to slip again / So help me, God / I’ll kill him.” In “Dust” there’s the line, “Pile it up and call me the king;” and “Dust clouds / In space they sing / ‘Come join us, boy, you ain’t no king.’” “Mackay Bennett,” again with the snake thing — the line, “So far ahead you caught your tail / Part your lips for your last meal / Broke my will, changed my name, drew my blood with your old fangs.” And once again, in “Sober And Stoned,” “The new king can’t dance for nothing / His sad blood blue and gushing / On hordes of ex-husbands”
I don’t know if that was intentional. But it’s something that I noticed, and I dig it.
Adam Faucett: Um, yeah. (sighs) I don’t really know if any of my stuff is terribly intentional. Obviously those songs were kinda written as a patch of songs that stretched over, you know, three years.
AF: But. Yeah, I don’t know, man. This record, to me it’s like that terror/twilight moment of about to lose control. Like almost. It’s a fight between . . . well, there’s no fight left. The control is close to your fingers but it’s forever gone—[that] kind of thing.
AF: So I guess that’s where the “king” thing is. It’s like [in] “Dust”—You’re nobody; you can’t even help your friends. I really honestly don’t have a good answer for that, man.
WB: That’s cool
AF: Sorry. (laughs)
WB: That’s alright. (laguhs) I guess it’s more of an observation than anything.
AF: Well, no, you’re not the first. I mean, there’s snakes on the cover, there’s snakes here and there, there’s king everywhere.
AF: Um. I don’t know. It just kinda seems like maybe I’ve been paying too much attention to politics and other people. I don’t know. And you know, “Dust” is definitely kind of a nod to a friend, and how I’m “Snake King” to him, or you know, “Snake Christ,” or whatever. Just those old fuckin’ nicknames we used to throw around. I mean, obviously that song’s about [a specific person].
AF: (Clears throat) But you know, I don’t really know how much of that I really want printed. And that’s why this record’s kinda’ hard to talk about. ‘Cause it’s like, not cool. And it’s really personal. You know what I’m saying?
AF: And a lot of the people I’m singing about are still kinda going through the same shit that I’m singing about. You know what I mean?
WB: Yeah. Well, it’s interesting you say that, because, obviously, we’re homies, and I’ve been around. I’ve been hearing a lot of these songs in their development, and everything. And that’s one thing I’ve noticed, that’s stood out to me. I mean, I think all your stuff is personal.
WB: You know what I mean? The songs you write — obviously that shit is personal. But to me, this one feels more overtly personal.
WB: I don’t know how to say it really, but . . .
AF: I mean, all the songs were written, and pretty much complete by mid-2017.
AF: Honestly, without sounding like a bitch, I really feel like — and you know this to be true — that my life between 2014 and ‘17 was pretty wild.
AF: Pretty dark. Uh, a lot of life happening. A lot of people dying.
AF: You know, I moved six times between this past November ’17 and March ’14.
WB: Yeah. That’s pretty nuts.
AF: Hell, you moved most of me. Most of those times.
AF: But uh, this record’s a lot of kinda coming to terms with shit. Kinda trying to stare the beast in the eyes, but also trying to bluff it and stare past it without really owning up to my own bullshit, I guess. Kinda leaning on other people’s problems to hold up my own (laughs).
WB: Alright. (laughs) That sounds alright to me. Cool. I guess this is the only single track I want to talk about, but “Central Avenue.” I’ve heard you say several times before playing this live, you say, “This song’s about not being afraid of anything.”
WB: And I heard you also say before that this was inspired by seeing a funeral procession go down Central Avenue in Hot Springs.
WB: Some bikers, or something?
AF: Um . . . No, there really wasn’t bikers involved. I mean, there might have been some bikes. What is was was a prominent musician there in town who died. So right off the bat you’re already kinda like, “Huh, that could be me. This is what my funeral would look like.” (laughs) You know what I’m saying? It’s really relatable on that level. But also it just struck me as kinda strange, in that I’d never thought about it before, but most funeral processions go down a path that the deceased had gone down a bazillion times before in his life without thinking about it. And that concept kinda touched me in a weird way. You know, I forget the guy’s name. I wasn’t even at his funeral. I was just kinda like, “There he goes.”
AF: But uh, let’s just call him “Jim.” [It was] like, “Oh wow! Right behind that glass is Jim’s body. And this is the last time he’ll ever come down this street. Without a thought, this time.” Uh, a lot of death going on on this record.
AF: This is the death record, man.
WB: (laughs) Okay.
AF: And it’s kind of like, “Well, Jim’s seemingly stepped through the door pretty easily. And now people are drinking in the streets on Central Avenue due to him stepping through the door.” He didn’t commit suicide, or anything. He just passed away in his sleep. And uh, I don’t know. It’s just kind of a song of like, “Whatever it is, whoever it is — the adversary — he might be coming for me, but I feel like I might be coming for you just as much, you know?”
WB: Ooh, yeah.
AF: And though I’m expecting not to win . . . “I’ll be crushed by your corpse and your broken horn / Under a sky just as blue as the day before I was born.” Meaning my life didn’t mean anything; your life doesn’t mean anything. Whatever’s fucking with me or fucking my path up, it’s probably not of any significance, other than the fact that it’ll probably kill me.
WB: Hmm . . . hell yeah.
AF: It’s that something you have to come to terms with. And I did that with that song, in my own mind. But for other people, I would love for it to mean whatever felt right.
WB: Yeah. It’s interesting you say that this is the death record.
WB: It seems to me that for years now there’s been publications calling your stuff “cosmic” and “soulful,” and I think maybe “American Songwriter,” about the last record, they said it was “guided by spirits rather than structures.” So there’s always been that vibe with you, but this new one, to me, seems more like it has a spiritual vibe to it. And not in the way of any certain deity or any faith, or anything.
WB: Pretty much . . . well, I don’t know. Recently I read an essay about Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” It had some quotes from that, and I ended up going and reading that. Like, very much in the same way that Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” — and the main poem from that, “Song of Myself”—is very spiritual, I get the same vibe from this new record of yours.
AF: Yeah, I mean, I definitely feel more spirited now than I have in a long, long, long time. From simple things, of seeing things. But mostly it just kinda’ goes back to that time period. It’s kinda hard on me. It kinda squeezed my brain, in ways.
AF: And you know me. You know I’ve always been a spiritual person. I’ve always kinda gone back and forth between what I think might be going on. Never really stopping on a deity or a moral or a philosophy. But just, you know, I’ve always had a deep-seeded need for death. When you’re as obsessed with death as I have been throughout my life, I kinda feel like being spiritual in the sense of knowing what you are in your environment as best you can, which is what I consider spirituality, is important. Especially if you’re a performer or an artist, ‘cause you have to know how your affecting the room you’re in, or performing in, to really even know exactly what you are. I don’t know if that answered the question very well, or not.
WB: No; that was good.
AF: But it’s definitely a more spirited record. I do feel like a lot of this stuff came together pretty easily.
WB: Yeah. You mentioned knowing, as an artist, who you are and your place within where you’re at. Especially the song “Axe,” and there’s a few others, too. I think “Ancient Chord” kind of touches on it, and “Living On The Moon” a little, too. Those seem to me — especially “Axe” — like very much dealing with life as an artist, or your life as an artist.
AF: Right. It’s 100 percent. I mean, this record is kinda’ embarrassingly autobiographical, you know?
AF: I think everything I write is autobiographical, to a degree. There was a “Melanie.” There is the character from “Sparkman.” It just wasn’t me.
AF: Um. But I think this time, just due to a pretty [sad] breakup in 2014, and just everything in between. You know, it was just a . . . It was kinda’ like that old guy that we met down in Mississippi. He said he was drunker than a bicycle.
WB: (laughs) Yeah.
AF: Well, he also said, “Find me an atheist in a foxhole.” And I guess I feel like I been in a foxhole for a number of years. I’m not an atheist. I can’t subscribe to atheism. But I definitely don’t give a fuck about what God’s name is. Clearly he doesn’t. It doesn’t. I don’t give a shit about God. If there is or isn’t a god, that doesn’t really change my opinion on how I think the universe might be working. Which is always just a constant work-in-progress from somebody that’s not that smart—me.
AF: So, I don’t know. At least it’s better than thinking about fucking fantasy baseball, or something.
WB: (laughs) That’s a good point.
AF: Maybe not though.
WB: Um . . . This is a heavy record, I think, too.
WB: The feel of it. I mean, “King Snake,” to me, is heavy as hell.
AF: I’ve already been told by a couple of women that they don’t like it.
AF: [They] like the rest of the record, [but They] don’t like that song, [and They] don’t like “Sparkman.” And kind of for the same reason. [They’re] like, “[We] were beat up. [We] were treated bad when [we] were young. [We] just don’t wanna’ listen to music that brings that back up.”
AF: And was I like, “Man, I completely understand. This song isn’t for you.”
AF: And I had that consideration when I was coming up with the lyrics on Chad’s couch.
WB: Oh yeah?
AF: But “Sparkman” came together in a flash. “King Snake” came together in a flash.
AF: I’d be a fool not to catch the flashes.
WB: Sure. Well, didn’t you tell me “King Snake” was kind of based loosely off your grandmother’s experience?
AF: Off my Mamaw.
AF: My dad’s mom. Loosely. I don’t know the level of abuse that she endured. I don’t want to know. She wouldn’t tell me. But I do know that she couldn’t talk about it without crying.
WB: Oh, wow.
AF: And she couldn’t really get through it. Maybe they were just rude. I don’t know.
AF: You know, kinda’ left up to the imagination.
AF: Obviously the whole walking out in the woods and seeing a king snake and wishing you were rather a king snake than a little girl, because a king snake don’t give a fuck and they’re impervious to venom. You know—poison?
WB: (laughs) Yeah.
AF: And poison being, I guess in this song, the main character that’s giving her the most heat.
AF: I definitely took some artistic license on drawing the blanks for myself.
WB: You mean you have an imagination?
AF: I have a little bit of an imagination.
WB: Adam, what are you doing?
AF: (laughs) Maybe I should try to get a bigger one, man. You know, seems like all my stories seen through my eyes are fuckin’ grotesque as fuck. I couldn’t write a happy song to save my life.
WB: (laughs) Shit.
AF: They don’t seem sad to me. Like, even shit like that doesn’t seem sad. It just seems like the way it is.
WB: Hmm. Yeah?
AF: It’s kinda’ like looking at Venus: “Ah that’s so sad.” It’s a planet the size of earth, and it had all the right, you know, iron core . . . It could’ve been Earth, and maybe it was at one point, but now you look at it and it’s just a fucking genuine hell planet. Like, nobody calls it sad just because it was a complete wasted opportunity for absolute beauty, you know what I’m saying?
AF: It’s kind of the way I see a lot of shit like that. Especially when enough time has passed. It’s just nature’s way. It’s written in the laws of nature that some people, or most people, at some point in their life, will be treated like shit and won’t be able to do anything about it.
WB: Yeah . . . well . . . Um, speaking of the heavy tracks . . .
WB: (laughs) “Pearl” is a heavy one, to me.
WB: A rocker.
AF: Is it not kind of funny that that one kinda’ came true?
WB: In what way do you mean?
AF: That song was always about skipping town and going down to New Orleans. “Don’t tell her that I fell this way / Just tell her not to cry and worry / I let you fuck me like New Orleans.”
AF: “Drop me cold as the dark of the old deeps.” I’m no longer “waiting on my gris gris girl.” Hoping “that the riddle of high tide will pull me in, dry my eyes, pull me in to her side.” Uh, I don’t know. It sounds a lot like what a buddy of ours, months and years later, decided to do.
WB: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah—true. True, true.
AF: I mean, that’s what that song was always about.
WB: Yeah. Oh, wow.
AF: I mean, “Cloudy, cloudy and the mother of pearl / Run the tears down the cheeks I wear.”
AF: The first line of the song’s just like, you can’t even see you’ve got so many tears in your eyes, and you’re hoping that jumping in might dry ‘em off. Maybe you’ll see clearly for a little bit. But isn’t that weird?
WB: Yeah. (laughs)
AF: Isn’t that a little uncanny?
WB: (laughs) That is. That is a little uncanny.
AF: And I hate that, you know, this is bad interview shit, because nobody else knows what we’re talking about. But you and I know that there’s no way I could’ve known. But if I told you that song was about that, you’d be like, “Well I feel like that’s pretty spot on.”
WB: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah—true, true, man. Well, I’ve about finished with this beast here, Adam. I’ve got a couple more things for you.
AF: I don’t feel like I’ve answered any of these question well.
WB: Naw. I think you have.
AF: You can use them?
WB: I haven’t really even asked too much. I’m just kind of stating. (laughs) You’re speaking about what I’m stating. But here’s another thing I really like: So on “The Great Basking Shark,” you’ve got [the song] “The Salton Sea.”
WB: A very historical place.
WB: On “Show Me Magic, Show Me Out,” the song “John Carter 1927.” That song is almost just a telling of the tale of what happened on that.
AF: Pretty much.
WB: And also from “Show Me Magic, Show Me Out,” I really like the line, “Then I realize / History, it dies / With the people of its time.”
WB: “Blind Water Finds Blind Water:” You’ve got the Staten Island Ferry, a very historical, iconic part of New York. “Edgar Cayce.”
AF: “Edgar Cayce.” Walking around “Benton” was historical for me.
WB: I guess what I’m getting at on this is, I really like how you have this sense of—even if the song’s not about what it is—this sense of history. I’m very much interested in the historic names and places you mention in your songs.
WB: And with the new one you’ve got the Mackay Bennett. Which, I learned from you, is the ship that picked up most of the dead from the Titanic disaster.
AF: Four days later.
AF: And embalmed them. The ones that they could fit. They got all the first class, and then they sank [the rest]—they put 50 pound weights on most of them. They gave them a number and sank ‘em. But you know, I’m singing about the boat.
AF: Again, one of the biggest themes through the record is being a little too late to help. But still being around and wanting to help out. Again, a lot of the record kinda’ stems from losing best friends, seeing [good friends] die.
AF: And also, just how much has changed since [releasing the last record in] ’14. That was also during the time when a certain somebody squat next door before they started renovating these apartments. And he would come in at all hours to my house. Four, five, it didn’t matter. Twacked-out on drugs. You know, always calling me for something: “Hey man, I need help. I need to do this. I need to do that.” And when I learned about what the Mackay Bennett was, I was like, “Well, I’m the Mackay Bennett to this guy.”
AF: He’s just out there bobbing. He’s already dead, but somebody needs to go pick him up and take him home.
AF: No matter if there’s a cure in sight. But the thing is, I thought we were doing this together. You know what I’m saying? I thought you and I were thick as thieves. I thought, you know, we were on the same page. It turns out we weren’t on the same page, and he forgot to tell me. And then as I tried to follow his footsteps, to kinda’ figure it out and get in the mind of it, it’s just like, it would be so easy to be taken down by the same way. You know what I mean? And then the song kinda’ just gives up on the idea: “Thought I knew you better than that / Guess I didn’t / And where we were was never where you were at / Who’m I kidding.”
WB: That’s a good line.
AF: “We swore we were special / Sailing high for the strange and the pure.” And I wrote that around [the time of a good friend’s] death, when my [buddy] was saying, “We’re the strongest of the strange.” And I’m like, “I definitely feel strange, but I don’t feel very strong, at all.” So I threw “strange” in there—kind of a nod to my own life. And that’s why I say this record’s very tied-in to little daily rituals that won’t really hit anybody else. I’m just hoping the songs are sonically well enough to enjoy.
AF: That song is very akindred to a lot of the songs, lyrically. I mean, it’s kinda’ like the same movie, this record. You know what I’m saying?
AF: And the first line of the record is, “Well, my dad died, and then my mom died, and then my brother got shipped off to war, and now I’m stuck with these fucking ‘cousins’ who don’t want me, down in Camden.” And the record ends with, “If I let them talk me from this ledge / Then that means I have climbed here for nothing.”
AF: And then it literally ends, “I’m sober and stoned / It’s so good to be standing / It’s so good to be at home.” And that’s how the record ends.
WB: (laughs) Yeah.
AF: So the “Mackay Bennett” song, I like [its] juxtaposition, [its] poppiness.
WB: Yeah. Very much so.
AF: [It’s a] very poppy, Pavementy kind of thing. But the content, to me—and it doesn’t have to be, I don’t really want it to be this for other people, you know what I’m saying? It just turns out that I write songs, and I have to come up with lyrics as well.
AF: And I don’t know much about “Hey, hey, baby.” You write about what you know. And, unfortunately, in the last several years the things that have struck me enough to think, “Man, this should be immortalized in songs,” wasn’t, “Him and hear bought a house. And so did someone’s else’s stupid spouse.” None of that shit moves me. You know what I’m saying?
WB: I got ya’.
AF: But, yeah. You completely give up at the end of fucking “Mackay Bennett.” And that’s when it says, “Oh well / So goes / Somewhere out there there’s another us doing this right.” And that kind of goes back to the whole cosmic. How large the universe really is, and the multiverse concept where there’s probably an infinite amount of you and me, and an infinite amount of us having this conversation, but it’s just slightly altered because it’s just a half a degree of a dimension over. You know what I mean? (laughs)
AF: So it’s, again, a nod to that. And that’s how “Mackay Bennett” ends. [Then] it comes with the little pop lead [to] take it out.
WB: Well, that’s about it. I guess I got one more straight up “interview” style question. (in a very posh voice) Do you have a favorite track off the new album? Or one you like playing live the best?
WB: That’s very “Rolling Stone,” right there.
AF: Right. Umm. I play so much solo that I kinda’ think of things in a sense of solo.
AF: And a band is kind of like, we did this for the record. It’s kind of a re-creation of something. I think of songs as solo songs, and that’s the way I have to answer this question.
AF: For instance, I love playing “Central Avenue.” Sometimes I don’t think it sounds as good with the band, but I want to get it there. I thought it sounded good tonight—minus my verbal flubs. But I really like that song. And I feel like that’s one of the songs that probably connects the least with people. Uh, I like playing all of ‘em really, man. And I like “Snake” a lot. Playing “Snake” is fun. I like playing “Sober And Stoned.” (laughs) I like ‘em all, really. I mean, this is my favorite record I’ve ever done. Because it just kinda’ fell in place. It kinda’ feels like the first record, how it fell in place. Although, the first record was filled with hope. And . . .
AF: (laughs) … uh, that came from 11 years ago. We’d never really been on tour, and we got stars in our eyes.
AF: The sky’s the limit, kind of fucking [thing].
WB: Well, this is a statement again. But I really like the string arrangements.
AF: Thanks. They were expensive.
WB: Who all did strings? Was it just Wren (Whiteseven)?
AF: Just Wren.
WB: Okay. That’s what I figured. I guess that’s about all I have to ask you, man. Anything else you’d like to add?
AF: Not really. I mean, [it] sucks talking about the record because it’s such a fucking bummer sounding record, but it could be whatever. I feel like it’s open-ended enough for any listener to kinda’ find their own footing and hear their own voice in this record. You know what I’m saying? It’s not that I went through such a traumatic time that it’s narrowed down. It’s just, you get enough people calling you at five o’clock in the morning telling you that they’re going to kill themselves—and they don’t, thank God—and the guitar kinda’ plays itself.
WB: Yeah. (laughs) Yeah. Well, I appreciate you giving me your time to yack on this device.
AF: I appreciate you sleeping on my couch.