Adam Ant interview: How Tennessee and Paul McCartney influenced the Dandy Highwayman
Thirty years ago, Adam Ant was a dandy highwayman who you were too scared to mention. He spent his cash on looking flash and grabbing your attention.
Stand and Deliver, which features those famous opening lyrics, was just one of nine quirky but catchy tunes that Adam (born Stuart Goddard) landed on top 10 charts in his native England in the early '80s. Born during the tail end of the glam wave in British music, Adam Ant was half myth, half man, conquering audiences both on stage and on MTV dressed as a debonaire pirate, with streaks of bold makeup across his face to match his gold lipstick. He even briefly was the star of his own comic book, The Fantastic Adventures of Adam Ant.
But a foray into acting and a struggle with mental illness (later diagnosed as bipolar disorder) sidetracked Adam from his music. Decades passed. Before a short club tour of the U.S. last year, fans had begun to wonder if they'd ever see the dandy highwayman in person again.
"Hi, I'm Adam Ant's tour manager," the voice says when I pick up the phone. "Adam read your reviews of his concerts last year and really appreciates your support. He wants to offer you the first interview before his upcoming U.S. tour." (Adam plays the Palladium Theatre in St. Pete on Aug. 9 and the Hard Rock Live in Orlando on Aug. 10. )
Long pause. He read my reviews?!? Would I be interested?!?
A few weeks later, Adam called from his private office in London. During our half-hour chat, we talked about his new album (take a breath, okay, it's called Adam Ant Is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter), his stint living anonymously in Tennessee and how it was he got to wander through Paul McCartney's house as a kid. (Listen to the full audio version here.) Here are some highlights.
SIT80s: I saw you in Orlando on the last tour. I remember going home and writing a stream of consciousness review of the show, just being mesmerized by what I'd seen.
Adam: "Yeah, thank you. I read that. It was very kind of you."
What expectations did you have when you returned to the U.S. to perform?
"I was very delighted to see the response. It took me six to nine months to get this band together and it'd done quite welling the U.K. with the live stuff, but as I always say, when you go to the USA, it's an entirely different ballgame. "
Any wrinkles in the set list for this new tour?
"Obviously people want to hear the hits, and I indeed enjoy playing them. It's not like a task for me; it's more of a challenge because I'm trying to get the songs as good as they can sound, as close to the record without any sampling or nonsense like that. We'll play a half dozen songs from the new album as well."
I heard the new album was influenced by your stay in Tennessee. How did that happen?
"I was going to get married, and my wife and I -- I'm sadly divorced now -- we decided to hire a 4x4 in Miami and drive up to Vegas and get married in the Elvis chapel, that was the idea. But on the route, we stopped in this little town of Dayton for a cup of coffee. I picked up a property magazine -- I always look at them -- and I saw this advertisement for this wooden A-framed house overlooking the Tennessee valley. It was one of the best views of the world. So beautiful. Before I knew it … we settled there. People kind of left me alone."
Nobody knew who you were?
"They had no idea who I was. It wasn't until many years later. It's only now that people know I was a singer. Only my next-door neighbor knew. It was a lovely period of my life."
Another song off the new album Who's a Goofy Bunny Then? is about Malcolm McLaren, your first manager who also famously managed the Sex Pistols. How close were you to him at the time of his passing in 2010?
"I'm very close to his sons. And I was actually with them when Malcolm passed away. I went into the studio the next day and laid down the track. It was really something I wanted to attribute to Malcolm. … He as a great mentor to me. He had a great knowledge of rock and roll. He got me to sit down and discipline myself. In the history of rock and roll, in my opinion, he's one of the greatest rock and roll managers. … He was very much a unique character."
Growing up, do you recall when you first got the spark for music?
"Yeah, I certainly can. Growing up, there was always a lot of music around the house. My mom used to have a record player. She had such an eclectic taste. She liked Perry Como, but also Sinatra, Tony Bennett. … I had a babysitter who was kind of a beatnik and she brought in Gene Vincent, Elvis and rock and roll. And that kind of all got absorbed by me."
I've read that your mom's work as a housecleaner helped out too...
"My mother used to work for Paul McCartney. So I'd go to Paul McCartney's house after school and go into the rooms. They were doing Magical Mystery Tour. So there'd be the piano and a bass all painted psychedelic. It was just surreal. … I'm fortunate. I was in London at the right time when this music revolution came along, and I was part of it. I've been very fortunate in my life."
Your U.S. tour starts in San Diego right when Comic-Con invades the city. You just know someone is going to come up to to you with a copy of the Adam Ant comic book and want an autograph.
"Hopefully someone will come up. I'd love a copy of it!"