[Part 1 of 2] Being a Fridge alumnus is becoming a damn good sign. The British trio of Kieran Hebden, Sam Jeffers and Adem Ilhan began releasing wonderfully crafted post-rock instrumentals in 1997 on Trevor Jackson’s Output label. The group’s last release is 2001’s Happiness full-length, but that doesn’t mean the boys haven’t been busy.
Hebden’s been sifting through piles of acclaim for his releases as Four Tet and Joshua Falkin, so it came as a bit of a surprise when another Fridge member, its bass player Ilham, released a solo album that’s equally deserving. Not that we should be surprised: Ilhan says he and Hebden had always been doing their own projects, they’ve just been keeping them quiet.
On Homesongs. Ilham, who released the album under just his difficult-to-pronounce first name (we’ll get to that later), dropped the electronics-heavy, apocalyptic post-rock, bit, instead writing and recording ten acoustic-based songs from his bedroom that paint him as a troubadour. As Ilham tells it, the inspiration to ditch the electronics came after stumbling upon an auto-harp and slapping it with a paint brush. The decision to sing came soon thereafter. Whatever the impetus, Homesongs feels like home, only without the underproductive water heater and deadbeat neighbors.
Prefix Magazine: Before we get started, let’s hear the correct pronunciation.
PM: One more time.
Adem: It’s hard for Americans. Ar-dem. It’s spelled A-R and then D-E-M. A good way to remember — and I told this to the last guys I was on tour with — is to think of “autumn.” It’s kind of a tricky one, but it’s my dad’s fault; it’s a Turkish name. He’s Turkish, and I was named after a good friend of his.
PM: I bet ninety percent of Americans are pronouncing your name wrong.
Adem: I bet ninety percent of the people in the U.K., too. Almost everyone in Turkey is saying it right.
PM: Many people know you from your other project, Fridge. When did you decide you wanted to do your own project outside of that?
Adem: I’ve always done music outside of that. That’s the thing. All three of us have had projects outside of Fridge, it’s just that we never wanted to release them. Kieran founded Four Tet and wanted to release that stuff. I’ve been doing a lot of electronic, computer-based music for years, and then I stumbled upon … I collect silly little instruments. I get them from flea markets; I can’t really afford to get them from anywhere else. Or friends give them to me when they find them in attics. I have an auto-harp, which is basically a box with strings across it and some mechanics to make it work. I took it home and found out to play it and how it shouldn’t be played. I hit it with a paint brush and it made a good sound, so I decided to make a track based on that. It was an acoustic instrument and I thought, That’s nice. Let’s try to record some acoustic instruments and try not to use any electronics.
The way I produce things, I look at what’s missing and fill in the gaps. I have a starting point and work from that, then I see what else it needs. This desperately was crying out for voice, and since no one else was around, I figured I’d give it a go. It was as simple as that. Once I had done the first song, I played it to my friends and they said, “Oh you should do some more of this.” So I figured I’d try. After I recorded my second demo, I realized I really wanted other people to hear this. I wrote the other track, so I’ve got two tracks and I’m desperate to play it to my friends. I thought, This is going to be a record and I’m going to want to put this out in the public domain. I’m going to want people to listen to it and for it to affect their lives and be part of the soundtrack to their lives. It just kind of happened. But before that I hadn’t wanted to release anything. I constantly make music for myself, ‘cause I want to listen to music that hasn’t been made yet, so I’ll make it. It’s really as simple as that.
PM: You talked about picking up instruments at flea markets, but when was the first time you ever picked up an instrument?
Adem: My dad plays the piano, so I’ve always had a piano in the house, which is an amazing, wonderful thing. I lived in a block of flats — projects you call them here — but we still had a piano in our flat. From a very early age, I was lucky enough to have that and be able to play along with that. I was picking out theme tunes and nursery rhymes from the television from an early age, so I started to play the piano then.
PM: You’re obviously naturally inclined toward music.
Adem: Definitely. There’s sort of three things that were passions of mine growing up: music, theatre and math. Those three things were huge driving forces behind what I do, and they all interrelate so much, it was easy to do all three.
PM: How does math come into music?
Adem: I’ve always had a really strong relationship between math and music. Most of the great composers consider math in their compositions. Math is all pervading; it’s all around you, in the way that rabbits breed or the way a flower is made or a pine comb or the way the planets move or the way molecules react to each other, mathematics is the underlying tool. You can use math as a framework. I’m going to use the number three for this song and then build around the number three, and then all your intervals are thirds or 3/4 timing or three bars in a frame. It’s a really good starting point to consider those things, but it’s also the philosophy of math: the questioning of things, thinking of the more cosmic side of things. That sort of thinking about things is how I like to approach a lot of the stuff.
PM: When were playing songs for yourself, did you intend to recording vocals from the start or did you think of maybe releasing it without vocals?
Adem: Once I did the first track and sang on it, I thought, This is good, it sort of works. The biggest decision was made at the very beginning, when I said I’m not going to think of what the vocals are going to be like because as soon as I consider it, it’s going to fall down and be a failure. There are so many questions you could ask. How are you going to sing? Are you going to sing in a falsetto or a normal voice? Are you going to sing like Robert Wyatt? Are you going to have a transatlantic drawl? Are my lyrics going to be complex or simple? Am I going to talk about relationships or robots? There is so much to say. The only thing I could say to myself was, “Don’t think about those things; just do it and see what happens.”
That’s the way it came from there. When I write words, I obviously never really considered it before for release, so I produced as I wrote a song. So I’d be getting the sound of the double-bass right while I’d be writing the melody of the pipes while I’d be writing the lyrics. Everything interacts with each other and everything comes intrinsic to the other things being there. So the melody that guitar has will be intrinsically linked to the melody that the vocal affecting it. Once I got the melody and the themes of the song, I think about the meat and the flow and how it will interact over the song and the piece of writing.
PM: Now that the record is completed, what do you think the direction of your next solo project will be? Or, what will be the direction of this project versus what you’re trying to do with Fridge?
Adem: It’s a good question. I think with Fridge, it’s so wonderful to be making music with other people. I’m with two of the greatest ears around. Kieran and Sam (Jeffers, drums) are fantastic musicians, producers and players. That it’s a joy to be with them making music and, we’ve been friends since we were twelve years old. So it’s like hanging out with friends, and when you’re hanging out with friends when you’re recording, it’s like an extension of hanging out. You know you’re going to have a good time.
My stuff is very freeing and exciting, having to do stuff on my own and not having to go and say, “What do you think of this; is that working?” There was none of that. It was sort of, I’m going to do this. That sense of self-confidence, that sense of self-belief, changed the way I approached production and the way I approached playing and the way I approached playing and writing songs. But it was incredibly lonely recording on my own and more so than I expected and a lot of it was recorded at night. A lot of it was recorded on my own in my house late at night, and I think you can hear that on the record.
PM: Yeah, definitely.
Adem: It affects the way I was approaching it. There are loads more I want to explore with the lyrics and songs and arrangements. If the three of us in Fridge wanted to make a house album, we’d do that, but we probably wouldn’t call it Fridge, but maybe. But if we wanted to do a mid-tempo rock-anthem album, we probably wouldn’t call it Fridge. We’d call it something else. Similarly, I find the stuff I’m doing in Adem is another aspect of the stuff I like to do. Which feeds into the Fridge stuff — you can hear the connection. Same with Four Tet. You can hear the connection, but it’s different. You can hear what we bring into the project. I just want to explore what I can do. It’s sort of three prongs. There’s this really dark, simple, plain, effective stuff, this quiet music that I really want to explore, perhaps working more with drones or just really simple backing and just letting the voice do the work.
I’m still learning so much about the voice. It’s a brand new thing to me. It’s like someone saying, “This is writing. See what you can do with this.” It’s a whole new medium. I just want to try to do all sorts of things. The other thing is, I want to get more into pushing production, perhaps getting into more psychedelic stuff, not necessarily in a ‘70s way but in a way that opens up production with interesting twists. Then there is another part of me that’s a nagging pop itch that won’t go away, all these little hooks coming into my head or these cheesy little sentiments. I’m trying to keep that in check, but it’s definitely there.