After all, the Beatles first made their mark in Hamburg, Germany. And Hendrix became a sensation in London. Later on, bands like Boston's Pixies were darlings on British label 4AD. Hell, even the Backstreet Boys were huge in Europe before conquering teendom back home. And most recently, New York's Strokes sold out concert halls across the U.K. with nary a domestic single. Europe -- Britain in particular -- has always been a place where a healthy respect for pop history and openness to innovation created a fertile climate for great bands to gain attention.
So when a wealthy businessman based in Manchester, England, offered Adom the chance to cross the Atlantic to record for his fledgling label and develop its career, the band figured it was more than worth the leap to be in such esteemed company (as long as the Backstreet Boys stayed on their side of the ocean). The group leaves Atlanta for Manchester this week.
Adom formed in 1997 after singer/keyboardist Conal Byrne dropped out of grad school in New York with the desire to start a rock band. A friend in college had sworn that Atlanta was a happening music town, so -- with practice space at a premium in New York -- Byrne made his first musical move south.
Following the old-school rules of how to form a rock band, Byrne plastered North Highland Avenue with "seeking musicians" flyers and met drummer Andrew Freni and bassist Bert Genovese that way. After going through several guitarists -- including, at one brief point, the son of Atlanta Symphony Music Director Emeritus Yoel Levi -- the Adom lineup solidified with guitarist Brad Cook. Their name came from a happy accident that unraveled as a marriage of science, and Eastern and Western religions: atom, om and Adam.
Freni and Genovese's danceable rhythmic throb coupled with Cook's shoegazer-inflected, Edge-like atmospheric guitar style and Byrne's vocal qualities -- often compared to Sting and Jeff Buckley -- have gained Adom a favorable response on varied and populist bills where the grooving overshadows indie attitude. Descriptions of Adom's sound have ranged from the unbelievable -- Happy Mondays meets Fiona Apple, U2 meets Yes -- to the more common Brit-pop association. While the band -- who claim primary influences from funk to post-rock -- don't necessarily identify with Brit-pop, they've become so used to the comparisons, it only seems natural they'd find a new home in a place where they'll be forced to differentiate themselves from actual Brit-pop aspirants.
Last year, a friend of Byrne's who was traveling through the U.K. met Mark Harrison, a Manchester real estate developer. Harrison was in the planning stages of starting a label called Storm, in the tradition of (and including some former staff from) famed Manchester-based label Factory Records. But after hearing a reported 2,000 demos, Harrison had yet to find a flagship band. And that's when Byrne got a tip from his friend that he should send in Adom's music.
Adom sent Harrison the 10 songs they'd recorded. Five of the tracks had been given the distinct imprint of local electronica producer Chris Brann, known internationally for the jazzy, Afrobeat-heavy house music of his Ananda Project and Wamdue Project. The other five, recorded at Exocet with producer Bruce Bennet, more accurately reflect what Adom sound like live. Together, the two sets of songs set up a true digital-versus-analog dichotomy. After hearing Adom at their two poles, Harrison liked what he heard and, wasting no time, flew to Atlanta twice to see the band live, sealing the deal.
"We had talked to labels like Daemon and Silvertone," says Byrne, "but every label wanted to know where we'd be in three to six months. With Mark, it was now. That was really exciting, that this guy had momentum and that where others were safeguarding assets, he was putting himself on the line for a new act."
Over drinks at the Highland Tap during one of his visits, Harrison and the band agreed it might be more effective to focus first on breaking the band in the U.K., which is a fraction of the United States' size but exerts a disproportionate influence on pop music. Still, the question remained, how to make it economical for Adom to be full-time musicians.
With the cost of airfare and necessary day jobs barring them from traveling regularly to the U.K., Harrison suggested they all move to Manchester, where the band could live for free in one of many properties he owns. He'd pay their living expenses if they agreed to make four albums for Storm (with an option for two more), to split the publishing and royalties, and to undertake a rigorous schedule of daily practice, copious recording and tour hopping. No matching suits and haircuts, but no slacking either.
"Where most bands get this chunk of change in advance," says Byrne, "our change in advance is displacement to Manchester, which if you were to monetize it would be huge."
Plus, admits Byrne, while the band had played Atlanta consistently for two years, they had yet to really establish themselves in the circular, hard-to-escape Southeastern circuit, and they'd rather labor to win over Birmingham, U.K., than Birmingham, Ala. "The more far-reaching and foreign places you play, the more interesting your material gets," says Byrne, who believes the band may extend its albums and touring to continental Europe well before attempting a release in -- or a return to -- the States.
Another attraction for Adom was the possibility of how far Harrison's connections could take the band's sound. While discussing potential producers, not only did names like Radiohead/Travis knob-twiddler Nigel Godrich come up, among others, but it turned out that a friend of Harrison's was putting Adom's demos in the hands of Brian Eno (who produced U2 and the Talking Heads, in addition to having an esteemed recording career of his own). Word hasn't gotten back as to Eno's interest.
Not that the band needed much more convincing. The odds of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity happening again weren't good enough to pass this up. Besides, Adom feel they haven't quite reached their potential or found their audience in Atlanta.
"In a weird way it seems that the good, regularly booked bands are hurt by their audiences," says Byrne. "Like the Tom Collins. Those guys are super-talented, but they have a gig clique where they pack houses. Yet people just seem to be there drinking and talking and hanging out, not watching. And to get to that point around here, it feels like most of the time you need a gimmick. Like Hot August Knights or Greasepaint. We play with no gimmicks, so we don't pack a house like they do. And it's more frustrating to come off stage to a good review with no audience than a packed show with a bad review."
So, instead of looking for apartments or practice spaces, Adom are looking forward to a chance to focus on artistic development, something they feel is rarer these days.
"There's one thing I heard the Strokes say recently," says Byrne. "Before they did this whole England thing, they were self-admittedly really bad. They just continued to play the New York scene. But they had an earnest desire to get better, so they just played and learned their instruments, and that really fueled them. They knew they weren't that great, but they had the drive to get better. If you have that inside and it's earnest, you can constantly do better. We have that, and we're doing this to see how far that will take us. If we ever fell into the Oasis category [making predictable Brit-pop], forget about it. We'll come back to sling burgers."
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