The Adele effect
She’s back, but you, your mother, your neighbour and your bank manager knew that already
It’s funny the things you remember about certain interviewees. When Daniel O’Donnell comes to mind, it’s always with a giant bar of fruit and nut chocolate. I interviewed him in Limerick years ago at the end of a hectic and busy day when I reckoned I just had an apple to eat all day. A good hour or so after the appointed time, the singer beckoned me into the dressing-room for the interview. As the slow, ponderous interview went on, he kept breaking off squares of that chocolate bar and eating them slowly. Did he offer the starving interviewer a square? Not on your nelly. Wee Daniel does not share – or did not on that occasion anyway. And it looked like he relished every bit of that chocolate.
Adele, she makes a mean cup of tea for both herself and the interviewer. It was the first week of 2008, the first interview of the year on one of those cold, snappy January mornings when the world struggles to get into gear. Inside Brooks Hotel in Dublin, Adele was doing interviews for her debut album with the Irish media and quite literally talking “19″ to the dozen. Most of the time with those interviews, you’re on a conveyor belt and are in and out and back on the street before you know what’s going on. It was a whole lot different with Adele. She made the tea, asked a ton of questions about the interviewer, talked about Christmas, mentioned some Dublin folks she wanted to hang out with and then, when she was good and ready, said it was probably time to do the interview (which is below). No hurry, no stress, no palaver.
In 2015, Adele won’t be hanging out with many interviewers ahead of her new album “25″ at the end of November because there’s no need for any of the kind of promotion she did in the past. Her comeback single “Hello” was released last week and, to quote this headline from Music Business Worldwide, it’s already pretty nuts. A million views an hour – an hour! – for the video and number one on iTunes in 102 countries worldwide: you certainly didn’t get this kind of demand with Enya’s comeback.
You can extrapolate many things from the Adele narrative, from how she may single-handedly save the music business to the fact that people really do respond to a smashing big-drama tune sung by a voice which is the real thing. There’s real excitement around her return because people feel a connection with the singer on the back of her previous albums. She’s an A-list superstar who chooses to not take part in any of the usual shenanigans which accompany that role. She quite happily took a few years out to live her life and now, she’s ready to come back on her own terms. She’s probably also still willing to make the tea when a rare interviewer or two comes round with a recorder and bunch of questions.
Adele Adkins had a quiet Christmas. Just her, her mum and various relatives enjoying the festivities in south London. The usual family Christmas, she says.
Then, like everyone else, the 19 year old went back to work and any notion of a quiet start to the year went out the window.
Adele probably spent the first few days counting the number of articles and features calling her “the top tip for 2008” or “the sound of 2008” or simply saying “look, she’s going to be massive in 2008”.
She might have phoned her record label and asked them to tell her how flghts she, someone who is terrified of flying, is going to take in the next few months. She may even have wondered when she’d get the time to write some new songs.
Adele is the music industry’s safe bet for the year ahead. Her debut album “19” is due for release later this month but, as far as taste-makers and pundits are concerned, she cannot fail. She’s even got a Brit Award under her oxter already, the Critics Choice for 2008.
Given that she’s just released one limited edition single to date, such attention may seem over the top. One listen to “19”, though, and you can understand what the fuss is all about.
While Adele’s songs are soulful, beautiful and lovelorn, aided by arrangements which are subtle and folky, it’s that voice which will knock you for six. Powerful, enchanting and rich, Adele throws shapes which will remind you of Etta James, Karen Dalton and Jill Scott, but she does so without ever simply becoming a mere copyist.
Adele’s other big advantage is probably Adele herself. She’s confident and charming, the ideal interviewee who talks and talks and then talks some more. She admits that she should be more guarded and cautious, but it’s not in her nature. She’s also still at the stage where she makes the tea for the interviewer.
She says she always wanted to put on a show. “I always wanted to be an entertainer”, she remembers. “It wasn’t so much to be a singer because I never sent out demos to record companies or did showcase gigs, I didn’t push it. But I’d be in the school show and I’d put on shows at home for my mum and her friends.”
One of her early musical finds was Ella Fitzgerald. “I picked up the Ella Fitzgerald CD in HMV because of her hair on the cover, the primed Fifties hair. My cousin was training to be a hairdresser at the time and I wanted my hair like that so that’s why I bought it. It was Ella and Etta James, two CDs for a fiver.
“I didn’t listen to it for a year and half, but I loved it when I put it on. It’s the technique, Ella Fitzgerald is like an acrobat with her voice, you really believe what she’s singing. I never got my hair done like that, though.”
Adele also had a hankering to work in A&R, finding and developing new bands for labels. “My dad’s friend used to be the head of HR at Warner Music and I did my work experience there which is where I found out all about A&R”, she explains. “I liked all the work that went with it. I liked the fact that you had to be in the race to sign someone and then might get to work with them for years and watch them grow and develop.”
When she heard from XL Records, she thought it could lead to an A&R job. She didn’t realise that they had something else in mind based on the songs they had heard on her MySpace site.
“They had been emailing me for weeks and weeks and I just ignored them because I was organising my 18th birthday party. I was ‘yeah, whatever’ when they called. At the time, there was no buzz about me and they were the first label so when I went to see them, I saw it more about me impressing them than the other way around.”
When she signed her record deal, she had only four songs to her name. “I found it really hard to adjust from writing songs for pleasure to writing because it was my job. The plan was to have the album recorded by last May to be released in the summer but I didn’t have the songs. I ended up writing all the songs in May, like bam bam bam.”
Her songs are wonderful things. They’re languorous and slow-burning observations about love and heartbreak, those themes which have served millions of other songwriters well.
Adele prefers to call them honest. “They’re all about things I love and things I hate. “Hometown Glory” was the first song I ever write and it’s about where I grew up and it could be as easily applied to someone in Dublin. It’s an ode to being young and making memories and what you remember when you’re away from home and something like driving past a bus-stop or a McDonald’s reminds you of home.”
She admits she fretted a bit about people’s reaction to her songs. “I suppose it was always on my mind that these songs were going to be heard by a lot of people and I could get ripped apart. It took me a while to realise I was doing this for myself and not for anyone else. At the BRIT school, it was all about encouraging each other and any criticism was constructive. But you don’t get that in the real world. The general public can be really horrible. And journalists too (laughs).”
Adele spent four years at the the Brit School, a performing arts college in London which also schooled Amy Winehouse, Kate Nash, Katie Melua and Leona Lewis.
“It’s not a stage school, it’s about performing arts”, she emphasises. “You learn about your craft. You learn the history, you have industry lectures, but most of it is about performance and nurturing your talent. I went there because I hated my school and I wanted to sing and record my songs for free in a nice studio. I didn’t think ‘I’m going to do this and get signed’.”
She’s one of those, though, who did get to release her songs. Now, she has to contend with everything with everything which comes with being the toast of the town.
She’s learning what’s involved in being a public face and how to walk the line between fame and infamy. “I don’t ever go out to celeb hangouts or hotspots, but I don’t think Amy Winehouse did either and she certainly didn’t plan what has happened to her”, she points out.
“I like to think that it won’t happen to me but you never know. I mean, I don’t fall out of clubs, I don’t hang out with celebs. I don’t want to be over-careful but I don’t think you’ll find me much on red carpets or catwalks. I’m always at home when I get drunk because I prefer to stay in playing Wii or Sing Star.”
“I think I’d be rubbish at being a celebrity. When I do hang out after a show or at party, some random person will come up and talk to me and I’ll blurt away to them and it will be in the papers the next morning. It’s not in my nature to be cautious. It would be different if I was Jodie Marsh.”
Next Christmas, she plans to take over the penthouse suite in the Dorchester Hotel in London for her extended family. After the year that’s in store for her, Adele will have earned it.