Adam And The Plants Release “The End Of The World” At Lucky 7

For about a decade, Adam Copeland has been a principal contributor to some of the area’s best and most intelligent guitar rock bands — he helped bring the storm to The Meltdowns, Kids With Guns and Ben Franklin, and he fronted the pleasantly menacing Black Water, too. Now he’s back with a new project that looks a quite a bit like his old ones. Adam and the Plants, his current group, features the hyperkinetic Lloyd Naideck on drums and the imaginative Gary Laurie on guitar, both of whom played with Copeland in Black Water. Yet these musicians have pruned away some of the bramble of the last band and cooled some of the aggression. The result is the most immediate — and most communicative — music in Copeland’s catalog.

Debut album The End Of The World contains some ferocious six-string throwdowns: the six-and-a-half minute “Maybe I’m No Good” and the brutal travelogue “Getting Back Up From Little Falls,” for instance. But there are delicate moments, too. The danceable “Last Man Standing,” which is decorated with sighing support vocals, is nearly Californian in its sunny-day radiance. “Texas,” a folk-pop song, begins with a shimmering strum and a Feelies-like guitar lead and ends with several guitars in near-counterpoint. It’s all bound to sound terrific live, and Jersey City gets a chance to celebrate the release of The End Of The World at Lucky 7 Tavern (322 2nd St.) on May 1. Copeland slowed down long enough to talk us about the new record, the new aesthetic direction, and the difficulties of holding a band together.

This new gang you’re running with looks a lot like your old gang. What’s the difference between Black Water and the Plants? Why change the group’s handle? Was there a new mission, or did you want to adjust your relationship to the rest of your musicians?

Around Summer 2012, Black Water was about to put out our second album when my bass player and friend Gerry Griffin moved to the Asheville, N.C., area. That put the brakes on everything we were doing and as a result I was rudderless for about a year. Eventually, I put together Kids With Guns with Scott Thompson on bass.

Meanwhile, I was depressed and in a pretty terrible rut, and my writing was suffering as a result. Most of the Kids With Guns stuff was either entirely Gary’s, his music with my words, or me finishing something he’d started. Then, just as that record was ready to come out Lloyd left, and at that point I felt like I couldn’t get anything off the ground without it grinding to a halt just as it was really starting to get good. Some years ago the same thing happened to Ben Franklin, and years before that, The Meltdowns. I decided to regroup. “Last Man Standing” is sort of the soundtrack to that idea. My friends had moved away, and I was left with a lot of doubt about how to carry on without them. I took a lot of time in my room by myself just trying to figure out what direction I wanted to go in. I got inspired by folk music and singer/songwriter stuff, but I wanted to be able to blow it up widescreen.

So, The End of the World is the first time I’m putting out a record that is completely my songs, my words, my music and my arrangements. I’ve been saying that I get to play benevolent cult leader, and, counter intuitively, I found it made things easier from the outset. If I didn’t like something, I felt free to just say so and move along. If someone can’t make a show or doesn’t want to be in the band anymore, that’s fine, the door is always open in both directions. I’ve been in situations where band members have probably hung on longer than they wanted and I don’t want that. That’s not healthy or fun for anyone. I wrote the material from the perspective that it can shrink and grow around how many people can help out, but, more importantly, I want it to be a good time for everyone involved. As soon as it isn’t fun anymore, we should just hang it up and go back to our day jobs.

The new album rocks plenty, but there are moments of real delicacy here, too. Was intelligibility a priority this time out?  Are you looking for a singalong response from your audience?

I’d been inspired by artists that could take what is essentially solo singer-songwriter material and translate it to a larger band such as Neil Young and Sharon Van Etten. I think I can even narrow it down to a specific moment. I was at a solo showcase that Thomas John Carlson was putting on every month at Lamp Post before it closed, and Tom Barrett of Overlake was playing a solo acoustic set primarily consisting of things he’d written separate of the band. In the middle of his set he said he was going to play an Overlake song, and it was just amazing. He was able to give the song as much power by himself as there usually was with the band, if not more. After that it just sort of snapped into place in my head, and I got overwhelmed with this feeling of “Oh, I can do this!”

Then came a concerted effort to give space to vocal harmonies, slow things down and let the arrangements breath. Henry and Scott were a big help in that regard and had some good ideas about how to make that kind of stuff work. I wanted the songs to be able to be as small as possible or as big as possible. “Wormwood Star” gets really bombastic by the end. An early take had a sample of fireworks at the end, but I pulled it because I didn’t want to totally rip off The Waterboys. But it started out as a demo I wrote with just my voice and one guitar. It was a new approach to songwriting for me, and I felt reinvigorated by it. I went through a long period where I was writing nothing at all and then — boom — once I changed my perspective I had an entire album’s worth of material in just a couple months.

Adam Copeland

Adam Copeland (photo by Alana Hoffman)

Maybe this is just what happens when rockers grow up.

I don’t know, “Dedicated” has me stuck “in my under-20 head,” which is really how I feel. I’m 33, but as far as I can tell I’m going to be writing music forever, so I don’t want to “grow up” in that regard, to grow out of this. Gary is calling this my “Nebraska phase,” but it feels permanent. I took charge of this thing from the start and put myself in the forefront, and as a result I feel like these songs are closer to being exactly what I dreamt up than anything I’ve ever done.

“Plant” is pro-wrestling parlance for when an actor or wrestler poses as a fan and then gets involved in the show somehow, usually by interacting with a heel (a bad guy wrestler). So a plant is someone who is in on the act more than it appears on the surface. I thought it fit beautifully. I’ve managed to gather around me a really great group of guys. Henry is very relaxed, very philosophical, Scott is sort of my emotional mirror and confidant, Gary is honest, optimistic and driven, and Lloyd has been my best friend and anchor for the better part of a decade. I was also fortunate enough to have the very talented (and hilarious) Shawn Fichtner fill in for a while when Lloyd was away. I’d like to think all of this good fortune in people was a result of my positive outlook, maybe it was just luck, but here I am regardless and I’m very grateful.

The album title is awfully menacing — or is it hopeful? What’s got you in an apocalyptic mood these days?

I’d been through a lot of rough shit in the last ten years: I moved away from home to Texas (see “Texas” above) to take part in a pretty apocalyptic end of a long-term college relationship. I got married. I got so sick with stress over that relationship that I was in really bad shape physically for a while. I got divorced. I was paying out of pocket for the mortgage on a house I wasn’t living in for five years, while trying to start my life over. The record starts off “I’ve been a daze for days…been drowning in my years,” and that’s really the short of it. I’ve felt so out of it for so long, and I’m finally regrouping. “Wormwood Star” is me looking for something to come out of the clear blue and just sweep away all of that stuff so I could start over. The end of that song is a sort of incantation where I’m trying to talk myself into believing that my problems are insignificant in the scope of the universe. “Maybe I’m No Good” is me trying to figure out how my upbringing and surroundings may have been at least somewhat the cause of all that trouble, being anxious about seeing myself as a Raritan River Valley castaway and an unwanted transplant in Jersey City, and possibly falling flat on my face. And there’s your lead for the article “Local brown river trash transplant forms band, misses target of Brooklyn” (thanks to Lloyd for that one).

Many of your peers have left Jersey City, but you’ve stuck it out here. Is this an inspiring place to make music? A frustrating one? A little of both?

It can be frustrating, because the city has so frequently had a different vision than the artists and promoters about what kind of role live music plays in the identity of the community. On the other hand, people like Tony Susco and Neil McAneny are doing all of this heavy lifting behind the scenes to make events that are not only worth playing at but are fun to attend, too. And they have been doing it for years by involving local acts from the beginning. I don’t know how I feel about the upcoming White Eagle Hall. There aren’t many local acts that can draw the kind of numbers that would fill that place, so I’m wary that it might turn into something like the Wellmont in Montclair, festering with Led Zeppelin tribute bands.

When I moved here I was living in Bergen-Lafayette, and I’ve been in Hamilton Park the last few years, so you could say I’ve seen both sides of Jersey City. It’s clear the city is changing fast, some for the better, and some for the worse. I don’t think it’s going to be Hoboken: Part II any time soon, but historical evidence from nearby cities makes it difficult not to be suspicious of new neighbors with BMWs, shiny new luxury condos and restaurants run by reality show contestants. Part of what drew me to Jersey City in the first place was that it felt wild, that delicious stew of people from all places and upbringings coming together because they want to live a stone’s throw from the greatest city on earth. And somehow despite that great shadow, the people of this town had an identity all their own, and it’s been real inspiring to be a part of that, peripherally or not. It’d be a real shame if that was completely stamped out.

Lucky 7 feels like home base for you. Did you ever consider doing the record release elsewhere, or would that have been like the Yankees leaving the Bronx?

We did a couple of shows at Lucky 7 last year. One was for The Porchistas’ record release, and the other was us playing a set as Big Star. Both of those shows were more fun than anything I’d done in years. Lucky’s is special in part because of the guys who put shows on there, and because of the kind of people it attracts. If you only get 30 people in there, it feels jam packed and everybody is paying attention and feeling what is going on. All of the best shows I’ve seen in Jersey City have been at Lucky’s. I always leave happy. I wanted to do something in my home town, and I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate.

What’s the plan for the summer? Are you going to tour behind this album? Do more local shows? Build a space rocket?

We have a couple more local shows booked after this one in Newark and Bayonne, but nothing beyond that. A lot of pieces had to come together to make this record happen, so once the smoke clears I can get a little more active about trying to book. We’ve got to get into Brooklyn at least once this summer, and if possible I’d like to put together a week or two in late summer/early fall where we do a little east coast crawl. I’ve actually got other projects that I’ll be involved in, too. I’m not sure how  much I can let the cat out of the bag on either, but one is a secret thing I’m helping out with by playing bass and singing, and also I’ll be hopefully playing one role or another (probably guitar) in Head Cheerleader, which is Henry Prol’s collaboration with drummer Jay Van Dyke. Henry has written a handful of tremendous songs. It’s always fun to step back a little bit and help someone else see a project through, I feel like I’ve always gained an important insight or skill every time I’ve done that. Beyond that? I’m laying the groundwork for the next Adam And The Plants record already. I’m not sure what it’s going to sound like yet. Maybe my years will soften me up even more this time and it will just be me whispering into a single mic over gentle pan flute arrangements. Only time will tell.

Adam And The Plants will play with Pistol Charmer and Hermano Stereo on Friday, May 1, at Lucky 7, 322 2nd St. 8 p.m., Free. For more information, visit adamandtheplants.com.

Photos courtesy Adam Copeland. Top photo by Zac Clark. 

Tris McCall

For the past twenty years, Tris McCall has been preoccupied with the art, music, architecture, politics, and public culture of New Jersey. For the past fifteen, he's been writing and singing about the Garden State wherever and whenever he can. The Trespassers, his first novel, was released in 2012; another not-dissimilar book is on the way. You can read more on his blog trismccall.net.