If you have been keeping your finger on the pulse of British synthpop or just even analogue synthpop, or if you happened to be one of the lucky folks to take in this years’ IndieTracks Festival in the UK, you may very well already be a fan of Rodney Cromwell. Real name Adam Cresswell. Real love and carrier of that awesome retro analogue sound that is embodied by bands like Kraftwerk, OMD, Visage, Pet Shop Boys and none other than New Order. This last band resonates particularly closely on his latest release – the Black Dog EP. We’ll catch up with a review of that later, but for now we just want to share the fun of this brief chat we had with Rodney.. oops, Adam.
Earlier we premiered Barry Was An Arms Dealer, the title track of his debut LP Age of Anxiety, released in spring of this year and, for me, is the number one synthpop album of 2015 hands-down. We caught Adam Cresswell between gigs and over several train commutes to work in London and back and, writing from the other side of the pond, this gave us a slight sense of being part of a motorik culture laden in British synth culture. And now for picking Adam’s brain.
Tell us about your debut album Age of Anxiety.
Once I had recorded about 5-6 tracks I started to think the songs might become an actual album. The overall aesthetic – analogue retro synths, pop melodies, ARP strings – was very similar to that of my previous band Arthur & Martha which was me with my friend Alice Hubley, who is now in the indie krautrock band Cosines. As Arthur and Martha we put out an album in 2009 called ‘Navigation.’ I had always thought that it was a cool record and it was a shame that we never promoted it. So I started to think my new collection of songs could become a new Arthur and Martha album. Alice came into the studio, she recorded some vocals and synths and then it really started to come together. It was not long after I came up with the title ‘Age of Anxiety’ which I loved. At that point though we really noticed how strongly the songs were tied to my own personal experiences and my battles with anxiety. In short it felt like an Adam solo album rather than an Arthur and Martha album. So in the end I decided to revive the Rodney Cromwell name.
What is your relationship with Alice Hubley, who featured her?
Alice is ace, we’re still good mates and she plays in the Rod Cromwell live band, even though she has plenty of other better things she could be doing with her life. I wouldn’t entirely write off the possibility of a second A&M album – stranger things have happened – but I can tell you that it won’t be happening next week. You heard it here first.
How do you feel about playing live? We understand you just played with Death and Vanilla a few days ago. What was that like?
The Death and Vanilla show was great. For one it was the first time I’ve ever played at the Brudenell in Leeds; and the promoters treated us really well, the sound was awesome and the rider was the sort of thing you only get playing in Europe. Death and Vanilla themselves were really nice people and their music is wonderful; To Where The Wild Things Are is definitely one of my top albums of the year. It was a fun evening – we swapped numbers and everything…well we became friends on Facebook and I gave them the number of the guy who repairs my synths. I only share that with good people so they are in an elite group.
I’m absolutely loving playing live at the moment. I’ve got a great band behind me, with Alice on moog and vocals and my friend Richard Salt on guitar. Richard and myself spend what many would consider an unhealthy amount of time discussing effects pedals. We’ve got a strong set of songs, the computer hasn’t died on us yet and, as long as we remember to tune the synths (which we have forgotten a couple of times) it all sounds pretty good.
You’ve gotten airplay and press in about 40 countries by now, including with the BBC, Spain’s Radio 3, NME and Electronic Sound Magazine. How are you getting the word out about your music?
Yes the coverage has been great, and a real surprise, although a lot of hard work. I seem to be doing more administration at the moment than a Byzantine eunuch in the civil service.
When the album came out in the UK my wife and I tried doing the press ourselves. It got picked up by a few people fairly quickly notably Gideon Coe, Steve Lamacq, Bluetown Electronica and The Electricity Club but we weren’t all that strategic about what we were doing. Also the promotion was taking up loads of my time and my wife was quite rightfully fed up with it, not least because we had a new baby too. While I was looking for new contacts, I kept seeing this name of this company Shameless Promotion PR – a name like that was kind of hard not to notice. I sent them the record, they liked it and when we came to doing the US release they ran the campaign. And it has gone really well since then. It has now been played in loads of countries and lots of people have written about it for which I am immensely grateful (and still somewhat amazed). Normally at this point in my career I blow it, so watch this space.
Which work of your own are you most thrilled or surprised by?
To me the most thrills come from taking the songs on the road and playing them live. The best surprise was when we played what was only our second show, which was at Indietracks Festival, and seeing people singing along and cheering when we announced what song was up next. Nothing beats that feeling.
One of the reasons I love playing with analogue synths is that you never know what they are going to do next. We’ve just added Arthur & Martha’s Autovia to the Rodney Cromwell set, I find it both surprising and thrilling every time we play it. The moment when we all hit the lock-groove at the end, with the guitar ringing out like something by Can, with two knackered synths in a head-lock ripping each other apart – sheer analogue synthesized bliss. That is what I make music for!
What are your plans over the next year or so?
I plan on milking this record drier than a late 80’s Michael Jackson LP. I’m going spend at least the next year promoting the album without worrying at all about the next one, which is something I have never done. In Saloon we released the first album and then when we went on tour to promote it we played mostly songs from the next one. When the second album came out we split up. Same thing happened with the Arthur and Martha album, so with Age of Anxiety I’m going to flog it to death and enjoy it.
My plan is to play as many gigs as I can, maybe another festival in the summer if I can get a booking. I’m playing Electro London on January 30th at the Electrowerkz, which is kind of my live inauguration to the UK synth scene. A band called Massive Ego are headlining and also on the bill are Johnny Normal and The Department, who are probably two of the hardest working acts on the UK synthpop scene. I’m really looking forward to the whole night, I am sure it will be a lot of fun!
I’ll probably out another single from the album (or 8 if it’s going to be like Michael Jackson’s Bad) and I’m also remixing a couple of other bands including the wonderful dark-electronica band Meter Bridge and The Leaf Library whose lovely new album should be dropping any day soon. (These remixes may of course take years to come out going by my usual form).
I also run my own label Happy Robots Records (www.happyrobots.co.uk) and I’ve got plans to be put out some records by other people; the first being a single by Hologram Teen, which is the new project by Morgane Lhote, who used to be in Stereolab. It’s a great single and I’m very excited about it.