Vancouver’s own Adjective specializes in wiry postpunk, but the band isn’t afraid to drop the G-bomb
The members of Adjective admit that their band hasn’t been the most prolific one in the Vancouver music scene. Since its inception in April 2005, the quartet has recorded just one six-song EP, which it released independently this March. Part of the reason for Adjective’s less-than-prodigious output is that the group doesn’t function as the vehicle for a sole creative voice; there’s no one songwriter whose singular style dictates the project’s direction. Instead, the band’s four members create the music together, with singer-guitarists Ryan Riot and Luna Tic each contributing lyrics.
“It definitely took a while to hone in to a good way of doing it, but I feel now we’ve gotten better at working together at creating something. For a while there, it was very slow working,” says bassist Dustin Bromley, gathered with Riot, Tic, and drummer Jenni Hanna around a table in the near-deserted food court of the Downtown Eastside’s International Village Shopping Centre, a short walk from Adjective’s subterranean rehearsal room on a desolate stretch of Abbott Street.
“I think we’ve got a functioning process now that’s going to help us move a lot quicker with writing and coming up with a lot more new stuff in the near future,” agrees Riot.
For the time being, though, there’s the aforementioned EP, I Am Sorry for Your Loss, a collection of songs that bristle with a nervous energy that pierces the dark surface of the record like a lightning strike on a coal-black autumn night. Clocking in just a few seconds shy of two minutes, “Integer” pogos to a spirit-of-’77 beat jolted along by staccato cattle-prod guitar chords and Tic’s commanding vocals. “Masheena”, meanwhile, blends rumbling surf-rock riffs with hanging-garden atmospherics, all topped by Riot’s almost frantic yelping.
It’s a sound that has caused more than a few observers to drop the G-bomb, and that idea is bolstered by the fact that Adjective’s members tend to drape themselves head-to-toe in black. “I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to be compared to goth,” Riot says, “I think what goth was in the beginning was sprouting off of postpunk.”
There is indeed a fine line between postpunk and gothic rock, with proponents of the former broadly defined subgenre eager to avoid being labelled as the latter. Certainly, the likes of Joy Division, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie and the Banshees would never have described themselves as such, yet no self-respecting goth’s record collection would be complete without them.
The mention of Joy Division stirs up a little controversy around Adjective’s food-court table. When the quartet competed in CiTR’s long-running battle-of-the-bands competition Shindig! two years ago, one judge compared the deep-voiced Riot to Ian Curtis. For her part, Tic considers Joy Division “overrated”, and Hanna finds the whole topic somewhat vexing. “I just feel like people who compare us to Joy Division don’t really have a bigger sense of what we’re about,” the drummer insists. “I think they just use that as, like, some darkish band that sticks out in their minds.”
A clearer picture of where Adjective is coming from emerges when Riot notes that the project had its genesis four years ago, when he and Tic met to talk about putting a band together. It was evident right from the start that the two musicians had at least one major influence in common. “We were pretty obsessed with Wire at the time,” Riot says.
That obsession was abundantly clear to Adam Veenendaal, who mixed and mastered I Am Sorry for Your Loss and is credited as the disc’s coproducer. The resourceful engineer had a chance encounter with Wire bassist Graham Lewis at Calgary’s Sled Island Festival last summer, and Veenendaal carried on his dialogue with the veteran English musician by contacting him through MySpace. Such was the rapport between the two that Veenendaal planned to ask Lewis to help out with an Adjective tune called “Profession” when Wire played Vancouver that October. That show ended up getting cancelled, so the collaboration moved to the virtual realm. Veenendaal sent Lewis the track electronically and asked him to add some backing vocals to the song, but the Wire man, who lives in Uppsala, Sweden, ended up doing more than that.
“He actually took the time to chop the song up and do a few production quirks,” Veenendaal says in a telephone interview. “If you listen to the record, there are all these little sort of bleeps and bloops and production things. Graham just had this idea—in postproduction, if you will—that the song could use some urgency, and he added all this stuff as well as his vocals. It was great.”
The Tic-led “Profession” kicks off the EP with verve, its appropriately wiry guitar-rock stomp augmented with subtle electronic scribbles and layered harmonies. Veenendaal credits Lewis with giving the song a needed boot to the pants. “I sent him a bunch of revisions,” he says. “He was really great about letting me send him different versions of the track. He basically gave his advice on every version of the mix that I sent along. He was happy that the last version of the song I sent him had the most urgency—that was the key word that he wanted that track to have. The track really fell together after he started giving me advice on how to build that. In the end, he said he was pretty happy with the mix, and the fact that it had a lot more punch than the first version I sent him.”
The members of Adjective, meanwhile, were oblivious to what Veenendaal was up to, with no idea that one of their idols was about to end up on the opening cut of their first release. “I kept it a secret from the band, actually,” the engineer says. “I wasn’t going to tell them until I had a mix of the song with his vocals on it.”
The group, needless to say, was thrilled. “You should have seen us when we first found out about it,” Bromley says. “We were all pretty stoked. We didn’t even know about it at all until Adam dropped that bomb on us. I think it was at the beginning of one jam, and the whole time we were beaming with smiles on our faces, trying to play our songs.”
“I actually just sent him the CD today,” Tic says on the subject of Lewis, “with some smoked salmon and maple syrup.”
Don’t expect Adjective’s aesthetic to stop evolving just because its current sound has the Graham Lewis seal of approval. The group is writing songs that will eventually find their way onto a full-length album. The consensus is that some of the material leans in a more obvious pop direction and that some maps out far darker territory, but that it all displays the outfit’s growing confidence. “I think the songwriting’s a bit more sophisticated, and we lost a bit of the punk side,” says Riot, to which Tic interjects: “In a good way.”
For now, though, there’s I’m Sorry for Your Loss, which the band acknowledges hasn’t been given quite as big a promotional push as it deserves. As with its songwriting, Adjective is learning the music-biz ropes as it goes. Up to now, the group’s personnel admit they have shown a distinct lack of business savvy. They neglected to include a bar code on their CD’s packaging, for example, and had to affix UPC stickers to get the disc into stores. At the time of its Georgia Straight interview, the quartet was just getting around to doing a major media mail-out of the EP—almost three months after its release.
Oh, well. Record-industry acumen isn’t everything. Winning people over with a killer live show counts for a lot, too. To that end, Adjective hopes to be on the road by the end of August. In the meantime, it will be playing at Honey Lounge on Wednesday (June 10) as part of the Music Waste festival. Your correspondent’s humble suggestion? See Adjective now, and you’ll have serious bragging rights when the legions of Wire fans catch on to the band’s jagged-edged charms.