Adam Ant talks with Eileen Shapiro about Punk, the Apache Stripe and having his band stolen by Malcolm McLaren

Adam Ant

I will never forget seeing Adam Ant perform at the Roundhouse in London, around 2015.  With a raging blast of orgasmic splendor, Adam Ant captured the stage with what escalated into a vibrant display of flamboyant confidence and an effervescent sensibility, all a prelude to the best live concert in last 40 years. Combining the lush energy of rock, the radical emotions of punk, and the raw nakedness of light industrial metal, Adam has always defied genre, representing his own musical orchestration, and branding him unique.

Adam Ant
Adam Ant live

Looking salaciously decadent, fit and buff, Adam effortlessly opened with "Beat My Guest", causing a wild frenzy among the fanatics straight off. Adam's superstar quality shined through the entire two hour concert. He appeared animated and whimsical, smiling throughout.

Adam vocally reached the highest point that one can possibly hope for. A genuine entertainer, he danced about the stage with the energy of an erupting volcano, causing massive joy for the entire congregation. An audience reacts to an artist who is truly enjoying himself on stage...and that night Adam was tendering a gregarious event.

It is perhaps the hallmark of his career, from the very beginning.

With his signature Burundi Beat, and riveting flamboyance, Adam Ant orchestrated a sophisticated anarchy that revolutionized the music industry, while his outrageous videos dared to evoke the threat of imagination. He defied music, while at the same time defined it. He challenged sensibility and at the same time created it.

Eileen Shapiro: When you originally recorded the "Kings of the Wild Frontier" album, was there anything you weren't able to do because of available technology?

Adam Ant: It would have been a lot quicker now, because you could just double things up, but it was actually a very traditionally-made album, just done by us in the studio hitting everything that we could find to get that sound.

Eileen Shapiro: It's the 40th anniversary of punk, but back then, did you know what was next for you?

Adam Ant: Punk had become a caricature of itself, very grey and political. The kids were wearing the same drab outfits. I've never been a political artist, I keep that out of my work. The gigs were getting more violent and it was just not enjoyable. Post-punk brought out some interesting music, but I needed to make it colourful. I'd only used black and white in graphics, handbills, and record covers, so I wanted to do the opposite of that, something heroic and celebratory. That's where "Kings of the Wild Frontier" came out. I wanted to be like a King, not just some guy hanging on the corner, moaning about everything and spitting, and wearing safety pins, which I've never been interested in.

Eileen Shapiro: Was Malcolm McLaren's career advice to you worth the heartbreak of him stealing your band?

Adam Ant: I think Malcolm saw a situation where he could conveniently get a really good band. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, we made up and everything, but it was devastating on a personal level. On a professional level, it turned out pretty good for both parties: Bow Wow Wow which was a really good project and sounded great, and I did "Kings" which was my view of things. We'd all sit around listening to hours of philosophy by Malcolm about taking rock n' roll back to basics, playing us all kinds of records. He'd talk for an hour, and you would understand a minute of it. But what he was talking about was the Bow Wow Wow sound. I had the name and threads of ideas, but nothing that fit in with what they were doing, so I started again. I thought, I'm not going to waste all this time sitting, listening and not use it, because I paid for it. I gave Malcolm £1,000 to manage the band. I think I got my money's worth.

Eileen Shapiro: When you released "Kings" in the USA, "Making History" was removed and "Physical" and "Press Darlings" replaced it.

Adam Ant: They made the decision for me, I wasn't consulted. That was one of the nice things about doing this recent "Kings” gold boxset is having it in its original form.

Eileen Shapiro: Why didn't you tour "Kings" in the USA at the time?

Adam Ant: I think there was a lot of suspicion about guys wearing makeup and outlandish clothing. There was a lot of excitement about “Kings” when I went to New York and LA, but the decision-making of budgets and record label commitment to get behind the band was not as I thought it would be. We did a few showcase gigs, the people that came seemed to love it. I remember doing a very serious chat with Tom Snyder as well, which was quite a challenge for my first interview in America. I didn't tour America with "Prince Charming" either. That was never going to be in the cards. By the time I did the "Friend or Foe" album solo, I was able to play a lot of gigs, that's what you have to do in America.

Eileen Shapiro: What was the significance of your famous Apache white stripe?

Adam Ant: I'd been studying Native American tribal decorations, it was a declaration of war on all that nonsense in the music business, and political stuff. I always find that very inspiring, that whole philosophy.

Eileen Shapiro: How is it that “Kings” is still relevant after 35 years?

Adam Ant: Really the blueprint of this album was "Dog Eat Dog". That was the first track in the studio with vocals, the crashing sound, and the arrangements of two drummers. So from that we applied the same premise to the rest. Chris (Merrick) Hughes behind the mixing desk played an important part. It wasn't like bringing in an outside producer to put their mark on it because he was playing drums every night. There was an effort to make it look as good as it sounded. There was always this element to early punk rock that Malcolm and Vivienne (Westwood) were doing in SEX and Seditionaries, their shops. Those clothes were expensive, it wasn't tacky, there was always a sense of sartorial correctness. The attitude was like buccaneers: you'd docked the galleon, gone in and grabbed everything you could, so the jacket was as if I'd put it on and run off. The Highwayman, The Buccaneer, Native American Indian, it was this glorious, iconic imagery that appealed to me growing up, and still as an adult.

Eileen Shapiro: Do you recall your proudest moment as an artist?

Adam Ant: I think being asked to do the Motown 25 by Berry Gordy was one of the proudest moments, on a personal level. It was a great compliment. I don't know why they asked me, but they did. Just doing that was a big challenge. Sharing the stage with Marvin Gaye was a real highlight. Coming to my dressing-room door, knocking on my door. I opened it up, he was in a white suit and said, "Hello I'm Marvin Gaye." I said "I know you are." That was a dream-like moment, working with all your heroes that you've grown up with. It was a great feeling. We were outsiders, and to get a record like "Kings” together with all its conflicting contents, a recipe of different ideas musically, it's a hybrid. It was distinctive, people of all ages and backgrounds seemed to go "Ooh!" It took us by surprise. It was a proud moment to get it in shops and out to people.

Eileen Shapiro: From your point of view, is punk still musically alive and well, or just an ideology in our society?

Adam Ant: Punk, for me, was always an idea, a spirit, an artistic explosion, a challenge, but most importantly an ATTITUDE with regard to my work.

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