Continued from Part 1

By now, it should come as no surprise that Adrian is full of surprises.

A conversation with this man is much like talking to a river. Like a mind-reader, Adrian is prone to answer the question on your tongue before you ask it, but through the course of his reply he is wont to change course several times until together, the two of you are cutting a path through new, uncharted wilderness, far away from your original destination.

So it is that a simple question I ask about the emotional honesty of his songs leads into a deep discussion of spirituality and transcendence—hardly your typical rock and roll topics.

“Transcendence is about sitting with your own mind, seeing the shit that goes on,” explains Adrian.

“And then you have to pick up the weapon of wisdom, which is truth. There is little point in not being open as a songwriter, or as a human being. Honesty leads to love and respect.”

These are words that could be rolling off the tongues of the next Zen master in town, but Adrian’s positivtalk seems at odds with the songs he’s trying to explain. How does honesty, love and respect reconcile with the dark, introspective moods of songs like Into the Hands of a Madman? 

Adrian replies by turning to country music for a reference, emphatically punctuating his words with a forceful finger in between them.

“You have to admit you’re ugly before you can beautiful. Look at Johnny Cash. That was a man who went through real shit, looking at his own negativity. You have to look at your own negativity as an artist, as a songwriter or as a poet.”

Sufficiently warmed up now, Adrian launches into an attack proper: “A lot of bands, they don’t even know why they’re in a band—they don’t know the purpose of their existence. They want adulation, they want respect, but they don’t say anything about themselves or push any boundaries. But obedience has never drawn me to a record. That’s why I wrote the lyrics as poems first—to air out what was inside. The songs make sense of my own life—that’s how I can go about connecting to people. Know your mind, and you know everyone’s mind. ”

Here Adrian stops for a moment, taking a drag on his cigarette while cocking his head to the side, as if to assess whether I’m still following his train of thought. Finally, he goes back to my original question.

“All of my songs are autobiographical. If you’re writing a song and it’s not autobiographical, fuck off. Go paint a fence or something.”

Honesty, love and respect—or fuck off and paint a fence.

IN more ways than one, Basement In My Loft is a contradiction.

On their debut record, See The Rhyme In The Dirt And Grime, the songs run the gamut, shifting from the markedly introspective moods of Truths Beckoning You to the spiritually tortured snarl of Basement.

The album in itself is an impressive 12-track, genre-defying collection, the singular vision of Adrian, who wrote, arranged and produced the songs.

Nevertheless, live, Basement in My Loft is a very different animal, and not just in the ways you might expect a live performance to differ from a studio recording.

For sure, at the official launch of their album on Halloween Eve, live at the Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub to celebrate, the songs translate themselves into heavier, more energetic and up-tempo creatures—a transformation due in large part to current drummer Dzaf Dzefro, who replaced La Malet in April this year.

Tunes which were lost in mid-tempo limbo on the record come into their finished own in front of an audience. Mission, for instance, is always a standout crowd-rouser with its haunted blues call-and-response chorus between Zhongren and Adrian.

But live, Basement In My Loft also morph into a more elusive, evocative shape that can be both terrifying and exciting at the same time.

Songs like the stream-of-consciousness rant of Rut Shaped Room are bled into confrontational slam poetry recitals.  The deep-pocket groove of Truths Beckoning You waits first on a haunting, bleak soundscape, upon which literature is whispered and wailed across dissonant horizons to ships, floats, metal ghosts.

Adrian himself doesn’t survive the step onto the stage. Early on in his set he dons a masquerade mask, and ah, it is as Oscar Wilde says: the mask reveals the man.

Behind the mic, Adrian plays at not so much the pub-friendly drinking pal of his off-stage self, but instead a sort of incendiary, confrontational poet-punk, wearing his bleeding heart on his sleeve as reckless dare, looking around the room for eyes to meet his own, watching his audience as they do him—hello, Kevin, Patrick, Az, is this rock and roll enough yet?

Like our earlier conversation though, a counterpoint to the machismo and aggression inevitably occurs.

Beneath the noise, below the din of Adrian pushing his guitar as far out as it can go, a moment floats in as the pub falls silent and the veil seems to fall away from gravity.

Transcendence, away from the rain, the taste of pain…towards a certain sort of truth.

Elevation–at least until the drums kick back in and the earth shakes again for the running pilgrim, always seeking, never found.

Herein is the crucial contradiction at the heart of Basement In My Loft: the sensitive soul versus the humongous balls of Adrian Jones.

STRANGELY enough, Basement In My Loft’s 2010 seems to have resonated most with the musicians from the early 90s explosion in the local scene.

The faces present at the album launch on the 30th of October, for instance, told their own story. Ben Harrison of Etc, Patrick Chng of Typewriter and The Oddfellows, Kevin Mathews of Watchmen and Popland…it’s a clique Adrian is only just starting to get comfortable with. 

One suspects he is far more at home with members of what he calls the “anti-scene”: bands like shoegaze outfit Stellarium, whose lead singer, Az, watched their set intently with an inscrutable expression

In more ways than one, though, Basement In My Loft is contradiction. Despite the warmth he has experienced, there are still moments where Adrian is painfully aware of his place as a stranger in a strange land.

Ask him for his opinion on the local music scene, for example, and he displays uncharacteristic reticence.

“Singapore is a small scene,” he says, after a pause, with the air of a rebel not used to choosing his words carefully.

In his eyes you can see him mentally rewinding through the year he’s had.

“You have to be careful with what you do and say in this country, and I’m not used to being careful. I don’t believe in hurting people…but I do believe in shaking things up.”

One wonders what exactly Adrian is alluding to—that incident at BIML’s Baybeats performance, perhaps?

Halfway through their Baybeats set, a bizzare incident had occurred where the security guards inexplicaby forbid the band’s manager from filming their performance, never mind that all around her were hundreds of handphone cameras readying themselves for Youtube.

This was followed by what Chris Toh from TODAY oddly described as a “merry little chase” around the Waterfront, to the bemusement of the audience.

At the time, Adrian had reacted with a incredulous protest from the stage.Before one has the chance to ask him to elaborate more on the topic, however, he’s off on a more politically correct line of talk.

“Singapore is a very conducive place for creativity,” he offers.

“You have a good choice of rehearsal places, a tight-knit clique of musicians, and it’s relatively easy to get a band started once you have the songs.”

This will explain why, for the time being at least, Adrian’s plans are still rooted here.

Despite it being less than a year since the release of the first one, work has already begun on a collection of songs which will ultimately become BIML’s sophomore record.

Already, the new record is shaping up to be a higher-octane affair. Earlier on I had asked Adrian about the disparity between their introspective record and their high-energy live performances.

At the time, Adrian had cited the apathetic responses of Singaporean live audiences as a reason—as if to say, “Up yours, all you sedated bank customers; we’re gonna rock the fuck out.”

This time around, however, Adrian promises to carry that live energy into the studio and the new songs, some of which will be debuted at their first gig of the next year at Prince of Wales Backpacker Pub along Dunlop Street, on the 8th of January.

Amongst the new tunes is a raucous, intense Everyman anthem titled Capital A Frame, of which Adrian offers me an acapella first listen.

I lean in closely, expecting the intricate poetry of Basement or Madman. Instead, Adrian launches into a primal, minimalist rage-driven three-word lyric,  repeating itself like a haiku being hammered into a brain: “Fuck fuck fuck fuck don’t wanna wanna wanna fuck fuck fuck fuck…”

Saint and heretic, poet and punk. In more ways than one, then, Adrian Jones of Basement In My Loft is a contradiction.

(Samuel C Wee)

See the Rhyme in the Dirt and Grime is available at all good music stores and online at getupmerch.

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