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The Hood family tree has produced so many offshoots at this point that I won’t even try to list them all here. And while side projects, solo projects, collaborations, etc aren’t uncommon in the world of indie music, often these projects pale in comparison to the original band. This hasn’t been the case for the members of Hood past and present. The branches emanating from the Hood family tree almost always grow in unique ways. While some elements of Hood may be present, there is also something new in the approach or style that allows the music to stand very much on its own.
One of the more recent additions to the Hood family tree comes courtesy of Richard Adams under the moniker the Declining Winter. Having already released a few singles and an album, Pennyblackmusic caught up with Richard to talk about this project and the recently released second album from the Declining Winter.
PB: I've been listening to the new Declining Winter album, 'Haunt The Upper Hallways', for a few days now and must say that I really like the album. I'm not sure why, but I was somewhat expecting a more stripped down sound, but clearly that's not the case. How did you approach songwriting for this album and how long have you been working on these songs?
RA: Well I kind of wanted to rock! These songs were really experiments in trying to bridge the sound of the previous album, 'Goodbye Minnesota', which was more stripped down to what I want to do next which is a little bit more grand.
I'm not massively technically competent with electronics so I'm stuck with real instruments and however I can manipulate them. I don't really want to use computers too much. As for songwriting really it's just what comes out -I have no set plan or agenda.
There's usually an initial spark. 'Haunt the Upper Hallways' was me attempting to rip off an old Sufjan Stevens song and then just letting it wander wherever it wanted to go and so it sounds absolutely nothing like the original plan. A lot of these songs started life as something else. Three are complete re-workings of 'Goodbye Minnesota' tracks but got so far removed from that they are now their own entities.
PB: How would you compare 'Haunt the Upper Hallways' to 'Goodbye Minnesota'?
RA: It's much much more stripped down - it was all my initial ideas that I'd been carrying around for awhile during the latter days of Hood and my brother, Chris, helped a lot more with it. It's more of an album than 'Haunt' which is much more of an expanded single. A bit more electronic - it has quite a bit of variation as it was recorded over quite a long period before I knew what the band was going to be.
PB: The opening track seems like it could have fitted well on a Hood album, but from there on the album definitely moves in a direction that sounds less Hood like. With the Declining Winter, do you feel like you have to make a conscious effort to "not make a Hood album"?
RA: I'm kind of comfortable with the fact that at times it may sound like Hood. A lot of people think what I do sounds like parts of Hood and what Chris does as other parts. It's a natural thing for me - that’s what I do so if it sounds like Hood there's nothing too much I can do about that. I'm using a lot of the ideas I didn't get to use previously but there's no attempt to make it sound like Hood or not sound like Hood. I'm not going to suddenly make a speed garage album.
PB: While some of the elements will be familiar to fans of Hood, there is a lot of new ground here to explore and bands like the Rachels, Seefeel and Low also come to mind. Has this been an area you've wanted to venture into for sometime?
RA: Yeah, as I said earlier, there were a lot of ideas I had that I wanted to explore with this project. At times much simpler themes. It's quite difficult to explain really. I have a style of playing instruments that sometimes doesn't fit into what other people do so I had lots of stuff floating about that just didn't seem to work with the previous band. I wanted to follow my nose more and to record more spontaneously.
PB: The breadth of instruments used on this album really gives an orchestral quality to some of the songs. Which instrument do you start with when writing songs? Can you play most of the instruments used on this album or did you recruit a lot of friends?
RA: Almost always acoustic guitar to start with.I was really influenced by the American band Swell. They produce music that can be quite diverse, but everything they do has this acoustic guitar running through it that kind of sits on top of the songs. I wanted to limit myself to how I wrote.I wanted to play acoustic guitar live and nothing else. That said I'm about to contradict myself by saying that there's a few songs that don't use it, but I can justify it by saying that a lot of these were ideas that came originally from other songs. Like I'll take a cello line, piano line that may be lost in one song and create another song out of it.
I rely hugely on friends. The credits list on the new one is preposterous. Its done in a really scattershot manner - just getting people in to play - getting them to do a pile of stuff and then chopping and changing it once they've gone to get it how I want.
A lot of the strings get re-used and manipulated - Chris Cole (Many Fingers/Matt Elliot-Ed) did a whole pile of stuff for one song which then found its way onto other songs on the album. There again Sarah Kemp, our violinist (Last Harbour/Anna Kashfi-Ed) did some stuff so good that I barely touched it at all.
PB: The vocals tend to be delivered in hushed and effected manner making them somewhat hard to decipher. Did you write the lyrics to all of the songs and will the official release have the lyrics printed out?
RA: It's because a) I can't really sing and b) I can't really write good lyrics. I usually made up words as I went along so they are not written down and I would prefer it if that’s where they stayed. I guess they aren't really intended to be read - they are just part of the music.
PB: The press release for the album mentions that you may be "grinding axes or even settling old scores" on these songs. Would you care to comment on that at all? You're sick of your brother Chris doing all of the singing on Hood albums, right?
RA: Ha ha no. I wish he would sing more. I'd pay him money to hear more songs from him. Regarding 'settling scores' That will refer to the subject matter of a lot of 'Goodbye Minnesota' which was kind of centred around a relationship breakdown and the fall out from that. Little strands of those lyrics have kind of overlapped onto this project but there was a concerted effort to move on. I don't want to get into David Gedge territory.
PB: I've read that in addition to creating incredible music that you have an office job to keep you busy. Do your co-workers know that you are also a musician or do you keep those two lives separate?
RA: They know about it. Because I work part time I kind of feel like I have to justify what I do on my days off. Otherwise they think I sit around all the time watching TV. A girl started in my office last week and on discovering we grew up on the same street she asked me if I'd heard of a band called Hood. It was totally surreal. I had to admit to my involvement – there was no getting out of it.
PB: The new album consists of 7" and a CD (and bonus remix CD for the first 100 copies) in what sounds like a rather painstakingly made package. Now that digital downloads have become such a popular option, do you feel that this attention to packaging is almost more important than it was in the past? Or do you just enjoy this aspect of the product creation, as well?
RA: Bits of both. I think that it's so easy to download stuff these days that producing 500 CDs in a jewel case is going to have limited appeal. So every release we have tried to come up with something special – the first single, 'The Future Sound of Hip Hop Parts 1 and 2', was in re-used sleeves with old photos as artwork, the first album in recycled sleeves and handmade. So with this one it was a struggle as in my mind it's not really a full album so I didn't want it to just come out on a CD.
The initial idea was a 7" so we just decided to continue with that but to enclose a CD of those songs plus a bunch more. I don't know if it will work for everybody but we must try to develop new ways of presenting the music. Also I love doing the handmade things we do. It keeps me occupied.
PB: Although the Declining Winter tends to be referred to as a solo project, there have been live shows in the UK and Europe. How hard is it to recreate these songs live and who has made up the rest of the "band'? Do you have any plans to venture to the US to play some shows?
RA: Yes there's a six piece live band which has come together over the last year or two. Some of the songs work live, while some don't as they are all created in a studio environment. It's been reasonably simple to play them but I think we need to do more on playing them well! It's difficult as everyone is in other bands and two of them don't live in Leeds.
I mainly used people who had got in touch with me. Sarah Kemp had written to me a few times back in the Hood days so I remembered her from then. Paul Elam (guitar) I'd been I touch with a few times and had offered to help if I ever got anything together and Gareth S Brown (bass/keyboards) was in Hood and was always a trusty sidesman. The remaining people Elaine Reynolds (violin) and Richard Morris (drums) were contacts of Paul but who I kind of knew about anyway through their own bands. It’s a nice line up and everyone is generally ego free and happy to help
Funnily enough someone has just been in touch about US shows. We'd jump at the chance. We could do with some distribution out there though. It's been very difficult. I think only Tonevendor has been regularly stocking the records so no-one has really heard of us!
PB: Going forward, do you see the Declining Winter becoming more of a band or do you plan to keep it a "Richard Adams + friends" affair?
RA: I can't quite decide. I may mix it up a bit - do some stuff with the band and continue writing stuff solo. I need to keep my options open. Theres lots of bands who start off with one person's ideas and once the band comes along it gets watered down and is never quite the same. That said I rely heavily on collaborators and an album with just me playing would be rubbish.
PB: What's next in the world of the Declining Winter? Touring? More albums? Anything but a hiatus, please.
RA: We are playing some gigs in late summer/autumn mainly in the UK but we are hoping to get out to Germany and Spain. It's been tough trying to get these things to happen.
I'm working on a collaborative project with a dulcimer player called Joel Hanson. This should see the light late this year/early next. Otherwise I will start recording new Decling Winter stuff soon - a new album and to try to fulfil various promises I've made to people who have asked to release records and received absolutely nothing from me!
PB: Thank you.
Commenting On: Interview - Hood/Declining Winter
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With his regular band the highly regarded Hood in hiatus, leeds-based musician Richard Adams talks to Chris Jones about his new group the Declining Winter and its just released second album, 'Haunt the Upper Hallways'
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