This article originally ran in The Herald Newspaper (Scotland) on August 18, 2011 under the heading CULT-POP HERO EMERGES FROM CULTURAL VORTEX…
Falkirk has produced more than its share of stellar cult-pop heroes, including free-jazz guru Bill Wells, post-rock versifiers Arab Strap and literary trailblazer Alan Bissett.
To the town’s imposing roll-call we should add alt-folk maverick Adam Stafford: an award-winning film-maker, indie label proprietor, music video director and frontman of Central Belt art-rockers Y’all is Fantasy Island. Stafford has just released an impressive debut solo album, Build a Harbour Immediately, on his Wise Blood Industries imprint.
The album’s variegated terrain of skewed-pop, folk, rock and beat-boxing is lyrically striking and musically fertile, and it heralds a high watermark from an already well-admired artist (Bissett recently proclaimed Stafford a “genius”). Although Stafford is now based in Glasgow, his formative years steeped in Falkirk counter-culture have clearly enlightened his art. “Everything that happened when I was a teenager in that town has informed my music,” he offers.
Stafford’s nascent musical voyages saw him jamming in experimental Falkirk collective The Chuck Norris Machine around 2003-2004. “Y’all is Fantasy Island just kind of emerged from that,” he recalls. The band’s debut album, In Faceless Towns Forever, was released on Falkirk indie-label Panic in the Year Zero, run by musician, illustrator and fellow Chuck Norris collaborator Paul Tonner.
Yifi’s subsequent records, along with those of Stafford’s quirk-pop sideline, Size of Kansas, were issued via his own Wise Blood Industries endeavour. A largely-digital imprint founded in 2009, it has released tracks by PAWS and Zoey van Goey offshoot Radio Trees. While Stafford champions “art and artistry” over commerce, his record label was borne out of necessity as much as ideology. “Our albums were released on Wise Blood because no-one else would put them out,” Stafford laughs.
He is self-distributing Build a Harbour Immediately for slightly different reasons, however. It’s available on digital download and yellow cassette – thus harmonising digital accessibility with our emotional connection to the physical artefact – but there is also a wider business strategy behind this colourful DIY release. “I’d like to put Harbour out on a bigger label, with more clout behind it, so the tape thing is really just to get an initial buzz for the record,” he explains.
Amid Stafford’s burgeoning alt-pop career and indie label enterprise, he also conducts a parallel vocation as an award-winning film-maker. Again, his home town has informed his aesthetic. “I think that Falkirk is interesting, and I thought that when I was growing up as well,” he says. “There’s something odd about Falkirk, because it’s not really a city, and it’s not really a town – it’s really sprawling – and there’s like a brooding feeling, especially at night. And I guess I tried to capture that with The Shutdown.”
Stafford directed and sound-tracked The Shutdown in 2009. A short film written and narrated by Alan Bissett about growing up near the Grangemouth petrochemical plant – and the explosion that almost killed his father – it has since gone on to win the Best Short Documentary award at the San Francisco International Film Festival, and the Best Short Documentary at Palm Springs International Shorts Festival, among myriad similar accolades. It is a beautiful and haunting work, whose opening music and burnished skies call to mind another heavenly (and unlikely) by-product of Grangemouth: the Cocteau Twins.
Why does Stafford think the area has produced so many striking artists? “Wherever there’s a cultural vortex, great art is always made,” Stafford offers. “And I think that’s evident in like the work of the Cocteau Twins, and Arab Strap, and Bill Wells, and in some of the guys that I ran with as well, in the Chuck Norris Machine – just all these people that are immensely talented…”
Stafford is not lacking on that front himself. Since he left Napier University in 2005 (he studied film and photography), he has also been credited as a music video director (for The Twilight Sad); he’s about to start working with Glasgow indie-rock tearaways PAWS; and he’s in the middle of researching and developing a full-length documentary on a discovered cache of letters. Is he ever confused about his day-job?
“It’s an obsession, the music side of things,” he says. “I mean, I’d like to make other films, but I consider myself a musician, definitely. Music comes first.”
Shot Down You Summer Wannabes is out on Kingfisher Bluez in August. Adam Stafford is also releasing a split single with Rick Redbeard (The Phantom Band) via the roundly brilliant Edinburgh DIY label Gerry Loves Records in June.