ADAMS TRAKTOR - EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
Adams Traktor sings about climate change, a polarized society and human desires. The band Adams Traktor, founded by JR Smith, brought together experienced musicians who have collaborated with greats such as Lou Reed, Tears For Fears, Suzanne Vega and Julian Lennon. The band has now finished their soon to be released album “Quench”.
EXCLUSIVE VOGUE INTERVIEW
Adams Traktor Sings of Change
The fact that music in 2020 definitely took the form of a single entity in which specific genres do not play a role - and everything is interconnected. This is nothing new. JR Smith, a Seattle-born artist who has fallen in love with Europe and has lived here for over 20 years, also knows this. Czechia became a home for him, as well as producer and singer Gregory Darling, who Smith collaborates with, as he also fell in love with Europe. Gregory is a established singer/songwriter and producer having worked with, among others, the genius of film and music, Ennio Morricon.
Together they put together a non-genre music project in Prague with the name Adams Traktor. The line-up was complemented by drummer and founding member of the British band Tears for Fears, Manny Elias, renowned bassist Fernando Saunders and, last but not least, guitarist Olda Krejčoves from the domestic band Monkey Business.
During a walk through Stromovka in Prague with frontman JR Smith and producer Gregory Darling, we discussed Seattle's musical heritage and how crucial it is in art to draw attention to the burning problems of today.
Can you determine at what point in your life you fell in love with rock music?
Gregory Darling: I grew up in a classical music environment. I only got into rock and harder bands after graduating from art school in California. If I had to name one idol, it would be David Bowie, mainly because of the pure variety of creations and the evolution of styles over the years.
JR Smith: I already enjoyed rock like Van Halen at the beginning of high school, but I soon discovered the magic of more progressive musicians like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sisters of Mercy, NIN and Billy Idol. However, I come from the Pacific Northwest/Seattle and since I was about twenty, bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Nirvana, etc. have been major influences on me.
How crucial is the influence of grunge and legends like Nirvana for a Seattle musician?
JR: I'd say Seattle is one of those cities that has become a synonym for a particular genre. People like to call it Grunge, and that’s fine, but that’s the label the press put on it; their spin. I like to call it “the Seattle Sound” or “Music from the Seattle Era”.
When grunge was being established, I was just graduating from university. At that time, it was enough to go to small clubs like The Crocodile or Mo's and enjoy the bands we all know today at a time when no one knew them; they were one in a sea of one hundred bands playing in small clubs in Seattle. To confess, sometimes they weren't all that great. But gradually as they matured they found their sound and bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and Soundgarden came to the forefront and impacted music as we know it. At the same time there were great bands like Green River, Mother Love Bone, Mud Honey, The Melvins, L7, Tad, Sonic Youth, Love Battery, The Supersuckers, etc. that really paved the way in the early days. So many bands and offshoots it’s hard to keep track; just a lot of raw loud punk and rock talent.
How was it in Washington/Seattle being surrounded by art since childhood vs. Europe?
JR: I think Europe has a lot more concert culture. People go to live shows here, even if they are over eighty years old. Gigs are a huge part of the the culture, especially in the UK. In America, the number of fans declines more with age, but Seattle will never slip away. The city is full of clubs and in each of them you come across musicians who play their own songs, originals, no covers - whether they are students, musicians my age or somewhere in-between. Guitar music, punk, rock, funk… they all had a hold on Seattle long before “grunge" and continue to do so to this day. Just go to The Tacktor or The Croc and you’ll see. The crowd has changed significantly but new music still thrives.
Why did you move to Prague?
JR: I have been working in the field of technology and telecommunications for many years. After I helped deploy one of the mobile phone networks here, I continued to launch business and stayed in Europe and, like a lot of people, I absolutely fell in love with it. I arrived for a five month gig, and in the end have been here for over 22 years. In the Czech Republic, for example, I worked for many years as the CEO of of the CZ’s most successful technology companies. But I've been involved in music all my life, I started my career as a DJ spinning vinyl and a promoter in Seattle.
Gregory: I lived in the south of France, where we had a studio with Julian Lennon. At the same time, I met my future wife, who is Czech. Sometimes I came to see her, but I always returned quickly to France because it was very cold here. It took me years to acclimate, but gradually Prague grew more and more in my heart from year to year.
Did you immediately notice any major cultural difference here?
Gregory: I have a passion for music and local culture. I soon fell in love with people, began to respect the Czechs and for the first time felt that I could live here comfortably. After sunny years with friends in the south of France, it took me a while.
JR: As an American, I'm an optimist by nature. After arriving in the Czech Republic, I quickly realized that the people here are more realistic. Historically, they have experienced a lot and learned to look at things with a slightly different filter. Not everything has to be overly cheerful and jubilant.
Do you see this as a positive change?
Gregory: I love it. In Los Angeles, someone smiles from ear to ear, and a day later decides to commit suicide. The Czech realistic approach to life makes me much more sense.
JR: Yes, Czech society does not require you to look satisfied 24/7. It is better to be honest with yourself and honest with each other. Give me good news, give me bad news, but say it straight. It's okay not to be optimistic at all costs.
Has it affected your approach to writing lyrics in any way?
JR: It never occurred to me, but it would make sense. I'm just writing a little darker lyrics now. My wife keeps asking me if I could please write a upbeat song for a change…
But your song Time To Wake Up has some hope in it. It was published shortly after the US presidential election, does the text partly refer to this important event?
JR: We originally wanted to release it before the election, but I did not want the song to be connected to politics. At the same time, Time To Wake Up points to global warming, racism, pollution and other issues facing all countries. We didn't want to record an activist song, but rather push it as a call to wake up and the reality of the world around us.
A song called Divided will be released on your upcoming album, which also deals with this phenomenon. Has the theme of the pandemic also been reflected in the new songs?
JR: Fortunately, I wrote the lyrics before the pandemic broke out. Regardless, at the very end of the video for Time To Wake Up you will find a small reference to the current situation.
Gregory: The pandemic affected me mainly because I spend too much time in the studio. At the moment, it's actually my addiction and the lockdown makes it even stronger. But I'm not complaining, quite the opposite.
How did you actually put together the Adams Tractor set?
Gregory: Every musician has different preferences within the way he works. First, we tuned the assembly to make everything work. You never know what happens when you combine several different components. Fortunately, in the end the choice fell on the amazing Manny Elias. Once he joined, everything fell into place. Without a capable drummer, no band sounds good and you can't do anything about it. The drums set the rhythm and underline the vocals. In the end, we managed to fine-tune the line-up.
JR: Manny is hard to explain, he plays with and around the vocals like no one I have every heard. He is more a part of the song and it’s creation/formation than a drummer.
Does bassist Fernando Saunders have a lot to do with this?
Gregory: Undoubtedly, Fernando, like Manny, is a real "songster". This means that it does not play for himself, but always fundamentally for the overall impression of the song. He listens carefully how he can move the song forward.
JR: Fernando is an experienced musician who can take your breath away. He has enormous talent, so he played with such greats as Joan Baez, Eric Clapton and especially Lou Reed. He just flows… and magic happens.
The line-up also includes guitarist Olda Krejčoves from the Monkey Business group. Do you personally like Czech popular music?
JR: I really enjoy the funky sound of Monkey Business but never listen to the radio so it’s hard for me to judge like or dislike for local music; I’m simply not a big fan of mainstream music to be honest. Olda and I have known each other for many years and he is one of the best guitarists I have ever met. To this day, I can't believe how easily he can just put together a wonderful new riff or bridge. I knew I didn't want to do Adams Traktor without him.
Your next singles and debut album will be released in 2021. What can you tell us about it?
Gregory: Linking styles was essential when it was created. At first, I kindly thought that JR only listened to bands from Seattle, but he quickly corrected me. We both have a very diverse taste, so it was a challenge to embrace all our tastes and connect them through the individual songs so that a complete recording was created. Gradually, we got to know new things and at the same time, after years, we returned to the musicians we listened to as children. Sometimes we have long discussions about something, but you can't just slam the door on creativity.
JR: The recording wouldn't be nearly as complex if it wasn't produced by Gregory. We had a lot of fun with it, because many things can inspire us in a similar way. For example, when a synthesizer sound reminded us of an 80's synth-pop, we knew it had to stay there. These are references and influences that we carry with us and still evoke strong memories.
We spent two weeks of intensive work with the whole band in Gregory's Prague 2 Lion Studio. One night over dinner in Prague, I told the guys that I was thinking about a name for the album. Manny, who according to his wife, has a natural talent for these things, and after a three second pause he answered with only the word Quench. And it was done.
Is a similar story connected to a rather untraditional name of your band?
JR: Actually, yes, these are two words that do not symbolically belong together at all. Adam is a biblical character, while Traktor refers to farms and ranches. The name could not be further from either of these two references. We were just having a barbecue in the garden when my neighbors started talking about lawn mowers. I had very little to contribute to the discussion, and one of my friends turned to me and asked, "Have you seen Adam's tractor yet?" It immediately occurred to me, and one of my other friends, that Adams Traktor would make a great band name - we just looked at each other and said… there you have it…
Link to Time to Wake Up on Spotify:
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Adams Traktor (IG: @adamstraktor) is signed to Dark Spark Music founded by Vicki Hamilton. (IG: @darksparkmusic).
IG: @adamstrktor, @darling_gregory, @drumsmannyelias, @fernando.saunders
Quench was produced by Gregory Darling at (IG: @2Lionstudios).