Wednesday 19 October 2011, 12:07 | By Chris Cooke
Q&A: Adam Ficek
You may know Adam Ficek best as the one time drummer with a modest little band called Babyshambles. Though many of you will also be aware Adam has many other strings to his bow. His solo project Roses Kings Castles – or, as of now, RKC – has been brewing for a few years now, and the third album from that venture, ‘Plastic British’, will be released by Adam’s own label next month, with various limited edition packages available to pre-order now through the RKC Bandcamp page.
Ficek’s most accomplished album to date, it will be preceded by single ‘Kittens Become Cats’ on 31 Oct and a tour with the RKC band kicking off at 93 Feet East in East London on 25 Oct. CMU’s Chris Cooke spoke to Adam about the Babyshambles experience, the evolution of RKC, and the ins and outs of releasing your own records.
CC: How did you first start playing music?
AF: I first started playing music when I was about twelve after I got hooked on a cheap Casio keyboard. Plus there was always a guitar knocking about the house so I’m sure I probably had a twang on that too. Drums came a bit later during secondary school, I just fancied having a bash. The rest is history.
CC: So how did you end up drumming for Babyshambles?
AF: I was doing the usual musician thing of playing in loads of bands and doing some teaching to make ends meet. I’d definitely done my stint on the ‘Chitlin circuit’, spending years playing in bands who were chasing that elusive record deal, busy luring the charms of the most hip A&R person of the moment. In the end, with Babyshambles, it was right place right time. I was playing in another band which had the same manager, they suddenly needed a drummer, he said why don’t I do it, and there I was, suddenly a member of an already famous group.
CC: Babyshambles was obviously an explosive band to be in, was it a rewarding experience?
AF: Babyshambles had incredible highs and incredible lows, playing Wembley was an amazing experience and the fame thing was a buzz at first. Although I quickly realised the music industry wasn’t what I had imagined it to be. I come from a place of wanting to make music for no other reason than creating, so I became very cynical for a few years when I finally realised that the whole machine really dictates what products get media, which obviously is in turn dictated by money. I’ve managed to pull through the whole sausage machine process now though, as I make music for me. But, I digress. To answer your question, yes, Babyshambles was an amazing experience.
CC: How did the Roses Kings Castles project come into being?
AF: I wanted a platform to air my own compositions. I was writing for Babyshambles but lots of my songs weren’t getting used, so I set up an alias and created a MySpace. It was never intended to be anything other than a place to put songs online, but then EMI got wind and wanted to release a solo album, moving the whole thing on. As it happens, the EMI album never came to fruition – this was 2007, Terra Firma arrived as new owners, budgets and rosters were slashed and the project was halted. But with the album finished I decided to release it myself. It cost me a fortune – I was quite green at the time and made quite a few bad decisions. I learned the hard way shall we say, and I’m still trying to recoup on that project!
CC: Despite that experience you basically self-released your second album – albeit with a little help from a small indie label – and with your new album, that’s totally DIY again. What are the pros and cons of this approach?
AF: The big pro is that you control every element of the release. And that can be very satisfying. But there are many down sides too – there’s this fist-in-the-air punk rock chant at the moment “do it DIY, sock it to the man”, but it’s very hard for a DIY artist to compete with the big players, especially when it comes to getting media exposure. Despite everything happening online, radio is probably still the biggest platform for promoting artists and music in the UK, and that’s a media still locked into the “radio plugger pulls favour and gets an artist airplay” thing. It is possible to get some airplay working on your own, and to get exposure in other kinds of media, but it’s incredibly challenging. If you’re driven by the thrill of creating great songs you’re proud of, which I think I am, then it’s all very do-able, but if you’re looking for overnight fame, then more likely than not you’ll be disappointed – because big attention costs cash.
CC: Is there still a stigma attached to self-releasing an album rather than signing to a label?
AF: I wasn’t aware there was one, at the moment DIY actually has kudos attached to it. I constantly read about how big name bands are self-releasing and doing their own videos and things. It’s highly commendable, especially for those bands that don’t have the money to pay for someone to do everything their label used to do.
CC: Tell us a bit the new record ‘British Plastic’. What sort of album were you setting out to make, and is that how it turned out?
AF: With ‘British Plastic’ I wanted to make a much grittier album than the previous two. So the goal was to change the sonic make-up of earlier releases. I was slightly bored of the restrictions of using traditional instruments, and I didn’t want to play acoustically for a while, so I set about using a combination of computer generated sounds and more effected guitars. I also learnt to produce as I went along, mainly because the only way I could afford to do another record was to have a go at the production myself, so I set about trying to get to grips with Logic. The overall album turned out much as I had hoped, although in hindsight I could have shaped the production more. But I’m now really looking forward to getting out live with a four-piece band, a sampler and the new songs.
CC: You wrote most of the new album not long after parting company with Babyshambles. Did that experience impact on the album?
AF: Hugely. I was pretty broken when the whole Babyshambles debacle ended. It was an upsetting and unsteady time. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs, but it was a messy end to something I gave so much to. The impact of a break up is far worse in the music industry, because you suddenly wake up to all the people that were just there for the ‘good times’. But, as with most horrid things, they can be the most strengthening and reaffirming of experiences when the dust settles.
CC: You play every instrument on the album except one – you got your former Babyshambles bandmate Patrick Walden to play guitar. Why was that?
AF: I’ve always stayed good friends with Patrick, through his struggles with substance abuse and far before Babyshambles. Patrick plays like no other, I can play most instruments to a basic level but that’s about it. I needed some proper frenzied, angry guitar expression. They don’t come much better than the mighty Walden. He was just in the process of getting himself together, so it seemed only right I grabbed him for musical skills and kept half an eye on him. He’s now sober and the best he has ever been and I’m immensely proud to have him bless my recordings.
CC: You’ve abbreviated your performing name for the new album to RKC. Is that because you see this album as starting a new chapter of your solo career, or did you just want something snappier?
AF: RKC is definitely a new chapter. I now feel I’m close to where I want to be musically. I could have just kept my songs hidden for the past four years and released a perfect album now, compiled from the best of the songs I’d written in that time, but I like the way I’m laid bare by having released the other records as I went. Although I do cringe when I listen to some of the old stuff. There are songs on previous records that I would never release now, but that’s how I personally move on and develop, I like to air it all for people to see, I want my fans to experience my evolution. So, yes, RKC is a finer tuned, honed version of Roses Kings Castles.
CC: Having been in a major label signed band, and at the same time having played around with the whole DIY thing, you seem much more tuned into the way the music industry is changing than many artists. We read a lot of doom and gloom about the business. Are you optimistic though?
AF: We are in a challenging time, that’s for sure. I have put the idea of ‘monetising’ anything I create to the back of my mind. It’s sad, but I think music has lost its worth for the time being. But I’m clinging to the hope that the trend towards streaming and subscription services will give the musicians more of an income in the long term.
CC: And finally, and with all that in mind, what advice would you have for budding musicians?
AF: Do it because you get a buzz from it. If it’s the fame and fortune you’re seeking maybe go into an alternative career: set up a website or something.