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Interview: Richard Adams (The Declining Winter)

25 April 2023

Throughout his career releasing music under the name The Declining Winter, Richard Adams has been creating gentle, hypnotic, expansive landscapes with looped guitars, lonely horns, light percussion, whispery vocals and pastoral strings. The meditative music is not a big stretch from the later-day sounds of Hood, the band Richard formed with his brother, Chris, in the early ‘90s. When that band went their separate ways in 2005, Richard started The Declining Winter while Chris started Bracken and the two have been steadily releasing music for the last 18 years. Really Early, Really Late marks the tenth full-length release for The Declining Winter and doesn’t include the singles, EPs, and other projects (Memory Drawings, Western Edges) Richard uses to channel his creativity.

Hood’s final release, Outside Closer, was my favorite album of 2005 and it was that band that kicked off my recent conversation with Richard.

My introduction to the music you were making was when I heard Hood’s Outside Closer album in 2005. But, at that point, you were pretty well into your career, weren’t you?

RICHARD: We started around ’90/‘91 and the first record came out in ’93 or ’94. We were getting labeled as veterans by the time Outside Closer came out. We were six or seven albums in by that point but it was the first one that a lot of people maybe discovered because Domino US had opened over there. Some of our earlier records weren’t available in America at all.

Outside Closer was the last Hood record. Your brother started Bracken and you started The Declining Winter. Both bands had a Hood sound to me. Were you both interested in seeing what you could do on your own?

RICHARD: It was a bit like that. Me and Chris had worked together for 15 years and I think he particularly wanted to work on his own and have it all what he wanted to do. In Hood, he was the main songwriter and the technical guy as well. He went off to do Bracken because I think he felt he could be more in control without having a band around. I was like, “I’m going to have to do something.” I was kind of the same. On the last album, Outside Closer, we were all coming in with different ideas and it was kind of more hard to gel them together than it was before. So, it seemed like a natural progression to work separately. Chris taught me the ropes. The first Declining Winter album was him engineering it, telling me what to do. Then he was like, “You’re on your own now.”

I also thought Hood had a really unique sound. It sort of reminded me of Radiohead but at the same time nobody would confuse Hood with Radiohead. Did the music you were making during that time period feel unique to you or were there other bands living in that same world?

RICHARD: We were never quite part of a scene. We sort of flirted with scenes. One of them was the Bristol scene, Flying Saucer Attack and Movietone, the bands that we played with that would get compared to us and we’d get compared to them. We sort of flirted with that a bit. A little bit earlier on, we were part of a scene that was more lo-fi bands but I don’t think we were really were part of anything. We tried to stay away from that kind of thing and let the music be it’s own entity. We liked how with groups like The Fall it just is what it is and it was never part of a particular scene.

From everything I gather, The Declining Winter seems to be a one-man project. Do you go out and play live shows with a band?

RICHARD: We used to. I was horrified to learn the last show was 2019. We will play out occasionally. I think when I started it up, we did quite a little bit of touring but as it’s gone on, it’s become more of a home project. I am thinking about doing something but, this is the thing, as you get older, you spend all your time thinking about what you’re going to do rather than do it.

Dating back to Outside Closer and through to the present Declining Winter material, it sounds to me like you’re using a lot of loops in your music. Am I hearing you play the same thing over and over for 5 minutes straight or are you taking a recorded snippet and repeating it?

RICHARD: It’s probably the second one of those because I’m such a terrible player. My timing’s awful. The easiest thing is, “If I can just get a minute of this …,” of it not going out of time, not making any mistakes, I’ll loop it over. But, the thing is, it’s a little bit of a mixture of both. If you just use loops, then it’s quite noticeable. I guess it’s the kind of thing of using longer loops and then it sounds more like a band playing than just like one bar repeated throughout a five-minute song. So, at best, I’ll maybe get two minutes of it and then repeat that two minutes if it’s okay. That seems to be the way I work now rather than trying to do entire takes. It’s easier to do it like that. I don’t want to totally lose that feel of it being a band. I don’t want it to just sound like someone on their own. You sometimes have to leave a few things in and not have it too perfect.

Do you come up with the idea for the music first and then drop in lyrics?

RICHARD: It’s usually the music first but I have a lot of lyrics written. It’s very rare that I come up with both at the same time. It does sometimes happen, you’re humming a melody and a word or phrase comes. But, usually, my way of working is get the guitar down. and then think of melodies over the top of that and work on those. Then, sometimes it’s humming things and getting a melody and putting lyrics in and then keep on changing the lyrics until they’re right. That seems to work quite well for me.

Your music has a strong visual element to it, from the artwork to the videos. Both complement each other. The music is very sublime, very chill. I like to listen to it while I’m concentrating on something, it helps keep me in a certain zone. It’s very meditative.

RICHARD: It’s funny because I do listen to music that you couldn’t work to. Part of it, for me, is that music is meant to be a process. It’s good for the soul. It helps with mental health. A lot of times, the music, I just zone into it. I’m as lost as maybe you are when I’m doing it. All the worries of the world sort of disappear when I’m working on music. I think I’m thinking a lot about places and scenery and things while it gets made. I kind of want it to take me somewhere else and it may do that. It seems to do that for other people as well.

I was just listening to something that’s the polar opposite this morning. It was really political, really punky, really charged. It’s all about now and what’s happening. I suppose our music is a bit more like escapism. It’s just to get away from things a bit.

I envisioning you living out in a remote area, lots of empty space around you.

RICHARD: (laughs) I live on a terraced street with houses. There’s a hill up the street, kind of near countryside. It’s a little bit of both. I’m certainly not overlooking some vista while I’m working. I’m looking at a wall, I suppose. In a way, I’m sort of at that place in my mind. That’s what I’m trying to go for and that’s what I love, the countryside, and things like that.

The first single, “Really Early, Really Late,” which is the title track, has almost a jazzy feel to it. Are you a jazz fan?

RICHARD: I think it’s probably second hand. It’s from listening to people who have been influenced by jazz, the obvious one being later Talk Talk and Bark Psychosis. Hood got compared to Bark Psychosis quite a lot. To be fair, we were massive fans so it did seep through.

It’s strange, isn’t it? I don’t sit down and listen to jazz records but I listen to artists who have listened to jazz records so it’s probably just coming through down the channel somehow.

This is how lazy I am as a listener. A few years ago, someone played me a Miles Davis record and, to this day, I still don’t know which one it was! I was like, “Oh, I love this. This is great” then walked out of the house and forgot what it was but I still think about it. It’s still in there but I couldn’t tell you which album it was. It’s like a different world to me.

Is The Declining Winter completely self-financed, self-recorded, self-everything?

RICHARD: Self everything. The record label, Home Assembly, is like two streets away. He’s a friend from years ago. That’s the only outside thing but it isn’t really because we work together on things. It’s not like I have a record label telling me what to do, it’s just the guy around the corner that knows how to do artwork and put it all together. That’s what it is. There’s no outside interference at all with it. In a way, that’s great but, obviously, I’m having to finance it all. But, that’s what I enjoy doing. Some guys will go out and buy a motorbike or a posh car. I’ll just spend my money on releasing records.

I do a little bit of work for a record shop and there’s so many customers that are like, “I can’t tell my wife that I’ve just spent 40 pounds on a record.” It’s not the worst thing you can be doing!

If you do spend lots of money on music, at least you’ll know that you can continue to get enjoyment for years, and even decades to come, out of the same records unlike movies or books where you can only watch or read a few times before tiring out.

RICHARD: I watched the original Fargo to the point that I could just tell what was going to come next. There’s a point where I told myself, “You’re going to have to stop watching this.” But, there’s records that I’ve continued to play. I’ll give it a break for a year and then dig it out again and it’s still showing me new things. It’s still a pleasure. The best music does that, it stays with you for a lifetime.

Do you feel like you’re making music that pleases you rather than making music to please listeners?

RICHARD: When people ask, “Why did Hood break up?,” this is kind of the answer to it. We felt like we were having to make records for an audience. It got to that point. We had the record company telling us, “You guys have to have a hit.” Once you start writing for someone else, you just get so lost. You get completely lost. You maybe don’t even like it yourself and then you start thinking, “If they (the listeners) like it, that’s all that matters.” But you’re like, “I just don’t like it. This is not right.” So, with Declining Winter, I was writing what I like, just for me. That’s what it went back to almost to the point where I was getting a little bit obsessive about perfecting a certain sound. I had to move a bit away from that to avoid it being a little too naval gazing. Sometimes you have to jolt yourself out of it and do something different.

If I’m really excited about doing something, by the time it comes out, I’ve completely gone off it and lost confidence in it. But, you’ve got to remember how it was when you made it. It’s like a cliché – if anybody else likes it, it’s a bonus. It really is that because you’ll never be happy with your music unless you’re happy with it yourself and would enjoy it.

Do you ever go back and listen to something you’ve recorded and think, “I don’t remember writing that. I must have been in a zone”? Or, are you very meticulous about it and harp on every single note?

RICHARD: No. It’s not about perfection but it’s about things sounding right to my ears. There could be a duff note in the middle of it that I just leave in because I’m fine with it. But then I’ll get obsessed about something else that no one else notices. There’s things on the new album that I was like, “Does no one hear that massive wrong thing on that track?” I focus completely on it. When I listen to things again from the past, I think either (with amazement) “I can’t believe I did that” or “Oh my God, I can’t believe I did that.”

The first track on the album was something that I found that I’d forgotten that I’d done. It was a demo I’d put down years and years ago and I was searching through things. That does happen. It’s quite incredible when you find things that you can’t remember doing. It’s like I’ve written a new song without writing a new song because I’ve done it at some point and then forgotten about it.

Do you ever look back on your career in amazement and think, “Wow, I’ve put out a lot of music”?

RICHARD: There’s certain times when I’ve thought I’ve put too much out. What happens is it builds up. There might be a couple of years where I’m not doing anything. There’s been times where a couple of things have come out in a year. In 2015, I brought three albums out. It wasn’t intentional. I had not put anything out for four years so they all happened to come out at roughly the same time. Sometimes I step back from releasing things. I don’t really think I need to release something every year. I sort of think of it like crop rotation with arable farming. Leave a field bare for a year and let it regenerate. Sometimes I think that about music. Leave it for a while and then come back to it.

I can tell you’ve put a lot of work into the artwork and packaging for all the Declining Winter releases.

RICHARD: You wouldn’t believe how long it took to do the last one. I mean, three months of redesigning it. There was two of us working on it. Barrie, from the label, was doing the actual design. I think there were three things we didn’t use and then we got to what we got. It was just a process, just like coming up with a song was a process. The artwork’s taken longer than the record to do. It’s a really important thing for me. It’s the image that people see. You get a little thrill when you’re happy with your artwork and then you see it. Even seeing the artwork online, it was like, “This is what we wanted it to look like.” The process was an absolute nightmare but to get there was really rewarding.

Music isn’t your full-time job. What is your day job?

RICHARD: I’m a care worker for elderly people. I go into people’s homes and help them shower and get dressed and maybe take them somewhere. I’ve done it for about three years now.

I have to think that that plays into your music. There’s a certain gentleness, a certain calmness that carries over between the two.

RICHARD: I’ve never been particularly good at anything bombastic. I was working mostly full-time at a record store and then, one day, it was just like some kind of midlife crisis type of thing. I just knew I need to do something else, something that helps people. So, I went off to do that. It’s difficult but it’s rewarding. I found that working with music all day was overkill. It did affect my ability to enjoy recording music. I was surrounded by the stuff. I think I found a happy medium where I do a little bit of work for the record store still but not day-to-day, not coming home every day thinking, “Oh God, where do we fit in with all these other records we’re selling?” It’s almost best to be separate from it. It’s always been more enjoyable to make music when it’s done for the love of it.

Find all of The Declining Winter’s releases on Bandcamp: