Five years have gone by since Kindness has released a new album. A long lapse of time in some ways. From Adam Bainbridge‘s perspective, though, seemingly just the right amount of time to step forward with Something Like A War now – having a much clearer sense of his personal as well as musical identity.
Sitting on a simple looking bench in a quiet street in Berlin, it seems like the perfect place to gain more insight into Adam‘s modest and reflective nature as we discuss diversity in the music industry, his close relationship with Philippe Zdar as well as the ability to grieve and the role of the ego when it comes to making music.
One thing is for certain, Kindness was far from being unproductive in the past few years while people were curious to hear new music. Reflecting on the time they took to shape their latest work, they say:
‘I think I’m lucky because some newer artists, especially, would feel a pressure to release an album and then release another one and capitalize on the momentum. In my case, it was almost like there was no momentum so it didn’t matter. There was no tour or anything, but people still seemed interested and curious. It was good to have that time.’
‘Now I am my own record label and I make decisions based on it being the right one. It doesn’t really matter how much time it takes.‘
On the move
Looking at the timeline and the development of the music industry, there is some hope for progress on the horizon in regard to more diversity. A topic that Adam Bainbridge has felt passionate about for a while:
‘In the time since I’ve started, both – the people that make music and the people that work in music – have become more diverse and there is better representation of everyone. That was an encouraging place to release music in when you know that there is a little bit more mutual understanding and support. Music, when I started, especially like record labels and people in positions of power were almost uniformly white men – that is changing which is good. I wish it changed faster, but at least it is changing.’
Adam Bainbridge remembers a conversation with his good friend Robyn about the cause for that shift, at least in America: „Robyn once said to me that as the music industry became less financially lucrative, anyone that just wanted to make money left and went to tech instead. In America that literally happened. People who didn’t really care about music stopped working in it and that can only make things better I suppose. It also makes space for new people to start working in the same positions of power.’
Only recently, Kindness has moved back to London after having lived in America for a few years. Described as a phase of ‘toxic years’ in their life, the former time in London has certainly left a few marks on Adam. Still, the new beginning back home was inevitable for the multi-talented musician as we learn during our conversation when asking him about the motives for the move back to England:
‘London has gotten better. A funny thing happened which I feel happens in a lot of art forms where you go to America and people take you seriously, now people take you seriously back home as well. I honestly think that being in America and making records with American artists meant that I could come back to London and actually enjoy my work more.
Being in a position now where I can do a few productions with artists I like and living in a calmer part of London I am somewhat at a distance from all of the bad things of the music industry. I don’t see it in person. I just see the good things in a way that makes it a much more sustainable and enjoyable way of working.’
Brexit vs Trump
Further elaborating on America, Kindness says:
‘America is completely fucked up. At one point, I think for my mental health I decided that dealing with Brexit was somehow easier than dealing with Donald Trump. I can’t really do anything democratically against Donald Trump whereas I can be involved as a voter in British politics and hopefully do something. I started to feel self-conscious that as a British artist it wasn’t necessarily appropriate for me to be giving my own commentary on American politics, even though I was living there and it was all very present.
Maybe there was something more meaningful about being back in Europe and trying to – if I had any opinion – to be involved in something I have a right to talk about I suppose.’
Is it really possible to escape or at least protect oneself from the insanity of the political system, though? Kindness pauses for a moment and replies:
‘Protection is an interesting concept because there are things that you can’t be protected from. Life doesn’t always get to be easy, but you have to find a way to exist somehow in a way that is not completely overwhelming or pessimistic. What is interesting is that if you talk with certain marginalized communities, Black American community or Trans community or queer activists – things now are more visibly bad than they have been in a long time, but they were also very bad for a lot of people always.
I think this is just a thing to do with media and reflection of more voices is that we are aware of just how bad things are now, but in many ways they were pretty terrible for a lot of people for a long time.’
‘I’m reluctant about the artist as activist thing because I think it’s complicating multiple things. If we as artists are claiming to act as agents of political change, we are also doing it in way that benefits our career sometimes. Then it’s complicated. I don’t necessarily want to be seen as a spokesperson for something when the net benefactor is me rather than the community.’
In regard to the album title Something Like A War as well as the issues of identity, gender and race, Kindness feels like the overall tension won’t necessarily be followed by peace and describes the title from a more universal point of view rather than an exclusively personal one:
‘There probably is some subconscious reference to my own personal struggle, but honestly, the implied idea behind it is that it doesn’t really end. Something Like A War to me is about the personal struggle which is really ongoing for so many people. Things don’t necessarily resolve, you just cope with them better.
I think it is also related to the general tense political environment we find ourselves in where a lot of people just feel overwhelmed constantly by every day life and the tension of it. Perhaps it is this idea that in a weird way there isn’t necessarily peace coming. This has just become a difficult new normal that everyone is just coping with in a way.’
Coping with the struggle of finding their own musical and personal identity over the years, Kindness now senses a greater freedom, especially as an artists exploring more and more musical styles:
‘When I started I made music that I think reflected what I thought was appropriate for me to make based on my family background and the musicians that I was working with at the time. As I was embraced by more people, for example working with Solange for two or three years on her record, it gave me the confidence and the freedom to include other stylistic things from different genres or different voices and different kinds of musicianship because I felt embraced at a certain point and that was a kind of very generous form of permission.’
The voice within
Despite Adam Bainbridge’s urge to find his voice within their person as such as well as in the musical projects, Kindness admits the actual singing was fairly neglected for a while:
‘I feel very vulnerable singing because I think that singing is not something that I’m super confident about still, but in the end I could feel somewhat anxious about that, but when I finally got to the studio and had to mix the record and I was working with Philippe (Zdar) doing the mixing, I already knew he could make me sound good. It was like even if I think my voice currently sounds terrible, when we get to the studio and mix the record, he is going to do something magical and then it is going to sound good. I guess that was a moment of somehow feeling vulnerable and insecure during the recording and then knowing that by working with the best person possible, the end result would be ok.’
Helping Kindness out and making him realize his true potential was Swedish pop sensation Robyn as Adam points out:
‘When I finally came to record, I remember Robyn was there for a couple of the sessions to kind of coach me and say ‘Ok, think about this now…’ or ‘try to approach it this way’ or ‘how do you want it to sound?’. As someone that has no training and hadn’t really thought about the amount of work that goes into singing before, I consider it in a much more serious way now which is probably appropriate finally because it is an incredible and communicative art form. There is so much that you can put into it by singing something in the correct emotion – whatever the emotion is meant to be.
Sometimes it is better to be soft, sometimes it is better to be loud and sometimes it is good to strain your voice so that people really hear how much it matters and other times it is better to sing in a vary understated way. All of these things were things that I might not have considered in the past and now I think I consider them a lot more. Maybe this also comes from doing more production work as well because now I think I can work with a singer and know how to direct them better.’
Whether in one’s personal or creative life, it is rare to meet like-minded people that you have a truly special connection with. Sometimes, these are only work-related, sometimes they turn into real friendships beyond that. Producer legend Philippe Zdar and Adam Bainbridge would fall into the latter category. The two creative minds connected over music and their continuous work together, Philippe’s tragic accident earlier this summer abruptly ended their remarkable relationship as colleagues and friends. Speaking on the importance of working with Philippe and dealing with his sudden loss Kindness says:
‘It is hard. Even just outside of our friendship and the connection we had as people, I realized that if there was one person in my musical life that had really been the primary collaborator – it was him. Both, on the first album that we made entirely together and this time, there is only person that played a role in every single track and that is him.
We mixed this project together to sound as good as possible and you feel a real sense of loss because as a solo artist I don’t really have a sibling in music that would be with me in every project, but in some ways for me that was him. Now not having that, it feels huge to lose the person that understands you best musically. On a more human level it is a really terrible mind-bending thing.’
‘As a human being I probably experienced a little bit more loss and death than most people my age. Unfortunately, it has happened fairly often in my life. It is not that I have become numb to it, but I have accepted that people die and it is really terrible. You are aware of the fragility of life, but Philippe’s death happening in such a tragic way as an accident, it really knocked me over. It was almost like a cumulative grief of all of those other deaths suddenly came back all at once with this accident.’
There is no right way to grieve
Being able to grieve properly is a big step towards
making sense of a loss and slowly trying to deal with its consequences. Sharing that grief with others is particularly important as Adam Bainbridge realized:
‘Grieving has been a shared process for me. What’s amazing is that with Philippe there was so much love and shared appreciation and understanding, even if I had never met someone before, we could have a conversation and we would understand that we were describing the same wonderful thing about someone that maybe we knew for very different reasons. There was something very moving and powerful about the unified feeling of loss and mutual understanding in that moment. It is something we are not very good at as a society.
‘As a society we are so unbalanced that we can mourn people we actually don’t know and share compassion and be mutually understanding when people feel a loss for a complete stranger and, at the same time, sometimes we have less compassion and less understanding when people want to grieve for their family members and someone that is not known in some way.’
As with most things in life that are hard to grasp, there is no helping guideline on how to grieve. Adam Bainbridge still feels helpless when being confronted with death:
‘There is no right way to grieve. It is nothing you can practice until you are actually in that moment. There is no way to learn how to be in these situations. You just are all of a sudden. It is difficult for everyone. If anything, the pain of having experienced this multiple times means that I think I have slightly more understanding and compassion for how to be in this situation, especially with other people who are grieving, but it doesn’t make it any easier. I would give all of that life experience for all of those people back.’
Ego on the loose
Turning the conversation back to Something Like A War and its many collaborations, Kindness is full of praise for all the artists:
‘I work with the best people and my friends and many of them happen to be women and very talented artists, but I don’t think there was anything deliberate in those choices. Maybe I just prefer working with women. I don’t really know. They use their ego in a different way perhaps. One downside to imitations in music is that men have been taught to use music as a means to an end, whether it be for celebrity, sex or money or access and that becomes something other people imitate in a way. That could become a motivation to be in a band sometimes. People literally are just in bands just to sleep with people sometimes. The women that I work with seem to make music because they want to make music before anything.’
During our lengthy chat, Adam occasionally mentions Robyn and hints at their good talks from which Kindness shares another anecdote towards the end of our interview in regard to the ego:
‘I’ve spoken with Robyn about it. I’m not trying to being simplistic, but I think there is something nice about working in a kind of egoless way in music because it makes space for a more emotional space. What was interesting was that she corrected me saying that you can’t make music without an ego, but it’s about the amount of ego that you bring to what you do and also the way that you use that energy.
For example, you need something that will push you to go out onstage and perform for 20,000 people who are all there to see you. You have to use it to push yourself through that absurdity of that situation. If you try to be completely egoless, you would end up doing a very… bland yoga session? In the end, you have to bring some sort of pride and investment in yourself to the performance that you give.’
Something Like A War is out now via Female Energy Records.