As I enter the RAMONES MUSEUM, ADAM RUBENSTEIN drinks a tea and skypes probably with his family back home in New York. He politely interrupts his call and holds the camera in front of me to introduce me. I grab a beer and as we sit down in the cozy old armchairs on stage at the centre of the Museum, because there is nowhere else to sit, he already talks about touring, while I have not even pressed the recording button.
For the beginning I have an obvious question: Do you have any connection to the RAMONES?
Yea, kind of, I was just talking about this. I guess the one connection I have to the Ramones is: Chamberlain played at big theatre in Chicago, probably in 2000 or something at the end of the band. We actually opened for MARKY RAMONE solo and MOTÖRHEAD, but it was like a festival, so we were the last band before MARKY RAMONE and they kicked us out. They told us: you cannot stay. You cannot stay for the show because it is super secret. The festival was in two pieces, so I did not get to see Marky. I was in the same building as him, so that is about the only connection I have to the Ramones. But I played in the CBGB a lot.
So you did not listen to them while you grew up, they had no influence on you?
I would not say they had no influence. I got introduced to them very late. I think the first Ramones song I probably heard was, it is kind of embarrassing, but it was Pat Semetary, because I liked the movie and then I liked the song too. And another thing too, I found this black wig at a flea market place in New York that kind of looked like the hair of Joey Ramone. So for Halloween two years in a row I dressed up as Joey Ramone.
Well that is a good connection.
Yes, I can send you a picture if you want. (The author did not forget about this and we will ask for the picture).
I guess the owner of the RAMONES MUSEUM probably has a huge interest in it too.
Yea, it was not a great costume. I was wearing Joey sunglasses and black hair, got a Ramones shirt and stuff.
Did they recognize you?
Yes, everyone realized it, but it was in New York.
You see bands always in the different light 20 years later. So, if there would be a CHAMBERLAIN museum, what would be the message?
(rolls his eyes and falls deep into this armchair). Oh my god. What would be the message?
Yes, just imagine some music nerd collected all your stuff right from the beginning of your band.
There is a few of them. I don’t know. “I ruined your life” (laughs). I do not know. If I speak honestly about Chamberlain, the thing I am most proud of, if there really is a museum, we put out “The Moon My Saddle”, which was the last real record we put out, at least the last official record we put out. I would not say we were the first band to do it, but we kind of played a Punk/Emo/Hardcore branded music and we decided one day, you know, David got into Bob Dylan, we started listening to Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen and I am from Indiana, so we really started discovering Americana. I think we were one of the first bands that go from the Punkrock scene to Americana, so I do not say we were the first, but we were definitely one of the first. When we started to play shows with “The Moon My Saddle” the people hated it. People absolutely fucking hated it. They we’re yelling all kind of ridiculous things and they were totally unfair, cause we were just doing the music that we loved. We had a little bit like a Punkrock attitude to it, it was not like just roots rock. I am totally sidetracked from the question.
I think you answered it pretty well, at least you could fill a museum with it.
Yes, maybe from Punkrock to Americana that is what the museum would be like. Being a child that loves aggressive music and growing up and learning that there is a lot of other music out there, but I do not think that is a thing that made CHAMBERLAIN unique. A friend of mine recently said, Chamberlain’s My Saddle might sound like a COUNTING CROWS record or something, except there is someone back there playing Punkrock drums, someone is back there playing bass lines that do not make any sense and then there is well thought out Americana, I think that is what makes CHAMBERLAIN unique. But now there are so many bands who do it, everyone from Chuck Ragan to the Gaslight Anthem to Frank Turner. We were one of the first bands to go from Punkrock to Americana and people appreciate the My Moon My Saddle now more than ever before. We were on tour with the Gaslight Anthem in 2010 and before we went on tour, I thought, oh we need these old songs, the songs from the first SPLIT LIP album, we need to learn songs from “Fate’s got a driver”, but midway through the tour I realized they wanted to hear My Moon My Saddle, all the songs we thought they would hate, we realized everyone loved them. There are bands that quote Chamberlain or cite Chamberlain as an influence, it is really flattering. After all these years people say the album stayed in power and the band stayed in power, it is amazing that they still give a shit.
When you see the response – do you consider playing CHAMBERLAIN shows again?
You know bands break and some do a reunion then they are lumped in that movement.
Especially bands of your active years like the Get up Kids?
Yes, we played shows with them, but part of me has a complex with being another reunion band, but we also live all over the place now, one lives in LA, two live in Indiana, two live in New York, so everyone has families. We talk about it sometimes, last time we played in 2011 at a festival called Krazy Fest in Louisville. And to be honest when we played that show it was a lot of fun, but it kind of felt that the magic had died. It kind of felt like enough is enough. To be honest with you, a couple of the band, they do not want to, they just feel like the magic is gone. But never say never. We still talk, we are still friends.
I think I had to ask that question.
If you ask me, I would like to see it happen. I know from tours that there are CHAMBERLAIN fans and from people that come to my shows. I would like to see it happen, but I am one out of five guys, that is the problem.
You do not have a problem with always being introduced as the guitar player of CHAMBERLAIN?
No, I do not think anyone would give a shit otherwise. I am ok with that, because I wrote every single CHAMBERLAIN song along with David. So I am not just a guy in a band, these songs are really close to me. I play some of them solo, I am not David but I do kind of my own version.
Is this tour more kind of work/promotion or fulfillment for you?
It is more like fulfillment. I did not come here to make any money. I came here because I am very lucky, after all these years that I got that label, Arctic Rodeo, that wanted to put it out, that was excited to put it out. They wanted me to come here, to promote it. They asked me to come and I am a man of my word, so here I am. And it is fun. Some shows have been incredible, some shows have been terrible. In the end, in my social networks, I see numbers climbing, people corresponding to me. We sold records at every single show, so it is very fulfilling to me. I put out these songs, not too artistically, but it is kind of what I have to do. I write songs. I find it sad when they sit on your computer, sit on your hard drive. To feel complete I have to get music out of my body. I am happy for the opportunity to do it. I do not take it for granted. I tell that story on stage a lot, but I live in New York and when I walk down the subway you see singer/songwriter and most of them are better than I am. And then I have the opportunity to meet people that care. I think about that guy in the subway who wishes he has my opportunity, when I have to complain about something, a shitty place to stay or not enough people showing up. So I have to think about that guy a lot.
You said you are the first time in Berlin? I think so far you visited some cities in Germany. How is it?
I try to remember where CHAMBERLAIN was, I think we were in Hamburg, but I think we have never been to Berlin.
I played a show in Neunkirchen and in Wien and I got an encore in these cities. So people actually liked it, they are not just here being polite. We are getting to the big cities now, so hopefully it is getting better and better.
Your new album is called EXCAVATOR, like the construction vehicle. I think you are referring to discover old songs and stuff. What else did you excavate with making the record?
The songs are all new, so no one has ever heard them. But some of the songs are really hard to relate to. One song I play every night is about a girl I dated three girl-friends ago. I love the song. I wrote the songs back then and I excavate some feelings for sure. But I had so many songs. I really picked the best ones. It was nice to pick the best ones, the ones that you think had really stayed in power to make a cohesive album. There is the song “When the Angels come” I wrote on the piano a few years ago, it is not a political song, but I remember I was kind of frustrated with the Bush administration and it still relates to today’s political climate. It is funny to think that that was the inspiration for it. It excavates some angry feelings, some hurt feelings to happy feelings from the past.
Did you change the songs or did you found it and thought, oh that is great I just record it?
I changed something. I changed around some word for sure.
You wrote somewhere on tumblr or something that for you “the lyrics make no sense without the music”. When I listened to your music I did not really get the sense and the words became so much stronger with the music.
Yes, when I write songs, I usually sit down with the guitar and write the melody first and the idea. You just channel what you want to say with the guitar in your hands and then you write it down. I know a lot of people do it the other way, like David from CHAMBERLAIN. He hat notebooks and notebooks of lyrics and he was into Dylan Thomas and all these great writers. He always kept those lyrics around him and his lyrics looked good on paper. I am not the lyricist that David is. I am much more practical and he is much more poetic, but I am proud of my lyrics.
I do not say I do not like your lyrics. The effect on me was not that obvious.
You do not have to like them. But they go together. The people say propose them, so I have to publish them, also because of the language barrier. At the same time I am always a bit hesitant to release them at all, because it is a package deal.
But you don’t have digital download like on bandcamp?
No? But it is on itunes and Spotify in the US. But bandcamp is nice because you can have lossless files and ‘name your price’ and do everything you want. I am glad you brought that to my attention.
10 years have passed between you solo albums? Why?
I wrote an album under a different name, Adam Dove. It took me a while to get comfortable with myself, I was always the guitarist. I feel comfortable now.
Yeah, I think Rubenstein is a great name. There is also this polish piano player. Why that name, Dove?
I had an uncle under the name Dove who got killed in the holocaust. I grew up Jewish and most Jewish kids get an English and a Hebrew name. So my Hebrew name is Adam Dove. I did not have to make up any name.
Does music play any role in your family?
No. My grandfather played violin, but never had an output. My other grandfather was a painter, my aunt is an artist. However my mother’s cousin was a member of the Bar-Kays, a 60ies Soul Band, early R’n’B band and he was killed in the plane with Otis Redding. If you google “Otis Redding and the Bar-Kays”, there is one white guy on the picture and that is my cousin. His name was Ronnie Caldwell. I never met him, but that is the famous musician in my family that I never got to meet. I wish he would be alive, it would be awesome. He played organ. So there is something there.
I saw the interview with ROB MOIR in Munich. You said really quiet that you are doing jingles for adverts?
I worked for a company and did music supervision, writing and producing. I also did some cool things too. I used to make the music for a documentary called “Medora”, which is about a struggling high school basketball team in Indiana. I love to do music for sport films, but yes.
Any famous jingles we might have heard? We can look up?
I produced a lot, not just like jingles, also underscores, things for corporate uses. I placed music, finding ideas for TV shows and whatever whether I wrote the music or not. I have done everything, I am kind of a studio guy too. There in one jingle I have done recently, it is for an American reality show on a network called A&A. You could probably figure it out. I don’t think the show is doing really well. What I would really like to do is more film. I am about to get my second film. I am excited about that.
Any plans for the future musically?
Yes, I want to come back with my band. I always played with them. We just did a tour in the Midwest and it was so much fun. It is a lonely existence here in Europe. I miss that comradely sound checking, having dinner together, fart jokes in the van. That is what I am used to, especially in my time this CHAMBERLAIN that was such a brotherhood. I did not anticipate how lonely I would be with myself. You don’t know if you are good or not. If you play with other musicians on stage you talk to each other about it. So, I don’t know if I am good or bad. You can tell me. I fucked up my voice.
I will (in fact I did not). As a finish: you seem to have so many influences on your music, you combine a lot. What are the artists you recently discovered?
Recently discovered? Oh that is tough to say, there are many artists I really love. I really love the new SUN KILL MOON record. I really love the new Elvis Costello record, he is a huge influence. But I have a Punk background, I will always love FUGAZI and you probably have heard of the band METZ.
But FUGAZI is more of an all-time favorite band?
Absolutely, I got to see them many times and they were always amazing. But a lot of those Dischord bands too. I was fortune enough to play shows with HOVER and LINCOLN. I did to see JAWBOX back in the day. All of these bands were a massive influence in terms of artistry and creativity: the noise, the feedback and their ability to combine that with great melodies.
The interview ends here. Adams did not eat anything for the whole day while the food got cold while we did the interview. He still has a headache from drinking scotch with his label boss from Arctic Rodeo last night in Hamburg. It is 7pm and the sound guy arrives. Later an old class mate of Adam shows up for the gig and a musician from New York as well.