Adam Green is standing under the fluorescent pink glow of the Veniero’s Pasticceria sign on East 11th Street. Lanky, shaggy-haired and clad in olive green corduroy pants, a red paisley 70’s Western shirt and a somewhat ironically ostentatious two-toned fur coat to fend off the icy December air, he could almost pass as another twenty-something traipsing about the East Village—yet I immediately recognize him as the anti-folk wunderkind. Most know Green as one half of the Moldy Peaches, the quirky indie duo that achieved sleeper mainstream success via the Grammy-winning soundtrack of Diablo Cody’s Juno (2007). Green met Kimya Dawson, the other half of the Moldy Peaches, in the 90s in Mount Kisco, NY, where they both grew up. “She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar,” he recalls. At seventeen, Green moved from Westchester to Manhattan and began following the path of the New York troubadour, playing his guitar and singing on the street and in subway stations. “For a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube,” he laughs. Green has come a long way since then—between releasing seven solo albums in just eight years, exhibiting his paintings and drawings both in the U.S. and abroad, and releasing his first feature film, which was shot entirely on his iPhone—the “screwball tragedy” The Wrong Ferrari, which he wrote, directed, produced, and acted in (along with Macaulay Culkin, Devendra Banhart, BP Fallon, Alia Shawkat and Sky Ferreira. In just a few weeks, Green’s duet album with Binki Shapiro (of Little Joy) will be released. The album, which Green describes as “a nighttime album,” is sweetly melancholic, a fluid indie-pop mélange of the two singers’ styles.
Green, who describes himself as “basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons,” is pensive, focused and effervescent. As he talks, sipping peppermint tea and twisting the various silver rings on his fingers, he radiates enthusiasm and passion. He possesses an endearingly neurotic, Woody Allen-esque demeanor and an offbeat, deadpan sense of humor. He shows me a photo on his iPhone of the engagement ring he designed for his fiancée, using one of his own cartoonish color-block paintings as inspiration. Later on, at his covetable Gramercy Park studio, strewn with oil pastels, tubes of paint, guitars, books, records, paintings and playful set pieces from The Wrong Ferrari, he shows me a framed drawing that Pete Doherty did of him, using, of course, his own blood as ink. What’s next for the charmingly unpredictable Adam Green? Anything is possible. “My next venture is to make my own [film] version of Aladdin,” he says. I’m going to play Aladdin… I already have the lamp.”
ANNABEL GRAHAM: My first question is about 3 Men and a Baby.
ADAM GREEN: 3MB. [laughs]
GRAHAM: 3MB. Can you tell me a bit about that, how it started, what your most recent projects have been?
GREEN: Yeah. It was an extension of The Wrong Ferrari. I made this movie, The Wrong Ferrari, and it’s an iPhone movie, and it stars Macaulay Culkin. And Toby Goodshank, who I used to play in The Moldy Peaches with, he was the cameraman on The Wrong Ferrari, and he helped me to build the sets of the movie. So I guess me and him and Mac were working pretty closely at that time, and I think as an extension of that, we began to treat his house as an art studio. At first it was because some of the sets of The Wrong Ferrari were in his house—for example, in the corner of the room—and they would become like an installation, kind of. I remember we were shooting a scene from The Wrong Ferrari around the time of Halloween a couple of years ago, so the set from that scene sort of became a part of a Halloween party. And I think that he liked that, he liked the idea of having art in his house, and installations… so it grew from there. Mac does a party at Le Poisson Rouge called “Macaulay Culkin’s iPod,” so he has a relationship with that club. So they asked him if he’d like to do an art show, hearing that he was doing paintings, and he said that he would, and that became the reason why we did that show. Because they asked him to. I think it’s kind of funny, I guess almost in a way… you know, people would do lots of stuff, but it’s just that no one ever asked them to.
GRAHAM: So you’ve been painting for a while.
GREEN: I was always really interested in art history. When I was young, I read art history books. Even when I only did music, I would still continue to read art history, and I was a frequenter of museums and exhibits. But for some reason I just hadn’t really had the confidence to make my own artwork. It was actually a weird situation where I got divorced, and I returned back to my old house and found a huge stack of paper, and so I started to paint on the paper, and I kind of made the house really messy, I think I wanted to… mess up the house, and make it my own again, or something… so I think that’s how I started doing artwork. I’d always sort of done drawings, I’d even had an exhibit of drawings at a Swedish gallery called Loyal, back in 2005. Also, I guess I could say when I was a kid I did comic books; I was interested in comic book art and cartoons.
GRAHAM: Your prints are reminiscent of comic book imagery.
GREEN: I was interested in it, but I started to take it more seriously, and I think definitely making a movie, which was largely… the sets were made out of papier mâché, and they were sort of my own visual aesthetic… I think that was my introduction to really doing visual art, and then I guess I really concentrated on it for a few years, probably the last three years, I did mostly visual art, except I did the duets album with Binki [Shapiro]. But besides that, I mostly painted. I made so many paintings… I had three art shows.
GRAHAM: Making music, making films, painting… do you feel that you get something different from each of those forms of expression?
GREEN: I like painting because I almost attribute it to having a social element… I like to just listen to music and hang out with friends and paint at the same time. I like that I can sort of zone out and do it. I think painting, for me, is in the category of something I’ve been doing the longest. I’ve probably been drawing pictures since I was five or something, so I feel really comfortable… it’s relaxing to me. But I guess I was looking for a way to connect all of those different things. I’m obviously always looking for a way to paint the way that my songs are, to sing how my paintings are… I want to all sound like part of the same universe, and I think The Wrong Ferrari was a good attempt to fuse those worlds. It’s written in a half-poetic style, almost like song lyrics, and the script is much in the same pool of writing that I’d write my songs out of. The difference is that songwriting for me is special, because it’s very soothing for me. It’s almost like a meditation, I can kind of walk around and… I just sort of, I guess maybe at my core I think of myself as a singing man, maybe like if there was a circus attraction, or something, I’d be the “singing man” in the tent. I guess I grew up wanting to be a folk singer, and now that I have so many different songs… this is my ninth album, so I guess I’m more of a folk singer now than I was when I was a kid, and I was just thinking of it more as just a style or something. I do think that my songs are kind of like cartoons. I also feel like maybe my artwork is a little bit like a preschool Tintoretto. [laughs]
GRAHAM: A preschool Tintoretto. That’s great.
GREEN: I guess ultimately you just look for fulfillment in any creative area. My next venture is to make a film, my own version of Aladdin. I’m going to play Aladdin. In doing that I think I can write the music and combine my music with the film.
GRAHAM: Would you shoot it yourself as well?
GREEN: I don’t know if I’d shoot it, but I want to direct it, I want to have it look like my paintings, to have my music in it… it’s a cool chance, to have the wishes and stuff. I already have the lamp, so…
GRAHAM: Oh, wow. Where’d you get it?
GREEN: Antique store.
GRAHAM: Have you tried rubbing it?
GREEN: I haven’t rubbed it in a while. [pause] So, the unifying theory of art, music, writing… I think I’m pretty close to being able to do it. Sometimes I think when I’m at my best is when I’m tracing exactly what’s in my head and just making it real. I feel like there’s a world inside of me and I’m just pushing it out through my skin. So I’m taking an inside world and pushing it into the outside. And that’s a good feeling.
GRAHAM: Where can we see The Wrong Ferrari?
GREEN: It was released in a weird way. I wanted it to come out with a bang, and I guess I wasn’t even really sure about the protocol of how to release a film, because my background is in music… and I thought it’d be cool to do it over the internet, and to release it as a free movie. Even though it’s really long, it’s 72 minutes, so it’s a feature-length film. I decided to have the premiere at Anthology Film Archives on 2nd and 2nd, and I decided to release it on the internet the following morning. So I got to have the premiere, and then they released it to the whole world at the same time. And that actually worked pretty well, I think the movie got 300,000 downloads in entirety, which is really cool. So actually a lot of people have that file of The Wrong Ferrari. At the time it was up on thewrongferrari.com, but I took it down because it was really expensive to host it, and now if you go to the film section of my website, there’s a link to download it. You can stream it. But anyway, as it was, the movie got… I don’t know how I feel about the way it was released. I went to Italy and did a screening of it, and I played it in Mexico City, and I played it in LA. But aside from that, I didn’t get to do as much traveling as I wanted to do to promote it. Because of the method that I chose to release it, it was ineligible for any film festivals. So basically, I released it, and a bunch of people downloaded it, and that’s what it is. My intention wasn’t to make it an internet movie at all. I didn’t want people to watch it on their computers, I want people to put it on their TVs and watch it in groups, or to watch it in a movie theater. I think it’s an unnerving and tense movie that I think is interesting to watch in groups. The plot is… we take Ketamine and turn into pets… and I think that’s well-suited for a midnight movie demographic. On a broader spectrum… I really thought that the whole point of the movie was that, you know… the movies we see in movie theaters, like romantic comedies, are so old-fashioned. I thought that all movies in the future would be things that people would make on their phones. I’m surprised that now we go and there’s a new 40-Year-Old-Virgin type movie in the theaters right now. I thought that was over… I don’t understand why the world always stays the same. Have you ever had a friend who was in a bad relationship, but they stay in it for like five years? That’s like our culture with movies.
GRAHAM: So you grew up in New York?
GREEN: I grew up in Mount Kisco, which is a small town about an hour away, in Westchester. It was nice. My parents lived in the city and they moved to Westchester to raise kids, which I think is really noble. I think it’s really good to grow up around trees, parks, fields, fresh air… I think that’s nice. I just got in an argument with this lady who was like “It’s perfectly great to raise kids in Manhattan.” I was like, “Yeah, you’re saying that ‘cause you have some nanny or something…” I think my parents made the right decision, they were pretty selfless in doing that. I think my parents were pretty good. I’ve got a high opinion of them.
GRAHAM: When did you move to Manhattan?
GREEN: Well, my parents moved back when my brother and I grew up. When I was about seventeen, they moved back here, and I just kind of started wandering around. I became a folk singer.
GRAHAM: Did you ever play in the subway?
GREEN: Definitely. I played in the subway, on the N R train, on the 8th Street stop, quite often. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with Turner Cody, who’s a really great singer. We would alternate. I also played on the street. I guess for a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube. For a little while I was kind of a cube kid. But then I also found my way to the Sidewalk Café, which is a folk club, and I started performing there. I think I was a decent subway singer, and I played mostly original material… I think that was cool. I don’t know why, when I get on the train, I don’t see as many people doing it. Maybe they’ve cracked down or something. I definitely think I wrote some pretty barbed lyrics to get the attention of people walking by. It was cool, because I met the local peers of mine in the subway… they were my first friends.
GRAHAM: Is that when you realized you wanted to make music a career?
GREEN: I really, really didn’t want to work at McDonald’s or something, and I didn’t have any training to do anything but fine arts, so I knew I had to do music or something like that… and I guess I got cracking really young, I was just everywhere. I was always on the street, and I always had a bunch of CDs and flyers, I was just on a mission. Maybe also because I think my parents didn’t really want me to be a singer, so that helped to motivate me. I feel like for years, my dad really couldn’t look me in the eye because he thought I was delusional.
GRAHAM: Doesn’t it feel good now to prove him wrong?
GREEN: Sometimes, and then sometimes I feel like they were right. [laughs]
GRAHAM: How did your first album come about?
GREEN: Well, I recorded a set of songs around the same time as The Moldy Peaches album came out. The Moldy Peaches is a collection of different home recordings that are mashed up together. I think the main difference between my first album and The Moldy Peaches is that it’s just songs that Kimya [Dawson] didn’t sing on. I think I’d probably offered or showed
GRAHAM: How did you and Kimya Dawson meet?
GREEN: She’s from Mount Kisco… from a neighboring town, Bedford Hills. She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar. I met her at a poetry reading at the art center in Mount Kisco. She’s a lot older than me, and I think at the time everyone thought we were really an odd couple. She was like 21 and I was like 14… She’d come over to my house, and my parents would think, like, “Who’s your older friend…?” But that seems to be in keeping with me. I’ve always been friends with whoever I thought to be friends with, and I never really cared if people thought they were the “right” friends that I should have.
GRAHAM: Can you tell me about your collaboration with Binki Shapiro? Your album’s going to be released next month, right?
GREEN: It was my idea to make a duets album with her, just because I thought she was really talented, and I really liked listening to her sing. I thought it’d be fun to try to write with her, and work with her, and we’d known each other as friends for a bunch of years. I’d toured with Little Joy in Brazil; I was a supporting act. Little Joy is really popular in Brazil. I think [Binki and I] had kind of bonded on that tour, and then a couple of years later the idea popped into my head… it wasn’t like there were a bunch of other people I wanted to work with, she was really my first choice. So I just went with it. I think I also wanted to write with somebody because I’d just done something like six or seven solo albums that followed The Moldy Peaches. That’s like a decade of having no one ever give their opinion about anything I did artistically. So it was pretty fun to work with her creatively, because I hadn’t let anyone in for a long time. GRAHAM: I read about it being a breakup album of sorts… can you elaborate?
GREEN: I definitely think it’s a nighttime album. I would encourage people to get the vinyl and listen to it like that. It’s far from a collection of pop singles, it’s much more of an album –album. It’s not very long, only about ten songs. I think in my head I can sort of piece together a narrative about a dysfunctional relationship inside of the track listing. The track listing was one thing that Binki and I really agreed on, so we must see some sort of picture of the album as a whole that we share. But I don’t know, we both were going through different kinds of weird relationship stuff during the writing of the album. I think when we both started writing, she just came over to my house… we drank a bottle of wine, we were writing a bit, we went out and got Chinese food… maybe it was our third writing session that we started to realize that we were in some really messed up relationships. We didn’t even really talk about it, but during the course of writing the record, we found that our relationships fell apart. So we were using each other as confidantes in the writing process, and it was great to be making these composite situations, sort of Frankenstein-ing together different things… also putting ourselves in the head space of each other, so that we could know or at least propose things for each other to sing, which was interesting, and I liked the result of it. We did a lot of articles and interviews on it, and really now we’re just waiting for it to come out. I just feel like… are the people that are reading the article ever going to hear the thing? So that’ll be cool, when it comes out. I feel like it’s a bit like Groundhog Day, it’s like every day of the year I wake up and think, “Oh, this album’s not out yet?” It’s been pushed back quite a bit. We recorded it without knowing what was going to happen, we just made it to make it. And then we both had to change management during the course of it, so it slowed everything down, which was kind of annoying. But I’m really proud of it, and excited for everyone to hear it. And honestly, people have been so kind about it. I think most of my things have a punk element to them that is distasteful to many… People brush off a lot of my stuff immediately, but people seem to be acting kinder about this album. Maybe they’re able to hear it because they think I’m not trying to be a punk about it. I guess my natural inclination’s always been to punish the world until they learn to love me for who I am.
GRAHAM: Do you think you’ll stay in New York forever?
GREEN: I’m certainly not tempted to spend any more time in LA if I can help it. When I was there, I found myself to be really isolated, because I don’t drive, so I was kind of at the mercy of anyone who had a car. I think I’ll probably stay here, but you know, you have fantasies, touring around… But this is how I know that they’re fantasies, essentially that whenever you tour anywhere vaguely vacation-y, like Italy or Spain or something, I think to myself, “Oh, it’d be so nice to live here,” but I probably need the hustle and bustle of New York to feel good. I spend almost every weekend at the Met, or somewhere, and it would be really disappointing for me to not have access to the things in New York that I like. It’s also the only place I know how to get around. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I’m actually starting to feel confident that I know how to get around everywhere in Manhattan.
GRAHAM: What inspires you?
GREEN: Probably the same things that inspire everybody… definitely love, sex, anything romantic… seeing visual art, anyone that’s interested in analysis, I love critical thinking. I hate when people are like, “Oh, you’re overthinking that,” that’s the worst thing you could say to me. I love when someone wants to go straight in, really deep on something. In art, I love when something’s so mind-blowing that you don’t even have to question how amazing it is. Something like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain.” I really, really like him. When you see something that is unquestionably so amazing. I think I’m basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons, I guess I’ve accepted that I’m sort of charmingly a man-child. I think I’m basically a naughty boy who’s grown into a man.
GRAHAM: Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians?
GREEN: I like visual artists like Georges Rouault and Erich Heckel. I like Jodorowsky a lot. I like that new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan. I’ve been listening to that a lot. I’ve been listening to George Jones, Nick Cave… I really like that album Let Love In, I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Shirley Collins, just because I think she has a really natural voice, I love that album Oar by Skip Spence. Eddie Martinez… and George Condo.
You can purchase limited edition artwork prints by Adam Green by going to Exhibition A. Adam Green and Binki Shapiro's album will be officially available on January 29, but you can preorder here. All photos and text by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre