Illustration by Fabio Vermelho
Adam Gnade is an author and musician who lives on a farm in rural Kansas. Apart from being just his home, the farm acts as the headquarters of Pioneers Press, a small press distro that focuses on survival and sustainability on the farm and in the city. He has released a series of works, often with connected themes and characters, dealing with the realities of contemporary American life. Zines such as The Do-It-Yourself Guide To Fighing The Big Motherfucking Sad, Notes on Travelling in America and Simple Steps To A Life Less Shitty are just a few of the titles which have secured him as one of our favourite contemporary writers, not to mention the novels, novellas and talking songs that are also in his repetoire. In May, he released his novella Locust House which  is available through Pioneers Press here. If you haven’t read any of his writing, this interveiw, both thoughtful and beautifully answered, will convince you to do so.

1. Do you actively do anything to keep your brain healthy, and if so what?

Yeah, definitely. I believe in the “strenuous life” that Teddy Roosevelt talked about—pushing your body to the breaking point in order to keep your mind healthy. (Not everyone is lucky or privileged enough to be able to do that, so if you are you should take advantage and do it.) Living here on the farm helps because you can work as back-breakingly hard as you’d like. I swim a lot too. Lakes, pools, oceans, rivers, whatever it is, I’m down. Exploring the desert, climbing into caves, going into the woods. I want adventure above all.

2. What or who mentally stimulates your growth the most?

The desire to write something people will be reading 50 years from now keeps me going. I haven’t done anything near that good yet but I’m trying every day. That path toward that keeps me happy.

3. If you could add or take away anything from your brain what would it be?

I wouldn’t. Like any ecosystem, you take away one thing and who knows what else will fall apart.

Frontal Lobe

4. Are you more emotion or reason based when making decisions?

My emotions call the shots—and sometimes those shots hit me in the foot. But of course there’s a balance there and sometimes they pay off immensely. I wouldn’t change in that regard.

5. In what situations have you learned the most about yourself?

Any time I fail. Any time I win. Whenever I’m scared in a situation.

6. Do you think you have to learn good judgement? (Are people inherently self destructive?

To a certain degree, yeah, but mostly you’re working with the tools you were born with. As far as self-destructiveness, we’ve all got that in us. I know I do. I try my best to push it back.

7. Do you have any daily or annual rituals? Are they personal to you or your family or are they related to your culture or religion?

No real rituals in my life. I feel like the only thing I count on as a regular thing is chaos. Which is not to say all chaos is bad.

8. Can you speak any other languages, and if so why that language?

Spanish. We were in Mexico a lot when I was a boy and my mom is fluent.

9. If you could live inside of a book, which one would it be?

A Moveable Feast. Anyone who’s been to Paris for more than a minute will tell you that world is long gone but goddamn I like it and want it.

10. Are there particular books you find yourself buying for or lending to people close to you?

Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 but so far no one’s finished it. That’s one reason my new book, Locust House, is so short. I’m realizing people don’t want epics. I think we’re in the era of the slim novel. Which is cool too. I love short books. I love novellas. Rios de la Luz’s book on the Ladybox label. Steinbeck’s novellas are always good. There’s something beautiful about a clean, short work of art that contains a whole world in it.

11. Is it more important for you to speak or to be heard?

I want to be heard. Where I live I’m very socially isolated. The creative bubble can go get fucked. Connecting with people makes life sweeter. In general, those are the best moments.

12. Do you think a time exists that is easiest to create? For instance, do you strike the muse or does the muse strike you?

I used to wait for inspiration but I never got anything done. Now I push until I find it.

13. Do you have an emotional state that you find it easier to create in?

When my life isn’t falling apart. When rent has been paid and no one is on my back and I can take a deep breath. That’s when it’s best. Still, I don’t wait for that. It’s ideal but I don’t have the privilege of waiting around. In general, I’m very excited to sit down and get to work and that negates the whole headspace thing.

14. Are there certain elements that you employ to set up the perfect mental space for creating? For example: Music/Food/Smells/Locations

It’s a pretty idea but working toward that perfect space just slows me down. I’m of the belief that you should be able to write in pizza shops, barns, cars, bars, tents, living rooms, shacks, you name it.

15. Do you think you have to have an elevated ego to be an artist?

Yeah, and you have to be delusional but not too much. Fine line, there.

Parietal Lobe

16. What smells do you most associate with your childhood?

Bath soaps, bar soaps, shampoo, conditioner, and the sea. I spent a lot of time in bathtubs as a kid. Also, leather and smoked meat from my family’s cattle ranch in Colorado.

17. If you could only live on five ingredients for the rest of the life, what would they be?

Avocado and lime, because I’m California-born and it’s in our blood. Pinto beans for refried beans. Corn for making corn tortillas. At some points in my life, but not right now, whiskey. All these things are life-savers.

18. Do you have spiritual needs and if so how do you nourish them?

I need to be around the people I love as often as I can and I need adventure. Beyond that, I have to re-read my favorite authors and I have to listen to my favorite bands or I start to forget who I am. I’m always reminding myself of the latter because when I forget I start to slip.

19. Do you have a place you go to, either physically or mentally, where you feel the most at peace?

I’d like to have a big, dark, wood-paneled writing room with a fireplace and all my things in order but my life is too chaotic for that at this point. I’m okay not having that right now. Some day is fine.

20. Do you think that people need some form of discomfort to make art?

I’ve had enough discomfort. When I’m doing poorly my work suffers.

21. Are you more motivated by the promise of reward or the threat of punishment?

When I was younger I wanted to be a pop-star but now what I want is for all my dreams to come true. I push for that every day.

22. How much does your conscience/morals come into play when making decisions?

I try to make good decisions based on my conscience but I’m human and I fuck up all the time just like everybody else.

23. Do you ever experience your emotions in physical ways? If so, how?

Anger. I get so physically hot it feels like my flesh is cooking under my skin.

24. What is your least favourite physical sensation?

Being hit in the face. It’s never like it is in the movies. I have no desire to ever be in a fight again. What a stupid thing to do.

25. What is your favourite physical sensation?

I’m sure everybody says sex, right? That or they’re lying or doing it wrong or with the wrong people.

Temporal Lobe

26. Do you think a person has to understand art in order to be able to appreciate it?

I’m into art I can understand better but I’m okay with some mystery. I’m down to work to get things—like reading Faulkner or Virginia Woolf or James Joyce.

27. Do you connect more to the lyrics or music in songs (assuming a song has both!)?

Lyrics, but I listen to a lot of instrumental music like kraut-rock, The Album Leaf, Blanck Mass, and Martin Rev because most of the time I want to be alone with my thoughts in order to write. But lyrics are my thing—Phosphorescent kills me, Leonard Cohen’s “So Long Marianne,” anything my friend Andrew Mears writes, Shane MacGowan is good, Townes, I like the band X a lot, Springsteen. I also listen to a lot of heavier shit that’s so good it feels like an insult to call it “hardcore.” My Three One G labelmates, for instance. Bands like Head Wound City and Jenny Piccolo.

The authors I like all kind of make sense in the realm of what I write about and how I write but musically the stuff I love is all over the board. I grew up listening to country music and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll but after that it was gothy stuff, glamrock, doo wop, noise, hip-hop, I love Japanese Enka music like Yukio Hashi, I love Lou Reed, Bowie, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Chantels, Chavela Vargas, A Tribe Called Quest, tons of ‘50s pop, ‘60s Girl Group stuff, Chad Valley, Count Ossie, The Harder They Come soundtrack, Elizabeth Cotton, Foals, Public Enemy, The Silhouettes, Brownbird Rudy Relic, Chuck Berry, The Drifters, Vicente Fernandez has a big piece of my heart, Devo, Shark Shark, Jason Isbell, The Crystals, The Locust, Youthmovies, The Shirelles, Retox, Waylon and Willie, Charlie Cunningham, Hudson Scott, Ohioan, The Five Satins, The Dixie Cups, Sturgill, Bach, Mountain Man, Suicide, Marty Robbins, The New York Dolls, Holy Molar, Richard Hell, All Leather, The Cure, Swing Kids, Johnny Thunders, The Shangri-Las, ragtime, The Cleftones, Planet B, Hank Sr. forever, Hank Jr. even though I hate his politics and pretty much everything about him, Rosie and the Originals, Ritchie Valens, Crimson Curse, Little Richard, Savages, Son House, Del Shannon, Harry Bertoia, Television, Tristeza, the Velvets, so much, and so many I’m leaving out. I love music in all forms. Though I should say the thing that really influences my own “talking records” is old country music, even though the songs sound nothing like it.

28. What is your earliest memory?

I think I was three. Sitting on the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea and the sunset in Mexico holding a goat skull covered in ants.

29. If you got alzheimers or dementia what memory or memories would you be saddest to lose – or – which ones would cause the biggest loss of your personal identity?

My memories of the personalities of the people I love.

30. Do you expect happiness in your life?

I don’t, but I want it, and look for it all the time.

31. Do you feel like falling in love is a spiritual or chemical process?

Both, definitely. Probably more than that. Falling in love is maybe the best thing you can do with someone. You glow; it’s exhilarating. You’re confident and you become magnetic. People see it in you and they treat you differently. The moments where you fell in love are what you will remember as the best times of your life.

32. What flaws do you think you have when it comes to communicating with other people?

Arrogance and anxiety. The dynamic duo. I’m really good at those two. Trying to change that.

33. How do you deal with situations or individuals that fail to stimulate you creatively or emotionally? Do you  avoid this situations/have a set of tools in which to navigate them?

I’m cool with people who don’t stimulate me creatively but I don’t have time for anyone who doesn’t stimulate me emotionally. I don’t engage. I’m polite but I don’t engage.

34. What do you think your ex partners would say the hardest thing about loving you was?

I’m distracted a lot. I live in the storyline of my books and “talking records” a lot of the time and it makes for problems.

35. What are your biggest fears?

The death of certain people I love. That’s all I’m afraid of.

Occipital Lobe

36. Do you have any recurring dreams or nightmares? If so, what do you think they mean?

I dream about sex a lot and being lost in train stations but I try not to analyze it. I’ve found you can analyze dreams any way you’d like in order to tell yourself what you want to hear.

37. If you have ever taken psychedelic drugs, did you have any interesting hallucinations on them? Do you feel changed from having taken them?

Drugs are corrosive in the name of getting anything good done. Problem is a lot of artists fall into that trap and lose everything. It’s an awful myth we need to get beyond.

38. Do you find your mood affected by different colour palettes?

Anything made of clear red glass will hypnotize me. I think that’s because I was in a lot of jewelry shops with my dad when I was a boy and was dazzled early on by rubies. I can stare into red glass and clear my thoughts which is something I’ve only been able to do with lots of whiskey in the past. That dark glow gets me. The farmhouse windows are full of red glass things and, when the light is good, some of them cast beams and streaks of red glow on the hardwoods and the ceiling. It’s a good thing to see.

39. If you could live in a world where the aesthetic was controlled by a particular visual artist or film director, who would you choose?

Maybe American Graffiti. For the music. Any good cowboy movie too—one where the Indians aren’t the bad guys.

40. What’s the most unbelievable thing you’ve ever seen?

Horrible scenes of roadside death in Mexico. Things you can’t unsee. Also, a Great White Shark in the walk-in freezer of my family’s seafood restaurant when I was a kid. You can’t imagine how big those motherfuckers are until you see them face to face. Some of my dad’s divers ran into them while getting abalone off the Farallon Islands. They would tell you the same thing.

41. Have you ever seen something which you feel has directly resulted in certain elements of your personality today?

Being around my grandfather when I was old enough to look at him and realize how he was a true Old West hero. And more so, one who was able to be strong and sensitive at the same time—a cowboy free of the toxic masculinity that ruins so many good things in our world. My grandmother sent me photos of him recently. Photos from the ‘80s, and we dress alike. Same haircut, cowboy boots, same kind of jeans, denim jacket. I was very proud. That’s the sort of man I want to be.

42. Would you rather lose your sight or your hearing?

Not being able to see the smiles of the people you love would be very hard.

43. Do you feel like you surround yourself with the people who see you for who you really are?

Oh god, I don’t know. I hope so. With the kinds of books and records I put out, I’ve lead a pretty public life for a while now. Most of my deepest, darkest secrets can be found in my work. Sometimes fiction is the truest, most revealing thing. Fiction will show you everything—your fears, your ugliness, your glories and your failures and all things in between.

 To purchase Adam’s recently published title Locust House, to buy his other zines, books, and albums, click here.

You can also follow his blog here.

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