Sally Rodgers and Steve Jones

A Man Called Adam’s Sally Rodgers and Steve Jones take on this month’s round of quick-fire questions

Hello Sally, where are you right now and what can you see?

“I’m at my kitchen table looking out the window – my favourite spot. The bird feeders are a few feet away and they kind of zen me when I’m working.”

What brought you home to Teesside?

“I bought a house here just before we released our last album ‘Farmarama’ in 2019. My mum’s getting older and all roads were leading home.”

Tell me a little bit about your upbringing

“My mum and dad ran working men’s clubs when I was growing up. It’s not normal to live in a house attached to a venue that’s open 10 hours a day, but it was a lot of fun. I couldn’t understand what was funny about ‘Phoenix Nights’ when it first came out, it all just seemed normal to me.”

Why is being home resonating so much with you now?

“I honestly don’t know. I was always on the move, but the pandemic stopped us in our tracks and I enjoyed the peace of it. I have the raging North Sea to ground me now. I can hear it from my bedroom at night.”

It’s a very different-sounding AMCA on this record. What’s changed?

“We’ve never made an album with a sense of place before. We did a mix and blog post about Teesside for Caught By The River during lockdown, and it was a blend of Northern indie, field recordings, electronica, dance and ambient. Although it was other people’s music, we saw it as a kind of template when we started writing.”

Robin Dale, who worked in and around Teesside in the 1970s, did the publicity photos. What’s the appeal of his work?

“When I was little, we lived in Grangetown in the shadow of British Steel, ICI and all the heavy industry. I used to play on the slag heaps and one of Robin’s pictures – a kid with a milk bottle looking over the industrial scrubland – felt like it could have been me. The girls on the ‘Starlings’ sleeve reminded me of my sister and her friends.”

On tracks like ‘Hidden Dragon’ you can hear the industry – like in Detroit techno

“Teesside is quite like Detroit – ha! Heavily industrial, quite deprived and a bit forgotten by the outside world. But from those circumstances amazing things like techno happened so…”

You’ve been making field recordings of the North East’s vanishing industrial heritage?

“Yeah, it’s been pretty incredible watching the old steel works come down. We used the footage for the ‘Girl With A Hole In Her Heart’ video and some of the audio is in the album mix.”

To me, this all adds up to a proper, fully formed artist album

“We’re an odd band really. We’re very much rooted in dance music and faithful to it, but we’re not afraid to push ourselves and let the world hear what we make, even if it doesn’t conform to any particular genre. In that way it is an artist album and maybe our most confident. It’s nice to hear you say that though, thank you.”

When we talk about AMCA, Steve doesn’t get a look-in. Does he mind?

“He has quite a serious academic career. We each do what we need to and are happy with our roles.”

I’ve got a few questions for him, for once.

Hello Steve, where are you right now and what can you see?

“In my flat, looking at pots of vegetable plants I’m hardening up to go on the AMCA allotment.”

Do you mind Sally hogging the limelight?

“Do you think she does? We know each other’s strengths and Sally is the natural communicator.”

What’s the appeal of Teesside for you?

“I used to live in Paris, but it got harder to live there – I don’t need to tell you why. I moved to Teesside last year to begin teaching, but I’ve known the area for years because of Sally’s connections. I’ve always loved the landscape – the sea, the industry – and people here are funny and unpretentious.”

Why so much piano on the new record?

“I started playing again during lockdown, first as a form of self-care, then as the ideas came I began recording stuff on a Zoom recorder. Very lo-fi.”

The deep house revival starts here, eh?

“Is it a revival? Did it ever go away?”

‘Stochastic’ sounds like a modular jam – are you coming over to the dark side?

“Yes, it’s a modular jam using a VCV Rack. I know we’re associated with Ibiza sunsets, but there’s always been a dirty electronic side to us.”

The title track comes on like The Human League. Were they a big influence on you?

Steve: “‘The Sound Of The Crowd’ was one of the first singles I bought, and I always loved the claim on the cover that no real instruments were used.”

Sally: “That Northern dance sound – The Human League, Heaven 17, Blancmange – was definitely an influence. We’re a duo with a synth player and a front person – what ya gonna do!”

Finally, did the girl next door really have a hole in her heart?

Sally: “Actually she lived down the road, I can even remember her name. There was also a lady in the street who had her gallstones in a jar on the mantelpiece. I remember finding both ideas fascinating. I don’t want to upset anyone who has that serious heart condition by seeming glib about it, but for me it was an evocative image from my childhood and a handy, if opaque, metaphor.”

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