By Danger Coolidge
Unbelievably Bad Editor
Aussie video and music maker Adam Harding is living a California dream. The LA-based Geelongolian currently resides in LA where he dedicates time to Dumb Numbers, a heavy, sometimes poppy, often trippy rock project with an impressive list of collaborators – most of them household names in households with good taste.
The second Dumb Numbers album, II, is due out on August 18 via Joyful Noise Recordings and features Lou Barlow (Dinosaur Jr., Sebadoh), David Yow (The Jesus Lizard), Dale Crover (Melvins), Murph (Dinosaur Jr.), Bobb Bruno (Best Coast), Kevin Rutmanis (Cows, Melvins) and Alexander Hacke (Einstürzende Neubauten). Impressed yet? Thought so.
It also has some talented locals like Bonnie Mercer (Grey Daturas, Little Desert), Steve Patrick (Useless Children) and Geordie Stafford (Dick Nasty, Golden Bats). All of the contributors add a bit of their own spice, so as you would expect, it’s pretty frickin’ spicy.
UB speaks to Adam about making music with talented mates.
How did Dumb Numbers begin as a thing – was it something that evolved out of a similar idea to your “solo” stuff dating back to the Nothing An Arrow Wouldn’t Fix EP (2009)?
It’s totally a continuation of what I was doing under my own name. But it started to feel weird once I started playing shows with my friends Dane Certificate (of Dane Certificate’s Magic Tricks, Gags & Theatre) and Steve Patrick (Useless Children). I felt that what they brought to the songs was greater than or at least equal to what I was contributing personally. We opened a couple of shows for Sebadoh in Melbourne in 2011 and I really wished we had a band name for those shows instead of being billed as ‘Adam Harding + friends’. The name Dumb Numbers actually came from Lou [Barlow]’s daughter, Hannelore. I think she was maybe doing some maths homework. Lou suggested the name to me and it sounded sort of self-deprecating which seemed fitting. I also like that it’s kinda ambiguous and can mean different things to different people.
Lou Barlow was playing on your recordings back then and he’s still on board – what kind of relationship do you guys have as friends and also as collaborators?
I first responded to an offer in a fanzine for a Lou/Sentridoh cassette back in 1993 or 1994. I was a lonely acne covered teenage outcast from Geelong who had discovered the heart-felt bizzaro majesty of Sebadoh’s Bubble & Scrape thanks to community radio, and wrote a dorky fan letter and mailed it off to Lou’s address in Boston. Six-eight weeks later I received a package with no cassette, but rather a dozen super-rare 7″ releases by Lou along with a handwritten letter. That changed my life and started a correspondence that later developed into a friendship when I moved to LA a decade later. Lou and I started recording together in 2004 or 2005 and it was such a crazy dream to be working with somebody who was such a huge influence and had inspired me to start writing songs in the first place. The first thing we worked on was some music for a director’s cut of John Water’s Cry-Baby. There was some music that had been used in a deleted scene which nobody could remember or identify, so we worked on some music to replace it. By the time we submitted our recording, the original source music for the scene had been identified and was later cleared for use. I guess John liked our music but there was no reason to use it at that point. Around that time Lou was working on his first “solo” album under his own name (EMOH), and I suggested he re-record a song he’d released on a compilation a couple of years prior. I loved the song (“Morning’s After Me”) so much and I thought it was a shame if more people didn’t get to hear it. Lou asked me to help him sing and play on that song and it turned out really good. I love singing and harmonising with Lou. We’ve recorded a bunch of other songs over the years and always have a great time. I’ve also played drums on a few of Lou’s songs, even though I’m a super shitty drummer. Lou and I happened to be scheduled to be in Melbourne at the same time when he was down there for the first Dinosaur Jr reunion tour in 2006. I’d written some songs that I wanted to record at Birdland Studios with a couple of old friends from Geelong, Claire Birchall and Daniel Herring, who I’d worked on 4-track recordings with in the nineties. Daniel suggested his old Magic Dirt bandmate Adam Robertson to play drums, and Lou joined us on bass. Those recordings ended up being released as the Nothing An Arrow Wouldn’t Fix 10″ in 2009. In 2009 I was living with Lou and his family in Los Angeles and we made a bunch of music videos and a Making Of documentary for his second “solo” album Goodnight Unknown. That started a video-making collaboration which still continues to this day. Even though Lou has since moved back to Massachusetts, we still find a way to work on videos together.
What is it about collaboration that suits you / Dumb Numbers?
I’ve never had a solid line-up or been in a real band, so collaboration is all I really know. In 1994 I acquired a Tascam Porta02 4-track and started recording songs in my bedroom. Some songs were solo and other songs were embellished by friends from Geelong (Claire Birchall and Matthew Nicholson), or turned into rock songs with Daniel Herring (who had blown my mind when I saw him play guitar in early Magic Dirt), and Mark Stacey (who played in Bored! and the Golden Lifestyle Band and was one of the best drummers I had ever seen). A few of those old songs have stayed with me over the years and ended up as Dumb Numbers songs.
How do you know a certain musician might be a good fit for Dumb Numbers – is there a criteria you are looking for – and how do you make your approach?
It mostly just happens from being friends with somebody and being able to imagine their particular sound on my songs. I met both Murph and Dale Crover through Lou and after knowing them for a few years I felt comfortable asking them to play with me. Same deal with David Yow. We’d become really good friends after making a video together, so after a few years it just felt natural to ask David to sing on some songs. Geordie Stafford (Dick Nasty, Golden Bats) also plays some guitar on the new album and although I’ve never met Geordie face-to-face, I consider him a good friend. We first became aware of each other when Tim Brennan paired us up for a split 7″ on Tym Records a couple of years ago. We’ve kept in touch ever since and I recently recorded some vocals for a new Golden Bats song.
Ever been rejected?
Only once. It wasn’t somebody I knew personally so I had asked a mutual friend to ask on my behalf. I was looking for some guest vocals on a song, but they had just came home after an exhausting tour and had an overwhelming amount of projects on their plate already so they passed. Not sure if they ever listened to the song, but I never asked again.
What is the basic process for writing and recording a Dumb Numbers track, especially those with multiple collaborators?
Most songs start with lyrics that hang around for while and within the lyrics a melody is implied. Some songs come together quickly and some develop over many many years. I pretty much always record drums and guitar live, so I figure out who would be the most appropriate drummer for the song and then go from there. I’ve been working with Murph and Dale this way for a few years now. Bonnie Mercer (Grey Daturas, Little Desert), and Steve Patrick have also been regular contributors and have recorded their parts in both Los Angeles and Melbourne. My buddy Bobb Bruno from Best Coast records his parts at home in LA. Lou’s parts on the first album were recorded in our old practice space in LA, and his parts on the new album were recorded in Massachusetts. I’ve also been working with Kevin Rutmanis (Cows, Melvins, Hepa-titus) and we’ve recorded his bass parts live at Toshi Kasai’s studio with Dale on drums, and also recorded overdubs at Kevin’s house.
The new album, II, is out soon. What are some of the big changes, three years on from the debut?
It feels like a continuation of the first record, but recorded much better. The Dale songs on the first album were recorded by Toshi Kasai at the Melvins’ practice space and those sound good, but I had recorded all the Murph songs at a rehearsal space in LA that I shared with Lou, and although those songs definitely captured a moment, I knew I wanted the drums to sound more consistent on the second record. So I flew out to Massachusetts last year and recorded all the new Murph songs with Justin Pizzoferrato who had engineered all the Dinosaur reunion records, so I knew he was super familiar with Murph’s style and we could record really efficiently. I couldn’t be happier with how those songs turned out and would love to work with Justin again.
Have you got any plans to do more touring with Dumb Numbers – what line-up would you take out?
My favourite live line-up has been Bonnie Mercer on guitar, Steve Patrick on bass, and Murph on drums. I’d love to add my friend Aniela Perry on electric cello to that line-up, so if an offer comes along that would allow Bonnie and Steve to come over from Melbourne then we’d all be down for that. But there are currently no plans to tour, so David Yow and I are working on some music videos to service the new album instead.
Preview Dumb Numbers II: