An Interview With Ada
Ada marks the first substantial breakthrough of the long-adored Areal Records. The Cologne-based label has been releasing 12” slices of minimalistic melodic thump since 2001, with the occasional mix CD thrown in. Most of the roster is happy just making some of the best techno available today, but not Ada. She’s the chanteuse of Chez Areal, her vocals adding sex appeal and spice to a crowd content to let its computers pull the weight. The title of her first full-length Blondie speaks volumes; Ada is more than a divider at the local record store, or a file to be downloaded. She just might be techno’s first pop star. Not coincidentally, Ada and Kompakt’s resident lover boy Superpitcher teamed up for a cross-country jaunt in the United States. Trent Wolbe of WNYU and www.bentwave.org caught up with Ada during her stop in New York and interviewed her for Dusted.
Trent: OK, so first off tell me who you are and what you do.
Ada: My name is Ada. I'm not a DJ. I just play my own stuff live, like tonight.
Trent: What are you doing in the States in the next couple of days?
Ada: I'm here with Superpitcher from Kompakt. We chose to do a little tour here together because he's spinning and I make the live act. But our style of music fits together really good I think and i really like his music. Our music, in some parts it's similar maybe. That's why I think it's a good thing.
Trent: Did you know him before you started touring together?
Ada: Yes. I think he was the first musician I had heard of in Cologne and I liked it from the beginning. We got to know each other because of the music.
Trent: How did you get involved with Areal?
Ada: Michael, one of the guys who runs the label, I had a project with him a few years ago together with another guy. I was singing and the other guys were playing samplers and making synthesizer sounds. That was like four years ago and then he moved to Cologne and started Areal. During this time I was singing in a band.
Trent: Was it a rock band?
Ada: The first band I had was a rock band but after that I played in another band with synthesizers and samplers and also guitars and drums, but it was more synthesizer-based. That was also the first time that I got in touch with these kind of instruments. After three years we quit -- the bass player, he wanted to play in a rock band, and the guy who played the Rhodes, he wanted to play in a jazz band.
Trent: That's no good.
Ada: Yes. And they all moved to other cities. That’s why we parted. Then I decided to go to Cologne because I decided things would maybe work better for me there.
Trent: Where are you from originally?
Ada: Nearby Frankfurt, but in a very, very small town.
Trent: You only started playing techno 4 years ago, right?
Ada: Not even 4 years. I think my first record on Areal was in 2002.
Trent: Was that the compilation, Bis Neunzehn?
Ada: No, it was my first 12”, “Luckycharm / Blindhouse”.
Trent: But on that compilation you had three tracks....
Ada: Really? Oh my god!
Trent: You're the star of the CD! The past couple of months have been pretty good to you. How's that been, with more crowds and more shows, and the new album?
Ada: All in all, things developed more quickly than I would've expected, but I don't have the feeling that it was from one day to the next. What I can see is that people have become more interested in who I am, who's behind all this, and yeah, sometimes I'm a little bit scared of it all.
Trent: You told me earlier that you're not too much into singing at the club. Do you always sing when you're playing in a club context? Most dance music producers don't worry about that.
Ada: When you're in the club it's all very loud, and on most of my tracks the vocals are very very low and relaxed. If you sing in a big club where the music is very loud and maybe distorted, it's very hard to sing over it.
Trent: So why did you decide to sing over dance music like this in the first place?
Ada: I think it just happened. I didn't plan my album to have so many vocals. I just started to do a little bit at a time. For example "Eve," one of the early tracks I produced for my album, doesn't have many vocals on it. While I was producing it, it got to be more and more, and I got more into this and I think that's where it came from. It just came from itself. And then in the end I thought, ‘it fits together and I shouldn't think too much about it.’
Some people just talk about the vocal stuff. Vocals and techno are new, and there are so many other things. I don't like that they always talk about the vocals in techno and they don't see the other things behind it. I think it's not just about the vocals. It's all about the music. But the vocals be’ong to this. You can't part it. What I don't like in this is that people compare Superpitcher and me because of the vocals.
Trent: In the future, would you like to play with a vocal act, instead of playing at a club? Here, at the club, it's basically just a DJ setup. Would you prefer to play on a proper stage?
Ada: Yeah, just piano and vocals maybe. When I came in and we had problems with the transformers for the power supply, I was thinking, ‘OK, if this can't work, and there's a piano, I just need someone who can play it.’
Trent: Are you a trained pinaist?
Ada: I used to take lessons. But I didn't have a classical teacher, it was more like -- the German word is “Alleinunterhalter” -- someone who's got a synthesizer or a keyboard with some cheap, really cheap beats and sounds, like a Casio and sings to it. And he did it all by himself, with this one synthesizer and vocals. He was my teacher for a long time. For the stuff I'm doing now, it was not necessary to take classical lessons because it's not my kind of music.
Trent: Did you do that when you were very young?
Ada: It was when I was 9.
Trent: Do you think that you'll do different music, focusing more on your vocals? Like something not on Areal?
Ada: Well, I didn't think about the label yet but I would like to do something with my friend Caroline, who sings on my album. But yes, maybe more vocal stuff.
Trent: Who do you want to listen to your album? Do you want to be played here or in someone's bedrom?
Ada: I'd like both. When I heard the album for the first time, when I heard all the songs together, the first thing I had in mind was it's more for listening at home. But when I heard it the first time in the club... I thought, it was ok.
Trent: How did you work on Blondie" as a whole album, as opposed to just a track here or there, like you had been doing for a while with Areal?
Ada: In the beginning, before I was producing, I had some thoughts of making an album with many short tracks, like all three minutes long. And I think it's also because the Areal guys, when I gave them my first tracks they really pushed me to make them longer, like 8 minutes or something and I was like, ‘what? Eight minutes?’ That's much too long. Maybe that's why I thought, I wouldn’t do an album with 8-minute tracks. I was planning and thinking about everything, but in the end it just.... it worked. It came together. It's really hard to describe.
Trent: Do you think your album's different? Like you've said, you never djed before...how is that different from when Superpitcher goes to do an album? He's got a lot of dj experience to draw from? Do you think that your album, your music is different becauae you never djed before?
Ada: No I don't think so, I think it's because of my experiences with other bands. The first band I had was a rock band, and then Ii had a jazz band.
Trent: What did you play?
Ada: Jazz standards.
Trent: Did you sing?
Ada: Yeah. Like bossa jazz, like Astrud Gilberto, like “Girl form Ipanema.” Stuff like that.
Trent: Would you ever want to go back and play jazz standards?
Ada: No, I planned to do that when I was moving to Cologne, I tried to find a band like this. Then luckily this small sampler was left at my house by a friend and I tried to make music with it. That's how it all started. The next thing when I have time is to make some music with my friends, with Caroline. Maybe some remixes, that would be fun.
Trent: Who would you wanna remix?
Ada: I dunno. Many different kinds of musicians.
Trent: Like whom?
Ada: A: I'm very good at doing remixes with vocal stuff, to cut vocals, to change them, to put new effects on them, so I really like that work, with vocals.
Trent: What kind of stuff were you listening to when you were making the album?
Ada: A: I think I didn't listen to much other music at that time really. Before, I listened to electronic music. And now I'm more in the mood for very low guitar music without any beats when I'm at home. When I'm at the club on the weekend and I hear these beats all the time very loud, sometimes I get sick of it. But don't tell anyone.
Trent: What do you think about America? Have you been here before?
Ada: A: No. It's really hard because I just came back from a live act and I also did a show on TV in Milan. It was really strange because I didn't know that people there knew my music, and then they invited me for a TV show. Then one day after that I came here. It was like someone threw me off the plane and, OK! you're in America now. I was just looking around and I felt like.. ugh. small town girl in a big city. Maybe tomorrow I will have two more hours to see a few things but now I just know a few parts of Manhattan, no more.
Trent: Is the crowd here different? It's a different idea of dance music--all the stuff that's been popular in Berlin and Cologne is just coming here now.
Ada: I don't have that feeling. I heard from other people that this music is not very well-known here, but tonight I don’t have that feeling. People are really partying and into it. I was really into it.
Trent: You've been included on a ton of mix CDs, like the Erelend Oye’s DJ Kicks, and the Kompakt Friends discs. Do you think you'll ever put together your own mix disc?
Ada: As I told you, I'm not a dj. I think yeah, if you've go the right program you can also do it. I would love to do that but I would like to be really good and it would take me years to manage it so that I would be satisfied with. I think if I did this it would be very chaotic. It would be ten different styles of music all mixed together. I will take my time.
By Trent Wolbe