“Last year I cleared out over a century of dust from my attic. There was no floor as such, just shards of slate and loose rubble and dust… lots of dust piled in between the floor joists and at the eaves. Some roofers came around and cut a rectangular hole in the side of the roof facing away from the street. They inserted a big skylight. Suddenly there was daylight in the attic, the first time since the 1870s, I imagine. I spent the next few months insulating and putting down a floor and wood paneling on the ceiling. I found a fragment of a ram’s horn, a length of tarred rope and a wooden handled awl that a carpenter must have put down, and duly lost, in candle light in the nineteenth century.
Having built a desk and painted the bricks white, I carried all my instruments up the folding stairs. It took a few trips, I can tell you. Now I have a music room. This is my favourite part of the house. This is where I write and record ideas onto an eight-track desk. I can lean out of the skylight and look over rooftops and towards the city and the Wicklow mountains beyond, with my headphones on. You can even smell the sea air from there, blowing in from the bay across North Strand. Sometimes I hear the magpies and crows scuttling across the roof slates as I’m crouched over my guitar. There is a feeling of utter privacy and secrecy. At night time, it’s totally silent. There in my elevated cloister is a single orange reading lamp lighting the space. It has two white switches in its base. One is for a night light that I never use. The carpet is multi-coloured and has a vintage 70’s feel to it. I found it in the special deals section of Des Kelly Carpets. Des doesn’t have much demand for multi-coloured 70’s style carpets, mainly just oatmeal.
Over the years I’ve accumulated instruments of varying sizes and origins. Here they’re all close at hand, either hanging from nails on the brick dividing walls, sitting in the middle of the floor or at the eaves. There’s a condenser microphone on a stand in the centre of the room, a set of headphones, old analogue keyboards, gourds, music boxes, glockenspiels, a guitar amp, a strange 17-string stringed instrument from Rajasthan, a borrowed Hurdy Gurdy, melodicas, guitars, bells, a Uklelin, paper with work in progress lyrics, harmonicas, a comfy foam seat that doubles up as a cover for the trap door and an acoustic partition, an old cassette tape recorder with built in microphone, a four track, a trumpet, an alto saxophone, a melodeon, an accordion and an assortment of violin bows. In one of the corners sit heavy cardboard boxes containing the 2″ master tapes of an album I recorded with Steve Albini in 2001. Over in the other corner is a box of gig posters and a row of vinyl records.
With the eight-track I layer various sounds and work out arrangements for songs. I tend to forget what I have written in the last sitting so I usually play back stuff through the wall mounted speakers or through the headphones, drinking coffee. If it wasn’t for that recorder I probably wouldn’t have such a large cache of new material this past couple of months. I might spend three or four hours there some mornings and or another three or four hours at night. There are of course exceptional days and since I tour quite a lot, there may be long spells where I don’t see the attic at all. I don’t really write on tour but usually have a notebook tucked into my jacket for when words pop into my head. Or if I can’t find my notebook I’ll use my phone, I have no problem singing as soon as I wake up. As long as I have the coffee on the brew. My voice is naturally growly anyway.
I have to feel totally isolated to work properly. It’s a totally solitary thing for me and the hours really fly. There’s a calendar I got from the Tate Modern in London where you can insert postcards and photographs. I have pictures on rotation and a few polaroids stuck to the timber post that holds together the bannister. The strange thing is I find the attic inspiring. It’s not like I always clamber up the stairs to try and capture an idea that has just come to me. I just go up there with an open mind and then things start to happen. There’s just something about that room. There’s a piano downstairs in the front room so I sometimes sit there and write and record ideas through the pinhead microphone on our (my wife and I’s) laptop. For ages I thought that little dot to the right of the screen was a manufacturing fault.
In the corner of the bedroom stands my most prized instrument- an upright harmonium. It’s too big to fit in the attic. It wheezes, splutters, creaks and groans and is totally beautiful. I found it in an Architectural Salvage shop in Charlemont Street nearly ten years ago. It nearly broke the guy’s heart to sell it to me.”
Adrian Crowley’s Long Distance Swimmer is out now on Tin Angel Records. He plays Crawdaddy (solo set with Tom Brosseau) on December 12th and his own headline gig at Whelan’s on December 16th. Further details about gigs or the album, go to Adrian’s myspace page.