Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Adam Usmani – mainman for the band Madam Tsumani – works a day job and has two kids, but perhaps because of that his songwriting touches some very real places beyond the cliches of pop-rock.
Influenced by the emotional directness of grunge (without the noise-power) and with nods towards the likes of Ben Harper and reggae, Madam Tsunami's debut album Man in the Middle also comes with production by Don McGlashan and was recorded at York Street.
The album is dedicated to his father, the late Arif Usmani who was a well-known Sufi in Auckland, a prime mover behind establishing the student radio station during his Auckland University days (Radio Bosom which morphed to Radio B then bFM) and founded the performance troupe the Aunties.
So Man in the Middle – with bassist Ross Larsen, drummer Jonathan Wilson and violinist Coralie Usmani – comes with a lot of background and depth. You can read more about Madam Tsunami – anagram fans will decode it – here.
Meantime though let's have singer-songwriter Adam Usmani's responses to the Famous Elsewhere Songwriter Questionnaire . . .
The first song which really affected you was . . .
When I was about 14 I heard my first Nirvana tack which was ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. It gave me a new perspective on what rock music could sound like. I like the idea of simple music that is portrayed well and I think Kurt Cobain did a good job of this. It is also interesting to note my first album has a strong grunge influence which is due to listening to the seattle sound in my teen age years.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
Ace of Base
The one songwriter you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?
Bach. He is the ultimate master of music.
As songwriters: Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards; kd lang or Katy Perry; Madonna or Michael Jackson; Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson?
Lennon – McCartney would have to be one of the greatest songwriting teams ever
Katy Perry – not such a big fan but she knows how to dress to impress
Michael Jackson – the king of pop and ultimately probably one of the most dynamic performers that has ever graced the stage
Johnny Cash – For me he is one of the best country musicians. I like the way he makes a song speak to the listener.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear because they are well crafted are . . .
Imagine – This song sums up a massive ideal in a way that doesn’t sound cliché.
Superstition – Stevie Wonder is perhaps the king of the keys and shows it in this number
Lithium – Probably one of the best songs ever. The shifts in chord structure is something people could really learn from.
Melody first? Words or phrase first? Simultaneous?
Usually I write the melody first and form the words around it. There are exceptions when I find a catch phrase that grabs me and the words start forming a song. To have a great song I feel the lyrics sound be embodied by the melody and chords. The lyrics should sound just like the music so there is a 50/50 resposibility when it comes to having a great song.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
The Mysticism of Music, Sound and Word. Harzrat Inayat Khan explains music from an ethereal point of view. The main thing to understand is music is not just created on this reality. Harmonics are forever being voiced when sound is produced and this explains why the creator makes you feel so strongly about what they produce.
If you could co-write with anyone it would be . . .
Beethoven. Who could argue that he is one of the most influential musicians of all time. I’m sure his compositions will last a lot longer than most of the pop music made today.
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Duke Ellington. The best of. He’s got that swing factor emanating from his very bones. Great if you enjoy a bit of piano.
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .
Bohemian Rhapsody. Queen were amazing at making an operatic song sound cool. Who could argue with the structure, lyrics and voicing as being anything but brilliant. It’s a pity modern music is so straight when compared to this.
One line (or couplet) from a song -- yours or someone else's -- which you think is just a stone cold winner is . . .
"Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play." It makes you think about all your problems and how they feel. It makes you want to hear more from the writer and why they have such a strong emotion.
Songwriting: what's the ratio of inspiration/perspiration?
Depending on the song I would say it’s about 50/50. Most songs have a fair amount of inspiration if they are to be any good. Most song need a fair amount of perspiration if they are to sound any good.
Ever had a song come to you fully-formed like it dropped into your lap?
Yes my song ‘Waiting for the day’ came as a complete song to me one day. I didn’t put ‘Waiting for the day’ on the album because I didn’t think I would do it justice yet. Looking at the album I think I make the right call.
And finally, finish this couplet in any way you like: “Standing at the airport with an empty suitcase at my feet . . .” (You are NOT allowed to rhyme that with “meet” however)
Standing at the airport with an empty suitcase at my feet. The scene reminds me of the time I was here in my sleep.