Q&A with Adam Baker of Annuals

Raleigh-based indie-pop sextet Annuals makes a return trip to Asheville, still touring in support of last year’s release, Terpsikhore Records, and various side projects.

Actually, Annuals is, itself, a side project of the indie rock group Rolling Stone article called your tour schedule “grueling.” Do you agree with that description?
I have a feeling that’s the case for almost every band these days because there’s no other way to even attempt to make a living unless you’re Arcade Fire or something. You have to tour. You’re certainly not going to see record sales. But I still love touring.

You do?
Oh God yes. I remember the first tour we ever got was with our other band Sunfold when I was still just a drummer. I just remember running around the block over and over again, I was so excited. And I still get excited. We all do this for one purpose—to put out music we like and hopefully get other people to appreciate it as well. That is the ultimate form of gratification when you’re playing a song, when you’ve worked so hard on it, to get together with the band and recording it months or years before and now it’s finally paying off. There’s somebody there who’s singing the words. It just makes you feel like you did something right.

When was the first time you noticed the audience singing along?
Probably… we were still playing locally. I’d been recording all these songs as a side project [Annuals started as a side projects of Sunfold] and, long story short, burned discs were going all around North Carolina. So when Annuals finally started playing live shows around, six months afterward, there were two people who were singing along. It gradually went from there.

Still, singers are hard to come by. People are very cool at shows these days as opposed to when I was younger [he’s in his early 20 now]. But it’s still there, it’s still awesome. I get a kick out of that feeling of playing with my band mates. That’s because we’ve been playing together so long now we feel like a machine. When we get something right, it really feels right.

Are Sunfold and Annuals two separate entities or two sides of the same coin?
When Annuals started getting attention, me and Kenny [Florence] sat down and had a big powwow. We thought about joining the bands and attempting to be a Beatles-esque sort of thing—if we were anywhere near as talented. Basically, his style of songwriting and mine are entirely different. Me and him work together pretty well because of it. [But] sitting in on the writing process of each others songs—I feel like someone would probably get cut. Someone would bleed out of that. We’re both very protective and we both feel like our musical rules are just and they shouldn’t be f**ked with. Egos, egos, egos. We definitely love working on each other’s songs, but we decided it would work better as two separate bands. That way, we get to branch out even more. [Otherwise] Kenny would have had to go more towards me and I would have had to go more towards him. I think that would have sacrificed songs on both of our ends.

Is it weird that Annuals, the side project of Sunfold, gained recognition first?
We don’t really consider it as weird. [That’s] just how it happened. The same thing could have happened to Sunfold. We were on tour and someone called us up. Paul Simon did and the way that Vampire weekend. I think a lot of people are getting more into that sound. It’s great for us. I think now it’s going to be a lot more acceptable and a lot easier for other people to take in. At least I f**kin’ hope so. Otherwise the next record’s going to be like massive jungle-fest.

Is that in the works? The massive jungle-fest?
Oh yeah, yeah. ‘Cause there are so many random session that we have that are just drum jams. Almost everyone in the band plays drums. All except for Mike [Robinson] and Anna [Spence]. I started out as a drummer, Nick [Donzel Radford] is a much better drummer than me, Zack [Oden] is coming up on me because he practices a lot more than me because I never have time to play kit that much anymore, unless I’m playing with Sunfold.

It’s hard to keep most of us away from drums. Just so fun to play. And you have to take advantage of it when you have so many good drummers in the band.

Percussion brings in the audience.
I think so. I’ve postulated myself—I definitely think that one of the things people are drawn to when it comes to my songs is that, I am a drummer and I have respect and hold in reverence drums. Rhythms. The very first musical thing people could understand other than singing. Cavemen back in the day with their bone flutes and banging on rocks. I think it’s rare for some people to come by. … A good example is Genesis and is an amazing drummer to this day. But when you listen to his pop songs they’re so rhythmic. The syncopation is a lot different from anything else. I think people like the groove.

I have no idea what people like about [Annuals music] sometimes. I just f**kin’ hate my own sh*t too much and I just want to die. So it’s hard for me to tell what people like, I just hope they keep diggin’ it.

Such Fun is either your second or seventh album, depending on how you count.
It feels weird calling it a second record. We’ve done so much when it comes to EPs and singles and B-Sides that weren’t actually B-Sides but were recorded after it was done just so we could have B-Sides. I hate wasting songs on B-Sides so I always just end up writing new ones.

Were you intimidated by sophomore slump?
Oh yeah. I was extremely scared. Oh my God, like to the point of shaking. The recording process was much different from what we were used to before. It would be me, it was pretty much done when nobody knew who Annuals was, even the band was sort of doing other things and I was in the studio. So, nobody was over my shoulder, nobody was asking when it was going to be done, I just went in every day and recorded. Skipped school. It was fun.

But on this one it was certainly different because the recording was in between tours and of course though out the process people from the label side of things were making suggestions, like sometimes not even rational ones.

The music business is failing in so many ways. I don’t think A&R guys and labels understand how a record is made these days. They think it’s still the way Pro Tools or in Garageband, whatever the f**k you want to use. And then taking it to a producer or a studio if they are lucky enough to have that sort of option and finishing it there.

I don’t think the labels understand that. Everything is just changing in the music business for everybody. The guys who’ve been there forever, they don’t want to learn new tricks, and the guys who have not been there forever, like me, are like, “Why can’t it be how I want it?” There are always fights between bands and labels. It’s historic. In 10 years there aren’t even going to be labels anyway.

Do you think that’s true?
Definitely. They are struggling to make whatever money they can. Like, struggling Selling old pictures that are copyrighted under their name and sh*t. People are going to such great lengths to make record sales when in fact the only way to make money off of music these days is either to put it in a f**king commercial or tour. I think the labels are going to be obliterated. Everyone else thinks it, too. I think it’s going to just be management and the bands are going to be a lot more active in the business part as opposed to the regular stereotype of “Oh, we just play shows. Lay the tracks down, get drunk.” No, it’s not going to be like that anymore. Bands, if they want to be successful, they have to be responsible. It sucks.

Is Annuals a Southern band?
Yes. I definitely feel like we’re a Southern band in the sense that we are from the south and it definitely influences us. We have some country songs and a lot of the chords that I write with come from Johnny Cash. Kenny loves, loves, loves finger-picking guitar players – Orange Peel on Saturday, Feb. 7 with What Laura Says. 8 p.m., $12. All ages.

—Alli Marshall, A&E reporter

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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