Article and Interview by Estella Rosa
Adorable emerged just when Shoegaze fizzled out and Glam/ Britpop started to surface so they couldn’t really be categorized into either.
At the very start of the 90’s, Pete Fijalkowski (guitars, vocals) and Wil (Stephen Williams, bass) were students in Coventry, U.K. They had a band called The Candy Thieves with a fellow student named Wayne Peters (guitarist). Wayne left when they were about to change the name and direction since they were getting nowhere. A friend introduced them to Robert who was in all sorts of bands and had a spare rehearsal room in his dad’s massive house, including drums and amps. Robert got the job as the new guitarist. Drummer Kevin Gritton joined the band by mistake. During the rehearsals and jams in the house things just clicked and the first songs were born painlessly and rapidly. These were probably the most productive and memorable days, as the atmosphere later on in the more professional setting of the recording studios, became cloudier.
After signing to Creation Records, “Sunshine Smile” was released in April 1992 and instantly became “Single of the Week” in NME and subsequently topped the Indie charts. Although the two following singles “I’ll Be Your Saint” and “Homeboy” were less successful, their fourth single “Sistine Chapel Ceiling'” was selected for NME’s “Single of the Week” once more. Their first album Against Perfection was released in 1993, but the press was underwhelmed by it.
After touring Europe, US, Australia and Japan to promote Against Perfection, relations became tense within the band and with Creation, their label. When Sony took over Creation, the band felt pressured into making an outstanding album which resulted in Fake. This solid follow up record should have convinced and wooed the press, the audience and Sony/Creation. Instead it just came out as a culmination of Adorable’s experiences, reflecting everything they felt. Here were all the things that shape a person’s character into maturity: disappointment, betrayal, pride, passion and introspection; hence titles like “Vendetta”, “Kangaroo Court”, and “Go Easy on her”. The press didn’t like the cockiness of Against Perfection, but they liked Fake even less. The album flopped and Adorable were sacked. During the Fake tour in Europe they decided to call it a day. Feeling relieved of all the strain and stress they’d been writing, promoting and touring under, they gave it all during one last brilliant show in Brussels and had a glorious night out. End.
Although opinions seem to differ greatly on this, Adorable are still quite often and comfortably placed in the Shoegaze genre these days, especially as the Shoegaze revival is taking on massive proportions at the moment: a lot of new bands claim to be intensely inspired by the bands that faded into obscurity before their time, and quite a few older bands or musicians now are trying to make the most of that by reuniting, touring or reissuing. Some people are just jumping on the bandwagon.
But Adorable are not reuniting…period. Not now and likely not ever. There are various personal and practical reasons for that. So why an article on Adorable? Why now?
Apart from the revived interest, Adorable hold a special space in the hearts and lives of Step On magazine Co-founder/Editor Dave MacIntyre and Yours Truly. Musically, I think Adorable were a great and unique team who could have become even stronger. Peter was a great frontman and songwriter, with a truly unique voice; some of Wil’s basslines are epic; Kevin’s drumming was getting better and better; and Robert’s melodic guitar phrasing was so subtle….what can I say? It wasn’t the right time I suppose…. Dave MacIntyre: (who will elaborate further in an upcoming Adorable music review) “The music is tremendous. The lyrics are full of insights. Because great music is not bound by history nor trends.”
In this article, we talk to the “ex- Adorables” that are still musically active, front man Pete (Piotr) Fijalkowski (who goes by Fij in his current music) and guitarist Robert Dillam, about their time and ordeals in Adorable, the Shoegaze revival and their current life and work.
How do you look back on your musical career as a whole? Was it sex, drugs & rock n’ roll? How many guitars did you smash?
Robert Dillam (RD): My musical career was and is a massive part of my life. I don’t just look back on it, I look forward to it and I live it in real time. Most of it was/is trying to learn how to be a decent-ish guitar player or drummer and trying to be involved in the creation of some decent songs and creative ideas.
There’s a difference between the writing and rehearsing side of it, recording and playing live. Touring is about getting out and seeing / experiencing the world and playing the gigs in equal measure… the rest of it is about trying to do something positive with the people, equipment and environment you have around you.
I only smashed one guitar, on the evening of the first adorable gig at the Tic-Toc in Coventry, the day before the first Gulf War started. My amp packed in during ‘Two or Three Things” so I threw the guitar at the amp (as I was annoyed and also as a way to try to fix the amp). The head stock broke at the neck and so that was that, so I smashed the rest of it to bits. It actually, later, felt horrible to destroy a guitar so I didn’t want to do it again. I went out the next day and purchased a replacement guitar (the same as the one that I broke, which was a black Aria Pro TA60 semi acoustic, which I still have).
Pete Fijalkowski (Fij) (PF): My career has taken a few twists and turns, but it’s still an important part of how I express myself. By and large I’m pretty proud of the music I’ve made – very little makes me wince, though I can’t say the same about some of the haircuts.
Adorable wasn’t really the Rock n’ Roll dream for me – that part of the music industry has never really interested me. I could probably have done with taking a few more drugs to loosen up, as I was quite naturally wired at the time – the band was an obsession for me and was my drug of choice. It ended up being quite all-consuming. It took me sometime after the event to realize it wasn’t really a happy time in my life – exciting yes, but not happy.
I recall smashing up at least 4 guitars on stage myself, though Robert got in there first -we had only been rehearsing for a few weeks with him and then we played our first show in Coventry and he smashed up his guitar mid-set and didn’t have a spare so we had to stop the show there and then. We went home to watch the first Gulf War starting live on TV – it was a weird night of destruction.
What would you have done differently during Adorable? Any regrets? What advice should you have taken and did not?
RD: What should we have done differently? Been less awkward around journalists and the people in the industry, although I didn’t deal with any of that so maybe Pete and Wil should have been a bit more… approachable? But that wasn’t what it was about. It was actually about not being approachable and trying to have some distance between the band and the people in the audience.
We also should have probably taken our time more and learned a bit more about the new environment that we were in (and the secrets of how it worked, ‘it’ being the music industry) but we weren’t really able to. We had to be ready to go as there was so much at stake (i.e. money and recouping it from record sales).
It happened how it happened and what’s the point of regrets? I also don’t remember the band being given much advice but even if we had we would have ignored it.
PF: Whilst it would be interesting to have a time machine and go back and do our first flurry of interviews a little bit less in your face – quite how me and Wil back then would have done that lord only knows, as we weren’t one for tip toeing lightly through conversations. In short, we had to do the interviews as we did because that is who we were at the time. I’ve certainly changed in part because of the experiences I have had, so for me to go back and do things differently couldn’t happen – because I had to make those decisions be they good or bad in order to become the person I am today.
I think the inability to communicate is a regret. I think Robert is right – We wouldn’t have listened to any advice had it been given.
Where are you now musically? Are you happy with it?
RD: Musically, I’m fine. The Zephyrs write some really good songs, courtesy of Stuart’s songwriting talent and ability. I am totally happy to be in that band. I liked them so much I used to go up and see them when they were recording with Michael (Brennan, Adorable’s sound engineer), in the end there was a space for a guitarist and at 1 a.m. one night I got a call from Michael asking if I wanted to be in the band, I said yes and went back to sleep. Soon after that I relocated to Scotland.
PF: I’m playing with one of my musical heroes in the shape of Terry Bickers (The House of Love) which is fantastic. I haven’t played in a band line up for about 14 years, so it’s all come a bit more sedate which is fitting for a man my age. I’m enjoying making music perhaps more than ever.
What do you think of the renewed interest in the 80/90’s indie bands and the Shoegaze revival?
RD: It is good to see, as far as I’m concerned… but I liked those bands in the first place (i.e. My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Swervedriver… plus bands like Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies etc). As for bands I’m not so into, if they can reform and make enough money to retire then good for them. You would only be doing it for the money though, at this stage in your ‘career’. Make enough money to retire at 45 years old? You go book that world tour and good luck! Seriously though, Ride and Slowdive, i.e. bands I do like, I hope they make millions and never ever have to do a day’s work again. I’m happy to go to work though, I like my job as it goes (I teach computing).
The Shoegaze revival is good as long as the bands and songs are good. The twenty year cycle is also okay, that’s what got me into the music of the mid to late 60’s in the mid to late 80’s (Velvet Underground, the psychedelic sound, Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds etc., as well as The Beatles and The Beach Boys).
PF: At the risk of sounding like the Piotr of old – I really couldn’t care much.
What did you think about being tagged as Shoegaze? What do you think about that now?
RD: At the time we weren’t tagged as Shoegaze as that was kind of 1991 and we were 1992 and Shoegaze was off the description chart by then. Nowadays I think if you asked Pete he’d say he probably wasn’t happy with the tag or that he probably doesn’t think too much about it. I’m happy to be seen as Shoegaze as that was the music that I liked to listen to but Adorable were not created as a Shoegaze band. The Shoegaze sound has certain elements and Adorable’s sound shares a few of those elements (I used a lot of delay, for example, as part of my guitar sound but played a lot of guitar parts using that sound as opposed to the delay ‘being’ the sound). I see it as a bit like Pale Saints (a band that I really like) – they weren’t Shoegaze either, but they have that sort of sound, so they crop up in Shoegaze lists as well (as Adorable). I’m just happy that people still hear the records and like the music that Adorable made and if those people got into us via the Creation Records Ride, Slowdive, Telescopes etc. link (either then or now) then that’s fine with me.
PF: It used to really bug me being called ‘Shoegaze’, and conversations could get quite heated if people tried to use the term to describe us – I saw us having more in common musically with The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Bunnymen or The House of Love and our stance in interviews was a deliberate attempt to distance ourselves from ‘Shoegaze’. Generally we were seen as being something else (NME, who were ever keen on coming up with labels, briefly tried to create a scene called ‘New Glam’ incorporating Adorable, The Verve, Suede) but as the years have gone on we seem to have been lumped in with the Shoegazers. Nowadays it really doesn’t bother me if people want to label us as Shoegaze – which shows how you can mellow with age.
What do you think of Facebook/ Soundcloud/ Bandcamp? Did The Internet make it easier or harder for artists?
RD: Only good can come from it, as far as I can see, although it is a shame that you can’t really make a living or income from music on the Internet. The Internet must have made it easier for artists to be heard but harder for them to get paid for what they do.
PF: It’s a great way to find new and obscure bands – although there are now so many bands it can be hard to be heard amongst them all. The chances of making money are just diminishing all the time though – it’s quite scary, as people see it as a right to have free access to music. There’s a myth going round that artists somehow make lots of money these days playing live shows – but the truth is they don’t get paid any more than they did 15 years ago, and now revenue from (album) sales has disappeared.
RD: I feel great about not just getting older but being old. The Zephyrs (members) have 7 children now. I don’t want to turn back time, I want to make the future a great time for our kids. I lived my life pretty well as I was growing up and being in bands (including Adorable) but I have no plans to go back there (because I was there the first time).
PF: It hasn’t bugged me yet.
Why do you live where you do? What do you do there and what are your future plans?
RD: I live in Scotland because Coventry stopped feeling quite so much like home…and I wanted to get out and follow my own path. I moved to Scotland for the music (the Zephyrs) and the snowboarding. The job, work, career and all that came later.
My future plan is to make the next Zephyrs album and then to make a few more after that. Aside from that, I plan to listen to some music, watch a little television, spend a lot of time with my wife and daughter and learn more about computer network security as that is what I seem to be teaching a lot of right now.
PF: I live down on the south coast. I’m writing album #2 with Terry (Bickers) to be recorded later this year, and I have just started my first ever 9-5 job as an Events Manager after jacking in selling books after 20 years. I’m not quite sure what the future holds for me. It is simultaneously exciting and scary.
What bands from the 90’s do you still play often?
RD: All of the ones that I liked at the time and still like now. From the 80’s – Husker Du, Big Black, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, The Smiths, The Pastels and The Charlottes are always on. In reference to the 90’s: the list of bands that are on those Shoegaze top 20 records things…! and Nirvana, Soundgarden, Tad, Beat Happening…
PF: I’m genuinely struggling with 90’s bands.
What current bands do you think deserve attention?
RD: I’m massively into Mogwai and SFA… and also Loop and Dead Meadow… but you mean ‘unknown’ bands, so how about… Spotlight Kid, Public Service Broadcasting and Celestial. Aside from that there’s too many to list but there’s a lot of content available linked on the internet groups (eg. Shoegaze On), I get to hear a lot of new stuff via that resource. Also, Club AC30’s current and also back catalogue.
PF: Francisco the Kid, Cashier No. 9.
RD: I wanted to go back to Venice, so I did. I would like to go back to L.A. I would like to see the Northern Lights so a trip to Iceland might be necessary (I’d better start saving up or get the Zephyrs a performance/gig there).
PF: Might have to join Robert going to Iceland as that’s been on my ‘to do’ list for a while now. I’d love to go back to Japan – Adorable spent 3 or 4 days in Tokyo in 93 and it was fantastic – but I’d love to see more of the country.
Who are your musical heroes/influences?
RD: Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo, Stuart Braithwaite, Barry Burns / John Cummings, Scott Gorham / Brian Robertson. I also totally like to listen to Neil Young play guitar (including if he’s with Steven Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash). Nick Drake. All guitarists. No drummer (or bass player) influences. Not sure why.
PF: Frank Sinatra, Chet Baker, Terry Bickers, Bernard Sumner
What was the first LP you bought?
RD: The Shadows at the Movies, when I was about 7 or 8.
PF: Out of this World – The Best of the Moody Blues (K-Tel label).
What do you like watching on the TV?
RD: Static interference. Rastamouse. QI.
PF: I’m more of a film man than TV. But if I had to watch TV show it would be re-run of Dangerman, The Prisoner, The Persuaders or The Avengers.
Strangest celebrity encounter?
RD: Bumping literally into Keanu Reeves at Glastonbury going into the bands catering tent, walking past Howard Marks at 5 a.m. at Glastonbury, walking up to Martin Gore in an airport and basically saying ‘Hello. I like your stuff. Bye’.
PF: I used to run a Vic n’ Bob – style pop quiz in a pub. I convinced 80’s pop star David Van Day to come in and pretend to be Nick Cave.
What was you most memorable job?
RD: Playing guitar for Adorable.
PF: I worked in a cardboard box factory for one day (i.e. a factory that made cardboard boxes, not a factory that was made out of a cardboard box). I think I have spent more time talking about it than the 7 hours I actually spent working there.
Check out Pete Fij and Terry Bicker’s website for music releases, news, and gig information.
Estella Rosa is a true Amsterdammer, first hour Shoegazer and founder of the Facebook group Shoegaze On.
With very special thanks to Pete Fij and Robert Dillam.
Further reading: For the 20th Anniversary of Against Perfection, in 2013, Pete Fij provided a track by track guide to the album. The 2008 Adorable Footnotes 92-94 compilation was reviewed by Pitchfork.
Ed Note: While we always aim to use official source for videos and provide official artist & label links to purchase music reviewed and featured, at the moment, Adorable’s back catalog is not readily available for download, streaming or purchase. We’ve linked to unofficial YouTube channels for the purposes of review. We also changed some of the YouTube links we had posted originally as those hosted by VEVO were not viewable for US readers. If you are able to find the original Adorable records for resale at your local (or online) record /CD store, snap’em up!