It stands for Death Unto My Enemies,” Adult.’s Adam Lee Miller says of the title of the band’s new EP, D.U.M.E. His comment seems odd because watching him tip back in his chair in his sawdust-scented, recently purchased Detroit home and studio, it’s hard to imagine him or his wife, Nicola Kuperus, having a negative thought about anybody. The raven-haired couple — Miller’s in his 30s, singer Kuperus is nearly there — are the internationally adored Adult.
“You know those voodoo candles that you light? People better watch out when we light that candle,” Kuperus says, laughing, referring to D.U.M.E.
And therein lies the joke.
“A friend of ours in New York has nicknamed us ‘The Uncordial Two’ because we tend to be excruciatingly blunt with people and with the business side of music and things like that,” Miller says. “So I think it was some sort of personal reference to how we’re really good at separating business from art and we tend to get ourselves in trouble a lot with people because we just say exactly what’s on our mind. Maybe sort of an over-the-top joke about our personalities.”
The duo’s collective work necessitates a balance between business and art. They have their own label (Ersatz Audio), their art (Miller is a painter, Kuperus is a photographer), their songs and music, and various other projects.
But now, the focus is on Adult. Their success stateside and in Europe has prompted the paring down of side projects, which began when they finally quit their day jobs a few years ago.
Ersatz turned 10 this year, and as a birthday present to themselves, Miller and Kuperus are taking a break from label-head duties. In the past five years, they’ve developed a relationship with Chicago imprint Thrill Jockey for things such as remixes and distribution help. The Chi-town label put out D.U.M.E. and will also release the forthcoming full-length, which will be completed when the duo returns from its current stateside swing in a few weeks. A more extensive U.S. tour, Europe and possibly Japan and Australia are in the works.
Thrill Jockey “is one of the few labels that has a real good grasp on straight rock and straight electronic,” Miller says, “doing everything from Bobby Conn to [Nobukazu] Takemura. So with us feeling like we’re somewhere in between, it’s great that they know both sides.”
So far, the label-band relationship is going swimmingly. Having someone else in charge of the marketing and business side of Adult.’s new recordings has inspired some nervous energy.
“It’s so weird,” Kuperus says. “Sometimes I feel like, ‘Is this stuff getting done?’ Because we’re not doing it. And then you find out that it is getting done, probably way better than we would do it.”
Thrill Jockey has a staff of eight, Miller says. “They’ve had bands like Tortoise that have just sold tons. So when Adult. started selling well, we couldn’t handle the volume. UPS wouldn’t deliver our orders. We had to go to the hubs and pick them up, taking multiple truckloads to UPS. For two people, it hurt our spirit, which is the main reason we decided to put the label on hold and make the transition. We just had lost that sort of spark, that, ‘Yeah, this is awesome; we make our living by being a band.’ And it was like everything was a chore.”
But like the shiny new dishwasher at the band’s Detroit home that Kuperus jokes is a sign she’s “arrived in life,” convenience often comes with more work.
Kuperus says the idea behind having another label release the material was to free up “creative time. But on the other hand, because you’re doing that, you’re now creating more work, because now somebody else is helping to get things going and you’re taking on more shows.”
And the future of Ersatz Audio which has released a slew of singles and albums by Goudron, Tamion 12 Inch, Magas and others? They say they don’t know, but Kuperus adds that she doesn’t foresee releasing full-lengths again.
“I think it’ll be more specialty stuff. I think that’s what we’re better at doing,” she says.
Miller says, “We have no plans. We don’t have this secret that it’s over. We don’t have this secret that it’s going to come back full-strength in two years or anything like that.”
Although, their newfound “free time” has quickly shifted into other responsibilities, Adult. says the new EP and forthcoming LP were created with less “anxiety” than the last, with more time to write, sequence and listen. They’ve also expanded to a trio, having added multi-instrumentalist Sam Consiglio of Taimon 12 Inch.
The band is probably best known for purposely stressing, stretching and distilling listener discomfort and paranoia. But is it detached and stylish or warm and anti-fashion?
D.U.M.E. doesn’t stray too far from this recipe per se, but they’re definitely on to something new. Though the group’s early work brings to mind that sheepish couple on the airplane that performs a wordless antibacterial wipe-down of the beverage tray before buckling up for takeoff, the new EP has cemetery dirt under its fingernails.
The cover features a creepy, if not funny, “still death” of fake fruit, a skull and a stuffed crow. The songs, including “Hold Your Breath,” “The End,” “Get Me Out,” are riddled with tongue-in-cheek gothic nods. Overall, it’s closer to Adult.’s live sound, which is something the band has been consciously working on since their second full-length, 2003’s Anxiety Always.
Although Adult. has, in the past, clung to a clean-freak, crisp-synth fantasy, the new songs reflect the group’s more punk-scuffed reality.
“I think one thing that’s funny about us compared to a lot of bands is we’re getting looser and dirtier with each album. I think most bands start out that way and then they clean it up and overproduce it,” Miller says.
“I think I’m getting more annoying,” Kuperus says, laughing. “People thought I was annoying in monotone, well then when I actually try to sing, it’s even more annoying,” she continues. “That’s good. That’s what I like. I feel like the EP and especially the stuff we’ve written now is definitely more my personality than the past. I think it’s definitely more us.”
Friday, May 6, at the Magic Stick (4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700) with Gold Chains, Sue Cie and Genders. Melissa Giannini is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]