For a trio of musicians who so well capture the zeitgeist, the members of the electronic band Adult. are surprisingly nonchalant about what they do. And considering that they've recorded more than a dozen singles, EPs and full-length albums since 1998, and are in the midst of a 40-date concert tour behind their latest CD, Gimmie Trouble, they're hardly what you'd call ambitious.
"We never had an agenda," says singer Nicola Kuperus during a telephone interview with the whole band on speakerphone. "We never sat down and said, 'Let's make a career out of this,' or 'Let's do if for a long time.'"
Adam Lee Miller, electronics player and Kuperus' husband, agrees. "We never really looked beyond each release, and we never really expected to have another one. We have reached goals that we never made. It's important to never make goals, because then you won't fail if you don't reach them."
Shrink-wrapping 1980s-era electro pop in punk attitude and decadent irony, Adult. plays human-machine hybrid music that sounds as if it were created just yesterday by some cranky adolescents with laptops who are beyond bored with like, everything they hear. In its permissive approach to art and musical revolution, it sounds timeless and contemporary at the same time.
Compared to such electro-revival acts as Fischerspooner, Le Tigre and Ladytron, Adult. sound more like a synthesizer-heavy Public Image Ltd., right down to the way Kuperus' louche vocals reflect the brattiness of John Lydon's famous sneer.
And before you ask, yes, the period is part of the band's name. Which is really a pain in the ass for newspaper writers and editors with automatic spelling- and grammar-check programs on their computers.
They chose the name Adult., Miller notes, "because of all the uncoolness associated with it." Kuperus then chimes in: "We wanted to have a name that is hard to find on the Internet." (It's easy to imagine the variety of sites that pop up when you Google the word "Adult.")
The period, though, is "just pure pretentiousness," Miller says. "We just wanted to make the word ours. ... I mean, today's music is youth-oriented. We wanted to do something opposite of that."
Which begs the question: How old are the members of Adult.? "Let's just say we're all in the demographic for The Daily Show," Kuperus demurs.
Miller and Kuperus formed Adult. more than seven years ago in Detroit, a town with a significant tradition for spawning fierce, no-holds-barred rock 'n' roll since the 1960s. One wonders if there is something in the water up there.
"It's the pollution in the air," Miller says, while his wife blames the climate.
"Maybe it's just that it's so cold up here, you form bands to keep yourself entertained while you're indoors," Kuperus says. "I'm sure if I lived somewhere else, like Florida or Arizona, the music would sound very different."
Until this year, Adult.'s recordings were released on the band's own label, Ersatz Audio. For the D.U.M.E. EP, released earlier this year, the band jumped to way-hip Thrill Jockey Records, the same label that released Gimmie Trouble to much acclaim.
The new album features new member Sam Consiglio (formerly of the band Tamion 12 Inch) on guitar. He joined in January, just as Kuperus and Miller were beginning work on Gimmie Trouble in their spanking-new home studio.
The fattened-up sound of the three-piece is evident not only on recordings but on stage as well, Miller says. "We're much better with the live sets. We've done 20 shows together, so it's definitely much better. I always say that by having three people, we have more energy to give off on stage. It changes the whole chemistry."
Kuperus says the addition of Consiglio has other benefits. "It's just been a lot easier making music and a lot faster."
The band collectively recognizes that listeners might falsely perceive Adult. to be a retro band. But just because they can see why people might feel that way doesn't mean they have to like it.
Consiglio brings a diplomatic perspective to this discussion: "Any performer has his or her references to the past. But, if they are creative artists in any way, they hopefully can take all those things and make something unique from them, make them their own--incorporate the old stuff with their new ideas. And everybody, because of what they have heard and been exposed to, puts restrictions on themselves in various ways."
However, the members of Adult. continuously try to change the restrictions within which they must work, Miller says. "The restrictions we do are on a particular song or album; the rules are always going to change. This is how it feels right now, and on the next song, it might feel totally different."
"We always break our own rules," Consiglio says.
That's hardly the formula for writing hit songs or even ensuring a band stays together, Miller acknowledges. "I'm surprised that we've been able to keep going this long."
Kuperus, also a professional photographer who shoots the album cover art and band photos, has part of the answer.
"I think we are pretty disciplined in a way. I don't know that 'extreme' is the best word, but we have a lot of focus. There's a certain energy that comes from people doing what they do best, and I think we have that."