Tribute albums are usually reserved for artists no longer with us. But singer-songwriter Adam Green — who spearheaded the late-90s anti-folk movement in New York as one half of the Moldy Peaches, and is a cult figure on the indie underground — has no shortage of starry friends to pay homage to his influential songs.
His new album, Moping in Style, features 25 tracks reworked by the likes of Jenny Lewis, Jeffrey Lewis, Regina Spektor, The Libertines and Father John Misty — half of whom, Green points out, are Jewish.
Alongside the music he’s been recording since the age of 13, which gained mainstream success in 2008 when Anyone Else But You appeared in the film Juno, Green has branched out into “a zillion different creative avenues” — and often all at once. He’s made feature films, graphic novels and held art exhibitions. And he’s now working on a screenplay. “I like to be my own little shaman who’s making my own vision,” he explains, likening his penchant for multiple projects to maintaining a private garden. “Once I’ve dropped my kids off at school, and turned the corner, all of a sudden I just slip into my own little private universe and I dwell there until I have to return to reality again.”
Now 42, Green can often be found walking around on a quest for ideas, typing notes into his phone. “I write dialogue off the top of my head… Most everything starts with a stream of consciousness and downloading my thoughts,” he says. His wife Yasmin is his editor.
Green is known for his kooky charisma, and that stream of consciousness is apparent in today’s interview in which his answers expand, charmingly, into detailed observations and interests. “Happy Chanukah,” he says from Brooklyn, at the beginning of a conversation that spans music, how he celebrates the festival of lights with his two daughters, aged five and nine (lighting the chanukiah, gift-giving, dancing the hora, listening to Chanukah songs, eating latkes — “the tradition stuff”) and his exploration of the mystical aspects of Judaism, most specifically Daniel Matt’s translation of the Zohar — a foundational work of Kabbalistic literature which he’s been working his way through; he’s currently on volume three of nine. “Everyone has little Everest-like challenges and one of mine has been to read the Zohar,” says Green.
On being a parent, he says: “It’s like genetic time travel, I’m used to traversing north south east west in this world, then all of a sudden you’re passing on your genes and soul to another person and watching them go off on their own journey.”
He is thrilled to hear the unexpected interpretations of his songs on Moping in Style. Some of the musicians featured he grew up listening to, like Evan Dando and Lou Barlow; some are peers, like The Libertines; and some grew up listening to Green’s music, such as Joanna Sternberg, Cut Worms, Lemon Twigs and Frankie Cosmos. For the album, Green gave each musician free rein over their choice of song, and it’s testimony to his extensive oeuvre that only one was picked twice: Jessica, by The Libertines and Father John Misty — the former won.
“It showed me what songs of mine people had connected to,” he says. “It was actually really surprising.” That all these musicians, many of whom are indie-rock royalty, have covered his songs, Green calls an “honour”. And because they’re performing them, he calls the record “a best of collection with a reason to exist”.
As with most covers, it’s those that veer most from the originals that are the most captivating. Green is intrigued as to how the songs neither sound like him nor the artists who are performing them. “It’s some kind of mutant hybrid… to hear artists bend their style to sing simple folk songs. It’s like the song is just a skeleton and there’s a lot of different ways to wear it.”
Take Kyp Malone’s rendition of Drugs, which “sounds like it’s in a swamp of ketamine noise, glitching, like a ghostly version that sounds like the interior of a drug experience.” Whereas Green’s original Drugs sounded more like it was from a stage musical. Meanwhile, The Libertines play Jessica as an acoustic home recording with the sound of Peter Doherty’s dog barking in the background. “Everyone took it from their own angle and gave a version that gave it naches”, he says.
There’s even a lively Chanukah song, Dreidels of Fire, reworked by Ben Lee. It was originally co-written with Mike Cummings for the 2019 compilation Hanukkah+ that also featured Haim and Jack Black. “I always just thought it was funny that the miracle that there was extra bonus oil is a little underwhelming, even when you’re a kid. I can see that with my own children. And I think we did succeed in writing a great Chanukah song, so I’m really proud of it.”
One could argue that a 25-song album of covers is more than ample, but Green suggests there could even be a Volume Two, particularly because, while he hasn’t had the chart-topping “experience of a [Justin] Bieber”, the vast catalogue of songs that he has released since the age of 13 have touched his many devoted fans deeply. “I don’t usually get a casual person coming up to me, it’s usually somebody that has a very personal relationship to my music and knows a lot about it. I invite people to come into my world. It’s like a tapestry that I’m weaving all the time. And there’s all these different albums, and then there’s a whole universe that goes along with it.”
He points to his visual art, films, poems, graphic novels, before continuing the metaphor. “It’s like a big room where I’m knitting and people can come and go as they please and they can take a little artefact from this part and enjoy that... The great pleasure is to just weave the tapestry for every day of my life since I’ve been a teenager.”
Moping in Style : A tribute to Adam Green is out now on Capitane Records