During the early days of MTV your videos aired regularly on the music channel and served as an introduction to your music. Is it difficult to live up to that visual legacy today?
I suppose until you get out there and do it, you don’t know. 18 months ago I stripped some of my songs down to acoustic arrangements and started playing them for friends and in a few small clubs in London on my own and then recruited a band. I found that the help of a cracking band, which I got now – I really couldn’t get a better, more supportive bunch of kids – has made it a lot easier to do. So, in a way I’m really enjoying it more than ever before because I can just get on with singing and pushing myself every night. It’s like running [up] a mountain every night. It keeps me fit and it keeps me happy.
The new album – Adam Ant Is The Blueblack Hussar In Marrying The Gunner’s Daughter – has been in the works for more than a year. Do you have a release date?
This is an independent label. A lot of artists have their own label, but are owned by a major. This is actually my label and I’m going to do all the business, distribution and manufacturing, which obviously takes longer than normally expected. But it’s all locked in now and we’re going to be putting out a single, which is called “Call Zombie,” at the end of October with a video. Then I’m going to save it [the album] for the new year because I think it’s kind of best to come in the new year fresh and do it then.
This is a different approach with this record. I’ve prepared for this one for at least a year to 18 months solidly on this, working live. It’s quite a challenging record to do. It’s a learning curve for me … It’s ready. When people hear it, I think they will, hopefully, understand why it took so long.
Are you still acting?
I haven’t done any acting since the [Joe] Orton play, “Funeral Games,” in London many years ago. Since then I kind of wrote a script with a guy called Joel Surnow who went on to create “24.” But I haven’t really pursued acting for quite a while. Now I find myself in the position that I don’t actually have the time. I wanted to concentrate on what I think I’m best at. If something came along, had a good story and it didn’t take up too much time, I might do it. But I can’t do that for at least 18 months.
So it’s always the music first?
Yeah. I think I have to give it a fair whack. I think a lot of singers see acting as a second option and think it’s going to mirror the power they have in music. Having sort of worked in it slightly more than six years in L.A. in a class there. I really enjoyed myself but you do get an appreciation for the commitment actors make to their work. I think there’s a certain insecurity there that you’re always waiting for that great story to come along, that great script. In music, I write the songs. There’s an element of control that you have as a musician that you don’t have as an actor.
Who are you writing with these days?
Boz Boorer, who writes for Morrissey. He wrote some tracks on the last album, Wonderful. And Chris McCormack, who was in a band called 3 Colours Red. Obviously, with a record like this, I’ve had the advantage of having quite a long time to develop it and collect songs.
Don’t you have a song about Russell Brand? (As a very controversial part of his BBC radio program, Brand and TV host Jonathan Ross left prank messages on Andrew Sach’s answering machine in 2008, with some comments directed at the actor’s granddaughter.)
That’s on the B-side of a seven-inch vinyl, limited-edition single, “Call Zombie.” We have a track called “Gun In My Pocket” which addresses that situation which was an incident. … One of my backup singers [is] Georgina Baillie, whose grandfather is Andrew Sachs of “Fawlty Towers.” It was quite an infamous little incident.
So I put a little bit of that in the song on her behalf. These actors, these celebrities think they have carte blanche.
Let’s reverse that a bit. Was there ever a moment in your career when you felt you had carte blanche?
I think you have to be careful when you get to No. 1. Even if you don’t feel that way, people around certainly tend to, sometimes. And you don’t hear about it until years later when someone comes up to you and says, “I tried to get into that concert and your manager threw me down the stairs,” or “I walked 16 miles to get to the concert …”
I don’t think it got to me that much. I’ve got too much of a work ethic. I never thought it would last that long. By the time I was singing Kings Of The Wild Frontier in America, I was working on the Prince Charming album. Every year I could turn out an album, four singles and four videos. So if I wasn’t writing songs, I was [doing] the video and the promotion.
The work can keep you out of trouble to a certain degree. The risk is whether you go to clubs or not. I think most of the trouble comes if you’re a guy who goes to clubs and socializes, which I’ve never been interested in. I’ve avoided, what has become, a celebrity world.
I rarely go to an event show, [unless] if I’m giving one [an award] away or getting one. I don’t like to hang out … just for the press, if you know what I mean. I don’t see the point. Unless someone I really like is getting an award.
It’s like the premiere of a film. I wouldn’t go to a premiere unless I really loved the film. The last premiere I went to was with Terence Stamp. You go to support your mates. But just going to things because your PR company sends you an invite because there will be media there. That goes to a certain degree but in reality it does go into the celebrity world where it’s your job, to be seen.
You were among the first group of artists to really use videos to promote your music. At that time were you considering the visual aspects as you were writing songs, or did that come later?
It was always the song first. The storyboards – I tend to draw the thing out – the look was already in place. Always the music first and still is. I think people tend to think it was the other way around, but it wasn’t. Fortunately, I went to art school when I was a youngster and took a film course. … That was probably one of the most useful bits of education I received.
During the 1980s MTV viewers voted you the “Sexiest Man Alive.” Is an honor like that a blessing or a curse?
I’m still waiting for the trophy. I didn’t get a trophy for that. There was no (laughs) presentation.
I think at that stage MTV was a baby, but it did certainly have a great deal to do in breaking me in the USA. People got to see me. But I thought it was a double-edged sword. I always thought it was absolutely vital to show you can play live. But I mustn’t grumble. It’s lovely to get any kind of award.
During the early 1980s in a review of one of your concerts, the Los Angeles Times criticized you for exuding sex appeal on stage, yet in the very same issue and only separated by a couple of pages, the newspaper praised Prince for pretty much doing the same thing. Did you ever feel the press was unfair to you?
I think we all felt that. I suppose it’s taste. Every journalist has their likes and dislikes. I suppose if you’re going to review someone you don’t want to see, it’s not going to turn out too good.
To be honest, when it comes to reviews, it’s best to read them after the end of the tour because you don’t get influenced by them.
I think rock ’n’ roll is sex, subversion, style and humor – those are four elements to me that make for a great rock ’n’ roller. I don’t think anyone could look at Elvis without there being some kind of sexuality involved. That’s what got him into all that trouble on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
What’s it like to walk into a store or a pub and hear a radio or a jukebox playing a record you recorded 30 years ago?
That’s one of the best, one of the most rewarding experiences. That’s when you really get the chance to see the effects it’s had on a lot of people. It’s also [a chance] to hear what it sounds like. Is it clear? Could you improve it? What’s the DJ saying? It’s always interesting. [Being] that fly on the wall is a fantastic opportunity to see if that song had legs. I love that.
Do you have a favorite Adam Ant song?
When I’m on stage I like playing songs like “Zerox” which was an early song from the pre-Dirk Wears White Sox era. Every time I do a show, I think people don’t realize that my songs are quite hard to play. They were created in the studio, they’re quite hybrids, we did use a lot of experimental things to get that sound, that drum sound, that vocal sound. Every time I sing “Dog Eat Dog” or “Kings Of The Wild Frontier” or “Antmusic” or “Room At The Top’ or any early songs, it’s like a test for me. I’m trying to get them right. I never get the chance to think, “That was good. I played that really well tonight.” Or, “I could have played that better.” So they’re [the songs] like children and you don’t like to say you prefer one child over another.
When Hollywood makes the Adam Ant Story, who would you like to see play you?
They’ve got to resemble you. Actually, my book “Stand And Deliver” is being developed into a film as we speak. It’s quite hard because you have to get someone who physically resembles you, otherwise it really doesn’t work at all. On the other side, they have to be someone who can pull off the live side of things and really look like they’re singing. Like that film “Control” about Joy Division, they got a kid (Sam Riley) that really looked like the singer. I actually saw him sing. Like the Johnny Cash thing. “Walk The Line” was a wonderful performance. They got the essence of the person.
James Franco, a lot of people say he looks like me. Someone like Tom Hollander because he has the accent down and he’s obviously a Londoner.