The most poignant song on Rian Adkinson’s debut album is Les Revenants, a lyric about a dead man who has just left his body and is looking down on his loved ones. It’s about Adkinson’s father.
“He hung himself behind our house,” says the Atlanta, Georgia-based songwriter, his throat audibly choking up over the phone line. “I found him. It was absolutely horrible. It’s taken me a long time to deal with that. But when I was making this record, all the stuff about him started coming forth.”
The southerner’s debut album, Villain, is heartfelt but it isn’t morose. Its 11 tracks feature soaring choruses as catchy as grappling hooks. Songs such as I’ll Be The Lightning, Golden Age, and Disconnect boast the pop sensibility of Trevor Rabin-era Yes and Marillion’s Top 40 singles.
“Marillion? I get emotional talking about them,” says the 35-year-old. “They’re the band that’s been in my life the longest. They were my dad’s favourite band. There’s actually a picture of my dad wearing a Marillion Fugazi T-shirt.”
By his own account, Adkinson was a kid who had quit everything, from baseball to Boy Scouts, when his dad sat him down to listen to Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The eight-year-old’s father told him that it would change his life. “And it did,” says Adkinson. “Music was this mysterious thing that took hold and has never let go.”
My father would be extremely proud of the fact I never gave up.
The self-described ‘Hillbilly progger’ taught himself to play drums, keyboards, guitar and even cello. He became an obsessive record collector whose influences include Genesis, Radiohead, Talk Talk, The Pineapple Thief and Steven Wilson: “My number-one musical hero.”
Villain isn’t overtly prog, though. It’s not a concept record, doesn’t feature any epic pieces and the time signatures aren’t mathematically complex fractions. However, Adkinson favours alternate tunings and, borrowing a songwriting trick he picked up from Crowded House’s Neil Finn, he likes to find strange chord shapes and frame songs around them. He credits producer Brandon Ham for helping him to attain unusual sounds. Case in point: PianoBurn (a song included on the free CD with Prog issue 55).
“It’s a three-minute prog song that has all kinds of movement,” says the jovial songwriter. “There’s the Blade Runner section – that’s what I call it. Then there’s the Phil Collins section, the metal section and the Steven Wilson section. A tornado touched down two miles from the studio while we were recording that song. I went outside. The sky was green. There were people running around. There were cars running red lights. It was pretty chaotic.”
Adkinson has just finished a (tornado-free) recording session of a seven-inch single of two new ambient and progressive songs, Triangle and EON. In the meantime, his self-released Villain has sold an impressive 10,000 copies. He just wishes that his dad could hear his songs.
“My father would be extremely proud of the fact that I never gave up,” says Adkinson. “I know for a fact he would’ve called me after this interview just to say, ‘That’s my boy!’”
**Rian Adkinson **(guitars, bass, keyboard, drums, vocals)
If Coldplay were marinated in prog, grilled with Trevor Rabin’s hot guitar licks and then sprinkled with Steven Wilson’s studio sonics
Villain is out now on iTunes and Spotify