Todd Avery Shanker, "Brix Smith: A Short Fall
To Adult Net"
Illinois Entertainer, November 1989, pp. 26-30
Like many teenagers before her, as a Hyde Park high schooler Brix Smith not only wanted to be a part of the "adult" world, but felt she could easily succeed in it as an individual entity. For at U High in Chicago, "womanhood" was a priority for the talented, intelligent, strawberry blonde Brix.
No doubt, the microcosm of a minor can be very frustrating to a maturing and musical young woman, what with the strict curfews, scrutinizing date checks by parents, and worst of all, prohibition from the club scene (unless you had a fake I.D., of course). But as Smith spent her high school years continuously jetting back and forth between Chicago and Los Angeles from remarried mother to remarried father, little did she know that just a few years later she would suddenly be immersed in the "adult" world at the age of 19, when she would become an integral part of one of Britain's most confusing and confounding, yet consistently creative bands -- The Fall.
In the midst of taking a year off from her school work at Bennington College in Vermont, Smith flew into Chicago and started her own band, an experimental trio called Burden of Proof.
"I was really into music at that time (1982)," asserts Smith. "Me and friend Lisa would go to Wax Trax record store just about everyday to scrounge for a job and instead we'd end up buying loads of records.
"One day, while we were busy shuffling through the albums, Lisa yells out,'My God! here's 'Slate' [sic] by The Fall. You've got to hear it.' She always was going on and on about The Fall, but I didn't want to listen to them because I assumed that they were a hardcore band like Bad Drains or something. But that day we went home and I heard The Fall for the first time -- I thought it was sheer brilliance."
Ironically, two weeks later The Fall were scheduled to appear at Chicago's favorite dynamite-den of noise and new music, Cabaret Metro. Smith and friend, armed with fake I.D.s, converged on the club like stray dogs on a steak bone, "But toward the end of the show, Lisa just left me there, alone in the middle of this sweating crowd," Smith remembers. "I was a little scared, and angry too, so I left and walked downstairs to the Smart Bar. A little while later I went up to the bar to talk with a friend, looked next-to me, and there was Mark (E, Smith, lyricist and lead vocalist for The Fall)."
As the story goes, the Smiths hit off immediately. Mark listened intently over the next couple of weeks to Brix's demo tapes, and was so impressed he asked permission to use one of her songs on The Fall's Perverted By Language. And after he canned their lead guitarist, Brix was asked to join The Fall as the full-time replacement. Less than a year later Mark and Brix were married. Suddenly, even though she couldn't legally enter a bar, she was an "adult" with incredible responsibility, whether she liked it or not.
For the next six years (which included albums like Fall In A Hole (sic), The Wierd and Frightening World of The Fall, Call For Escape Route, This Nation's Saving Grace, Bend Sinister, The Frenz Experiment, Palace Of Swords Reversed (sic), and I Am Kurious Oranj), The Fall's plangent dissonance transfixed their fans with hypnotic viciousness, raping the clandestine reaches of the mind like an unconscious yet uncontrollable urge. With Mark E. Smith's android-a-billy vocals pinballing through fractured cobblestone rhythms and disembodied, ghoulish noise, The Fall suceeded worldwide attracting fans and deflecting critics with every new release. But enduring through it all was Brix's lunging lashing lead guitar cutting like a sharp icicle into the hearts of rock and roll fans all across the globe.
In 1985 while still with The Fall, Brix formed her own band, Adult Net, and released the singles "Incense And Peppermint" (originally done by the Strawberry Alarm Clock), "Star Say Go", "Edie" and "Waking Up In The Sun" on Beggars Banquet gaining a nice slice of cult popularity with her own brand of sweet psychedeia. However, the sunny popishness of the early Adult Net singles made it very easy for the conscientious Fall fans to hate them. That conflict paralleled one that suddenly broke-out full force in the personal and musical workings of The Fall.
Earlier this autumn, The Fall's "Seminal Live" and Brix's solo project debut LP, Adult Net's The Honey Tangle, were released simultaneously. Rumours ran amok about Brix. Mark, and The Fall -- rumors which Brix is now ready to address.
"I want to clear up any confusion there might be. I am no longer in The Fall. I'm done -- through -- finished!" she proclaims. "Basically, Adult Net began to take up more and more of my time and I began to feel really torn about which way to go musically. I gave The Fall 100% of my abilities for six consecutive years. But I just felt something inside me, something strong, which made me want to compose and play and sing my own music, in my own way. And, well, to put it bluntly, the music I wanted to play was very, very opposite from what The Fall were doing. It just wasn't fair for me to keep playing with them; It wasn't fair to the other band members because suddenly my heart just wasn't in it.
"I also think a lot of these problems started to wade into my relationship with Mark, because it was all so inextricably and dramatically bound together, you know, the music, the marriage,the British media exaggerations, and of course, The Fall. As a result, I'm no longer a member of The Fall and I'm no longer married. And that is
the bottom line."
Brix continues, still cool and collected, her voice etched with vigor:..I feel I've done my work for The Fall, and I just don't want to talk about them anymore. I don't want to sound trite. But music is my life. I usually refuse to answer questions about The Fall, but I guess I do want people to know that I have a history in music. There's no bitter feelings, I just want to look to the future. There's no way I can step back into the past and change anything that's already happened with Mark and The Fall, so I don't see any reason to dwell on it."
Adulthood may not have been going too well for Smith, but Adult Net was. Brix credits Adult Net's major label "discovery" to an odd incident which occurred when she was recording her first version of The Honey Tangle in 1986. (Later she would allow
Beggars Banquet to release it.)
"While I was rehearsing one afternoon, this American T.V. movie director called the studio to talk to Simon Rodgers, my producer, about scoring this television movie called 'Daddy', out of nowhere he asked Simon, 'What is that music playing in the background?' Simon told him, 'Well that's my friend Smith. And this T.V. guy goes That's it! That's the music I want for my movie!' Next thing I knew I flew out to Los Angeles, and they recorded two songs, 'Waking Up In The Sun' and 'Spin This Web' for the movie, I even got to appear in the film performing the music. It was great!"
On the heels of her television success, Smith decided to hit the hot L.A. pavement, cruising confidently for a major label licensing deal. After Geffen showed great interest in her Beggars Banquet tape, Smith flew back to England to make the changes she felt were necessary before a world-wide release could successfully be made. But Geffen still had misgivings about signing Adult Net, as they wanted to see a live performance.
"Right about that time the Smiths spilt up, so I asked the band, Mike Joyce, Craig Gannon, and Andy Rourke, if they would do an informal gig with me in London. They were into it, so we set up a night at the RCA Building," Smith explains.
"I was really really nervous, and I specifically told the promoter to put like one little sentence in the paper. Of course, when I showed up I discovered it was sold out, and that every major label was there, except Geffen. People were fighting for tickets outside and they were going for around 22 pounds, which is about 45 American dollars. This just made me more nervous, because I knew this was make or break time for me. I mean, I had never fronted a band In my whole life and here I was with all these bigwigs. Luckily, the gig went fantastically. The next day I got a great offer from PolyGram and I took it."
For the first time, Smith says she felt like an adult who had her shit together -- she was independent, her creativity was flowing, and she had even taken care of the business aspects of her career.
"It all relates to the name of my group -- Adult Net. I was always mystified with the word "adult" because when you're a kid you never think that you're going to be an adult -- it's sort of like a club you think you'll never get into. I mean there's adult books, adult movies: you can't even go to a bar unless you're 21.
"But on the other hand, you can be involved in a lot of adult things before you're 21 and still not feel like you're there. It's all so mystical. I was married and a part of a popular band when I finally turned 21. I remember waking up that morning and thinking, wow, I'm an adult now but I don't feel any different than the day before. I still don't feel like an adult half of the time, whatever that's supposed to feel like. But I still enjoy the taboo sound when you say something is 'adult'.
"After all my so called 'adult' experiences, I sometimes wished there was a safety net to catch me when I fell," Smith concedes. "That's why I called the band Adult Net. But this net can hurt you as.well, a net can be like a trap that you throw over a wild animal, ensnaring and entangling it -- and sometimes the harder you struggle to get away, the more entangled you become. I've felt this way many, many times and I feel the phrase 'Adult Net' has a really interesting definitional duality. It just really hits home for me."
The Honey Tangle, finally released by PolyGram this fall, is a gently interlaced flurry of mesmerizing guitars, girlishly ethereal vocals (re: The Bangles), and rolling rhythms that are finessed with subtlety and sinew. In other words, it's psychedelic pop that reminisces about the '60s just as it beckons the '90s. Appropriately, Smith has assembled an aesthetically interesting band with sage-like prescience -- drummer Clem Burke (formerly of Blondle), bassist James Eller (Pretenders, Julian Cope; Nick Lowe), guitarist Craig Gannon (The Smiths, Aztec Camera, The Fall) and producer and keyboardist Craig Leon (Ramones, Roches, Blondie). Singing gorgeous backing harmonics is Austin, Texas' 60s vocal veteran Cartha Webb (sic), formerly of Bubble Puppy, The Mamas and The Papas, The Children, 13th Floor Elevators, and even The Carpenters.
"I think the music on The Honey Tangle is a sticky little web of sound, and once you start listening I think you'll get trapped in it. It's definitely pop music, but it's pop music with substance and feeling," says Smith.
"This music comes out of me naturally -- it's not calculated or contrived in any wa. I take my inspiration from the '60s but I've definitely made a '90s record. I try to write as beautifully as possible without getting corny, but then again, my lyrics come from deep within. I take my visual inspirations from nature, and as a result, the imagery that I use to convey my emotions is often times environmental in its focus."
It seems her new boyfriend, world renowned virtuoso violinist Nigel Kennedy, has had some influence on her as well. On "Sad," Smith expresses her melancholia by utilizing a sterling string section, composed by pianist/arranger Van Dyke Parks.
Similarly, the carousel-like whirl of 'Tiffany Tuesday" is infused with a confessional catharticism, an autobiographical giggle, if you will. "That song is a self-portrait," she explains. "After I did that T.V. thing out in L.A., I went to my hairdresser and had all my hair cut off -- down to shoulder length. And I had it dyed black underneath and white on top. Then, I flew to Germany to see a friend of mine. She looked at me and said, 'My god, you know who you look like? Tiffany Tuesday!' I don't know if that name rings a bell for you, but in the late '60s there was a Barble Doll with the name Tiffany Tuesday. The doll had black and white hair, sort of. By twisting her scalp you could make her a brunette one day and a blonde the next. I was like, 'Oh my god, I do look like her!' So I decided to write this sort of tongue-in-cheek song about being able to laugh at yourself and your mistakes and yet still being able to like yourself.
"If there was one theme on this album it would be that life can be really hard and horrible," she continues, "and at times it can seem like the obstacles to happiness are insurmountable. But if you keep at it and persevere, you can get through it. I'm not trying to be overly simplistic and say happiness is something that's easy to attain--it's not. I'm just saying, from personal experience, 'Don't give up.'"
Wise advice from a sharp, secure woman who nonetheless continues to struggle within the "adult net" -- life.