Ade Introduces Us to the Sunlit World of “Midnight Pizza”
The songwriter walks us through his debut album—which drops today—track by track.
It isn’t really an original idea these days to present your record as being outside the realm of genre and the result of a state of overstimulation, but the debut album from Ade certainly approaches this idea in a unique way. What the songwriter calls a “tie-dyed Venn diagram” of sounds cobbled together through an upbringing soundtracked by the usual millennial diet of rock, pop, and hip-hop feels wholly removed from any of those genres, instead eliciting vibrant color palettes as a curated “RIYL” list.
Overseen by an in-demand production team including CJ Camerieri and Rob Moose, Midnight Pizza feels like the easily distracted lost prequel to Oberhofer’s Time Capsules II, taking grandiose if not wholly operatic ideas and distilling them into the most pop-song-friendly—and often the goofiest—recordings possible. On one track the production adheres to Ade’s request to go “full Disney” with melodramatic piano, while just moments later a bubblegum take on country Western takes the over-iced cake for catchiest song about Rob not shutting the fuck up you’ll ever hear.
With the record debuting today, we had Ade walk us through each of its 10 tracks, doing a much better job of explaining how this record sounds than I’ve done—or, more succinctly, than this video could very aptly do—in a write-up that’s as much fun as the record itself. In the songwriter’s own words, it’s “lots of things at once…but somehow it works.”
1. “The City”
I had just gotten my studio up and running after moving to a new apartment where I’d be living alone for the first time, brimming with youthful optimism that I’d be this new, more extroverted, cool guy living downtown, which I thought would have an effect on my writing/composition. Like I’d step on some old, gross, magic syringe and be injected with half a century of leftover energy from the Kitchen and TV Party and Alan Vega. This, of course, did not happen, and actually I guess I wouldn’t really want to “step on a syringe” anyway.
I walked into the studio one night and immediately started playing what would soon be “The City.” What I was singing felt like a continuation of a song I’d been writing since I started writing songs, and I felt this sort of crestfallen sensation—same guy, new neighborhood, no evolution. In the spirit of that realization, I thought it’d be cool to make it sound like some sort of dream or vignette that cut on in the middle of a line, and cut out just when we were getting somewhere. So, you know…to be continued.
2. “Happy Birthday”
So you wake up from that dream, and, as is often the case, things are kinda feeling better since it’s morning, so I thought I’d properly kick off the album with a sunlit sentiment of self-acceptance. The track for “Happy Birthday” kind of feels like the right sonic introduction to the world of Midnight Pizza—all the eras and sounds swimming around in my often-overstimulated brain. A sort of nostalgia whiplash. I kept singing “happy birthday, darlin’” which was just a syllabic filler lyric that I figured I’d surely replace with something “better.”
It wouldn’t go away, though, and I got all pissed off so I went on a walk around the East Village to cool off, still kind of at war with myself, but then took a sip of a really good smoothie and had this sudden zen-like moment realizing that I am this smoothie. Lots of things at once, and sometimes even peanut butter, which at first you’re like, “Idk about peanut butter in a smoothie,” but then somehow it works. Maybe that’s kinda cheesy, but as soon as I embraced that everything came together.
3. “Another Weekend”
“Another Weekend” was a quickie. I was sampling this beat up old Mother Goose story time record and it kept popping in these deep and musical ways that I thought sounded like kick drums, so I collected a bunch of them, and that became the foundation for the track. The chordal information is pretty straightforward, so I had a good working form of the tune in a few hours and just started improvising vocal melodies and lyrics over it. I’d been on a kind of boring coffee date earlier that day so I just started singing about that and landed on the line “I can’t go another weekend.” I thought it would be funny to make a four-on-the-floor club track about not wanting to go out, so that kinda guided the rest of the lyric and bingo bango “Another Weekend” was born.
4. “In the Alley”
“Alley” is my personal favorite on the record, but it was like a 30,000 piece jigsaw puzzle to complete. The instrumental went through a lot of different iterations and has something like 500 different tracks of this and that on it, which I probably won’t do anymore. There’s like a loop of an old train in there. The lyric is an articulation of a feeling I was having a lot in my early/mid-twenties, which was that I couldn’t tell if I was maturing/progressing as a person, a sentiment that runs through most of the album.
In this case, it’s the version of it that feels like I am just repeating myself over and over, and maybe everyone and everything is? I worked out the arrangement with CJ Camerieri (CARM) and then we multi-tracked basically an entire orchestra, which features Hideaki Aomori and Alex Sopp from yMusic (the group CJ is also in) among other super talented musicians—which was just insane to organize, and I’m super psyched to never touch that Pro Tools session again. But when I listen back to it now, train and all, it’s extremely rewarding.
5. “Feel a Thing”
I think of “Feel a Thing” as an intermission, and in some ways a continuation of the vignette idea that “The City” introduces. Admittedly, it came out of a pretty depressed period I was going through, which, if you’re familiar with that darkness, you know it’s pretty overwhelming to say the absolute least. I think the kind of manic emotional rollercoaster of that period manifested naturally in the production from the jump—really heavy, aggressive, constant kick drums and then this huge dense orchestral moment, followed by a sort of drum break seizure. It just all feels like weight. Pouring those feelings into music is deeply therapeutic though, and has always helped me lighten the load, as it were.
Thought it’d probably be a good idea to follow that up with something light, so here’s “Die.” I generally try to maintain a sense of humor in pretty much everything I do and make, but this tune kinda effortlessly wrote itself that way. The first verse is a true story: I went to this kind of spiritual “doctor” who had me hold this metal rod with a damp rag around it in one hand and a crystal in the other as she went through this list of everything—objects, food, emotions—on a computer. When she clicked on something there’d be this piano roll sound, and if the note range was wide then that meant I had some sort of significant reaction to it, and she’d say something like, “Stop eating gluten.”
So a big piano roll happens and she’s like, “Oh lemme see…oh…mmm…you have a problem with mirrors.” Like, what am I supposed to do with that? Then after almost two hours of this she prescribed me this tiny vial of “charged water” and was like, “Just hold onto this in your pocket for a week and you should begin to feel better.” The whole experience was so absurd and hilarious and felt really in line with this sense of emotional hypochondria I feel some people in my generation have (myself included) that leads you to seek out all kinds of alternative treatments for what may possibly be a simple problem that is just kind of uncomfortable to face. So I just wove that story into a broader satirical ramble about my social life downtown and tossed in some funky wah clav and some trumpets.
7. “Get to Know Me”
Then bam, straight into “Get to Know Me”—a dissonant, fantastical cautionary tale about the all-too-common surreality of fame, particularly among youngsters, which I really think is kind of obviously unfair and often psychologically damaging. It’s also another personal favorite because I’d never really produced or written anything like this before, and the horn/woodwind arrangement sessions were very collaborative and experimental given that the foundation of the instrumental is so harmonically vague. Everyone who played on it got to break out their weirdest shit, which is fun. Chad Lefkowitz-Brown played this absolute ripper of a sax solo in the outro, and Rob Moose wrote a kinda campy, spooky interlude. It’s kind of theatrical and crazy but I have a penchant for that kind of melodrama and it was a lot of fun to indulge in it. Oh, and another fun thing about it is that it loops if you listen to it on repeat, which I don’t really know why you’d do that, but check it out.
8. “Havin’ Fun With Pharaoh”
“Pharaoh” is a little psychedelic trip down memory lane. It’s one of the older instrumentals on the album, and when I went to write the lyric, I was scrolling through some old voice notes for inspiration and ended up all the way back at a recording of the piano riff when I was originally working it out, which was years back. Then I ended up down the rabbit hole listening to a year’s worth of other voice notes of my friends and me goofing around which ended up serving as the inspiration I was searching for. Since I was thinking about all this, I went back to visit the apartment I grew up in, which I lived in briefly during college and was kind of a clubhouse for me and my friends. At the time, it had recently been renovated, and I had this bittersweet metaphorical experience walking around and realizing that a renovation of an apartment or of the self doesn’t erase the formative experiences of the past. So yeah, I’m a sentimental guy.
9. “Moving Slow”
When I wrote the changes for “Moving Slow” I thought it sounded like some sort of classic songbook love song—only issue was, at the time, I spent most of my days and nights alone in the apartment, smoking weed and making music, so the closest connection I had to “being in love” was the occasional dream where you construct some kind of faceless fantasy person to feel for. The only honest lyrical option was to face what were, admittedly, some pretty closed-off antisocial tendencies and write about those dream fantasies with a side of self analysis. It also provided an excellent opportunity to indulge in some bucket list type production, which manifests itself as the absolutely gorgeous string arrangement Rob Moose composed. I emailed him and was like, “Go full Disney,” and he was like “Got it.” Man did he get it—he elevated this song in such a profound way, and I am just so lucky to have gotten the opportunity to work with him on it.
10. “Midnight Pizza”
“Midnight Pizza” was the first song I wrote for the album, and actually the first song I finished in a very long time after a kind of freakout that resulted in my not singing or writing songs for what ended up being a number of years. As soon as I wrote it, I immediately knew it was the last song on an eponymous album, which was this incredibly inspiring moment that shocked me back into writing songs again and dreaming up the rest of the album. I was in one of my “Where am I at in life?” moments, thinking about how often I was staying out until sunrise, and eating pizza in the middle of the night, and that surely these habits couldn’t last forever, but I keep waiting to feel like an “adult” and it never seems to come.
I think I was a little premature with those anxieties, so it didn’t exactly feel right to sing the song as “me,” but everything clicked when I started to sing the song from the voice/perspective of the worst-case-scenario sleazy manchild I did not want to become. It was my first experiment with trying to embody a character, and I feel like that really opened me up to a comfortability with abandoning a set of self-imposed rules that had been weighing me down, which was a tremendously important mental shift that I think allowed me to be the most uninhibited version of myself and pursue whatever musical direction I felt like in order to feel excited about writing songs again and making this album.