Thirty-eight years after his first gig, and 34 years since his first album, Adam Ant takes pride in the fact that he still has the ability to deliver a rock 'n' roll song. He knows better than to take the idea for granted.
Thirty-eight years after his first gig, and 34 years since his first album, Adam Ant takes pride in the fact that he still has the ability to deliver a rock ’n’ roll song. He knows better than to take the idea for granted. “I have more appreciation for the fact that I can work at something I really love doing,” the veteran singer said from Los Angeles.
The new Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, being released today, marks his first new album in 18 years — and it wasn’t easily made.
Things have rarely come easy for Ant, a pioneer of the new-wave and new-romantic movements of the 1970s.
He had his first challenge to overcomein the mid-1980s, when his sexy chic and tribal theatricality — seemingly tailor-made for the MTV age — were superseded by a different type of pop bombast from the likes of Culture Club and Duran Duran, both of which were clearly influenced by him.
More recently, he has struggled with mental illness, although those struggles date from the mid-1970s, when he attempted suicide while attending college. Ant was found to suffer bipolar disorder, which led to a brief hospitalization in 2003.
These days, in addition to making music, he works with a British organization called SANE as a mental-health activist.
“Obviously, it’s been a bit of a rocky road,” acknowledges the 58-year-old London native, who was born Stuart Goddard. “I think sometimes you do need something sort of drastic to stop you in your tracks and say: ‘Hey, you’re working too hard. You’ve got to take stock of your life.’ You think you’re invincible, and . . . the demands on yourself are quite huge. I never took holidays, never took a break. That was, I think, key to certainly a large degree of my problem.
“People understand drug addiction or alcoholism in my profession because it’s so common, but the taboo surrounding mental health in general is global because. . . there’s so much we don’t understand. We will one day, but right now we don’t.
“It’s a big learning curve.”
Raised by divorced working-class parents — he has described his father as alcoholic and abusive — the young Stuart was a hellion who threw a brick through a window of the principal’s office at his first school. A sympathetic teacher nurtured his artistic interests, however, which led to his enrolling at the Hornsey College of Art in London. He dropped out to pursue a burgeoning interest in music.
Ant started out in a band called Bazooka Joe in 1975, at one point having the recently formed Sex Pistols as its opening act. After his first mental-hospital stay, he took the name Adam Ant, formed a group called the Ants and eventually signed with the Pistols’ manager, Malcolm Mc-Laren, who helped the quartet forge a colorful tribal identity and get a deal for its debut album, Dirk Wears White Sox (1979).
The album had modest success, reaching No. 16 on the British charts, but Mc-Laren threw a wrench into the works by stealing the Ants to back another singer, Annabella Lwin, in Bow Wow Wow. Ant reorganized, and his new version of the Ants — with guitarist and co-writer Marco Pirroni, and two drummers — proved more potent.
Ant, though, was a bit ambivalent about the band’s success.
“I always considered myself, in my heart, part of the punk period,” he explains, “ but, by the time the hits came along, I got collared into the new romantic thing. I tried to distance myself from it.”
The Ants proved short-lived, breaking up in 1982. Pirroni rode shotgun as Ant began a solo career, scoring a few more hits — most notably Goody Two Shoes (1982), Puss ’n Boots (1983) and Strip (1983) — before his fortunes began to fade.
Although he continued to record, Ant’s focus shifted to acting. His success in landing roles in TV shows was enough to persuade him to move to Hollywood.
“I just needed a break away from (music),” Ant says. “I think it was a long time coming. But I missed it, and it’s good to be doing it again now.”
Ant played a one-off concert in September 2007 at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre to promote his book, but receiving a 2008 Icon Award from the British music magazine Q spurred him back into action. Two years later, he started a record company, Blue Black Hussar, and returned to live performing.
He also got to work on Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner’s Daughter, aiming to create something “completely different from anything else I’ve done before,” he says.
“The mood of it, I’d say, is quite personal,” Ant says. “I’m very pleased with it lyrically.”