Walker Percy said that "American novels are about everything." In Adam Gnade’s view, a good American novel "looks under the rocks and shines a flashlight on our lives from birth to death, the good times and bad." It is the story of the weddings, funerals, struggles, feuds, the politics and the crime, the ruling class to the lowest bottom dweller. According to Gnade, American novels (or stories or songs) are at their best when they are crowded with life and detail. Books like Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Saul Bellow's own tales of Augie March show an America of oppression and possibility, a vigorous, rollicking, lovely-awful place full of the best and the worst of what we have to offer.
Gnade’s work, which is stretched across a series of connected books and records made up of what he’s named "talking songs," is a reflection of the America he’s seen while traveling through it for the last decade. With the books and records sharing characters and picking up each other’s storylines, his series attempts to document the ugliness in contrast to the overwhelming beauty of America, in regards to the landscape, the government, and in the population's outlook on culture, morals, and politics.
Says Gnade, "I've had a visceral reaction of horror seeing my country up close that's equally paired with being humbled by the beauty of the land and the kindness, spirit, and courage of the people. Especially in this new era of Trump, it's a mixed-up love/hate feeling that's hard to come to terms with, which is why I’ve taken it as my life’s work to tell this country's story from my own experience."
In his "talking songs" and books, Gnade follows a set of recurring characters, the narrative moving back and forth across his timeline to document the changes in generation and to provide historical context, but mostly keeping the story set and rooted in the current era; showing Americans at what Gnade believes to be their truest, "the ugly and beautiful, but also everything in between, the gray areas, the ambiguity that makes us who we are."
The name of the collected series is We Live Nowhere and Know No One. According to Gnade, "This is in reference to the transitory nature of a lot of our population as well as the sheer size of the continent that has family and friends living thousands of miles apart. It's also directed at the solitary American character, the fear of each other that has been bred into us, and the faulty conception that ‘rugged American individualism’ is a healthy, vital, and productive thing."
Inspired by American writers such as Willa Cather, John Dos Passos, Sherman Alexie, John Steinbeck, Louise Erdrich, and Thomas Wolfe, as well as story-telling musicians Bruce Springsteen, Jason Isbell, and Woody Guthrie, Gnade hopes to "show this country accurately—at work, in school, in bedrooms, churches, bars, airports, bus stations, kitchens, jail cells, concert halls, military bases; Americans in love, at war, our terrible moments, our goodness, our lusts, our wild ambitions and great dreams, our everyday struggles and our highest triumphs. I want to write this story personally but also in a partially objective documentary style of realist fiction that will (if I do it right) build a large and substantial body of work and serve as part of the record our time."
Adam Gnade (pronounced "guh-naw-dee") was born in San Diego, California, and cut his teeth at the houseparties and all-ages shows of his hometown’s experimental art scene. After running the weekly newspaper Fahrenheit San Diego with future Pioneers Press staffers Jessie Duke and Elizabeth Thompson, Gnade went on the road, crossing the country, as he says, "what felt like endlessly, in cars and buses and trains" while writing what would become the first two works of his connected series.
Later settling in Portland, Oregon, Gnade issued these two releases, his debut record, Run Hide Retreat Surrender via Loud + Clear Records, and then his first novel, Hymn California, three years later on CASH Music‘s DutchMoney Books. Both saw extensive touring in the US and overseas along with artists such as Jonquil, Eugene McGuinness, Blood Red Shoes, and Oxford, England’s Youthmovies, the latter of which released Honey Slides, a collaborative "talking songs" EP with Gnade via Try Harder Records (Foals, the Joy Formidable) which followed up the Shout the Rafters Down! EP on the Drowned in Sound label. Both EPs received substantial UK and EU radio play and were followed by further overseas touring. Two more "talking song" tracks with Youthmovies were released as part of the Polyp EP in 2009 via the Blast First Petite label (John Fahey, Suicide, the Slits).
In 2010, Gnade left Portland and went "back to the land," starting the Hard Fifty Farm in rural Kansas with Jessie Duke. Before relocating to Ann Arbor, Michigan with her two toddler sons and partner, journalist and Green is the New Red author Will Potter, Duke launched the publishing house and distro Pioneers Press in 2013, releasing Gnade’s next two books, a novel, Caveworld, and his sole work of nonfiction, The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Fighting the Big Motherfuckin‘ Sad, which would become the #1 bestseller of Powell’s Books‘ small press section for three consecutive years following its publication. Pioneers Press is run out of Duke’s Ann Arbor home and the Hard Fifty Farm, with Elizabeth Thompson heading up the Kansas department.
In 2016 Gnade signed with San Diego-based label/publisher Three One G (The Locust, Silent, Blood Brothers, Doomsday Student, Head Wound City, Black Dice, Antioch Arrow, etc) and released a novella, Locust House (a co-publication with Pioneers Press). His next Three One G releases were two "talkings songs" EPs, Greater Mythology Blues and AMERICANS, as well as a digital single of "talking song" vocals backed by the band Planet B (members of The Locust, Head Wound City, Dead Cross, Retox, etc).
Recent "talking songs" have featured members of Gang of Four, the Crimson Curse, Castanets, Swing Kids, Chad Valley, All Leather, Some Girls, Modest Mouse, Ohioan, Sydney Eloise and the Palms, Holy Molar, Menomena, and 65daysofstatic. Performing "talking songs" and reading works of fiction, Gnade has shared stages and festival bills with Foals, Calvin Johnson, Fuck Buttons, Julia Eff, Thurston Moore, Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Under White Pines, Alana Amram, Television, the Evolutionary Jass Band, the Max Levine Ensemble, Tortoise, BEAK, Mum, Ghost Mice, Charlie Cunningham, the Wild, Ramshackle Glory, Trace Ramsey, Adrian Orange, Wolf Eyes, Andrew Mears, Har Mar Superstar, Scout Niblett, Jeff Rosenstock, Les Savy Fav, Viking Moses, Levon Helm, George Pringle, Angelo Spencer, Dinosaur Jr, and more. Recent performances have been at the All Tomorrow’s Parties "End of an Era" Festival, ATP’s Netil House Takeover in London, Plan-It-X Fest 2016, as well as various house shows, bookfairs, and in-stores.
Gnade is currently working on a "very ambitious and very long novel that will bring together most of my regular characters" and recently released Life is the Meatgrinder That Sucks in All Things, a series of "talking songs" connected to the book Locust House.
Copyright © Adam Gnade