Observing the Miracle with Adan Jodorowsky
“Who is it?” a voice calls out above me.
It’s 9 a.m. in early April and Adan Jodorowsky is poking his head out the window of his Mexico City apartment, a sleeping mask still attached to his face. It’s a fitting introduction to the inner sanctum of one of Latin America’s reigning pop mystics.
The Franco-Chilean-Mexican polymath got his start in the 1980s acting in films by surrealist master Alejandro Jodorowsky, the visionary director behind classics such as The Holy Mountain and Santa Sangre. He also happens to be Adan’s father. Today, the younger Jodorowsky is one of the most sought-after record producers on the continent, crafting lush reintroductions for superstars such as Natalia Lafourcade, Enrique Bunbury, and León Larregui, as well as star-making hits for Argentine disco crooners Bandalos Chinos and Colombian pop showman Esteman.
The value of a name is a recurring theme in his mythos, both as he’s become well known for working with pop powerhouses and as he’s searched for his own artistic identity as the son of a globally revered storyteller. Within that tension, the character of Adanowsky was born. The glam, somewhat bedraggled Batman to Adan’s Bruce Wayne made his first appearance in 2006. Through Adanowsky, Jodorowsky has unspooled the public performance of celebrity. But Adanowsky has also fulfilled a role as a creative conduit for Jodorowsky, allowing the artist behind the persona to explore broader concepts of free love and femininity through a string of episodic reinventions.
Ahead of his new album The Fool dropping on April 20, longtime fans are seeing a more down-to-earth Adanowsky. Heartbreak, celebrations of life, and head-turning guest spots from the likes of Beck and Karen O come alive within what could be the most balanced record of his career. Strokes of folk and kraut wash through the album, sucking the listener into the hypnotic sonic whirlpools he’s become so adept at creating. While the drama and artifice will never disappear from his work, which is a good thing, both sides of Adan seem more at peace and in cooperation than ever before on The Fool.
Back in his apartment, Adan confesses, “This is the first interview I’ve ever given in my pajamas.” Frankly, I’m into it: a refreshing, un-produced glimpse at the man behind the buzzy names and surrealist prose. Instead, I get stories from an eccentric upbringing, his synesthetic approach to music production, and invaluable wisdom passed down generations of Jodorowskys.
Who are you? A simple question for most, but I suspect a conundrum for you.
That’s the impossible question! On a human level, I’m still searching for myself, though I hope I never find myself. That keeps me searching. On an artistic level, I’ll spare you my Wikipedia page, but I began acting in films as a child, and later went into theater. When I was six years old, I buried my piano in the garden to bury with it my mother’s sadness, who’d cry whenever she played. So I was a bit of a surrealist kid.
I later began playing guitar with a punk band called the Hellboys. We were terrible but that’s where I learned everything, and I went on to become a session musician for many singers in France. My family constantly reminded me that I was a Jodorowsky and I needed to be center stage, which pissed me off, but I listened and started singing. After that doors opened up, though I waited a long time to sign a contract.
Who changed your mind about record deals?
Christophe, this really famous French artist who sang “Aline” back in the Sixties. He saw me perform at a bar and said he wanted to introduce me to his producer, Francis Dreyfus. I arrived at his office on the Champs Elysées and there was a contract on the table, which I signed without reading. Thankfully, he didn’t scam me. That was in 2005, before I released Étoile Eternelle. I thought I was going to be a star, but when the album came out, all we sold was 2000 copies. Everyone dropped me so I decided to translate the album into Spanish, [El Ídolo], and embarked on a Latin American tour that actually launched me.
Let’s go back to your upbringing in France and the meaning of the phrase, “You’re a Jodorowsky.” Can you unpack that?
My grandfather was a Ukrainian underwear salesman who lived in a working class neighborhood in Chile. He was a classic 1920s chauvinist and used to say art was for homosexuals. But my father [Alejandro Jodorowsky] fought to create art. He met my mother, [Valérie Trumblay] who was a Mexican actress, and I was born soon after. I grew up in a house with purple walls, dressed in purple, and riding in a purple car. When they started taking students, who also dressed in purple, people thought the Jodorowsky family was a cult. I had a peculiar childhood, surrounded by tarot, mysticism and symbols, and my parents separated when I was eight, just as I was filming Santa Sangre.
Usually, when young artists come from a family with public name recognition, they’re eager to step out of the shadow of that existing legacy. How did you negotiate your family’s legacy with your own identity?
People often think I grew up with money, but I was raised in a lower class suburb of Paris, where I played in the streets with neighborhood kids. I was shaped by rebelliousness and struggle, which is why I never wished to distance myself from that legacy. In my adolescence my father became more famous — he became “Jodorowsky!” — and I wondered if I could exist on my own, which is why I changed my name to Adanowsky. I needed to prove to myself that I could be somebody without leaning on a surname. In the beginning, all people wanted to talk about was my father, but things change as you produce a body of work, and eventually you’re measured by what you’ve actually done.
How is Adanowsky different as a creative vessel?
When I conceived Adanowsky I decided it would be most interesting to embody a different character for each album. The first was El Ídolo, a hungover cabaret star. The second [Amador] was a hippie. And the third [ADA] was half-man, half-woman. I grew up with my father and four brothers, so ADA is where I tapped into my femininity. Once I wrapped up the trilogy, I broke from that pattern and returned to Adan Jodorowsky. I wanted to explore art as my true self, without hiding behind characters. I eventually got bored of that and returned to Adanowsky.
Adanowsky versus Adan Jodorowsky. Where does one end and the other begin?
Adonowsky corresponds to a time of searching. But when I returned to Adan Jodorowsky, I became a music producer. By chance, my neighbor at the time was Natalia Lafourcade. My other neighbor was León Larregui [of Zoé], who knocked on my door saying he wanted to make a record in the style of Serge Gainsbourg. The album was a huge hit, and then came Daniella Spalla, Bandalos Chinos. Everything else I produced became successful, so people started calling and I forgot about myself. I was seeing gold and platinum albums everywhere and wondered why I hadn’t given myself that treatment. That’s how I approached my new album, The Fool.
With The Fool you’ve returned to Adanowsky. How is this chapter different from previous eras?
Before, I’d haphazardly set up a mic and record something off the cuff. I never fussed much over the mix. But for this album, I was mindful of every note, every word, and every intention. I recorded fully analog and on tape, and gave myself a month to get it exactly right. I was first inspired by the tarot card of The Fool, so the character for this album is a man in search of himself. It’s much more of an exploration of reality than ever before.
Over the past year you’ve experienced the loss of your mother Valérie and your brother Cristobal. On The Fool, the song “Alejandro” is a celebration of your father. How do you transform these monolithic concepts of death and family into art?
The Fool was written and recorded before their passing, though maybe on my next album I’ll write about them. But with time I’ve learned to visualize death and truly consider what we’re doing on this Earth. I believe we’re all cells contributing to the development of a larger body. And if that is my duty, I will contribute beauty. So now I want all the art I produce to be luminous, because that’s what I’m leaving behind. I was out for a walk with my son Alion and I told him, “Some people focus on the dog shit on the street while others delight in the songbird in the trees.” You need to learn to observe the miracle, and as a father I want to give him the tools to grow spiritually.
The album features some pretty remarkable guests, from Beck to Karen O and Oracle Sisters. What attracts you to a collaborator?
I like collaborating with people I admire, and music is designed to be made with other people. I wouldn’t do it for marketing. Beck [is someone] I’ve admired my whole life, and Karen O as well, though meeting her was more of an accident. One day I arrived at Sonic Ranch [in Texas] and saw a giant poster for The Holy Mountain, one of my father’s films, which the owner of the studio said was a gift from Karen O. A few years later, I returned to the studio to mix an album and it so happened that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were recording next door. We eventually met, hit it off, and decided to go for dinner, during which I read their tarot. That night I exchanged contacts with Karen, and we became friends. Later on, I wrote a song in English that I wanted to sing with someone else and, of course, I thought of her. I was delighted that she accepted and even contributed new lyrics and melodies, and that’s how “When The Angel Comes” was born.
How about Beck? Was that connection equally fortuitous?
Well, Sean Lennon is a good friend of mine, and I was aware that he knew Beck. I’d always wanted to work with him, impossible and surreal as the thought seemed, so I sent Sean the song [“Chain Reactionary”] and asked if Beck might go for it. Sean passed it along and he said yes. Beck took a while to send over the vocals, but it actually happened. It’s been a collective, long-distance effort, really. The song was written by a French, London-based band called Faux Real. And since I was Michel Gondry’s neighbor back when I lived in L.A., I’ve spent the last seven years begging him to direct one of my music videos, until he finally accepted. Everything came together through friends, which makes it even more gratifying.
You work with friends a lot. Is that how your rock ‘n’ roll supergroup The Guapos came about?
About 10 years ago I was hanging out at Jay de la Cueva’s house and we wrote this song “Soy Un Guapo,” a pretty straight forward rock ‘n’ roll cut. We were laughing the whole time saying, ‘Imagine if we called ourselves The Guapos.’ Every couple of years, we’d run into each other and talk about getting that band together, until we eventually did. I invited El David Aguilar to join us, and at the time I was producing Spanish singer Leiva, and proposed that he come in as our drummer. We went to record in Chicago with only two mics and a bunch of analog instruments, and it was magic. That album should be dropping sometime this summer.
Your work as a producer often feels retro, but never nostalgic. Recent records by Bandalos Chinos, Bunbury, Natalia Lafourcade, and Paola Navarrete have been enhanced by your cinematic pop. I wonder if a visual storyline comes to mind as you produce.
Oftentimes with a song, I imagine a film and the story where it needs to go. Once upon a time, I wanted to impress with my productions, but now what interests me is erasing myself — ceasing to exist and letting the music speak and touch people’s hearts on its own. It’s about connection. Music is not cerebral, it’s emotional. However, with giant names like Lafourcade, Bunbury, and Larregui, it’s virtually impossible to surpass their past successes, so it’s more a matter of experimenting and trying new things. I like going to new places with artists and pushing them out of their comfort zone.
For nearly 20 years you’ve oscillated back and forth between Adanowsky and Adan Jodorowsky. In the end, who do you think will win out?
Adanowsky will continue! It was a terrible hassle changing everything on Spotify. There are already many new projects on the horizon; I’m in my father’s next film, Viaje Esencial, and I’m working on opening my own studio. Maybe I’ll call it El Estudiowsky. I’m also going on tour with The Guapos in Spain. But all in all, I’m just excited to go on stage as Adanowsky and wake up in my pajamas as Adan.
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