Once voted Sexiest Man Alive by MTV viewers, singer Adam Ant is an '80s icon. The New Waver played with the Sex Pistols at their first-ever show, and he's sold some 40 million albums over the course of a career that stretches back to the '70s. But during the '90s and early 2000s, Ant disappeared from the music business and lived in a small, isolated Tennessee town where he married and had a daughter. Last year, he released a new studio album of country-ish tunes that reflect the time he spent in the American South and he returned to the road. He recently phoned from his London office to talk about his album and tour, which brings him back to Cleveland for the first time in what he estimates to be almost 20 years.
The upcoming tour is your most extensive in 18 years. Talk about what brought you back to music.
I just thought the time was right. I had been doing it solidly from 1977 to 1995 or 1996. I had my fill out of it. These things take time. I had a daughter and wrote a book. The time was quite full, and three years ago, I got the urge to put together a new record and play live. The most important thing was to play live first. I went back and started playing some of the places I used to play in London, like the Electric Ballroom. And I had to find the right band, which took about a year. We've done 140 shows together at this point. We didn't want to put the cart before the horse.
Talk about a bit about your early years. Was the late '70s an incredibly great time for music in the UK?
I think one tends to forget how grimy and tough it was. I look back on it in great fondness. You have the innocence, and you don't have the responsibility. My singular ambition was to get a record deal. That's how it should be. Having been around when the punk rock explosion happened was a great opportunity.
How big of an influence were the Sex Pistols?
They were definitely an influence on me. They were on their own, and they supported my band in their first ever concert in 1975. They had the energy and the directness and the anger, if you like, and there was a feeling that a lot of people had been buying the clothes that Malcolm [McLaren] and Vivienne [Westwood] were selling at their shop on King's Road. There was a scene, and they were a catalyst. Most of the people who saw them went on to form their own bands. I was one of them. It was an exciting period in music.
You once had eight singles in the Top 40 in one week. Which of your favorites do you enjoy playing the most?
I think the good thing about going on the road again is that I have a whole evening to luxuriate in that catalog. I have ten albums now and you have this opportunity to select my favorite songs. I'm singing my favorite songs. They're like children and they have to learn to survive on their own strength. It's good to play a song from Wonderful or Prince Charming to an audience that can be young or a mixture of old and young. It's surprising the audience you're playing to. The songs have to stand up. I feel committed to giving the best kind of delivery to the songs.
Talk about the new album, Adam Ant is the Blueblack Hussar in Marrying the Gunner's Daughter.
It came out here in January. I've done double gatefold vinyl and it's 17 songs. It's conceived as four sides of music all of which have a different feel. It's autobiographical. We'll play a few tracks from the new album. The difference now is that I'm looking at this as a year to 18 months to work on promoting the new album.
What was your time in Tennessee like?
I was getting married at the time. Sadly, I'm not still married. Me and my missus started in Miami and we were going to drive to Vegas and get married in the Elvis chapel. That was the plan. En route, we stopped at Tennessee at a small town called Dayton, and I looked at a property magazine and saw an A-frame house that was a good price. We saw it and it was devastatingly beautiful. We decided to delay our plans and settled in. We bought the house and got married in the town hall. We lived there for two years. It was a wonderful experience. We never had any notion of being there. It was totally a new experience in the U.S. I've never seen country as beautiful. It's one of those opportunities you either take or you don't. We took it and I wrote a couple of songs from that experience. Everyone knows Nashville and I've played there before but I didn't really live there.
Were the people there familiar with your past?
Not really. We didn't discuss it. Nobody really knew of my past until I left. It was nice. We kept that private. That was a nice feeling to be part of the community. There were three houses on the top of the street where I lived and maybe half a dozen in a 10-mile radius. It was a different experience for me. I've always been a city slicker. I bought a pick-up with a V-8 engine in it. I had time to paint and draw and do a bit of carpentry.
Talk about this journey you've been on.
Having a career in rock 'n' roll is a dream. Most people get it out of their system in a high school band and then go into their various professions. For me, it was three years of playing punk rock and then not having any success and then I got it right and there is a whirlwind of work. It's the lessons you learn looking back from that kind of innocence where you just are wanting to make an album and then getting into the machinery that becomes unpleasant and claustrophobic. Getting out of that and realizing there are other things. I'm glad I didn't have my daughter during that time because I would have never see her. I wrote a book and that did help me to look back on my childhood. The album came out of that experience. It's very autobiographical and personal.
When was the last time you played in Cleveland?
It would have been 1995. I think I've played the Agora before and I'm looking forward to coming back there. The thing people here don't understand is that you can be very successful in the U.K. and until you come here and play a proper rock 'n' roll town like Cleveland, you don't really know what you're doing. You haven't really done a proper rock' n' roll tour.