Tel Aviv-based singer, producer and rapper, ADI, is one of the hottest talents on the European mainland at the moment. Her combination of R‘n’B-infused electro beats accompanied by her sultry vocals and impressive rapping skills create a sound that’s as unique as ADI herself.
The Red Bulletin met the 27-year-old after her gig at Waves Central Europe Music Festival and Conference for a chat about her fight with depression, surviving as a female solo artist in the music business, and her plans for the future.
THE RED BULLETIN: What inspired you to make music?
ADI ULMANSKY: I think there was a moment when I was 16, when I first listened to Kid A by Radiohead. That was the moment when I realised that making music was what I wanted to do. I remember walking down the street thinking, ‘Wow, what the f**k is this, what am I listening to?’ I knew from that moment on that I didn’t just want to create music; I wanted to produce it myself as well.
What’s the message behind your music?
I don’t think I really had a big message to tell the world when I first started. I just wanted to make music – to sing about my life and my day-to-day problems and issues. The more music I made, the more I began to feel like I did have a message, an unintentional one at first, but it was there. I’ve just released a new song, and that shows it quite a lot. It’s called Pink Pillz and it’s about my fight with depression – but with a bit of a cynical point of view. I wanted to talk about antidepressants just like rappers talk about drugs/syrup/alcohol as a way to escape reality. It’s about how people are unable to talk about being depressed. In Israel, people aren’t ashamed to talk about these issues, or go to a psychologist. But once I started touring, I realised that this isn’t the same in lots of other countries, so I want to be able to get people to open up about this, and to address the darker side of music. It’s not all, ‘Look at me, I’m travelling, I’m pretty, check out what I am wearing.’ I just don’t get how people can look at these stars and really believe that this is all true, that their life is all sunshine and rainbows.
Where does this rather bleak view on life come from?
I don’t know. Maybe it comes from my mum. She kind of always had this pessimistic view on life, she always talked about how hard things are. It is something I am trying to change in myself, but I was always drawn to sad music from a very early age. I always wanted to talk about negative feelings and express my emotions about the darker side of life. All of my boyfriends were like, ‘Why can’t you just be happy and talk about good things?!’
So music is expressing your emotions?
It sounds cliché, but I feel that if I don’t create, then I will explode. There’s a mountain of feelings locked up inside of me and I need to be able to vent somehow.
What’s the strongest emotion that fuels your creativity?
Most of my songs deal with tough situations and the darker side of life, but I actually only create when I feel good. I need to be in a good place to create. If I’m depressed then I can’t do anything. When you’re really depressed, you just want to lie in bed and curl up in a ball. In those situations, I just write – not lyrics – just words that I need to get out of my system. Once I’m in a better place, I look back on what I wrote down and try to make something inspirational out of the pain.
So negativity and pain is key to your music?
Kind of, yeah. I’ve been kept awake at night many a time with the thought, ‘If I lose this negativity, will I still be able to create?’ I still don’t know the answer to that. But I really hope that I will be able to let go of that part of me completely sometime. I think I’m on the right path to controlling that now – it’s OK to be sad, or depressed, but it shouldn’t be your whole life. You can’t allow it to control you. There needs to be a balance.
Is the next chapter to make music through positivity?
Totally. I think I’m done with this down-tempo music. It was like a healing process for me to get through a bad time that I was going through, but now I’m in a much better place, so I hope I can channel this into making music that I’d like to dance to myself on the dancefloor. I still can’t handle music that’s too positive though. [Laughs.]
How has your upbringing in Israel influenced your music?
I think the first 10 songs that I produced were full of Israeli/Arabic elements, which is strange, because it’s not what I listen to at all. It just felt like I needed to represent where I come from. The more I did it, the more I felt that maybe this wasn’t really who I am. Just because I come from Israel, and people perhaps expect me to represent Israel, doesn’t mean that I need or have to.
How does it feel like to be on stage on your own in front of so many people?
Well, I used to have a band and I was really happy about being able to take this step into solo music. It was liberating to finally be able to do what I wanted to do. The first time I went on stage on my own, I felt great. I loved it, which is really weird because looking back now I have no idea how or why I felt like that. It’s gotten a lot harder over the last year or so, I feel like the more time passes, the more I’d like to have someone on stage with me – mainly just to be able to have someone to interact with.
What made you want to be a solo artist in the first place?
I had something to prove. What really drove me crazy working with other people was that once people saw a girl on stage with another person, whether it was a drummer or keyboardist or whatever, they instantly assumed that the guy was the brains behind the outfit and I was just the singer, someone who was there to look pretty. So being a solo artist is a way of proving myself to people, to prove to people that a girl can do everything a guy can. I think I’ve achieved that, and I don’t think I would be averse to having someone else up on stage with me anymore. [Laughs.]
How hard was it being a solo artist and a girl to find a foothold in the business?
I can’t even explain. People just don’t understand how hard it is to be a female producer in this business. You’d assume that things would be easier now, but it’s just not. Like I mentioned before, put a guy and a girl on stage, and people are going to think the guy makes all the music. You won’t believe the looks people give me when I start talking about sound, or compression or whatever. People just immediately think that I don’t know about what I’m talking about. It’s a little battle every time I meet someone, and it’s just exhausting. Why the hell do I need to prove anything to anyone? Why can’t people accept that a little girl from Israel knows just as much or more about production than you do?
What kept you going then when things seemed bleak? Why did you want to carry on?
That was a question I’d ask myself every day. But I’ve always had a fire inside of me that’s burned very brightly. I was always very different as a child, and even then I felt like I had something to prove, even though I didn’t know what it was I wanted to prove! I don’t know why, I just knew I had to show people what I could do. The way people reacted to me being a female in this business has really toughened me up, and it has made me want to work even harder – and that’s what still drives me today.
What advice would you give to others in your position?
Just f**king do it! Just believe in yourself and don’t let anyone stand in the way of your dreams. If you want to do it, then don’t give a s**t about what other people think. You’re never going to be able to please everyone, and you’ll have inner doubts, but as long as you’re happy doing it, then everything else doesn’t matter.
What’s the hardest part of being on tour as a solo artist?
You get lonely. It’s tough.
Does that loneliness not help your music?
I think I’m a lonely person. Even at home in my home town, I don’t really have tonnes of friends. I have two best friends and my boyfriend and that’s it, so most of my days are just my computer and I working on music. But there’s a difference between choosing to be on your own and being on the road, when you actually really want some company –when you really want to talk to someone, but they don’t speak your language. Don’t get me wrong, I have an amazing crew and they’re with me all the time, but it can be really tough.
How do you get through that?
By making music. You’re kind of forced to make music, even if you don’t want to, because there is nothing else to do. Sometimes there’s no Wi-Fi on the road, so you can devote the time to music and creative process. It’s not always fun, because you’re basically doing something out of necessity, but the last time I was in that position, I made some really cool songs. There were literally no distractions. No Facebook, Instagram or anything else, and that was liberating.
So what’s the plan for the future?
Well, I’m going to be working on a new EP soon and it will be the first time that I bring in other producers to work with me. That’s sign of me taking that next step and letting other people in. But the major goal is to create something new, something that hasn’t been done yet. I don’t want to wake up in five years time and think that all I’ve been doing is following other people’s trends – I want to be making them myself.