Adam Kneale chats ‘5:21’ and the constant evolution of his sound

Melbourne producer Adam Kneale took five to tell us the story of his latest single 5:21. Full of shimmering disco hooks and buttery grooves, it’s a track that lives long in the memory.

A lot of the time, memorable music contains the strikingly original, as well as a healthy dollop of familiarity. Getting that concoction just right is key to separating the good from the great; Adam Kneale’s 5:21 definitely falls into the latter category.

It’s crammed with infectious vocal hooks, funk guitars, and slamming dancefloor grooves — and if you’re not in a good mood already, a single spin of 5:21 will take you there. We caught up with Adam to chat about influences, the production process, and his restless pursuit of fresh inspiration.

Adam Kneale

HAPPY: Hey Adam! Where do you find yourself today?

ADAM: Hey, nice to be chatting with you. I live in Melbourne and I’m stuck here in lockdown. Hopefully, we are out of it within a week or so, would love to get up to Sydney and see some family and friends over the next month so hopefully, I can. It’s a very different place here with everything shut.

HAPPY: Congratulations on the release of your single 5:21. Where does the title come from?

ADAM: Thanks, I really appreciate the love. Well, the short answer is 5:21 is the date, May 21st, which was release day. But I put out some t-shirts and hats for promotion and I thought that 5:21 looked sick on them. I actually decided that the first track I put out for my next project would be called 5:21 before I even had a song ready just so I could use it for the clothes. I think it works well, it’s quite memorable and looks great on people (laughs).

HAPPY: I absolutely love the ’80s influence on this track! Was this an intentional reference? 

ADAM: It definitely was intentional. I’ve grown up in a family that listens to a lot of ’80s music, blame my parents for that. And my favourite modern pop records all have a great blend of modern production mixed with ’80s influence, especially recently with The Weeknd and Dua Lipa.

I think when you take little hints from past eras, songs carry a bit of a feeling of nostalgia for the listener which adds heaps to the experience. I think it’s so important in music and all arts to pay close attention to what the greats do and learn from it. It is also just as important to acknowledge it. 

HAPPY: You mentioned that the track was inspired by watching friends dance on NYE. What do you think makes a song dance-worthy tracks?

ADAM: Well I’m a big believer that every person hears either groove, chords or melody first. Everyone hears something different first when they hear a song and this dictates their taste a lot. I think I hear either the chords or melody first, but I would say most of my friends hear a groove first. I think a great dance song nails at least two of these components, and one of them has to be the groove.

A song with a great groove or beat probably won’t have much repeat listening power if it doesn’t have anything else though. Tame Impala’s album Currents is filled with songs that nail both the groove and the chords, I think that’s why it hits so well with everyone.

Two personal favourites, Instant Crush by Daft Punk and Mr Blue Sky by ELO absolutely kill all three elements. I think this is key to a dance track. The short answer would be, when people are sitting down, they stand up as soon as they hear the song.

HAPPY: Do you take influence from any contemporary artists?

ADAM: Oh for sure. I would say the three big ones are Kanye West, Tyler The Creator and Frank Ocean. I learn a lot from particularly Kanye and Tyler about the process behind music-making and how the only thing that matters is the final product. In albums like Igor and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy these guys use features a lot and show that you don’t need to be the lead vocalist if that’s what helps you get to a better final product.

I also take a lot from their sample work. It’s unrivalled to be honest — no one else is on their level when it comes to sampling in the modern era. I think everyone who listens to Frank just knows. I don’t need to go into it much. He takes you on a journey through his music and anyone trying to create music would be silly not to be studying him inside and out. I really don’t think there is anyone else quite like him these days, he is probably the closest thing this era has to The Beatles. 

Adam Kneale

HAPPY: What made you change your sound so drastically with 5:21? Did you find it challenging?

ADAM: For as long as I make music, every single project will have a different sound. 5:21 is the lead single to an album I’ll be releasing in the coming months, and you are going to hear a lot like it. But I want to evolve with every project, once this is out I will never make music like it again I don’t think. It’ll be time for something else; I just have to work out what something else is.

It was really challenging. To be honest, I felt like I had to learn to make music all over again. I spent weeks trying to learn how to make dance grooves sound perfect. It was definitely a challenge but it gave me the motivation to make more. 5:21 definitely took the most out of me in terms of learning the processes behind making a song like it, but once I started, it was actually the quickest song I’ve ever put together.

HAPPY: What sound or style can we expect from you in the future?

ADAM: I have an album coming out within the next few months, and it is definitely a fun album. Every track is aimed at making people feel happy. I have even found room for a song about someone dying but putting a happy spin on it looking back at the great memories. But the project after will be entirely different. This is my mood for music now, but that won’t last and I want to keep evolving. I want every project to have a distinct sound and style as opposed to just being a body of music.

HAPPY: Can we catch you playing live soon?

ADAM: It’s something I’d love to do in the future, but I have to work out how I’d go about it. Being primarily a songwriter and producer, it is a different task. But someday in the future perhaps.

5:21 is out now. Head over to Spotify to stream the track.