Adam Schubert doesn’t have much left to prove to fans of Chicago underground rock. He plays guitar in psychedelic postpunk band Cafe Racer, which has put out albums with two of the scene’s best labels: their self-titled debut via Dumpster Tapes in 2016 and Famous Dust via Maximum Pelt this past February. Schubert is also a prolific singer-songwriter outside that group, though you’ll have to take his word for it: he’s been recording solo for around a decade, and in all that time the only material he’s released has been the June 2018 Dumpster Tapes EP Ruins by his project of the same name (not to be confused with Tatsuya Yoshida’s experimental duo).
The first Ruins EP consists of six hazy, dreamlike garage-pop songs, recorded with an iPhone. It’s still fundamentally a solo endeavor, but Schubert has been playing shows for a few months, and he’s assembled a three-piece backing band for those. On Wednesday, October 10, Ruins plays a cassette-release show at Sleeping Village with Bunny and Wage: new local label Fine Prints releases Ruins’ EP 2 that day. I spoke to Schubert about Ruins, Cafe Racer, and how his choice to get sober earlier this year led to his solo work finally seeing the light of day.
Leor Galil: Why did you want to start writing and recording solo music as Ruins?
Adam Schubert: I’ve been writing and recording on my own since I was 16. I’ve never really had a strong desire or really the courage to do stuff without a band. But I got sober, and I decided that it’d be cool to start doing things on my own and putting it out there for people to actually listen to—and putting myself out there too.
Why after getting sober were you like, “This is the next step I want to take”?
Mainly just because it’s a change and it’s a challenge. Sobriety is a very, very difficult challenge for me. I figured that this next step could be doing things that might feel really uncomfortable that would be rewarding in the end.
Did it change the way you write music?
No, I don’t think so. It just made it . . . I was able to show people stuff. I’ll probably record a song a day, but I don’t show it to anybody. That’s what I was doing for a long time. I was scared. I was afraid of maybe failure or something like that, but I decided just to do it, just to try it—see what happens.
At what point did you put together the songs that became your first cassette for Dumpster Tapes?
I recorded probably 20 songs and went through them. I sent six to Dumpster to see what they thought of it. [Dumpster Tapes co-owner] Ed [McMenamin] responded really quickly: “We’ll do a tape of this.” I was surprised, honestly.
It felt really good—it’s kind of an instant validation. I was like, “Oh shit, might as well keep doing this.”
What made you want to work with Fine Prints for the follow-up?
I like [Fine Prints cofounder] Ziyad [Asrar] a lot—I’ve known him for a minute from him knowing my boss. He was starting this label. I started borrowing [Cafe Racer front man] Michael Santana’s eight-track recorder. I was like, “Oh, I have four or five songs I did on eight-track, so they sound a little bit better—I’ll just send them to you.” He was really down to do a little release for them.
Besides recording to eight-track, what sets this selection of songs apart from what you’ve previously released?
There’s more going on in them, and they sound better. That’s the biggest thing—they have more rhythm to them. Also I wrote them all when I was sober. So they’re a little bit more controlled than previous recordings I’ve done. A lot of recordings I’ve sent to people have been from when I was drinking or on something, so these are really different for me just because they were all done when I was in my first few months of sobriety. They all had that feeling: more controlled, calm, maybe stronger sounding.
Considering Ruins started as a challenge for yourself, how do you feel about the project now?
I love it. I really love it. It’s just fun—this is stuff that I’ve wanted to do. I still have a lot of stock in Cafe Racer, and I love playing with them—and Michael is in [the] Ruins [live band], so it’s kind of part of Cafe Racer too. He really helps me curate a song well—flesh it out.
Tell me a little bit about Cafe Racer—how long has that band been a going concern for you?
Me and Michael started it together when we worked at the same store, and we named it after a motorcycle jacket. I used to go to his house in Logan, and we would record together. And we just decided to start a band. We got [bassist] Rob [McWilliams], and then our old drummer Loc [Tran] would play—it was really fun, and it’s still really fun. It’s become way more serious than when we first started. [Michael] and I really try to work on things together and make it kind of this brotherly thing.
Why has it become more serious?
I think because as we’ve gotten older, we’ve just wanted to try harder. And I have so much admiration for him that I just wanted to do the best I could possibly do in that band. Sobriety really changes how you view things—that’s a rock for me. Michael, my relationship with him is very important, so everything he does I want to be a part of—because I really care about him, and I get almost, like, inspired by everything he does.
What does Ruins mean for you and your sobriety? At this point, what does doing this solo project mean for you?
It’s stuff that I have inside. It’s stuff that’s very, very personal. A lot of the songs that I do in Ruins are very personal about things in my past that I have finally been dealing with, that I’d put under the rug for a long time. Things that really were the cause of my addiction—Ruins is for dealing with those feelings, I guess. I can put those into songs. It makes it a little bit easier to handle.