“At the age of 10, I started playing guitar and spent most of my adolescence listening to Outkast and Michael Jackson”, began Daniel Adams-Ray, known musically as HUMAN. “I became obsessed with freestyle rap and lyricism, and practiced around the clock until I could basically improvise a whole song and started a band together with another Swedish MC.”
They recorded their first songs in a wardrobe, and before they knew it were touring across the country. Winning Grammies, having the time of their lives, the usual. “I perfected my craftsmanship as a lyricist and won the Swedish freestyle championships,” Adams-Ray said. “I performed hundreds of shows that I ended up finding unbearable. Those formative years were interesting but ultimately not fulfilling.”
Shortly thereafter, he quit. Or rather, actually, he took a break from music to study graphic design; “It wasn’t until graduating from the design school that I started to think about music again. I suddenly saw and felt songs in terms of colour and shapes, instead of words and bars. Before I knew it I had embryos for five full albums.”
He wouldn’t call it synaesthesia though, but the audio-visual angle was definitely a turning point in his inspiration. I asked Daniel Adams-Ray why he stopped performing under his own name and created ‘HUMAN’; not a person, not a band, but a collective. “My lyrics describe contemporary humankind being torn between constant destruction and construction, electric cars and new sneakers,” he said openly. “Hope and despair. The hypocrisy of it forms the pillars of the lyrics. That kind of satellite perspective, as opposed to my previous creations, is not something I feel I have achieved singularly. But both the music and visual flows through more filters than my own. That is why HUMAN is a collective as opposed to ‘mine, me and I’.”
HUMAN is about bringing the masses together again. The idea came when Adams-Ray saw images of a golden record that NASA sent out to space with the Voyager in the 1970s. The space probe contained music, illustrations and mathematical equations. It was supposed to represent the pinnacle of humanity.
“I’d like to see HUMAN as a message in a bottle to the future,” he said. “However, rather than portraying images of humanity at its best, the songs are mere reflections of reality. I try to tell the story as it, and how it could be. I mean, look at what we have done to the planet in the past 200 years. It all comes down to being able to see and feel beyond your own individual perspectives and ideas. Understand that nothing is ever just black or white.” That’s what his single ‘Higher’ was about. HUMAN as a whole reflects the duality of human nature.
We went back to speaking about the notion of bring people together again. As a people, we are always speaking about togetherness, and yet we always find a reason to fight each other. Daniel Adams-Ray believes in cyclicality. “We are undoubtedly not far from a collapse of the social system like those seen during the world wars. These kinds of social and political attitudes have historically flourished in times of economic volatility. Today however, mankind has more access to knowledge and information. The proportion of the world population living in extreme poverty has been halved over the past 20 years and an increasing number of people have access to schools and education. Finger pointing for all the injustices of life is easily done. Politics based on blame will always exist and may work to a certain extent.” Nonetheless, he still believes in humanities’ ability to widen their perspectives.
“Do not fear to assert your inner contradictions,” he said when I asked what message, if any, we should take from the music. “Meaning and clarity of texts are overrated. Life is not lived in a straight line. Contradictions can fuel anything from tragedies to extraordinary masterpieces.”
Daniel Adams-Ray carries his feelings on the outside. “My creations are linked to my mood and state of mind that day. I strive to surround myself with people with positive energy. Which out wins talent any day of the week.” In graphic design, it is often said that the space between forms are more important to the whole than the location of the main object itself; “This is how music works for me. I take a break of at least three years between each album and focus on something that is not directly linked to song writing to make space; that is, the time needed to gather new impressions and evolve to write new material in a fresh way.”
As a final thought I asked what piece of advice he’s kept closest to heart because it’s something I’m always curious about. His reply? “This will certainly sound reconstructed but I have never had a musical mentor or manager who coached me along my path. I got my first gig by going on an open mic freestyling. I got my breakthrough by recording my first song in a wardrobe. For better or worse, I have acted on intuition. That is where the music stems from. Everything else is just hypothetical to me.”