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Robert Plant's 'Space Shifter' Guitarist Justin Adams Talks Exploration Through Music
(Bottom row, from left to right) Guitarist Justin Adams, vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson. (Top row, from left to right) Drummer Dave Smith, keyboardist John Baggott, viola/fiddle player Seth Lakeman, bassist Billy Fuller.
Credit: Dan Massie

Great musicians have the ability to transport their listeners to new worlds (metaphorically, at least) and guide them to new mindsets using sounds and lyrics. There are few musicians on planet Earth who have have harnessed that explorative energy as forcefully as Led Zeppelin vocalist Robert Plant. 

Plant's latest solo effort, "Carry Fire," takes its audience on a journey across the continents by infusing several genres of music, including "American roots music, Celtic folk, reverberating trip hop, and hypnotic Middle Eastern and African grooves," according to a news release. 

The legendary singer brought some familiar faces with him along for a collaborative ride on the new record. The aptly named "The Sensational Space Shifters" have been working and touring with Plant on and off since 2002 (the band was originally named The Strange Sensation). The band includes longtime guitarist Justin Adams, keyboardist John Baggott, bassist Billy Fuller, drummer Dave Smith and guitarist Liam "Skin" Tyson, each of which brings a wide array of influences to the ensemble. 

In an email interview, Space.com talked with Justin Adams about creating "Carry Fire," the band's take on Led Zeppelin classics and the journey the music can provide.

Space.com: There is something very cosmic about Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters' music. The new record weaves through several types of music, giving it an uplifting, ethereal feel with down-to-Earth beats. I could certainly see myself staring out into the cosmos with it as a soundtrack. How did your influences stream into the collective in creating the record?

Justin Adams: When Robert put the band together I think he was guided by his musical influences, which are very eclectic, but perhaps united in that all the music that he loves is transporting — it takes you out of yourself. He encourages us to present our most "out there " ideas to the band, so that we aren't just playing formulaic rock music, we take the listener (and ourselves!) on a trip.

Space.com: There are many artists who have been guided by the stars and humanity reaching beyond our little blue marble of a planet. In working and touring with the band, is there ever any talk of exploration and scientific discovery? If so, has it ever influenced your songwriting/performances?

Adams: I can't say that we are directly influenced by any scientific discovery — but we are all into explorations, whether it's trips we have taken to the Sahara or the Arctic Circle, or sonic exploration — as musicians we are fascinated by the power of, for example, ancient Sufi drum rhythms, as much as exploring how we can use digital technology to make atmospheric and emotive music.

Space.com: On tour you've included Led Zeppelin songs like "No Quarter," "What Is and What Should Never Be," "Whole Lotta Love" and more with what I like to call a "space shifting redesign." In my opinion, it has helped drive [those songs'] live performances to a different plane. What is the process like in reimagining this legendary music?

Adams: I think what was so powerful about Led Zep and their peers was that they were innovating, breaking rules and experimenting all the time. To turn songs like that into museum pieces is to rob them of their essence — sometimes we have gone back to the roots of the music, re-interpreting the folk or blues essence of the Zeppelin tunes, at others we have used sampling technology to make beats which put them into a contemporary context. Another hugely important element is the spontaneity of live performance and the interaction with the audience. Just because we have rehearsed a song in a particular way doesn't mean we will always perform it like that live!

Cover for the new Robert Planet record "Carry Fire" featuring his band the Sensational Space Shifters.
Cover for the new Robert Planet record "Carry Fire" featuring his band the Sensational Space Shifters.
Credit: Nonesuch/Warner Bros. Records

Space.com: "Space shifting" is a term used in digital media conversion. Does the name of the band simply stem from there or were out-of-this-world influences at play when coming up with it?

Adams: Robert came up with the name and I've never asked him what he meant by it! But to me, it reflects the way that we take the listener from scene to scene, through imagined landscapes or remembered emotions, or just surrounded by physicality of sound and rhythm.

Space.com: As with much of music, interpretation is within the mind of the beholder. I look at it as Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters bearing the torch, it’s up to the listeners to find the path.

Learn more about the band and the upcoming tour on RobertPlant.com.

Follow Steve Spaleta on Twitter or Facebook. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Google+. Original article on Space.com.