Q&A: Ryan Adams On His New Self-Titled Album, The Other One He Shelved, And Everything Else
Tomorrow Ryan Adams releases his new self-titled album, right on the heels of 1984, an entry in his label PAX-AM’s 7-inch series that’s actually kind of a full album itself. It’s a little early for me to say this definitively yet, but my initial reaction — one that a month into this, I haven’t yet wavered from — is that Ryan Adams is my favorite thing he’s put out since 2005. There are plenty of elements — primarily, certain melodic turns — that sound like vintage Adams, but there’s also a whole vibe that stands out from the rest of his catalog. It’s a warm, laid-back, infectious album, and it manages that without skimping on a few more emotional wallops of the sort that the man long ago perfected in his music. When I spoke with Adams recently, the intention was to dig into this new album a bit. And we did — a little bit! But, hey, this is a conversation with Ryan Adams. We also talked about everything else.
STEREOGUM: Why did you decide to go with a self-titled album this far into your career?
RYAN ADAMS: Straight up: I could not think of a name for this record. Everything I came up with sounded so stupid. Everything sounded like a King Crimson album title, some convoluted shit. And I really … I couldn’t believe it, but I totally understood — I get why people do that. At least, I sort of got it. I was like, I can’t call this Shadows or something, I just can’t do it.
STEREOGUM: I feel like this record is not quite like anything you’ve done before, but I was wondering whether there was some element of it being self-titled because this summed up a lot of what you thought you were about.
ADAMS: Which aspect, are you asking, does it sum up?
STEREOGUM: Anything. Musically, thematically. Whatever.
ADAMS: Do you really think it’s that different? I don’t think it’s that different.
STEREOGUM: You don’t think it’s that different than your other work?
STEREOGUM: I think there are a lot of melodies that sound like you, but I don’t feel like you’ve ever done a record that’s had as many grooves to it, and I think it has a different kind of mood than you’ve used before.
ADAMS: Good. You know why? I fucking self-produced. And went with my demos.
STEREOGUM: This is what your demos normally sound like?
ADAMS: It’s the demos. It’s like the demos and unreleased stuff you find. Which, I think, always has more energy. I don’t know why it took me so long to just fucking — I guess maybe because I have PAX-AM now, my studio — but I don’t know why it took so long to basically be like: You know what, I’m going to do this my way, and even if it’s fucking weird I’m going to do it my way. Any part of that is because I’ve only been my own agent of madness on PAX-AM for two records. There was always somebody somewhere with some fucking idea that I should work with some producer, or there was always some producer that I was working with who I knew. People felt like they could frame my music in a certain way that somehow shined the correct amount of light, and I don’t know that people would ever think there would be a hit there, because that’s not the kind of records I make. There’s just not a lot of filters in this record. It’s the next step from where it was when I wrote it. Because it’s in my studio. The way that this one worked was, we were using analog in a way that I like to use it, which is a far more aggressive way.
I’m like an ’80s kid. I was born in the mid-’70s. By the time the ’80s kicked in, I’m listening to Dead Kennedys, but I’m also listening to Simple Minds. Whether or not other people can say they like that spectrum of music — whether or not people do that, I don’t give a fuck. I do. I can fucking go for a jog with my iPod Nano and like the Melvins are on, and Scritti Politti is on. And of course Simple Minds. You know what I mean? That feeling and that time … I think there was a certain aspect of recording that, at least for me, made a lot of sense. They’re using a machine that can actually take signals that go into the red and not distort. It was a time when people were still using analog compressors. Digital recording, though the advent was there and it was about to happen, it wasn’t happening yet. They were still using sequencers and they were still putting this stuff through really nice analog compressors. Those Simple Minds records, there’s a kick in the snare sound that really pops. And then everything that’s inside or around that, it’s really about how that dynamic is born. There is that sound in the drum and the bass that permeates the record, that I love. I’ve always sort of done that on my demos, I’ve always looked for that sound. All the PAX-AM and the live recordings I’ve ever done, they have a wildness to that. It has that one thing, it has that one fucking Johnny Marr overdub that blows up the chorus. I love that shit, you know? What’s so liberating is, I was hinting at it the whole time. Like “Come Pick Me Up” has that banjo on one side and the electric on the other side and they’re both doing that arpeggiation. It’s like redneck Johnny Marr. And then on Gold, at the end of “La Cienega Just Smiled,” I put that baritone guitar thing that very much could’ve been … like I was listening to Purple Rain or something. Or even a dramatic Don Henley or Bruce Hornsby part. Those things were always there. When I made this record, and decided I wasn’t going to do the thing with Glyn [Johns, the producer of Adams’ 2011 LP Ashes & Fire] again, that was a great starting point for my own label. I was like, you know what, I’m going to do it my way from now on, and my way always sounds the best because I’m me.
STEREOGUM: You feel like you weren’t doing things your own way in the past? I know people were stopping you from releasing certain albums, but the spectrum of sounds you covered —
ADAMS: When I say my way, what I mean — if you are working with a producer and you are not being collaborative, you’re just an asshole. You’re just an asshole, I’m sorry. You don’t hire producers so you can fucking yell at them the whole time and then in the end totally counter everything they did in a mix. That’s my opinion. You should just call them and say, “Hey, we’ll give you seventy thousand dollars to use your name on this record.” When I say my way: my way as in structuring a recording from beginning to end and being the artist as well as a producer. Mike [Viola] is a co-producer. It’s collaborative, but Mike and I were already on that train anyway. Mike was more like a partner in crime toward a sound he knew would work for me. We recorded in my studio all week, every week, every fucking day. I view it as a job. I want to come here, you know? That shit was already developed, it was already happening.
STEREOGUM: This was the 4PM-12AM regimented schedule you’ve talked about?
ADAMS: Well, yeah, we have to get in before traffic, we’re coming from the east side. PAX-AM’s in Central Hollywood which is fucking awesome, but it always makes sense to get down here before five o’clock. And we would go later than that obviously. There were a few times where it was much earlier, too. But for the most part it’s like, that would be around the time we’d want to split. I’ve got a pinball spot, and my crew and I, we basically battle on those, so like 11PM or 12AM, that’s usually going to happen for an hour or so. And then once we’re tired, everyone goes home to sleep, or like, bong hit, Netflix, crash. A lot of times we’ll wind down.
STEREOGUM: How did that differ from the way you used to use the studio? Had you ever had a daily regimen like that?
ADAMS: My entire life, I wake up and at some point in the afternoon I head toward some kind of musical recording device. My entire life. But it just used to be me renting out blocks of time at awesome studios, which cost quite a bit of money. Some studios cost a fucking thousand dollars a day, dude. I don’t even want to talk how much money, like when I worked at Electric Lady for a year. My studio is a part of Sunset Sound. I gutted an old house that was sitting on the property. Half of it looks like a Masonic Hall. Anyways, it’s a house. It’s fucking amazing. I’ve been recording on something forever. But unless I was just playing music … it’s just what I do. I used to skate, so skateboarding was a little bit of a thing. And I collect vintage comics. I like to read comics, and I’ll listen to records, and I like to play pinball. That’s it. I run now. That’s my life. Music has always been the thing that I do. The way that I jam — I’m not in Umphrey’s McGee or something. I don’t know any jazz stuff. I don’t know how to jam in that way. So jamming for me is writing a tune.
STEREOGUM: So you completed a lot of other music during the time you were working on this record?
ADAMS: Yeah. Hundreds of tunes probably. We could write tunes and record for fun. That’s what we do. My buddy Charlie Stavish runs PAX-AM, my studio. He’s the house engineer, he’s the guy who actually works on my label with me. He’s the guy running it, you know. And Mike, we’d bring Mike up before he started being a guitar player in the band or whatever, I brought him out as much as I could.
STEREOGUM: All that other stuff you did, are you planning on doing anything with it?
ADAMS: Yeah, yesterday I just put out the third PAX-AM 7-inch series single. I just put a link up on my Twitter and it sold out in an hour. And then a month before that we sold out the 1984 7-inch, which is the ten-song 7-inch that I played all the instruments for. It’s my Hüsker Dü kind of vibe.
STEREOGUM: Oh, so this stuff is all from the same sessions?
ADAMS: Well, you’re saying sessions … there is no session.
STEREOGUM: It’s just what you do every day.
ADAMS: Yeah, I’ve had my studio for around three years and I just come down here Monday through Friday and I just make music. We make all kinds of music. Sometimes there are people, sometimes it’s me. It’s just what we do. So far, we’ve been able to sort out … there’s the LP, and then there’s the 7-inch series. Some stuff was the record. I could tell it formed over time, how it connected. But there was the other stuff where I was like, “Yeah, this is a single man, this is an a-side.” And then we would go, “Fuck, that other song would be such a wicked B-side to this.” And I like to put three songs on a single, at least. So the new single “Jacksonville,” the B-side is “I Keep Running,” which is an older track, which is kind of cool, and the third song is this super-mental fucking jam that I did during the session when I recorded the new record. The Halloween single is going to have four, though. This place is a private studio, but it’s busy all week with energy and people coming and playing and me doing stuff, so there’s just a surplus of cool, interesting tunes. Enough so that there’s no reason to go, “Let’s actually put every fucking thing out.” That’s not gonna happen. But a lot of the really great shit at the end of the day, we’re listening and we’re like, “Fuck, that stuff is great for the 7-inches.”
STEREOGUM: So you had this whole other record with Glyn Johns ready to go and you decided to abandon that one…
ADAMS: Yeah, well, after I finished Ashes & Fire, I went on the road solo for a year. And during the last six months — well, during the whole time actually, was when I found this studio that I’m talking about now, PAX-AM, because it’s exactly next door to Studio B at Sunset Sound. When I found it, it was a sort of three story house, half of which is still a house, kind of. It was a long room downstairs and a long room upstairs and there’s like an office. You have to imagine the 1970s version of the Ghostbusters firehouse. But it wasn’t a firehouse. So when I found it, I just … there was a construction element. It wasn’t usable the way that it was. It needed to be … it was already kind of gutted, but it was super fucked up. I had to draw it out exactly as I wanted it. I wanted the furniture to be specifically built for the inside of the place. So I basically sat down and drew up conceptual drawings for the inside of my place.
STEREOGUM: So did you wind up working on this record with Glyn there?
ADAMS: Ah, I was talking about the record. So basically I drew out the plans for PAX-AM, drew out the control room. I had already been buying analog gear and it was just in storage. I knew how I was gonna do it. So, as soon as I drew it out, like at the end of Ashes & Fire, right when I was about to go on tour, the construction people came in and did demolition and started to build my studio, and then six months later it went into the wiring stage. It’s not just a studio. I’m sitting in a room right now with every guitar I’ve ever owned, where I go to play music. It has all the record books I’ve ever had, that I’ve used for writing music in that same room. Plus all my records, and stereo. Manual typewriter that I’ve used forever to write songs. And then each room is wired with wire paneling. So that basically the entire place, it’s actually for listening to records, running my label, for writing music, and recording it. All in one place. All that had to be built while I was on the road. By the time I actually finished off the road, got home, and then the idea of working with Glyn came up again, my studio was done. So my studio … I had already written songs for the record. My studio was beckoning to me, like, “Just get in here and experiment and write, right now with the power of this whole fucking place.” Think about it. You could build a writing room and a recording room for yourself, for posterity. You would really want to get in and use it and not just like, write songs in a hotel room or over the course of an album cycle.
But Glyn didn’t want to use my studio because his favorite room to record in, according to him, in the entire world, is Sunset Sound Studio B. The difference is, that’s right next door to my studio, and four days in that studio next door at Sunset Sound is equal to my rent at my studio once a month. So I really didn’t feel like making that record, but I wanted to give Glyn and myself the benefit of the doubt to try another record. It was a little similar to the last record in setup, and we were recording it in the same a way as Ashes & Fire. It just didn’t feel to me the way Ashes & Fire did, and it didn’t feel like I was exploring or getting anywhere. By the time it was done, I had this impression like, this is a record that sounds like it was produced by somebody. Like another record. Someone else’s vision of my songs. The arrangements were done in a way where it put me in this place where I kinda didn’t play any electric guitar. Glyn’s references are like … if I wanted to do a feedback solo, a solo that ends in feedback or something, that we all know references Dinosaur, Jr. that’s part of what music culture is for myself and yourself. Glyn doesn’t know that. He didn’t listen to records in the ’90s, late ’80s, early ’00s. He just stopped, he retired. So I brought him those records and he just didn’t listen to them, but if I wanted a detuned guitar, he doesn’t know like, Sonic Youth did that, he just listens to it like there’s something wrong. Does that make sense? American hardcore, he’s never even heard of. That’s OK, but he would think me doing a guitar lick is like, there’s something terribly wrong with Eric Clapton. And that’s OK. But it’s not OK.
I thought there might be something interesting in that limitation. But like … I’ve made records like Cold Roses and Love Is Hell, that really were my sound. Those records really are me. That’s who I am. The diversion is fun sometimes. It’s fun to dress up and go to a costume party on Halloween, isn’t it? A lot of musicians, I think, feel like they’re taking a song to a costume party with certain producers. It’s a way to get out of your element and try on a new face. I’ve done that a few times in my career with, weirdly, Heartbreaker being the most like that because it really was a folky, Dylan-y style. That’s not me. I am those songs and that’s me, but they’re dressed up in a certain way. Records like Cold Roses, people call it jammy like the Dead. No, it’s not. Go listen to that record. It’s totally analog, and it’s never jazz jamming. Listen to Grateful Dead records. They’re sonically in another dimension of musicality. Cold Roses is like a punk record. It’s a punk record that’s dabbling in certain colors.
Love Is Hell is the same thing, but obviously that record was made at a different time, in cold weather. A darker tone. For me, when I made the record with Glyn recently — which was entirely different songs, so the reader understands that it’s not the songs from this record — at the end of it I thought, the way that he wanted to record and the way that we did it, it sort of dictated what sort of material I would record. At the end of the day, I thought, this is not the material that feels like me. It’s not the material that I think I should ever do again unless I thought that I need to make an artistic statement. I grew up listening to a lot of different kinds of music. The music that really, really mattered to me, that was emotional music that was fraught with electric guitar — nothing’s ever going to be more important to me than the Wipers, Husker Du, the Replacements. Guys you could just tell they’re grabbing a guitar, they’re just lost in a moment that’s urgent and they’re finding chords that reflect that urgency. And maybe finding pop elements, but also maybe finding discordant elements. I think there’s a simplicity to that stuff that’s always kind of been there, and kind of been hiding out in my music, and waiting to be revealed. I think it’s underneath all my songs. There’s really … it’s just really liberating, dude, to go, “You know what, I don’t fucking feel like seeing my music dressed up for this costume party anymore, I just want to make shit the way I make it.” I’m too old for to care anymore, man. Or I should say: I’m 39. I’m too old to pretend like I give a shit about doing something that’s not what I am.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like any of your other records are truly you in the way of the self-titled, or of Love Is Hell and Cold Roses?
ADAMS: Well, they’re all me. I was explaining in a production style. The songs are me, and the guitars are me. The style of the way something is recorded … it’s a ritual. It’s a preparation. So, you know … we can all make each other a meal. Anybody can make pasta and take pasta and put it in the pot. But how it’s gonna come out is gonna be different. I’m going to do it differently than you’re gonna do it. So if we do it together, it’s going to be really fucking different. It’s not wrong. It’s just like … the raw elements of truth and meaning are there. And the way that somebody kind of boils that up, and fixes it, and serves it to people, it’s still going to nourish them. But the flavors are going to be different, and the intentions are going to be different.
I’m not saying that I’ve never made any other records that are me, I mean, that’s not true. I’m not going to say Heartbreaker’s not me, either. It is me. I’m just saying, there’s a way that those songs can come across, by the way the studio is prepared, the musicians who are chosen, the leader of the session. The producer sets the stage for everything that’s going to happen. Records like Cold Roses were made in the middle of the night, sometimes for several nights in a row, in a duration of wildness and no-holds-barred. Love Is Hell started that way, went a different direction. But when you get to the end of a record and you don’t hear a style being invented, that’s when I think the bones of the record are strong. And the character of the record is strong. When you don’t know what it is. It hints that it’s something that it is, but it doesn’t really know what it is. I don’t think many people know what records really are anyway till a couple years later. You see these fucking idiots reviewing a record the week they get a record, I mean, I feel for you guys. That’s your job, right? That’s a fucking awful place to be. Or, spiritually fucking mal-aligned creatures thinking, “Yeah, you know, his records, they’re like medicine.” You don’t fucking rub a bunch of Neosporin on your elbow thinking that you might fall down in a month, you know what I mean? There’s an application for each one. There’s a time and place for some records, you know? Sure, there’s incidental records you can listen to every day, put in your car and do this and do that. But imagine if all records were supposed to have a general, over-arching reach. That would be so bad. A lot of my records, because they’re kind of about, in my opinion, they’re a little darker or a little more focused on the internal, sometimes focused on the eternal … .they’re contemplations maybe meant for individuals.
STEREOGUM: Do you have a set lineup for your new band, the Shining?
STEREOGUM: How’d you find these guys?
ADAMS: Well, Charlie is just an engineer for all the records for PAX-AM. He plays bass. I didn’t really find him, he was already here. Mike Viola plays guitar, I’ve been playing music with him for about five years. He was around. Daniel Clarke [keys], he used to play music with my wife, and I played music with him at the very end of the Cardinals. He didn’t jam with them, but at the end of that fucking shit sandwich, I was jamming with Daniel on this other thing in California, a thing we didn’t play publicly or release anything but we recorded a lot. Played a lot. And Freddie [Bokkenheuser], we just met recently because we’d been looking for a drummer.
STEREOGUM: Is it true that you met him a music store?
ADAMS: No, I met my friend Marshall Vore in a music store, but Marshall is a drummer that is a really good friend that played on the last track on the record, that also I hang out with and record with at PAX-AM all the time. But he’s not the drummer in the Shining. Two different guys.
STEREOGUM: How’s it different playing with the Shining than with the Cardinals?
ADAMS: I made a list for the Shining of songs I was thinking about wanting to play, expecting from my previous experiences that there would probably be fifteen by the time we rehearsed, and by the time we rehearsed they were pulling out shit I hadn’t even heard or thought of in nine years. I was like, damn, people always wanted to hear “Political Scientist.” I didn’t add that to the list but they had it and they started going into it. They’re huge musicians. It’s fucking crazy. I already knew it was going to be powerful because I already played with these guys.
The other difference is, is that … we have similar interests, whereas I didn’t have any of the same interests as the guys in the Cardinals. I don’t really think … the Cardinals were Catherine Popper and J.P. Bowersock, Cindy Cashdollar, and myself. That’s the Cardinals. The Cardinals that people talk about, in the end, that’s not the Cardinals. That was the end, to me. That was Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. Although, I’ve gotta say, man, I’m a Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath fan, so I can understand, but to me that wasn’t it. That wasn’t the creative band. The proof of that is, listen to Cardinology, then go listen to Cold Roses. You fucking tell me where the power is. It ain’t in the end. There was nothing there.
The mistake was that I didn’t break it up when Catherine Popper left. Catherine was the soul of the Cardinals. I didn’t personally jive with them. Like I read comics and draw comic books, I like to go to bad sci-fi movies. I have an energy that … I’m just a different kind of character. These guys, it’s weird. Mike is into comics, he’s a big pinball player, he’s a geek. He’s got seriously weird knowledge about retro Dracula/Frankenstein shit. It’s fucking amazing. Charlie, him and Daniel are goofballs. There’s a vibe. We were just always hanging at my place. Freddie came to the table out of necessity because we were like, “You know what, we are going to do this as a band. Let’s put out a record because we’re already hanging out anyway.” It’s kind of the way it’s probably supposed to be. We did it. Man, I’m just so fucking happy, though. I’m so happy to see them every time, so happy to play with them. It’s just beautiful, man. It fucking feels great.
STEREOGUM: That was actually one of the other things I wanted to talk to you about, between being married and your new band, it seems like you’re a much happier person than you used to have a reputation as being. And I was wondering if you write from a place of contentment now, and how that might change your process from when you were younger.
ADAMS: Well, I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but you may have just generalized my entire personality. [laughs] I’m 39, so like … I wasn’t “Somebody kill me! Oh my god! Would someone just please kill me!” I was hanging out with people and having a good time — you know what, man? I don’t have to deal with fucking Lost Highway. You know what I mean? I don’t have to deal with that. I don’t have to talk to some fucking person in Nashville, Tennessee and try to explain to them that I don’t give a shit what their expectations are about my music. Whatever their deal was. It was so brutal. People tie me to a fucking contract where they never stop and weren’t paying … like they weren’t fucking holding their end of the bargain for a long time for me. That was really awful. When I met my manager, who saved my career, and really honestly taught me — I’m still learning — he taught me how to be, you know, somebody that I could respect, and you know this is somebody whose job it was to make music again. It was such a lifesaver. He stepped in and said “OK, cool, you trapped this guy in this tradition that he doesn’t even want to do. You won’t let him go, and you won’t let him make the record he wants to make.” And this fucking, my manager felt like a guy, like a mythological real record-loving fucking guy who stepped in and was like, I just felt like it was like a knight or an ninja, he fucking picks up his blade and goes “Now you deal with me.”
Being unhappy or whatever … .a lot of people don’t understand what I was going through. People were saying like, “Ryan Adams stormed offstage.” People used to say that I’d do that at the end of the concert, at the end of an hour and a half. Because I would say “goodnight” and walk offstage. There was an expectation that I was someone that I wasn’t. At the beginning of social media and computers and trading music … so much of my music was just totally free. Like how many bootlegs were out there and how much of the expectation was out there for who I was vs. actual album sales? It was a very weird thing. That transition. I was also undiagnosed with Ménière’s disease and didn’t understand it. If somebody flashes lights in front of my eyes, LED or otherwise, while I’m onstage and starts a pattern of lights in front of me for long enough, I’m going to have a Ménière’s attack, I’m going to have an episode. My knees are going to get weak and I’m going to get really freaked out until I’m going to want to throw up or pass out. I didn’t know. I didn’t know until 2008.
STEREOGUM: So you had that all along or for a very long time until you knew?
ADAMS: You don’t get Meniere’s disease. I had it the whole time. I had seen so many fucking people before anyone could figure out what the fuck was wrong. How many people do you hear talk about Ménière’s disease? Not many. That was a really big deal for me, man, to go what the fuck is wrong with me? It really opened my eyes. It was a big sigh of relief even though the first thing they tell you is it’s degenerative, you could lose your hearing. It could get worse. You have to change everything about your life. You can’t drink coffee, you can’t smoke cigarettes, you can’t drink alcohol, you need to exercise, you can’t eat salt. You have to sleep. You’ve gotta get eight hours. If you can’t get eight hours, you’ve gotta find a way to lower your stress level. I wasn’t still drinking and taking drugs when I was diagnosed, I had luckily stopped before that, I had my shit together enough to start going to some specialists. That really … that sort of dark diagnosis was actually this shining light for me. I went, “I’m not fucking crazy. Something’s been wrong this whole time.” People go “Why is he playing in the dark?” and all this shit. You have to get the fuck away from flashing lights. It somehow sets me off. All I needed to do was to change the lighting, to go up top and shoot straight down. I don’t know why I couldn’t have worked with people who could’ve figured that out beforehand. They were just like, “Oh, you know Ryan, he’s crazy!” [laughs]. You know what, I was going fucking crazy! Because I couldn’t figure out what was happening. I couldn’t understand why I would wake up and it felt like someone turned gravity off and I had the flu and I wasn’t hungover.
My work life, being onstage, or maybe if somebody did an interview with me and I didn’t like them, I didn’t like the questions — it’s not my whole life. I’m not that guy. When I’m away from this world of talking about music or being in front of people, I’m not somebody that people know. I might be a little bit more like that guy now onstage. I’m a little older. I know what problems I have. I know I’m sick, some of the time. I know where I live, I know what my life is. I wasn’t walking around like some perpetual fucking lightning storm of anxiety and madness. Even when I was taking drugs and drinking some of the time, I wasn’t taking drugs or drinking all the time. That’s stuff just shit I did. I did it in a way that a lot of musicians did. People might be surprised to hear this, the Stereogum readers are going to be really shocked by this: but there are a lot of musicians that casually do drugs. And drink a little too much. On account of not having to get up and go to work at eight in the morning. It’s a lot of people doing that, experimenting with their consciousness. The Beatles did drugs. And people who don’t make music do drugs. During that time, I wasn’t waking up for six years going “Oh my God, I’m going to die! I did some cocaine last night! I did two or three lines after I drank alcohol and it’s 2004! Oh no!” [laughs]. I wasn’t living a life of depravity. I used to actually enjoy getting high like that because it isolated me from people and I’ve been very picky and choosey about my friends. I’m not a social person.
Yeah, I mean, I’m a little more chilled out when I play onstage these days, but that’s because they’re not shining lights in my face. You know, once I played on French TV, and they told them ahead of time, “Please do not move lights around Ryan, he has some kind of epileptic trigger for Ménière’s disease,” and they were like “No, we won’t do it,” and I walked onstage to do a performance with the Cardinals and they turned on every single moving light in the studio, in front and in back and flashed them, moving lights. Literally it looked like a Kylie Minogue concert, like what they would do for the finale. They did it the whole time while I was filming the TV thing. I thought I was gonna fucking die. It was so bad. They aired it, too. They didn’t have the decency to be cool about it. I tried thinking, why would somebody do that? Do they just want to see what happens? I was dealing with shit like that. I was dealing periodically with a lot of weird stuff, and now people know, I have my own lighting person, and people know being on TV, you can’t do it to him, because he’ll fall over, and if he doesn’t fall over, he’ll act really uncomfortable because I’m sitting there going, the horizon of the room is now starting to shift to the right. My pupils dilate and un-dilate in a weird way. It’s so weird, man.
STEREOGUM: Did you ever write about these experiences much? Was it something you mined as topics for songs after you knew about it?
ADAMS: I think it penetrates some of the material. I think it’s alive very much in this record and it’s alive in some of the new singles that are coming out. I feel like I kind of describe a Ménière’s attack in that song “Shadows.” It’s talking a little bit about it, there’s some of that stuff in there. Because I wrote it unconsciously, sometimes I wonder if that chorus is about music, wondering if I’ll lose my hearing completely. How long do I have. It’s an open … but it’s also thinking about mortality, getting older. You’re 39 and looking at your friends and parents are dropping dead and some of them are dropping dead, starting early, it’s a weird time. It’s kind of like that movie The Big Chill but everyone’s wearing Dinosaur Jr. shirts.
STEREOGUM: On the mortality and getting older thing, do you ever look at the music world and think about where you fit into it vs. ten or fifteen years ago?
ADAMS: No … I’m not really into music world stuff at all. I don’t read any music publications. I don’t really read Rolling Stone, I don’t really read any of that, I’m not really into it at all. There was a day when I was kind of into it, and I was like … why are these people talking about Pink Floyd again? Who fucking cares? Like, seriously, what the fuck? The fucking Wall? What the fuck is that? I’m glad they made that, but I don’t know what people are doing.
STEREOGUM: Do you listen to a lot of contemporary music?
ADAMS: I mean, in general … I listen to ’80s hardcore albums, and there are still tons, I’ll never find everything, but I have this sick 7 inch and LP collection that’s just American hardcore, some metal, and then the bands I like, I’m still listening to those records, like Wipers, Smiths. I’m still getting into music from that time. I listen to stuff now that I like. I really love that band the War On Drugs.
STEREOGUM: That’s a great album.
ADAMS: There’s some stuff I really, really like. I don’t really look for it in music trades, I just go to the record store and have a conversation. I talk to a couple of people who work there, they know what I buy, they might be like, yeah, you might dig this. Or maybe somebody emails me and tells me about something and I’ll check it out. Typically, when you’re making music like I make it, you make the music you want to hear, that’s like that, and then there’s music I really enjoy. I listen to metal and I listen to hardcore. But I don’t listen to country music. I don’t listen to the kind of music I make. I make it already. It’s not for me. I don’t really care what’s going on in music. For some reason, I just don’t care.
STEREOGUM: Since you brought it up, my editor was curious about what metal you’re listening to right now.
ADAMS: Let me walk into my office so I can tell you. OK, let’s talk about … some of the stuff I find is older, though, you might have to deal with that. Some of the stuff, it’s still a quest for me to find older stuff that’s gonna spin me out. [Adams spends about ten minutes rifling through albums in his office, muttering about different bands.] Power Trip. Power Trip are fucking amazing.
STEREOGUM: I have a friend who’s always telling me to check them out.
ADAMS: You haven’t checked them out, dude?
STEREOGUM: Yeah, the metal or hardcore thing is always a bit tangential for me, mostly because I just don’t write about that stuff really.
ADAMS: It’s not even about that being that, it’s just about them being so into their shit. It’s just got power to it. It genre transcends. It makes it so powerful, it makes it so sick, you just don’t give a shit, you’re just so locked in.
STEREOGUM: So I wanted to ask you about a few other projects you’d been rumored to be involved in. Whatever came of the Deadmau5 thing?
ADAMS: I don’t know. I don’t know what Joel did with it. It was one track. He’s just working on some stuff and I was cruising by that day, and he was like, check this out. I was like, oh, sounds cool. So he was like, try something on it. So I tried something on it but it wasn’t like a project or anything. I think he put it on twitter, like I’m sure there were some funny things to say like, oh, people are going to be like what the fuck in order to inspire confusion. I think he does collaborations with a lot of people, I think that’s his vibe, I think he collaborates.
STEREOGUM: What about that box set of the various unreleased albums, is that still going to happen?
ADAMS: I don’t understand what people don’t get about that. It mystifies me. People go, “Whatever happened to the 20/20 boxset?” I always want to go like, what are you fucking talking about?
STEREOGUM: Well, it’s been rumored on and off for years.
ADAMS: Yeah, like in 2003 or ’04 or something. I talked about it then. Trying to release unreleased records. But those records are common knowledge now. Like, “When are you going to release The Suicide Handbook?” When people call it that I’m like, “Why do you call it that?” It was actually originally called Commercial Suicide. It wasn’t called The Suicide Handbook because the record I wanted to release was just a double record of acoustic performances and string sections. The version that leaked, they don’t have the strings on it. It’s so known. The toothpaste left the tube so long ago, I’m not going to try to put it into a new toothpaste container. Why would I do that? [laughs] And also I can’t release anything that’s been previously released. I own all my unreleased masters. And then Universal, before I left, if it came out, they owned that. So that means a couple of songs from Commercial Suicide Handbook that were on Demolition make it an incomplete record, and then there was a record I did with Ethan at the end of Gold, it wasn’t really a record, it was just a session. We called it 48 Hours because we made it in 48 hours. And like … the reason it leaked is because my record label would put Lost Highway stickers on it and send it to people.
What I would find is that I would go and make the sessions and before [the songs] had any chance to be considered for anything, they were being shared. Not by me. I didn’t even have a fucking computer then. You can actually find copies still but they’re on eBay. They’ll say “48 Hours Sessions, Lost Highway Records” with a white label. So what eventually happened was twofold. By sharing them to the point where they were getting bootlegged so commonly, it destroyed the value of anything they could’ve ever been. And also the ones they decided to release on Demolition, by making a compilation of all the demos — which was not my idea and not something I wanted to do — they basically interrupted my ability to ever later claim ownership of those records and try to sell them that way.
But you know, I started PAX-AM, and so far we’ve done 7-inches of older stuff. I released the complete sessions around Easy Tiger as III/IV. Originally that record was going to be more rock and have some of those acoustic songs interlaced into the record. The record became what it became out of necessity and those tracks fell by the wayside and I wanted to release that. I’ve made so much music since that people don’t know about. Black Hole record, no one’s heard that. Which is awesome. I made this fucking sick record in New York right at the end of my contract with Lost Highway. I went to Electric Lady with my friend Johnny and made this big sprawling session, and I’ve released only a couple of little things on it, but it gave way to things like “Do I Wait” from Ashes & Fire. I did a Record Store Day single with that, a song called “The Darkness.” That session is so shit hot and I love it. I’ll probably put that out at some point. There’s a couple of other things, but they’re more recent.
I make music, I’m in the moment, I still play live. It would be the worst, possible, most ignorant idea ever and it would be stupid to go, “Hey you guys, I’m going to release this box set of shit you already have online that you’ve listened to forever, except it’ll be incomplete. Because some of these tracks are already on Lost Highway records and if that version exists you can’t have it. So I’ll sell you something you already have, but the incomplete version.” I mean, maybe at this point I could call it 14/9 or something, because the vision would be really impaired. It wouldn’t even be “hindsight is 20/20,” it’d have to be a decimal point and a couple of random numbers. That’s never going to happen, ever, nor should it ever happen, and nor do I think anyone, if they really thought it through, would really want to own it, or would think it would ever be a viable thing. It can’t. It cannot exist. But there’s still my very first four-track recordings up to like, 2005, when I still used cassette four-tracks. I assembled all of them in one place. I found that stuff. I found a shit ton of stuff around the Heartbreaker sessions, all this great stuff. I’m so stoked about that.
STEREOGUM: Do you think that’s material you would want to return to?
ADAMS: That I would put out? Yeah, when it’s time to put out Heartbreaker again I’ll probably look at some of that stuff again. I’m not really into revisionism. It doesn’t define me, but I’ll make stuff available if it makes sense because there’s a record getting put back out again. I’m not 60. I’m 39. It’s not time to start digging through the archives yet. I tell you what, if anyone does start digging through my archives someday, they better bring a bunch more people and a lot of shovels, because there’s a lot of shit back there.
STEREOGUM: One last thing I wanted to talk about, just because it’s one of my favorites that you’ve done, is that Love Is Hell, the full album release, turned 10 this year. I was wondering where that fell for you in your career, how you look at that record, what you think about it now, all that stuff.
ADAMS: I think it’s great. I think it sucks anybody ever had to buy it as two EPs. I think Lost Highway did that because if they released it as two EPs they didn’t have to pay me for one album. It didn’t have to count as one album. That was, actually, I think their strategy back then. And I think that Demolition didn’t count as a record either because it was a compilation. They were such dicks, dude. I owed them like 8 or 9 records for option, and they weren’t even counting things off. I felt like, musically, I was trapped in some basement of a house. Some country person’s house.
But Love Is Hell, to me, it’s one record, and you can only get it as that now on iTunes. We fixed that. That compromise was shocking to me, that somebody would do that. You know what’s interesting, too, I think that’s a beautiful record and there’s more mystery on that one than I can find in the rest of my catalog, the depth and the mystery are really there. At the time, with my label shitting on me and doing that kind of saboteur thing they were doing, I noticed that people followed suit. Reviews and people followed suit with the way it was being presented. Things are only as cool as you make them. People are going to follow the way you’ve been nurturing the thing you have. If the label’s treating it like it doesn’t matter and it’s crap, people aren’t going to know how to react. I always had the sneaking suspicion that time was going to do justice to some of the work. And it was always going to live its own life and grow up sort of its own way. And it did. I just knew. I didn’t care. I loved it, and if nobody ever gets it … it was the same thing I was doing when I was living in Jacksonville, North Carolina, which was: I was waking up and making music. That was enough for me. It’ll always be enough. It’s enough now.
Ryan Adams is out 9/9 on Pax-Am/Blue Note.