Ryan Adams: ‘I can’t remember the guy I was in my late 20s’
Things went very bad for Adams, once alt-country’s poster boy, when label problems, addiction and internet leaks of his albums very nearly did for his career. But now he’s back, happy and more prolific than ever
Ryan Adams: ‘It was so dark. I don’t think I could have been in a worse position, but I think, if anything, I handled it pretty good.’ Photograph: Julia Brokaw
He was known as the golden boy of the alt-country scene around the turn of the century, thanks to his time fronting Whiskeytown and two superb solo albums, Heartbreaker and Gold. Some of the lustre was lost after a period of record label-related strife and addiction problems, but, more than a decade after Ryan Adams hit superstar status, he is one mellow dude.
At 39, Adams is finally comfortable in his own skin. He is a funny, sincere interviewee, his tendency to ramble and go off on amusing tangents unsurprising, given his talent for weaving stories into his songs.
He is on the phone from his Los Angeles-based studio Pax-Am, where he recorded his eponymous 14th album. It’s next door to Sunset Sound Studios, where he recorded 2011’s Ashes & Fire with producer Glyn Johns. When it came to recording the follow-up, he was eager to work in his new space, but Johns wasn’t interested in using an unfamiliar studio.
“I thought, well, I’ll try – the least I can do is try, which turned out to be a pretty expensive try, because I got all of these musicians together and we did the whole record,” he says, chuckling. “I had Don Was on bass, and it was the shit, you know? There was so much good about it, but unfortunately, when all was said and done, there was just an element to it that I wasn’t sure if it was right. It was mellow and old-sounding, and it didn’t sound the way I felt, and it didn’t have the energy that I have.”
The album was scrapped. A year of intensive writing in Pax-Am followed. Adams has always been a prolific writer, but he hit a purple patch like no other this time around.
“For the first couple of months, I thought, holy shit, everyone must think I’m crazy, because they loved the record that I made with Glyn. But I was in my own studio and I was having the time of my life. And I really was finding that energy that had been missing from my work for a really, really long time. So I just went with it.
“So much PG Tips and marijuana later, there were probably 75-100 tracks. After eight months, I had what I knew was good. I thought, there’s a record that I’m gonna love forever. It really felt like me; that I’d finally done it, that I could finally explain what it feels like to be so young at heart, and so weary, sometimes, of mind.”