Ryan Adams: Interview

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When it comes to memorable nights out, alt.country troubadour Ryan Adams is an old hand: his last album was the perfect soundtrack for ’getting beaten up with a pool cue‘ and his gigs are notoriously wild and unpredictable. As he prepares for a rare solo date, he talks to Time Out about jackknives, jitters and 2005‘s creative high

  • We are enduring an age where too much is never enough, except, it seems, when it comes to acts of genuine creativity. A prolific rate of productivity is greeted with suspicion, as if the ability to mine your muse and come up with something consistently rewarding is somehow indicative of a lack of real heart, wayward discipline, or plain old arrogance, instead of the inevitable consequence of an almost neurotic compulsion; a nervous twitch of incessant creation.

    The traditional two-year cycle of record industry schedules can’t accommodate Ryan Adams. He uses unfashionable terms like ‘hard work’ and ‘work ethic’ and last year released three albums – one a double – and each of a high quality with a clear, individual identity. ‘Cold Roses’ was a sprawling two-CD set, with Neil Young-style rockers and raw, hushed ballads; ‘Jacksonville City Nights’ was an old-time country record beamed straight from some roadside honky-tonk; while ‘29’, released just prior to Christmas, was piano-heavy, downbeat and elegiac, perhaps the best thing he has ever done.

    Faced with over three hours of new music, many critics – and some fans, too – chose not to celebrate, instead suggesting that Adams should have employed a decent editor to pick the best of the bunch for a single album. Just like everyone else. He furrows his brow. ‘If you were to draw a comparison to those kind of comments, you could say that there is a tennis player who plays tennis too much,’ he ponders. ‘Too much tennis. Is that a good analogy?’

    Not really, but you can see where he’s heading. And it is odd, when you think about it, that a musician encounters criticism not for the quality of his work, but for the quantity. It wouldn’t have happened back in The Beatles’ day.

    ‘Hey man, I’m right there with you,’ says Adams, sitting in a Kensington hotel dressed in his neo-country uniform: studded cowboy shirt, tapered denims and boots, topped off with a suit jacket that looks like it last saw action during an episode of ‘George And Mildred’. ‘I’m only doing exactly what I’m supposed to do. It really does nourish me on a very deep level. All the intentions are correct. To make a song is a gift, and once it’s done it keeps evolving and changing and becomes a tool to interact with other people. It’s like a conversation. People may think that I should have all [the best songs] on one disc, but I’m pretty responsible. We have been so selective. When I go in to make a record I try and organise the songs and make a record of that point in time and those emotions and feelings. Like a snapshot.’

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