THINGS GET HIGHLY PERSONAL ON RYAN ADAMS’ NEW ALBUM, WRITES Rod Yates.
The prolific Ryan Adams is back with a literal stack of new songs
You hear Ryan Adams before you see him.
First with a bang as the front door of his Pax-am studio complex swings open and slams shut, and then as he yells, “Could I be any later?”, his voice reverberating down the hallway. Seconds later he bursts into the studio’s control room, which houses its complex collection of effects units and mixing desk. More solid in person than you’d expect – a result, he says, of his penchant for running several hours a day and the endurance that requires – and with his bird’s nest mop of hair appropriately sweaty and misshapen, today the 42-yearold is wearing blue jeans and a redand-black checked shirt, which he removes to reveal a worn Danzig tee.
Adams has called Hollywood home since moving from New York with then-partner Mandy Moore in 2009, and he started constructing Pax-am not long after. Ostensibly a two-storey home adjoined to the famed Sunset Sound studios on Sunset Boulevard, the building was “completely gutted and actually kind of destroyed” when he took over the lease, and he’s since made it into what you imagine it’s like in Adams’ head – its walls are peppered with movie posters and action figures still in their boxes, hung up by pins; there is music memorabilia everywhere (a practice amp that used to belong to the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia sits in the room where vocals are recorded); and there are myriad instruments scattered throughout. It’s here that he recorded 2014’s Grammy nominated self-titled album, and at one point or another Pax-am has been home to artists as diverse as Fall Out Boy and Jenny Lewis.
Adams motions to follow him upstairs and into his office, a wellappointed room that contains all his guitars standing to attention in racks, and a two-seater couch facing an L-shaped wooden desk, behind which stands a bookshelf packed with more dolls, records, books and… a bong. In the middle of the desk sits an Olympia typewriter on which he writes lyrics; a reminder of the romanticism that Adams attaches to songwriting.
He has, over the past two decades – first as a member of alt-country pioneers Whiskeytown and then as a solo artist – written a lot of songs. For his new album Prisoner, for example, Adams estimates he penned around 80, with another 80 half-finished ones still looking for an ending. “I say that not to make myself sound remarkable, because I don’t believe that’s true,” he offers. “I just think I have an obsession with songwriting. But it really was like, a crazy person amount of stuff.”
This is due in part, or perhaps even in whole, to the circumstances in which Prisoner was created. In late-2014 news of his impending divorce with Moore became public, sending the notoriously private singer into something of a tailspin. He retreated to New York and, more specifically, Electric Lady studios, where he became consumed with capturing exactly what he was feeling. “I needed to be out of my head,” he offers. “I needed to see if there was psycho babble. When people talk about your emotions and repressed darkness or hurt, I needed to see the stuff that’s down in you, the stuff that can make you sick. I needed to go get that stuff.”
Given that the album contains song titles such as “Do You Still Love Me?”, “Broken Anyway” and “To Be Without You”, it’s fair to say he accomplished his goal. In the album’s lush melodies and tightly constructed songs, he’s also produced arguably his finest collection since 2001’s careerdefining Gold. Arriving at its tracklisting, though, was a feat in itself. “I had so many songs that were so fucking intense,” he chuckles. “As soon as I let people hear them, there was literally infighting about what were the best ones. And I would be like, I love them all! But my thing was, Star Wars is a trilogy. And if you’re going to make one film, are you going to kill off the Ewoks? Are we going to lose Obi-wan’s character? To me, [figuring which songs to cut] was like emotional Star Wars. But then everything is to me.”