Interview Ryan Adams: Relight My Fire

With his first new solo album in six years, Ryan Adams is going it alone.



With his first new solo album in six years, Ryan Adams is going it alone. Words: Emma Swann. Photos: Sam Bond.

As it turns out, we’re not only lucky to be in the same room as Ryan Adams today, but perhaps even the same country. Last week he found himself waiting in a New York airport while ‘about 150’ flights were in the process of being cancelled thanks to Hurricane Irene. His was, thankfully, fine, and now he’s in London promoting the release of his thirteenth (yes, thirteenth - Ed) studio album, ‘Ashes & Fire’.

‘I love this whole country, I love Wales and Scotland and Ireland,’ he begins enthusiastically, echoing the sentiment by asking the waitress for a cup of tea. ‘I like it here a lot, musically. The kind of music that I play is the music that you like; it’s still culturally relevant. You still have music magazines that actually cover records. In the United States we have Rolling Stone, who put some woman from a TV show in a bikini on the cover, and I don’t know who she is. Even if I don’t care too much about Pink Floyd, I want to pick up a magazine that has some crazy retrospective article on them, and I want to read about new records. It’s nice, you actually feel how important music still is to people here.’

While it might seem a long time since the last Ryan Adams record, in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth. His last conventional solo album was way back in 2005, sure, and it’s three years since his most recent ‘proper’ release in the form of ‘Cardinology’ with the Cardinals. Recent history, however, has seen Adams in a rich vein of form; 2010 saw his own label PAX AM issue the sci-fi metal shocker ‘Orion’ plus a double Cardinals album, ‘III/IV’, both in limited numbers. What’s more he had two books, ‘Infinity Blues’ and ‘Hello Sunshine’ published the year before. Oh, and he got married too.

It’s a little surprising, then, that he’s chosen now to release an album via established means - especially given his love for the internet. Was it such an obvious step to take, to return to the traditional way of getting material out there? ‘Yes, definitely. I still totally believe that the best thing about social media for musicians is that it makes stuff free; it makes you able to give away songs. But I still fully intended on making a new record, it just took me a minute to get it together. For the last couple of years I was just living life.’

The album, recorded in California and produced by Glyn Johns (the father of long-time Adams collaborator Ethan), was entirely self-financed, and completed be- fore any labels were even approached - and it paid off. ‘I made the record on my own, and when it was all said and done, I went to these major labels that had great distribution and met with their acting presidents and said ‘Listen, I made this, it’s mine, it’s not negotiable, do you want to hear it?’ I luckily had really good responses. I think everybody that we talked to was pretty much interested.’

In short, he’s got the best of the independent world: doing what he wants, when he wants, how he wants; and the relative safety of a major: marketing, advertising, distribution. The major label this time around is Columbia, and it’s a happy relationship so far. ‘They’re a partner in the distribution, and they’re a partner in what I do.’

Setting up PAX AM was the next logical step for Adams after parting company with his previous home, Universal - he’d had the makings of a label around him all this time, he just hadn’t realised it. ‘I looked around me and saw all these people that I already love, that have been in my life; the same people have been there for almost fifteen years. So one day I just went ‘you know what, we’re a label’. Every person in my life has the ability to do this. And so we got in to it, and figured it out, and everybody kinda knows what they’re doing.’

And, while many artists’ own labels are little more than ‘by name only’, Ryan’s is, al- most literally, about as hands-on as you can get. ‘I’m on my iPhone all the time, and I have this new rule where we do everything by text. The idea is that when there are questions that come up that need answering, I have tried to do it all by text messaging. That way there’s no long, crazy emails, just very direct ‘yes, let’s do this’, or ‘no, let’s do this’. It’s working!’

It’s not just his records that Ryan’s tak- ing charge of - his live show is likely to be stripped-down, solo and acoustic for the foreseeable future too. ‘I think that’s just how I’m going to play,’ Adams muses. ‘I’ll play with some people eventually, but it’s really good, the vibe is good. I think people like it more. I hope! They seem to like it more.’

Apparently his ‘rock ‘n roll’ days were only ever numbered. ‘When I brought my band over here, people were hissing like snakes. I don’t think they liked it too much. A lot of my songs aren’t conducive to trying to make them sound like the Foo Fighters. As much as I want to rock,I think some people are maybe freaked out by it.’

He doesn’t miss the gang mentality of being with a band either - his three-person crew proving more than enough company on the road. ‘It’s so much better. It’s not lonely or anything. I have a concise and small crew - I have a tour manager, and she’s the best. Then my guitar tech is also a monitor guy, and our sound guy - he used to work with Steve Albini, and he’s really quiet. There’s just the four of us, and it’s mythically easy to do these gigs. I literally travel with one bag and one guitar. It’s great, it’s really freeing.’

Due to return to this side of the Atlantic later this year, Adams isn’t planning to take on the arenas any time soon - instead opting for the more intimate setting of London’s wonderfully atmospheric Un- ion Chapel. ‘I still like the idea of playing places that are that size,’ he explains. ‘I couldn’t really play the Albert Hall by myself. Have people played it strictly acoustic by their own selves? I’m sure Bob Dylan probably did, but I’m not Bob Dylan!’

Ryan Adams’ new album ‘Ashes & Fire’ will be released on 10th October via PAX AM / Columbia.

Taken from the August 2011 issue of DIY, available now. For more details click here.

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