[Correction: Contrary to what was originally written, Adams did not hang up on reporter Drew Fortune. Rather, Adams cut short the conversation, and the two agreed to continue the next day. West Coast Sound regrets the error.
A second correction was also issued for this story, by way of Ryan Adams' response.]
Two days ago, a very pissed off Ryan Adams cut our interview short, leaving me shaken.
Now six years sober, and settled into domestic life with wife Mandy Moore, I'd heard that he was nonetheless a notoriously volatile and wary media subject. Still, I figured Adams was no longer an angry young gunslinger ready to spew bile at journalists. And, though our first chat started off friendly enough, things quickly turned sour. A question about Mandy Moore? Big no-no. Bring up the fact that he's been extremely prolific over the years? That'll make him sound like he's about ready to fight.
Adams plays tonight at Hollywood Forever's Masonic Lodge. His solo album Ashes and Fire — which comes out tomorrow and was produced by Glyn Johns, who worked on the Beatles' Let It Be — may be Adams' most peaceful and reflective album ever. His 16th release, it's a stripped bare meditation on mortality and new beginnings. Diagnosed five years ago with Ménière's Disease — an inner ear inflammation that disrupts the body's natural balance and in severe cases causes complete deafness — Adams briefly quit music in 2009. Like Bret Easton Ellis in the meta-fictional Lunar Park, the vilified bad boy has relocated from New York to Los Angeles for his third act, and does, despite our spat, seem to have found some peace. Here are excerpts from our talks.
Getting sober certainly changes peoples' lives. I'm curious how you adjusted, and how you changed your routine. This album has a lot of nature in the lyrics.
I think the subtext to your question suggests that I didn't have any hobbies when I was drinking. I didn't drink during the day. I didn't drink every night or drink all the time. Lots of perceptions come up with the life of a musician, or the world of rock and roll. We all know that Gene Simmons didn't walk around in dragon boots, blowing fucking fire in the morning. There were these consistent lies, and these preconceived notions. But yes, I have many hobbies and have had them consistently my whole life. I'm into vintage arcade games. I like restoring games from 1978-1984.
Heartbreaker and Ashes and Fire feel like bookend albums. Is love a stronger muse than heartbreak?
I think it would be wrong to consider Ashes and Fire a love album. The record is obsessed with time. I believe that there is a kinder view of the self on this record. I'm passing through my own life as a ghost, and looking at these pieces and places in my life. I'm looking at California, and the idea of being lost and found at the same time.
It's a very gentle record. I took that as a reflection of you being in a good headspace.
I think that's very bizarre. These are albums. If somebody asked me straight out “are you in a good headspace” I'd say yes. I wasn't living in a basement surrounded by cockroaches, fucking drinking Robitussen, ever, when I made records. I just think it would be a weird thing for somebody to make a judgment on me based on the records. I would never say, 'The new Danzig record is pretty dark. He's in a real bad place. We better go give him a hug.' I don't begin to pretend or understand Danzig based on a record.
On the surface, it seems like you and Mandy Moore are polar opposites. Could you pinpoint a specific moment when you realized you wanted to spend the rest of your life with her?
I understand why you would be interested, and I understand the question, but you should know that I don't discuss my personal life.
How much stock do you put in what rock critics say? For instance, I think one criticism against you in recent years is that you've been overly prolific.
I don't understand the question.
Are you personally affected by negative reviews anymore?
It isn't personal, it's just about records. It is what it is. It's a very vague question you're asking me. I don't know what review you would be talking about. I feel like you're making a generalization, and asking me to comment on a generalization about a non-specific question. Which is weird. I don't understand what the point in me commenting on that would be.
Have you ever read anything about yourself in which a critic pointed to your prolificacy as a negative? Granted, I don't have a specific review to back that up right now, but I was hoping you could comment on the notion that some might view your constant output as a negative, and whether you would take any stock in that?
Prolific compared to what bands? The consistency or inconsistency of other artists? I consistently make records and put them out for sale, so people can decide to buy them or not. I don't want to be rude, but I'm getting the idea that you don't have any idea about my career. I release records on my own label. We're talking about rock critics, and you haven't even asked me anything about my new record. We're not talking on topic at all. You're asking me vague questions about my opinion on rock critics. I'm in no way trying to be harsh to you man. It's fine if you didn't hear the record, or don't have the one sheet and aren't invested in the material. I'm making time to do the article because I want to talk about my new record. Let's agree to pick this up again on a better note and talk tomorrow.
(From second interview) Did you have a shortlist of producers you wanted to work with, or was it always Glyn Johns from the start?
It was pretty much Glyn from the start. He has a style and process that is iconic. He made a Muddy Waters record for Christsake. There wasn't a bone in my body that said, 'Hey Glyn, let's make a record that sounds like this.' You leave that up to him.
Do you stake out moments to create, or are you a cocktail napkin writer?
There's a little bit of both in my life. I had to put myself back into the position of forcing myself to write after I had to take time off to allow my ear to get better. The good songs never happen the way you think they will. The good ones sneak up, from the notes you thought were shit. A lot of songs now are really inspired by my drives on the PCH, listening to Morbid Angel or Kiss. I zone out on those drives and think about my life.
What's a perfect L.A. day for you?
Get up early and go to my studio. Go get some English tea at the Mercantile on Sunset. Cruise over to Vacation Records, and check out some rare black metal cassettes. Black metal is my life. Go for a hike up to Dante's Peak. Grab a bite to eat at the Oaks and get some banana pudding. Once you try the banana pudding your life will be ruined because it's so fucking good. Just staying in the neighborhood and keeping it simple basically. That's all I need.