Love him or hate him (and he’s often provoked those kind of extremes),
it would be a brave person that would dismiss Ryan Adams as talent-less.
TotalMusic-Online's Andy Basire digs into the past of the awkward alt-country bad boy and
gets some insights into his latest, and, thus far, greatest album Love Is Hell.
A shambolic amalgam of singer/songwriter, garage
punk and alt-country rocker Ryan Adams is nothing if not stylistically diverse.
Citing influences as wide ranging as Loretta Lynn, Hüsker
Dü, Merle Haggard and, erm, Dokken the man resolutely
refuses to be pigeonholed and has, on more than one occasion,
found his scattergun approach to recording and interviews
leaving fans confused and peers aggravated (he once famously
referred to White Stripe Jack White as a ‘little girl’
and a ‘fucking ponce’). He may well be his own
worst enemy but, on the evidence of his latest album Love
Is Hell, he is also a quite remarkably talented songwriter
Born in Jacksonville, NC, in 1974 he grew up with country
music as a major part of his family's musical diet, however
in his early teens he developed a taste for punk rock and
he began playing electric guitar, writing songs, and by the
time he was 16 had formed a band called the Patty Duke Syndrome.
Then in 1994 he formed Whiskeytown with guitarist Phil Wandscher
and violinist Caitlin Cary (bass player Steve Grothman and
drummer Eric Gilmore completed the lineup), releasing their
first album, Faithless Street, on the local Mood Food label.
Attracting the attention of the Geffen linked Outpost Records
the band then released Stranger's Almanac but were becoming
increasingly shambolic live (an audience patience trying affliction
that still occasionally affect Adams today) and after recording
final album Pneumonia – which was shelved when Geffen
was swallowed by Universal – Whiskeytown quietly called
it quits and Adams set about launching his solo career with
the very well received Heartbreaker on Bloodshot Records.
Follow up hit Gold was then released by Universal (ironically
enough as they were the label that shelved his old bands final
album) and the rest is history.
All of which brings us bang up to date with Adams, contrarily as
ever, making far more positive press for Love Is Hell, an album his
label Lost Highway initially refused to release - as they thought it
unformed and unrepresentative, and sent Adams back to knock out the
far less impressive, if far more upbeat ‘Rock N Roll’ instead. A very,
very distant cousin to his massive ‘pop’ hit Gold, Love Is Hell
apparently grew from Adams transient lifestyle.
“I was living out in Los Angeles and had finished Gold and I just kinda never
checked out of my hotel. I just stayed. I just got lost. Maintaining this
decadent lifestyle. [then] I went to New York and met a nice gal and she
thought it was bad that I was truly being a transient, so she convinced
me to at least stay at the Chelsea Hotel, because you can rent the rooms month
to month if you like, and it's an easy place to have a residence, you know.
Then we split up, I think it was because I played 'old people music' as she
put it, which I thought was really funny, as she liked heavy metal and I'm
like, 'well that's just the blues turned up very loud', but whatever,
that's a totally different discussion”.
There are several references to the Chelsea on the album, especially on
'Hotel Chelsea Nights', “I just remember that song was like being in the
Chelsea. There's another reference to the Hotel in City Rain, City Streets
(sings) "In my city bed out of my fucking head. Is it snowing in space?"
You just can't live at the Chelsea Hotel and not do some blow or drugs or
pills. And I had many strange evenings living there, but a good time too.
I didn't move there for the decadence or for anything but I probably had
the most decadent Dionysian nights in my entire life in that hotel. There
was weeks where I didn't see the sun. Also Chelsea Guitars is where I get
pretty much all my guitars. Stanley's Chelsea Guitars is next door.”
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