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Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams

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 and performer.
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.

Ryan Adams 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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