Ryan Adams is a Prisoner in Studio q


Ryan, thanks for coming on the show. – Thanks for having me. – You know the last time you were here we talked a lot about PaxAm, we talked a lot about your studio and we talked a lot about the freedom that you had to be to jam with your friends to make music with your friends in a kind of a lower pressure environment. And now I know a lot of this record was made not at PaxAm but in New York and you were getting away from LA for a lot of different reasons and one was that you were going through a very public divorce, but I want to talk about the change in recording. You recorded “Prisoner” in New York. How difficult was that change for you? – I mean, it wasn’t it all uhm In fact it was pretty easy because I had lived previously for five years a block from that studio so that was the studio actually also where I met Charlie. He used to engineer there, Charlie who engineers all the records at PaxAm, plays bass in my band, mixes all the records. He’s sort of you know, PaxAm is kind of like the ghostbusters’ sort of firehouse, but that’s just basically only Charlie and I. Like that’s kind of how it works. So he and I met at “Electric Lady”, uhm, sometime I want to say 2006 maybe 2007, something like that and then he engineered “Easy Tiger” just because he was a house engineer there. So going back to “Electric Lady” is in a lot of ways going back to what I knew before I had my own studio, and liberating in some aspects also. – What was that, was that – Did it feel like a return to your older self because I know when we talked about PaxAm it felt like a rebirth in so many ways when you had that studio when you were able to spend all night jamming and you had – last time I spoke to you there was a real sense of freedom that came from there. So when you were going into these older studios that you did you feel like an older version of yourself? – No, I mean it was kind of like returning to where I was before I was married. – Is that a welcome return? Yeah, I mean for sure I mean Lee and everybody there were super stoked to have me back – Lee’s the guy that owns and runs that studio – and And the energy for me being there was it was really light and inspiring and it kept me kind of like I felt lucid there, you know, also I could go there inbetween tours as opposed to going back to California where I was sort of setting up a new home I could just go to New York and and work while my home was being set up and it just made sense it really it really did and it kept things light. – Did it, because I know you like you said you’ve recorded in New York before and I was actually at the “Live at Carnegie Hall” show you did there, but one of them I was there.. – Oh, well, – …and I know you spoke you spoke that night. So I can still think I can see myself in the cover, I think I can or I lie to impress people. – Well yeah. No, there I am, that’s me in the balcony. – You just gotta lighten the, lighten it up or something in your phone. – I’ll get you I’ll get you to send me like an instagram copyright. – Right – Yeah, I could use like the fifth filter.
Did it influence the songs at all being back in that city? Yeah, totally I mean, I think if anything ah I mean the responsibility of being at PaxAm, it isn’t tremendous and things are set up and it feels good. But for me, I wanted to just record and play with one of my best friends Johnny on drums and just have it be vocals guitar drums to be the basic tracks of everything I did which is usually the case in any of my recordings. But I knew specifically I wanted to do it with him and New York made more sense to be flying in and out of for the tour as I was writing. – Yeah And the band weren’t really available to do stuff in the two weeks we would have in between tour times so I had to kind of take it upon myself to do it and it felt right to do it. – But what does that do to the music? – Well, I mean, that’s the the nature of how all my recordings are it’s just drums and vocal and guitar as a basic track But so doing it at “Electric Lady” which is a much bigger room with stuff set up around, like, for me to then run to go play bass right after I’ve written the song. It’s essentially the same thing I do no matter where I’m at. It’s just that I did it in a in a place that I had previously done that at and done it with the full staff at a studio that’s kind of set up to cater to a person that’s in that environment. – You did 80, you wrote 80 songs for this and whittled it down to 12? – No, there are 70 recordings or more. – 70?! Well 70 is what we’ve clocked, or what my administrators and my business people have in the vault that they know exist, but there’s more. But there’s 70 mixed actual tracks. – Are you always this prolific when you make a record? Do you always have this many tracks going in to a record? – I usually have many. I didn’t when I was married weirdly. – Why is that? – I usually had as many.
I don’t know, uhm I don’t really know, I’ve thought about that some…
Maybe I was busy just being relaxed or There’s also a different, there was a different vibe for me then.
Before, I used to write a lot and it was what I did and it’s what I turned to and it was my sort of “that’s my place”, you know, being creative. And then I’m, I just need, I guess I took a break or went to a different realm in existence and eventually I felt that need that called to do more and, uhm, and I just responded to it, you know. – Is that call, like you said you were busy being relaxed, is that call… – It was a nice way of saying that I was not able to do what I wanted to do maybe all the time. – Okay, I was wondering like, does the songwriting have to come – if you write at that frequency – does it have to come from a place of conflict? – No, ah, but it, Look, you know there, I’m a songwriter and I’d like to make recordings and ahm, If you’re in a relationship where someone’s gonna make you feel guilty for doing that, for spending that kind of time, then you’re going to eventually stop; whether it’d be an implied pressure or not. And I’m not saying that happen in my marriage, but even if it’s an implied thing that like you’re spending too much time doing this thing you love or whatever it is, you know, ahm, you will compromise or you will change how you live in order to facilitate that. but uhm, You know I learned valuable lessons about my life, uhm, before I was married, while I was married, and after. And what – the greatest thing I took from it, is that it isn’t “Oh man, I have to go on this Prisoner-Tour!” “I’m gonna be gone for, like, eight months!” It’s “I get to go on this Prisoner-Tour, I get to play for eight months.” – It didn’t always feel like that? – It always did for me. I just don’t have to explain it to anybody anymore. – Right, right you get to do it. But that’s man, that’s but it’s not often man, you’ve been like, you’ve been playing music for a very very long time and to a lot of people it isn’t “I get to do this” anymore. It isn’t “I get to play Massey Hall,” it’s “Well, I got to go out and I got to play…” – That’s not true. Every time as I get to do it… – No for you I mean, that’s remarkable for you I mean there’s artists who have been playing music as long as you have who don’t have that same excitement – Well, I mean, gratitude is the attitude. – Well, but gratitude’s a hard, I know, but gratitude’s a hard thing to have. I mean, I’m just trying to, in this… – Is it? I don’t know, I don’t think it is. I think it’s much easier to feel toxic about stuff. I mean in reality I’m not always, physically well even on tour. – Yeah. – But I have to find a way to get myself into position so I could do what I want to do and play guitar and make noise and and feel good and uhm everybody has their stuff to overcome, and, ahm, I think it’s ahm, I mean, you know You guys are up here in Canada and relatively – at least I hope that you are far enough away from the shitstorm that is the United States to realize that like, you know, I’m from this country that’s like built on, like, animal jungle law. Where it’s built on adversity and it’s built on the idea that like you’re gonna struggle from the moment you’re born until you die and and even just the act of dying means that you owe money to somebody… – And that’s liberty? …to build bombs. – Yeah, and it’s so, f*ing uhm, i-, i-, that as like äh, ahm This isn’t a political statement, this is an artistic statement I’m making, but the that feeling as a human that makes art ahm As a human being is my decision to, like, take my life and try to turn them into songs and direct them at the personal and not the political or not or direct them towards small moments not big moments, you know. ahm All those choices and, ahm, all those decisions that I’m making to do that, they’re all sort of, they’re all – they have all been carefully weighed against the alternative. – And that alternative, we spend a lot of time on this show talking about how in this current political climate; ’cause you know, you’re here, we’re here in Canada, we do see it, you know. And I read the paper you know and I read the internet. And the thing I feel like we’re pushing against – when you said I find gratitude not to be that hard I, I find that remarkable because I find that we’re constantly pushing against cynicism. And that times like these can make us cynical, but it doesn’t seem to have made you cynical. – I mean I had this idea since I was young that there were really evil people in the world. Ahm, that they… There were people who were constantly fighting against a dark thing inside them or they maybe were not smart enough to actually, like, formulate their own opinion or their own idea about who they were. – Yeah. – Ahm, maybe those people are more dangerous than just the actual people who are evil, it’s the people who don’t really know who they are so they can carry out these horrible things and, I mean, I saw it all the way down to the microcosm of, like, the skateboarding world or the male order comic book world, where you, like, send off…
-Really? … your ten bucks and like, you don’t get your 20 issue run of Spider-Man because the guy is melting down or says he sent it but didn’t, I mean, frac-, you could break all this stuff down and see all these things happening on a smaller scale I’m sure like every high school out there has the same sort of construct that happens on a political, ahm, On the world stage, you know, of that, there are just some people who are There are – I mean, there’s really no other way to say it like there are people that you’re gonna meet in in life, and they’re just assholes and sometimes that’s the motivation that people actually have to then become someone that wants to control or tell other people what to do. Think about it, I mean, it looks, like, most people don’t go like: “Okay, I’m this like raging a*hole,… – Well, I’m… – …so I’m just going to go sit in a corner and be by myself and, like, you know and uhm, write some haikus, like, that’s not the personality of of like a raging a*hole, like they’re probably the person that’s like in High School, they’re like “I want to become class president.” – Yeah – There’s like a fire in that kind of a person and there’s, ahm and there’s like a desire to kind of like shape or mold or oppress. I mean, ahm, – Well, that’s the banality of evil, the Hannah Arendt – she wrote that book after the Nuremberg trials – and she said that the greatest evil that we have is our complicity or how complicit we are with actual evil. That there are a few evil figures. Did you read that book “The End” about that, about German Society and how it could have ever been, ahm how they all could have fallen into, ah, in line with public opinion in that way; it’s Anton someone, I – – No I didn’t read it, but I read, I read that one about the – I guess similar book maybe, just about how –
But what do you, like, what do you take from that? Like, like you said there are these a*holes, and they’re typically not writing – I like that – they’re not writing haikus, they’re the ones who running for class president. They’re the ones who are causing the ruckus. What does it say about the rest of us who vote for them? – I don’t know, see, that’s the interesting thing is. I don’t want to say anything for anybody. – Yeah. I wanna watch somebody, like, make tea in the morning and admire them and, like, watch their hands the way that they pour the hot water. – Why? – And, like, say to myself, like, “Look at the way the light maybe, like, just passes by a woman’s wrist,” or look at the – or listen to the way that like maybe wind sounds outside of a window hitting wind chimes that belonged to somebody that passed away, and think about that moment to myself because, ahm… It does not mean that I am better. I think that I, I, I don’t want to, ahm, I don’t want to participate in grand moves. I don’t want to participate in what humans should be doing because I just don’t see anybody that way. I just look at these people. I look at myself too, and I think: “You’re not from here. You’re not staying here.” “You’re visiting.” Everyone that goes, like: “Oh, it’s so sad that Bob passed away,” such as you know it’s, “What a shame.” People all sitting together talking about it and go like – “What are you talking about?” You’re going to f*ing die like probably in, like, 30 years max. I mean, uhm, but now that like this Clown Monster man is President of the United States and… – Yeah …maybe relatively sooner than you thought. But, like, the point is, ahm Don’t know like I just have these opportunities. Maybe it’s from being from a small town or something where, I think these little tiny moments are so beautiful. Little moments. Watching somebody watch somebody else. Laugh at something that someone else is doing and watching the chain of looks. Those things, those things kill me. I love them. And I always think, like, to myself how charmed I am that I can catch that, you know, and and, and it makes me want in return to capture it, ahm, in a song or write something down or even to just study that moment because I just feel, I feel grateful that I get to see that stuff, you know ’cause… – That’s quite a perspective man. That really is. -Well, I mean, It’s that simple. I mean I just uh There’s just a little bit of self-awareness that can go into feeling, uhm grateful for the opportunity to even play guitar. I mean…
– Yeah. …I worked at this bread baking factory in Raleigh, North Carolina. – When you were a kid? – Ahm, after I had run away from home bas-, more or less, and, ah, was just trying to make enough money to live in this one room you know, sort of one room tenement building in Ralegh and I had to ride my 10-speed all the way across Raleigh to go to this bread baking factory in ahm and frozen bread rolls would come off this assembly line. – Yeah And I had to put them on these trays and these big racks and then move them across this big horrible warehouse into these big machines that would then activate the yeast…
– Yeah … called “puffing machines” and, uhm, And I remember like uh they wouldn’t let me listen to my headphones Because they didn’t believe that I could do the job and not hear if there was like damage on the belt or something, ‘Cause this guy would be at the top of the machine feeding the machine these big things of unneeded dough which it would then get converted and somehow quickly frozen – it was insane, uhm. So I would make up songs in my head. – Just to pass the time? – Yeah. Or think of my favorite songs. I would think of songs or songs I hated and I would just try to go from the beginning to the end of the song in my mind, and I’d go like “Okay, so the song starts with a drum roll – I think it starts with the drum roll -, and I, and I would just sort of play the song out of my head and I remember I, I think I started to, like, really, uhm, I started having this like I started to have the ability to ahm to, you know, retain music in a different way than I had before the longer I worked on this assembly line where I could then just listen to radio at night and then like recall what I was listening to…
-That’s crazy! …when… Well if you stand 8 to 10 hours in a horribly lit room with, like, frozen, like, hot dog-shaped bread coming at you on an assembly line that you’re putting onto trays… – Yeah. …you will do something…
– Yeah. …your mind will go somewhere.
– Yeah. It’s good it went there. – Yeah, I always try to, uhm, I always try to think about that that time, when I’m having a bad time doing what I’m doing because that was – It wasn’t a terrible time; it was pretty bad. But I made something out of that time too, you know. and, uh So uh, you know, to go fast forward and say like uhm You know: “Wow, this is my life now!” You know, this is what I’m doing now making records and doing this, it’s pretty interesting. – I don’t want to keep you forever because I know you have to do soundcheck and and listen, I appreciate you come in and you mentioned earlier that, that – Quotations forever. – Well, no. You, when you’re feeling bad, you mentioned earlier that, – Yes, I’m remembering a terrible Ménière’s day, yeah. – And I hope you don’t mind me saying this, on Instagram the other day you put up a post when you were in Philadelphia and you said: “I, I’m having a really bad Ménière’s (I guess) night. I’m having double vision. I’m dizzy, I can’t really see very well. I feel sick, but this crowd really gave me what I needed, to do this show. And: Thank you Philly.” – Yeah. So in terms of gratitude, and I want to talk about the power that comes with gratitude. What power do these audiences give you when you’re having these bad Ménière’s days. This is Ménière’s disease by the way, this is an illness, that Ryan suffers from. – It’s really more about their power. Their power to overlook questionable solos… – Oh come on! But what does I do to you? What does it do to you? – Although I’m quite, I have questionable solos when I’m feeling alright. uhm I don’t know. I mean, I just, I just know I don’t wanna fall over. I know I wanna feel what I’m I wanna feel my feelings? ahm, I want to play as hard as I can uhm, you know, I’m not in Slayer. I’m in, like, “emotional Slayer” So it’s, like, I mean it’s like sometimes, after like, two hours of my own show I’m like “I feel like I just watched ‘The Thorn Birds’, like, miniseries” or you know – I’m still stuck on “emotional Slayer” – No, it’s true, I feel like I’ve watched, like, eight episodes of, like, late 80’s Oprah, like, in a row or something. I’m just like emotionally worn out.
– Donoghue. – Yeah, totally. But yeah, it’s like I wanna feel all my feelings and play as much as I can and feel inspired. There’s, there’s this magic thing that happens where sometimes I’m re-energized by losing myself in into this one space of the room when I’m playing which I really like. And it won’t be a song, sometimes It’ll be like an entire, an entire show or an entire section of the show, where things just move as one – the audience the music everything moves as one and that’s really fascinating. Uhm, it’s a really fascinating place to be. uhm I, I suspect, that the thrill of that feeling is enough, you know. Also, I mean, it’s, you know, writing songs and being who I am is as close to being a journalist or writer with like a daily column in a newspaper as I could get – because I’m just the way that I am. And my column wouldn’t make any sense, it would be too erratic for a paper. – Yeah. – And it’s what I wanted to do when I was a kid, so I guess in some way, this is like my, this is like my, my version of that –
playing guitar, writing songs. – It’s been really nice to talk to you, I don’t want to keep you any longer. You know, I had some questions for you about the record, I had some questions story about maybe, like, some some growth over the time of the record, but and I’m really, I really enjoyed talking to you about gratitude. – The record is Prisoner. And I wrote it while I was going through the beginning part of, of a divorce. It’s not any different than any of the Ryan Adams record because my records were always having – you could say that about any of my records… – Yeah …you could say, you can pick any one of my records, and you wouldn’t say like “Oh, it’s not his science fiction album, – Oh, either not… about like, you know, about, like, ah, you know, traveling into like an interdimensional portal however you, I mean, with the right kind of, you know, marijuana maybe you could do that, but, like, I think that like all my records it’s about the tough stuff. It’s maybe I pick some of the – I pick on the harder moments in a day, thinking about what it means to be a person with feelings. I don’t believe in cliché, I think that things are only cliché until you take them back. And you mean them, so I don’t care if someone thinks, that something I do isn’t cool, or or it’s being uhm, unmindful. I don’t like the idea of writing records that, uhm, come from a perspective of being jaded or looking at worldview and, like, a in like some kind of a horrific way because uhm, This is it! This is your dimension that you’re in, you know. – That’s the same thing, we were still talking about gratitude, we’re still talking about gratitude. – Well, sort of but this is where you’re at. We’re in this dimension. Everything works for fuel. Everything works for food. Everything is gonna expire and everything came from someplace that it’s not here. And we’re just here, so, You could look at that and say that’s horrific or you could look at that and say that’s beautiful – or you could do both. But for me – ahm I just wanna watch the light fall on somebody’s hands when they’re making tea and go: “Why does this moment feel so painted perfectly to me?” And “Why do I feel, what I do feel about this?” “Why does this remind me of of, you know, ‘Gee Mom Papaw’?”. “Why is this room feel slow?” Those things to me, ahm, I don’t know why, they feel soft and colorful, they feel full, they feel, ahm they feel like the important questions for me.
And it’s funny ’cause ah I mean, I just was raised this, like, scrappy punk skate kid that just was like I don’t care if you – I don’t care when someone told me ‘You can’t write Guns N’Roses on one side of your Converse and Sonic Youth on the other.’ And I was like “Really, because my pen just did it.” – Yeah, right. – And I have both those records. They didn’t, like one of them didn’t get up and leave my record collection, so go f*ck yourself. Maybe that, maybe ‘go f*ck yourself,’ write that on your Converse. I adjusted who I am, and the best thing about who I am and what I do is: I am that punk kid! But – I really am. And probably inarticulate and in a lot of ways…
– Nah – …well in some ways, and have been a buffoon about it and really, I think probably really hard-headed about it a lot of times, but it’s because that’s who I am in my life. I, I am this post-skater punk, you know, thrash kid that just happened to also ahm, I don’t know, like, maybe I shouldn’t have read that like Eudora Welty book or, like, or or Auden, or whatever it was that, like, made me start to appreciate slow moments, but it’s the, an effect. It’s it’s kind of the only thing that I feel like is right for me to do and and all the research and the music and the stuff I’ve listened to kind of back that up like, ‘Be who you are’. ahm ‘Don’t let anybody tell you not to appreciate things the way that you want.’ ahm It just strangely, just didn’t come out in a way that sounded like the Dead Kennedys. It’s like, ah it’s really funny to be 42 and from time to time have the, have this incredible life where I get to defend, ahm, I, I get to defend a career of writing songs about, ahm, you know of like, you know, who spilled the milk, you know, and who who did what and how a relationship fell in a certain way, or what caused a problem. That’s just who I ended up being. It feels better than, uhm, it feels better than than a mask, you know. – Ryan Adams, listen, thanks so much for coming in and talking to us today, I really appreciate it – Right on. Thank you.

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