By David Kenney
Alt. country outlaw Ryan Adams has something of a rep. The Whiskeytown vocalist admits he’s a "handful" with no regrets, but beyond Adams’ hard-living, rock and roll lifestyle there lies a poetic and sincere 25-year-old full of bar-brawling emotion.
"I care enough about rock and roll that I get fucked up but I care enough about myself… that I take care of myself that I make sure I’m comfortable and I do a good job," says Adams on performing live.
"In a rock and roll band it’s fun to be like a drunk, junkie whore, you know, but you can’t do it all the time–I’m too cute."
This comes from a man who wrote and sang, "I’m a fast talking, hell raising, son-of-a-bitch and I’m a sinner and I know how to fight, well I can leave if I wanna, little baby, and I’m going to tonight," on Whiskeytown’s "Hard Luck Story." Still, he’s anything but two-faced–just multi-talented.
Sounding like a young Steve Earle full of piss and hurt, Adams drops desert-echo vocals and salt-on-wound tender lyrics on his solo debut, Heartbreaker. Adams says recording the new album was something of a religious experience.
"[Heartbreaker] wanted to say something so we went with what the songs meant," says Adams. "I think we ended up with something so kick-ass. I go to this really weird place, my voice opens up and I get to this place that’s kind of lost and sexy and beautiful at the same time."
All of the above are true. Heartbreaker is an exercise in musical minimalism that tires a listener with Adams’ aching vocals. Many songs include only the naked sound of Adams and his guitar. Joining him on this emotional train wreck are alt. country stalwarts Gillian Welch, David Rawlings, Kim Richey and the amazing, legendary Emmylou Harris.
One person not on Heartbreaker, but whom Adams would love to work with, is Bloodshot Records labelmate Neko Case. After meeting and then getting drunk together one day, the duo wrote "Twist the Knife" for Case’s acclaimed Furnace Room Lullabies. Throwing the two on the road would make for what Adams calls "a hell of a tour."
"That would be called [the] ‘Ryan and Neko destroy the planet’ tour," says Adams jestfully. "That’s probably like two chemicals you shouldn’t mix for longer than maybe a couple of days."
Adams’ alchemy with Bloodshot Records is another story. Bolting Universal for the Chicago alt. country label was great for both Whiskeytown and himself, Adams says.
"It’s a huge relief not to talk to some bad fucking, L.A., motherfucking record company asshole whore who’s fucking ‘you’re going to be really big,’" says Adams. "I have enough on my plate already to go out and be like fucking rock star famous, fuck that."
On that plate is Adams’ first solo tour. Two weeks into the Heartbreaker tour alone he says this record is only "one in a series of really good ones." So temporarily, Whiskeytown is back in the cabinet again, maybe for good. When Whiskeytown’s third full-length album Pneumonia is finally released, Adams says we can expect something slightly Heartbreaker-like.
"Pneumonia was lush and big and beautiful and crazy and like a third sister’s lover, on the verge of something at every moment," says Adams. "Whiskeytown has weaknesses and strengths because it’s a band, whenever it’s functioning like one, whereas I can just do whatever I am at all times."