Of course we know by now who Ryan Adams is. He’s the singer from Whiskeytown. He’s the singer from Ryan Adams. Of Ryan Adams. Of …and The Cardinals. He’s not Bryan Adams. He’s not what you wanted him to be. He’s the author of Heartbreaker. Of Gold. Of seventy-six albums in the last four weeks. He’s alt-country’s prodigal son. He’s pop songwriting’s middle-aged wunderkind. He’s Americana’s Great White Something. He’s all of it. He’s none of that. Let’s talk to him himself, about himself, and see what type of icon can come out of it.
An Interview with Ryan Adams
(***Obviously, this is not an actual interview with Ryan Adams. As someone named Me would say, “Shtop it.”)
Milam: Thanks for joining us, Ryan.
Adams: Who is us?
Milam: Me and myself. Me and you. There’s plenty of person in this room. Enough for plural, I’d say.
Adams: Sure. I thought maybe you had some friends hiding in the back.
Milam: They’re your fans.
Adams: Are you going to ask any questions?
Milam: When I’m good and ready.
Adams: I’ll just be over here, rubbing my head.
Six minutes later….
Milam: I have a question now.
Adams: Go for it.
Milam: Are you bad for America?
Milam: Do you think that Easy Tiger is a good record?
Adams: Who’s to say that? Who said it was?
Milam: Somebody probably did.
Adams: I think that was my publicist. She’s excellent at her job. She really, really likes my music. She’s persuasive in that belief. She’s a hope-merchant. I just write the songs, man. After that, who the hell knows?
Milam: You write a lot of songs.
Adams: I record a lot of songs, too. I record all of the songs. I put them all down on tape, man. They’ve got their audience.
Milam: What’s that audience look like?
Adams: The C+ students of the art schools and confused frat boys. And you.
Milam: And Winona Ryder.
Adams: Who probably counts as both. But I like my audience, man. They’re always around.
Milam: Why’s that?
Adams: Cause I keep them there. I don’t even want to talk about Easy Tiger, man. I’ve got another album lined up that’s so much better than it. I’m stoked about that album, man. It’s soulful and it’s earthy. It’s got a lot of colors in it.
Milam: Aren’t you just telling jokes?
Adams: I’m always telling jokes, man. I’m wearing a Tyco watch that reads “4:20.” That’s my album cover, man. The title is Easy Tiger. I’ve got a song called “Halloweenhead.” I put out three albums in a year. I did a double album of suicide music…
Milam: It made me want to kill myself…
Adams: …exactly! These are the jokes, man. It’s just important that, no matter what, I don’t ever, ever laugh.
Milam: But the next album?
Adams: The next album is killer. You should talk to my publicist, man. She’ll tell you about it. It’s almost jazz. Kinda big band stuff. It sounds like some rusty old train. Don’t you know I’m clean and sober?
Milam: I read that. How smart are you?
Adams: I’m instinctive. There’s a difference. And I’m smart enough to know the difference.
Milam: Like you know what to do without thinking of what to do? Like characterize yourself as a misfit, a mercurial talent, an embattled uber-prolific songwriter? A guy who can always do something great but never quite does? A guy loaded with promise? A guy not interested in keeping that promise?
Adams: That’s why I pick fights with Jack White.
Milam: Always walking, not really talking; he’s problematic.
Adams: You know that it’s better to show potential than to actually fulfill it, man. Nobody wants to hear your best album.
Milam: It’s imperative that you never make it, right?
Milam: What’s the next album called?
Adams: Rococo Mustard. It’s incredible, man. It’s all-out Southern rock. Real Skynyrd stuff. It’s the alt-country masterpiece everyone’s been waiting for. It’s the new Nevermind. Here’s my publicist’s number. She’s who you need to talk to. She’s won all kinds of awards. You know I wrote three songs since we sat down?
Milam: I had no idea. When did that happen?
Adams: As we were talking. I wrote them in my head. You never knew it, did you?
Milam: That’s amazing. That’s really an incredible skill. What are they called?
Adams: “Question-Answer,” “Where Is Everything Going Now,” “Honey Pot.”
Milam: I’d like to hear “Honey Pot.”
Adams: Then buy the next album, man. It’s an acoustic-style one. A real bedroom recording. Lots of modulations. Some falsetto. It’s effing gorgeous. I sing the shit out of it.
Milam: Your voice is as good as ever. It’s like Tennessee honey.
Adams: Tennessee honey! What the hell is that?
Milam: I don’t know–you wrote it though.
Adams: Did I? I guess I was just talking about those things that sound like they could be but in reality aren’t at all, but they’re such a good image, you know, and it’s like what if that image was something in life, what if it was something that you actually found in life, what if that thing became itself…
I step out and smoke a cigar. Ten minutes pass…
Adams: …and that’s when I realized that maybe meditation wasn’t for me, man.
Milam: What’s your long-term plan?
Adams: I’m going to put out two albums every year until I’m fifty. Then I’ll produce a record every other year and record every now and then. Some of them will be pretty good. That’s as good as gold. Not as good as Gold. Just as good as gold. I’ll sell a bunch of albums. I’m going to be around forever.
Milam: Yeah, you probably will.
Milam: What’s your beef with Jack White?
Adams: Man, I don’t have a beef with Jack White. That’s all made up, man. Why would I actually care about him?
Milam: He’s a dude from somewhere else who writes in Southern forms. He’s good at it. He’s really, really good at it. He aims for the nail’s head, then hits it. He’s tight. He’s edited. He’s versatile. He’s continent. He’s done his best stuff when people kept waiting for you to.
Adams: We’re doing different things, man.
Milam: Yeah, he’s trying to be great.
Adams: Right. Have you listened to anything I’ve said?
Milam: Not since Gold, no.
Adams: Ha! Me either.
Milam: Who do you listen to?
Adams: The same people everyone thinks I listen to: Gram Parsons, Wilco, Robert Zimmerdylan. Gram Parsons. But the next album is German-infused. Pretty experimental. There’s a lot of Kraftwerk in there. It’s unreal, man.
Milam: And by unreal…you mean?
Adams: Good. Good is the new great. Don’t you know that by now?
Milam: I guess not.