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We broadcast an intimate solo performance with singer/songwriter Ryan Adams recorded at Apogee Berkeley Street Studios in front of a live audience on at 11:15am.
Banner image by Jeremiah Garcia
KCRW's Berkeley Street Sessions featuring Ryan Adams
is sponsored by Demand Media and The Raine Group
Jason Bentley: Ryan Adams, everyone.
Ryan Adams: Thank you!
JB: How nice is this? This is just amazing.
RA: Good vibes.
JB: Thank you for doing this for us, for KCRW.
JB: Appreciate it.
RA: Thanks for letting me play.
JB: Now I know you've just flown in from Europe. You were in Sweden?
RA: I was in…we did Scotland, England, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Holland.
JB: And how's everything been going so far?
RA: Man, it's been really cool. Weather was good over there and people were cool. Got to play some really cool places. Got to play in a few churches. Which, you know…so some of the songs didn't make it.
Even though it was their renting out the church to make some bucks, 'cause the whole, I don't know…maybe, their whole trip isn't going so good, so they're renting the place out during the week. I don't know.
There wasn't anybody that went like, "Oh my god!" You know what's really funny though, I couldn't wear like six - just out of respect -there's like six t-shirts…I think Ichanged like three times and like three of them were extremely disqualified, because of pentagrams or something like that, I was like I can't do that, it would be too…but six shirts!
Audience Member: Like the one you have on right now!
RA: Yeah, but that's more subtle. I mean, some of them are just a *fucking* pentagram, you know what I mean?
JB: You know, I was hoping that we could make this just an episode of Night Sweats, actually, which is your YouTube variety show…is it a variety show?
RA: What happens is like I can't really drink coffee because it messes with my ear. So once in a while I treat myself to an espresso, so any situation can become Night Sweats plus an espresso.
JB: Well, for everyone, Night Sweats is a little feature on YouTube, where you talk about the finer points of Black Metal with your sidekick Balthazar.
RA: Yeah, exactly.
JB: And you interview a frozen piece of pizza…
RA: Joey Pizza.
JB: Joey Pizza.
RA: From 109 degrees Fahrenheit. It's like a boy band. We had this idea at the last minute. I was writing the script…and like if Night Sweats, if we're able to do the stuff that we want to do, like oh my god. Rhere's all these scenes where you want like a pack of cigarettes smoking a cigarette or a piece of pizza ordering a pizza. Which would be, in the pizza world, like maybe a prostitute, probably…do you know what I mean? So there's all these things…so, the Joey Pizza thing is just a really small part of what we can't do until I meet evil animators. But yeah, I don't know.
JB: And worth mentioning, Balthazar does not actually speak besides making sounds.
RA: Well, that was kind of the idea. The guy that I did it with, David Black, he's like a buddy of mine…and basically, he has the cameras that used to belong to Tammy Fay Baker. No, seriously, he went down to Texas and got them. They were at his dad's place. His girlfriend is Stella, and we were going to shoot this thing, and I was like, listen, we gotta find somebody's girlfriend or somebody walking down the street to basically dress up in corpse paint and be this character that just goes (makes growling sounds). And the great thing about David is he went, "Of course we do! Stella, get down here!" He didn't tell her anything.
JB: This episode also gives you an opportunity to talk about black metal, and you're clearly passionate about this sub-genre of heavy metal.
RA: I love it.
JB: And, what's the fascination? What do you love about that genre? On the surface, you'd think it's the furthest thing from your own music, but it's something that you really love.
RA: You have the greatest voice ever. No, you do!
JB: I'm in the right business. Thank you. But what's the fascination with black metal?
RA: Listen, when we do the next Night Sweats…
JB: That's what I'm hoping for!
RA: …there's supposed to be like a radio disc jockey segment-
JB: Let's do it!
RA: -where basically it's like existentialist news. So like, he just never finishes a thought. Will you be that guy?
JB: Yes! But animate me! Will you animate me, like the unicorn in the…
RA: Well, we can't afford animation because the budget is like $17. But we can figure something out.
JB: So, but onto black metal because I want to try to get into this…tell me, do you do any covers of bands that are in that genre?
RA: No, because it's kind of like physically impossible on some levels.
Although black metal bands don't tune their guitars down, so that's interesting. In thrash and death metal, you can typically tune your guitars down to like the Black Sabbath tuning and get deeper tones. And even like Celtic Frost did that with Morbid Tales and stuff, so when you hear those tracks that we all know and love (everyone laughs), "Into The Crypt of Rays."
They basically…that whole idea of getting the guitar into these lower configurations, it helped things get heavier. But not everybody can sing like Ozzy because, you know, Sabbath did that, but he really has a high register. And even his low register is high, so that's why he's such an amazing vocalist because if you listen to his stuff, he's really up there. Well, the whole like sort of super-macho down-tuned rock thing happened because if you're tuned down to that…I'll show you…(grabs guitar
So if you're tuned down, this is basically like a lot of the regular metal stuff. (Plays a few chords to demonstrate). So it's the whole idea, like Big Bill Broonzy, it's this metal thing…so you get tracks like a Celtic Frost track with like a…(Plays again to demonstrate). "Into The Crypt of Rays," right?
But unfortunately, as time progressed, you also got…(Plays again "Yeah, yeah yeah. No, no, no, no. Yeahhh").
And then, it got worse. Then you got (Plays Collective Soul's "Shine")
You know what I mean?
Basically what happened was some dudes in Norway, suffering from really long amounts of time of being really cold and possibly very drunk and poor decided to dress up as witches and not tune down their guitars, and go like (plays chords and fake screams). In regular tuning. And then the other thing too is in all the black metal stuff, underneath all of it, it's classical music. Like all their stuff has these dissonant fifth notes and all these crazy sort of hanging notes. And, a band like Emperor, when you listen to those records, there's literal, like their records start with what sounds like Viking drums, and then like fucking fake horses literally galloping across some mountainside and then someone in like a really low voice basically saying "Rise from the Nordic crypt…" You know what I mean?
JB: Well, since you just came from the land of black metal, did you have a chance to connect with any of the bands or see anything or check out some record shops or...
RA: Absolutely. In fact, my wife, who is luckily not terrified of black metal, because I have sort of desensitized her to the entire thing, and I went to this record shop called Nose Blood Records. And they have…like, several of the spokesmen of this movement are totally dead and some of them impaled each other and burned a lot of churches down and stuff that is just crazy. But they, literally, on the wall of this place, there's a thing that says "Euronymous's bracelet made of human bone and hair." And I remember at some point looking over and like, M was just going (makes funny face)…I was like isn't that amazing? No, but seriously, you know those cases of that stuff happening are pretty far and few between, but that record store in itself has so much black metal in it, that I don’t know how it even exists
JB: I think there's a covers album coming on though. Have you ever thought about covering some of these bands that you love?
RA: It should never be…
JB: It should never be done.
RA: But seriously, you know what I mean? You can't…it would be bad.
JB: But I do love when a cover, a great cover, kind of reveals a song in a totally different light. And, actually, I think you really accomplished that with “Wonderwall” for instance. Even Noel Gallagher has been quoted saying that he didn't quite understand his own song until he saw you perform it.
RA: I met him before that briefly, and then when I really met him was the most weirdest, terrifying, fucked up moment because I was playing Brixton Academy, which is this sort of pretty rad venue in England. And it was around the time that I was doing the “Gold” tour and really solidifying what would become a beautiful failure of my middle career. And all it took was the live shows, but everything else was the icing -- the poop icing on the shit cake. But I look over and I hadn't recorded that song, you know what I mean?
I was playing it on acoustic guitar, and it was so weird. Like, the band just chilled out for a minute and I don't know if Brad or somebody in the band either they needed to smoke weed or they needed to pee or…it was weird times, people were drinking the alcohol, you know. And so I did this song, I bought everybody a minute, and I just remember I'm up there by myself, I wasn't thinking about it. I went into the tune and, man, the first moments people were like, they were laughing. Like, they were not into it, like they didn't understand what was going on. That they thought I was, as they would say, "taking the piss."
But I just kept playing it, you know, because it just had this sadness to it. I don't know what it was in my mind or maybe it was a part of mental illness or whatever it was. But I kept playing it, and I look over before it hits the bridge and standing on the side of the stage, with like a guitar tech and one of the people in the band - who, why aren't they on stage?? - and I remember, like, you know if you ever get really super embarrassed how your neck refuses to work anymore? You have to sort of turn like that. I remember looking…before I was all loose and playing the song and stupid fucking bangs in my face, and I'm like "Oh my god, the pain of fucking youth" or whatever. And I look over, and he was just kind of like…And I totally did this (turns stiffly)…I couldn't deal, man, it was so weird. (lots of laughter).
JB: I think he should cover "Chains Of Love" from Ashes & Fire.
RA: Well no, I mean look, I think that it could have also been him really digging that tune. Because maybe there's a dynamic with him and Liam that you could understand if you have a really tight sibling. The idea of being in a band with your brother or sister, think about that, that's gonna be intense already. So maybe him hearing his own song with Liam's voice and that projection of it, maybe that changed it for him. And maybe when I sang it, maybe it gave it a different context. I don't think it's really that different, I just think I sounded miserable.
And I loved the song, so I was like I just want to slow it down a little and I want to back it off and see what it did. Plus, people at that time, they were also…if you remember, that was the beginning of the period of time where even critically -and maybe even with their own fans, because this shit happens - like Oasis went from this untouchable place to people were sort of ready to beat them up for a while. And they had been getting beaten up for a pretty good amount of time because "Be Here Now," people weren't into that. Then they rolled into "Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants," which is a fucking amazing record and people weren't into it…
JB: I think another thing that connects you and Noel is you're excellent songwriters. And I think there's that mutual appreciation for sure. And that's kind of why I suggested him doing "Chains Of Love." I just, that song, is stunning. I really love that tune.
RA: I think he's set.
JB: He's all set.
RA: He doesn't have to cover anybody.
You know what I mean, his music sounds great in his helicopter and on his yacht, he's doing fine. He's OK. He's OK.
JB: So, I have here a really cool lyric book…
RA: Wait, wait…can I just interrupt you for one second. I just want to say this, you said something earlier and I think this would be interesting to point out. So you're talking about black metal and what that music is or how it could may or may not influence me, or anybody.
But the thing is, I think that there's all these musicians in the world and anybody that takes enough time to create a record or even think about the fantasy of rock & roll, I mean, it's a really vulnerable place to be in. It's a huge thing to do. I hear that when I listen to Black Metal and I literally can listen to Emperor and listen to Simple Minds, like "Once Upon A Time" -- I love that record when I'm hiking -- and then it will go off and like Napalm Death Scum will come on and I’m like I'm OK with it. And then like Toots and the Maytals will come on and I'm like I'm OK with it. Or like The Go Go's or like whatever, you know what I mean?
All that stuff, it just makes total sense to me. Like there are certain genres of music that maybe I don't fully understand, a lot of them have to do with dancing. (laughter)
But that's just because I'm too shy to move, I can't do it, I can't loosen up that way.
So when I see like a Black Metal band from ten years ago and they're like in the fucking woods and they're dressed up as witches, you know what I mean? And, you know I don't want to be rude or weird, but you know one of them because they're drinking or if they had a big dinner, they're literally dressed up as fucking witches. You know one of them is gonna have to poop like that, right? They're literally like, they have to function in the real world and they have to pull the cape up and they've got the makeup on, or they have to knock door like (in deep voice) "Anyone in there?"
Or they could get pulled over for a parking ticket or a speeding ticket, they…I love how vulnerable they are. But then they go out there and someone like "Did you bring the kerosene to set the fire?" and "What do you mean you forgot the upside-down cross made of fake bones?" I can see all that stuff happening, and then by the time I get to the music there's just like… it's just interesting. For somebody to spend that amount of time too for the drummers for this genre, to spend that much time to figure out how to play that fast for that long and for the band to be able to do the stops, that takes real dedication.
JB: Technically, it's really impressive.
RA: That's as hard as learning banjo, easily. And, I don't know, it's also it sounds like the most evil thing. It sounds like after you get through with Black Sabbath or something, which those records are unbelievable, like I'm sure most people are…it's almost like drinking a whole liter of Coke, Coca-Cola, like what's more than that? And, Black Metal is like Jolt cola. Let's try that, it's just more, it's just more interesting and I'm a sucker for it.
JB: Well, I want to bring it back to your album with Ashes & Fire.
RA: Ashes & Fire is a very black metal album title.
JB: That is, that is. But I want to show people this lyric book, which - how to people get this? Is this part of a deluxe edition, or is it widely available?
RA: Uh, I don't know…
JB: Have you seen this?
RA: I did, my manager had one.
JB: What it is, is its a reproduction of lyric sheets. And it's typed, it's handwritten, on different songs, there's an email that was sent that's one of the songs.
RA: Is that from Dirty Rain?
JB: Check that out, it's just a note.
RA: That note is a scan, M sent me the scan of that note to me wherever I was, because I remembered it was on my desk, and I was like “oh god I have this second verse to that, but I left that note at home.” She sent me the scan, and I filled in the rest of it on the scanned paper, or on the printout. One of them got really multi-media, (laughter) but because of geography.
JB: It drives home for me, you're a writer first, the word is so important to you. Do you actually type with a typewriter, your lyrics?
RA: Yeah, but I'm super ADD, I have to work on something simple, and I have to work on something that keeps me focused. I like the sound of it, and the permanence of when I see the lyrics written out, it feels really good. I can write on a computer, you know, but there's too many options.
Also, you can't stare…like I have this desk at the house, the window looks into the backyard of this hill you know, so if I really need to write, I can clear all the stuff from my desk and just put a typewriter there. There's something about writing, and then you look up, and even if you're looking at a picture on the wall or whatever, you can get the far away eyes thing, you can get that glaze, when you're really lost in thought. I can never attain that in front of a computer, unless there's a vaporizer next to it. You can't naturally space out, it's just a space thing you know what I mean?
JB: Sure. I also have here your two books of poetry. I wonder, the connection between songwriting and poems. Do poems ever become songs later, or are they very different for you in terms of the process?
RA: Well, I guess the first one really, it had so much information that was from years before it ever came out so there were pieces in there that, maybe you could see sections, that idea came and went and I liked the fragment of it and I left it in there.
I know how pretentious this whole poetry thing this to some people, how stupid and ridiculous. And I knew when I did this that, look, you know, Jewel had a platinum album and did the poetry book, do you know what I mean? DRA does not have a platinum album, so I knew it was like a shovel made of words. For people in my life, if I'm thinking about them, if there's something in my mind that reminds me of them, I like to write them a poem. It isn't always like roses are…The sky is beautiful, I want to lick your neck. Sometimes I'll think about something in their life, it's an interesting way to communicate.
JB: Will you continue to publish poetry, or will you work on fiction, do you have anything in the works?
JB: Putting it out there was really hard, and then following it up was great. When I did “Hello Sunshine” all those pieces were all written within a month. They were all part of the same batch, and I was on a roll with it. I think I was happy to share, and I have to get over this hump.
Because I'm who I am and because I make records, it can socially disqualify me to the public from doing other stuff without a really huge amount of criticism. I’m okay with saying: "Fuck you" know what I mean? "Fuck you I'll do what I want." But there is a level for everybody where it hits a nerve or two, it punches a few buttons. I think I got to the place with the second one. My poetry books aren't me going "I'm the greatest poet that ever lived," you know what I mean? In fact, there's probably only about 168 different words in those books. I still do it in my own time, but I have to find a place in me that makes feel like I could share again, because I got freaked out.
JB: Is this also your art on the covers?
RA: The first one is, with the ticket stubs, and the second one is not. That's Eliana's, somebody that I know, and I really thought her work was amazing. I'm into that whole Robert Rauschenberg kinda vibe stuff. (laughing) He's here!
JB: He's here. (laughing)
RA: (In a deep voice) Back from the dead, I'm Robert Rauschenberg.
JB: It seems like this recording, this session, was very straightforward, you just kind of setup, studio, Hollywood, boom.
RA: Yeah. They’ve all been like that though, all the records I've made, besides "Love is Hell," which really couldn't really be in one session. I had to basically figure out how to get to the next, I was in a place where I couldn't just call a label and say "I wanna finish this record," because they were like: "We don't want you to finish this record." But the rest of them were usually a week or two weeks tops.
This one, specifically, will definitely be the blueprint for the way the other ones were and efficiency. It was basically like, the room was set up, Glyn didn't even use little monitors, we had George, the guy, he built all the rooms at Sunset Sound. He came in and it was so amazing, this guy walked in and it's like fucking Lazlo from Real Genius came out of the fucking basement and he voiced the speakers. So you'd listen to something from the speakers and you're like, "Oh god that's how stuff is supposed to sound!" The room was setup; and the only iso was Norah's piano room and then me all the way across with the acoustic guitar and a vocal. You could never redo anything. I think Norah could redo a few notes if she had to do it, but they literally had to time it the way they used to do it with the tape machines, so if they fucked up the punch in you would hear the "clip, clip." You'd hear the note not being right. There were no computers in the room. In fact, if he saw you with your iPhone, he would get so pissed, he'd be like: "Put that thing away." So the tension was there.
What basically - The way that it went, 'cause I think it'd be interesting for people to know, is nobody heard anything. Glyn heard the stuff because he basically came to California after I procrastinated for like a super long time. My manager and Glyn finally went, we're just gonna book the ticket and after the ticket is booked we'll tell Ryan three or four days before then that you're coming, which they did. Because I kept going like: "Maybe we'll just wait two more weeks." So he just booked a ticket and was like: "I'm coming to your house." And then I was like: "Oh fuck."
He flew out and he sat across from me in the living room, across from this table in our living room, and basically I just played him what I had. And he really liked a lot of the stuff. He connected with everything, which was really cool. The two songs that he gave me advice about, I thought it was really interesting. One of them was the song that became - or the idea of the song that became "Lucky Now" that was called "Chris." It was just way, way more raw, and it was too raw.
And I think the idea was, you'll have to sing this song. It has all this emotional energy in it, and you don’t want to write something or put something out that it could fuse out. So I really learned this time that like, ok if I really do make it – it’s almost like if the song has too much personal information, it's almost kind of like a perishable and you can only leave out for so long before it's gonna get weird to you or sour.
So, I went to the studio. Everybody had their instruments mic'd. And the way it worked was, we walked across from the studio into this little room. And everybody would sit on couches and I'd play the song on acoustic guitar that they'd never heard before. And once in a while they would say, "Can we hear it again?"
And some of them would take these notes that I can't understand. They would be like 2, 2, 2, 6. And then 2, 2, 2, 6, 6, 8. Which I guess is some tablature thing where you know if you start the second fret, like that's your area to go in if you're playing open. Then we walked into the next room and he was usually about one or two takes. Everything was live. I just sang and played; and those guys, I don't know what they were doing, it was amazing. But everything was a conversation like a jazz record. You'd hear Benmont suggesting a melody, Norah would pick it up, and then they'd throw it down in the second course, it was so, you know what I mean, it was distractingly cool.
JB: Well, it's a brilliant album. Congratulations. Thank you for being here. Let's get into your second set, shall we? Are you all ready to go? You wanna start it up at all?
RA: I'm ready to play some more songs.
JB: Let's do it. Ryan Adams.
RA: I don't feel any less awkward now than I did before.
JB: Ryan Adams for KCRW. Thank you.
RA: I can't wait to see you on Night Sweats! (Strums) How was that? Did I do ok? It was all lies.