ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
Now a profile of a musician who is being noticed for what he doesn't have. Ryan Adams does not have a new record right now, and that's a big change from last year, when the singer/songwriter put out three CDs in the space of seven months. It was just example of Adams's erratic style, which has taken him alternative country's next big thing to a star whose name is often followed by the phrase he did what?
NPR's Jacob Ganz visited Adams recently at a New York recording studio.
JACOB GANZ: It's eleven on a Friday night and Ryan Adams has just arrived at Electric Lady Recording Studios in Manhattan. Adams, in thrift store clothes and convincing bed head, settles into the studio's couch.
Mr. RYAN ADAMS (Singer/Songwriter): I'm working on several things at once. Sorry, if you hear some strange noises, I'm eating. Lunch break.
GANZ: Eleven p.m. is late for lunch but Adams was up late writing songs the night before. He's also getting ready to produce a new album by Willy Nelson and this evening he's working with alternative rocker Melissa Auf der Maur. One of her new songs seems to be about a Viking.
(Soundbite of Auf der Mauer)
GANZ: In conversation, Adams is combative but charming. He acknowledges that his chaotic work life can cause problems.
Mr. ADAMS: I probably should have took a break, but I don't know. I take a break for a couple of days or a week and I start playing, you know. You lose stuff along the way really. Girlfriends, your mind. Sense of, you know, your sense of entitlement. You know, it's very humbling.
(Soundbite of Ryan Adams)
Mr. ADAMS: (Singing) Come take me up. Take me out. (Expletive) me up. Steal my records. Screw all my friends.
Mr. PETER BLACKSTALK (Co-Editor, No Depression) This was a kid who was just putting all of himself out there and had that certain something that made him stand out.
GANZ: Peter Blackstalk is co-editor of No Depression, the music magazine which charted the rise of the alternative country movement featured Adams's old band, Whiskey Town, in its very first issue back in 1995.
Mr. BLACKSTALK: I think he always knew that he wanted to and could be a rock star if he really put all of his life into it. More than anything he had good song writing and he had good backing musicians in Whiskey Town, but as much as attitude is part of any musician's identity, Ryan certainly had that going for him as well.
GANZ: Adams's first solo record, Heartbreaker, made him a critical darling. His next one, Gold, positioned him as alt-country's first crossover star.
(Soundbite of Ryan Adams)
Mr. ADAMS: (Singing) Love don't play any games with me. It ain't all I see (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) won't we so (unintelligible). I still love you.
GANZ: Adams didn't take well to being a next big thing. He clashed with fans from stage. In 2002 he even kicked a heckler out of a show for requesting a song by the Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. He got himself into a war of words with Jack White of the White Stripes, an alternative rock demigod. Meanwhile he turned up in gossip columns with actresses and singers on his arm.
Finally in early 2004, he fell off a stage and broke his wrist. Across record store counters and in chat rooms, the places where rock stars are judged, Adams never seemed to look good.
Mr. ADAMS: You know, I like pretty girls. I like to drink, smoke weed, play guitar. You know, but I also read (expletive) Joyce Carol Oats and Suzanne (expletive) Sontag, but you know, everybody does those things.
GANZ: One other predilection got him into trouble. Call it the Ryan Adams rock critic outreach program.
(Soundbite of answering machine message)
Mr. ADAMS: Hey Jim, this is Ryan Adams. I'm just calling to say hi.
GANZ: Jim is Jim DeRogatis, the pop music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, and Adams had just read a scathing DeRogatis review of one of his shows.
Mr. ADAMS: And like what is your problem? You have to come after me, you have to make some kind of a weird point to like (expletive) with my, whether I'm legitimate or whatever.
GANZ: Critic Amanda Petrusich writes for the online music magazine Pitchfork. She earned a call from Adams too after she described one of his records as one dimensional, vain and entirely lifeless.
Ms. AMANDA PETRUSICH (Writer, Pitchfork): You know it's hard to argue, I guess, with that impulsive, with wanting to say well wait, that's not fair or, I mean, if somebody says something mean about you, you either walk away or you kind of put your fists up. And he always puts his fists up.
GANZ: Two years of battles took their toll. Even Adams noticed the damage his reputation had done to his career.
Mr. ADAMS: I was falling into this archetype of being sort of like loudmouthed bastard, you know, and that's not how I felt and I just felt like well, let me just put these records out then. Let them speak.
GANZ: Those would be the three records he recorded and released in quick succession after his wrist healed. Critics were mostly positive but it was hard not to notice that no one was talking about Ryan Adams the rising star anymore.
(Soundbite of Ryan Adams)
Mr. ADAMS (Singing): I worked hard for every little bit I got. I could (unintelligible) some advice. Met a dark haired girl at the Mississippi moon, must have left by mistake one night. In a hurry, lord, and that ain't the hardest part.
GANZ: Still, listen to Adams talk and you are taken out of the realm in which commercial considerations matter. Sitting in Electric Lady Studios, Adams says he likes his art messy.
Mr. ADAMS: Like (unintelligible) paintings like half done paintings or with out of tune guitars on (unintelligible) Main Street, you know, or Evel Knievel when he just barely makes the jump. That's all the beauty in the world to me, you know.
GANZ: This applies to his own work, too.
Mr. ADAMS: When I'm making them, I'm not expecting to make the best record ever. Like, it's none of my business. Like, I got to make my records.
GANZ: Again, Pitchfork critic Amanda Petrusich.
Ms. PETRUSICH: It really tears about this kind of notion that I think a lot of people in his audience have which is that songwriting should be a difficult, arduous sort of soul sucking process, you know, with blood on the studio floor. That kind of thing. He writes his songs. He churns them out. He releases them all the time.
GANZ: That's a good way to drive your record label crazy. But Adams has a small die hard fan base and some defenders in the industry. One is Denny Goldberg, a long time music business executive. Goldberg has worked behind the scenes with artists, difficult ones from Led Zeppelin to Kurt Cobain.
Mr. DENNY GOLDBERG (Music executive): You know, when Bruce Springsteen did the record Nebraska, which was an acoustic record, I'm sure that there were people at his record company that were disappointed because it wasn't a rocker album with the E Street Band. But it was something he needed to do as an artist and it's something over the course of time that's added greatly to his credibility, even though it's not one of his bestselling albums.
GANZ: No one is saying that Adams has recorded his own Nebraska, but this is a reminder that artists don't always do what we want them to.
(Soundbite of Ryan Adams)
Mr. ADAMS: (Singing) Twenty-seven years of nothing to fill but promises that I couldn't keep. Oh Lord. I wasn't ready to go.
My intentions have been and are always to just really get behind what my ideas are musically and to just like ride this thing out, because it feels good and I think for the most part it's good music, and even when it's not I'd like to still search for something that could be even a little bit mind blowing or shocking to me.
GANZ: Whether that search will result in a new album or three is anybody's guess. But one thing is pretty well guaranteed. Fans and critics will still have a Ryan Adams to kick around.
Mr. ADAMS: I'm not going to stop ever. Not while I'm here.
GANZ: Jacob Ganz, NPR News.