Ryan Adams Rips It Up, Starts Again The prolific songwriter's new self-titled album has the sound of an artist in thrall to making music on his own terms. NPR's Arun Rath visits him at his studio in Hollywood.
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Ryan Adams Rips It Up, Starts Again

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Ryan Adams Rips It Up, Starts Again

Ryan Adams Rips It Up, Starts Again

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. And this is a love story. It's the story of Ryan Adams, one of the more prolific songwriters of the last two decades and how he found a new passion for his craft.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AM I SAFE")

RYAN ADAMS: (Singing) All these things keep running through my mind - every one and every thing they left behind.

RATH: This is a track from the forthcoming self-titled album by Ryan Adams. After releasing 16 records in 15 years, no one would've faulted him for becoming a bit jaded. But check this out. Here's Ryan reacting to seeing his new 45 RPM single for the first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAMS: Oh, Charlie it's real.

RATH: This is Ryan Adams last week with some of the staffers at his studio in Hollywood.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAMS: Oh, [bleep]. A lot more coming for you. But I want to bring that over right now. It's real.

RATH: That is joy - the kind of joy that comes from making music on his own terms for his own label and recorded at his own new studio, PAX-AM. Just about every square inch here is covered - organs, drums, old reel-to-reel tape machines and the nostalgia. Action figures peek out from shelves. A poster from the movie "Crawl" hovers above a staircase. A Spiderman pinball machine blinks and flashes for attention. There's a method to all this madness.

ADAMS: When people come to the studio, they could listen to records. And we have like manual typewriters and stationery and reference books for them to look at and all kinds of stuff to sort of inspire someone should they be in the middle of the process and need that, you know.

RATH: I noticed you got a lot of analog gear in there. Looks like stuff with vacuum tubes and reel-to-reel tape. And this is something that we can definitely hear. This new album has warm, deep sound to it. Is that what all this is about?

ADAMS: It's a combination of that gear and it's never been touched by a computer until you get it in your iTunes.

RATH: What is it about the sound when it's processed by a computer that you don't like?

ADAMS: I suspect it is because a computer is an emulator. It has emulated what you did. But it has not really captured what has happened because most people get a ProTools program. That's a very popular...

RATH: Digital editing software.

ADAMS: Yes, exactly - digital editing software. Editing is the second word. If you look at the way people use ProTools, most people are editing everything - a little off note or that note kind of slipped out there. And then they do this thing where they cross-hatch it really quickly by a series of keypad functions.

But what's interesting is is if you break down away from the idea of the computer - of like oh, we just did that playback or I think that third word is out. Let's edit that. If you break away from that, people start building up this energy again. And you do a take. And you feel good about it. The first notion without a screen to look at or anything to edit is that was fun. Do we do it again? Or do you want to move on to another song? And really that's the river of music. And that perpetual motion of heading downstream to make more music, that leads into the mystery of what we really should be doing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIMME SOMTHING GOOD")

ADAMS: (Singing) All my life been shaking wanting something, holding everything I have like it was broken. Gimme something good. Gimme something good. Gimme something good. Gimme something good.

RATH: You worked longer on this album than you have on previous projects. What got you to this album being the release? Like, where there previous versions that you weren't happy with? How did the process get you to the album that we have now?

ADAMS: So just next door to here through those windows, you could see the wall that's that huge building there. Inside that building is where I made my last record in the studio that I really love and that my producer friend Glyn Johns loved. And we made that record "Ashes and Fire" in there.

While I was on the road for that record, this place was being built because I had drawn it out the way that I wanted it, all the way down to the furniture and the wiring. And it was done right as I was getting off the road. And Glyn really really wanted to use the previous studio that we'd worked in. So we went to make a record there. And I realized that without even thinking about it, I had started coming here Monday through Friday. And I would record my own music in my own place to the point where I started to amass more songs than I had even made next-door. And they took on a feeling that reminded me of the way that I played and the kinds of music that I played when I first started.

It felt like starting again. And I knew that I needed to follow that thread. A couple of months after is when I let my managers know I'm not putting out that record. I'm just going to do this. I want you to take that record off the books. I'm going to really stop this train and get off and wander around. And I did. It was - honestly the last two years of my life have been the best.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIRED OF GIVING UP")

ADAMS: (Singing) Tired of giving up so easy. Tired of giving up at all. Tired of giving up so easy. Tired of giving up at all.

RATH: We talked about the exuberance on this album. And you seem - you have this brightness about you right now. But I know you had a physical issue. I'm trying to make sure I get the name of this disease right.

ADAMS: Oh, I thought you meant my hair.

RATH: (Laughter) No, your hair is awesome. What are you talking about? But we read about - you were diagnosed with something called Meniere's disease.

ADAMS: Yes. Meniere's disease.

RATH: Meniere's.

ADAMS: Yeah, it's an inner ear condition.

RATH: It sounds like an awful thing for a musician to have to deal with.

ADAMS: Not fun. I was very happy to find out that I had it. And ever since then I've done all these things.

RATH: Because you knew what was wrong then?

ADAMS: Well, yeah. Then I knew. OK, cool, I'm not crazy. When lights flash, I get super dizzy. It's not me. I'm not just shy. I knew that my ear really did sound like a siren even though no one else could hear it. I knew that when people talk to me some days, I couldn't understand what they were [bleep] saying. Pardon my French. But I've done a lot of work. I did a lot of hypnotherapy to tell me that no matter what was happening, I could get up there and I could play guitar. And I'd find a way to stand. And I'd find a way to play the show.

RATH: So you're still dealing with it. You just found a way to work through it?

ADAMS: Exactly. Yes. Yeah. It doesn't just go away. And no one knows the exact correct treatment. You just deal, which is fine. Because I've dealt with a lot of stuff my whole life. I can deal with this. And I have gotten through it and I will continue to get through it. It's what - trust me, knowing is so much better. When I didn't know what it was, there was no ever beating it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELS LIKE FIRE")

ADAMS: (Singing) I feel a scream someplace in my chest.

RATH: Ryan, it's been a real pleasure speaking with you. Thank you so much.

ADAMS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

RATH: The new self-titled album by Ryan Adams comes out on Tuesday. Until then, you can sample every track from the album at our exclusive First Listen. Go to nprmusic.org for that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELS LIKE FIRE")

ADAMS: (Singing) Just so you know, you will always be the hardest thing I will let go, driving past your church...

RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.

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