Over his two-decade career, Ryan Adams has cut nearly two dozen albums as either a solo artist or with his bands Whiskeytown and the Cardinals. So you’d think he’d have the recording process down to a science. Not really.
This fall, the singer-songwriter, 41, will return with his 16th studio album, he tells EW, and he had an embarrassment of material to choose from. So how many songs did he have written? “Quite literally 80,” he says. “Probably more!”
He’s distilled those down into a dozen or so tracks for the LP, due out Nov. 4, and he credits legendary producer Don Was (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt) for some much-needed studio guidance. “I didn’t know if I knew what I was doing,” he says. “So when you’re in a situation like that, you gotta get Gandalf—you gotta call Don Was!”
Last fall, when Adams was promoting his cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album, he told EW his upcoming set was inspired by the “sonic geography” of Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness on the Edge of Town and the Smiths’ Meat Is Murder.
But in the months since, new influences have crept in, including Bruce Hornsby and AC/DC. Adams zeroed in on these artists while going on long runs around his adopted hometown of Los Angeles: “When I run, I listen to [an iPod] Nano that I have,” he says. “I put all the AC/DC records on from back to front, or I’ll listen to the best of stuff from the ’80s: Springsteen, or [Bruce] Hornsby, and I’ll listen to what is going on there. I was listening to AC/DC’s Fly on the Wall and that’s when I realized what I had to do for the record.”
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Adams also says Bachman-Turner Overdrive and ELO helped shape his guitar sounds specifically: “I was like, ‘Wow! I understand the multicolored guitar tone moments now. You can layer stuff. I really just learned a lot.”
Lyrically, Adams admits he’s doing some soul-searching for this album. “I’m taking all the cool, big questions I’m asking on this record, then flipping it over, and then flipping it back to Side-A and you still have more questions…I’m a relatively convoluted soul creatively,” he muses. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think the challenge for me—the Everest peak, for me—is to tell this story in 11 songs, to tell this part of my life in 11 songs. How do I make a real distinct record where anybody listens to it and says, ‘That’s the truth from beginning to end.’ So it’s like exercise. It sucks in the beginning. But then you get into it.”