The beloved indie-rock stalwart, 42, talks about pining for cool-kid cassettes in the ’80s, crushing Nickelback at karaoke, and digging deeper for his 16th studio album, Prisoner (out now).
The first album I bought with my own money
Sonic Youth’s Sister. To me it was a risky choice because I’d only read about them in Thrasher Magazine, I’d never actually heard them. At that point, I basically had heavy metal records, some Prince, Tears for Fears, stuff like that. Sister was the first record I was purposefully seeking out…. I was 15, and I would save my lunch money, mow a lawn or two, borrow from my grandmother. There wasn’t much money to be had in the North Carolina town that I’m from, so I would look at so many cassettes before I would decide.
The first song I covered[spotify id="spotify%3Atrack%3A5wj4E6IsrVtn8IBJQOd0Cl" /]
I actually never played a cover until my late 20s. I think the first I ever learned from front to back was [Oasis’] “Wonderwall,” which is strange to say, but I just wasn’t interested in another person’s songs—or I had enough of my own to play, I guess? I also don’t think I had the guitar skills. [Laughs]
The music that reminds me of my first love
My girlfriend in high school, Kim, made me a compilation of a bunch of pop-punk bands. It had something from the first Green Day, the one with the numbers in it and a goth-looking girl in a graveyard on the cover [39/Smooth]. I love that record. It also had Jawbreaker, the Mr. T Experience, all those kinds of bands. I liked some of what she put on there, but it wasn’t me exactly.
The music that makes me feel good
Maybe the Smiths? I listen to them or [Norwegian black-metal band] Emperor, which I guess is the very opposite. But those kinds of records, they just resonate with me for some reason. The Smiths because I can just get lost in that world, and Emperor because I can get lost in that world, and they’re both very defined musically and thematically, in a very deep way.
The music that makes me feel everything[spotify id="spotify%3Atrack%3A7fzTXCkaf4DoshPisgXqoH" /]
When I’m listening to classical music live, like if I’m at the Philharmonic in L.A., I definitely can get overwhelmed by some amazing moment. And I teared up when Slayer played “Captor of Sin” at the Palladium; that was pretty huge.
My best karaoke jams
The first time I ever really did it was about four or five days ago in Tokyo, actually. I did a Hootie & the Blowfish song, a Nickelback song—whichever ones they had, just, like, the horrible hits—and then one of my own songs. And then Steely Dan, but I sung it as Ozzy [Osbourne]. And I also did some in a Muppet voice. [Laughs]
How I build an album
The new record [Adams’ first studio release since his 2015 split from his wife of seven years, This Is Us star Mandy Moore] is definitely the hardest one for me so far. It’s the rawest, I think. So that’s been really challenging and new, which is pretty wild. But I like that my last two records are the hardest ones—it means I’m getting better at it. I’m still trying to foreshadow and color things with metaphor and alliteration, lead someone to romantic conclusions. I still believe in that seduction, you know?
The song I want played at my funeral[spotify id="spotify%3Atrack%3A7vsfDs41jfNUNej97XHpdk" /]
The [19th-century French classical composer Gabriel] Fauré’s Requiem. That’s my favorite piece of music of all time. I like the deeper pipe-organ-and-chorale-and-string version more than the modern—the strict interpretation. And not in a cathedral, maybe a Viking burial. I suspect [my death] would be a good amount of time from now, so ideally it would be on the moon; I think that would be pretty nice. But it will probably be Los Angeles. That’s my home now.