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Ryan Adams: rocking out and really kicking back

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Ryan Adams: 'It reminded me that the point of making music was making music...'

Ryan Adams: 'It reminded me that the point of making music was making music...'

Ryan Adams: 'It reminded me that the point of making music was making music...'

The word comes down from on high: Ryan Adams doesn't want to talk about drugs.

As a young man the singer was quite the party monster, with a well-documented weakness for cocaine and heroin 'speedballs' (as connoisseurs of celebrity self-destruction will know, it was speedballs that killed River Phoenix and caused the heart of Gun 'n' Roses guitarist Slash to cease ticking for eight minutes).

However, that's behind him - in his late 30s and happily domesticated, he has little interest in revisiting his fast-lane youth.

Adams' reluctance to delve into his hazy past is made clear several days before his tete-a-tete with the Weekend Review, when his record label dispatches a copy of a recent New York Times interview in which he is quizzed at length about chemical recreation.

"This is not to provide topics to ask about," warns an accompanying note. "But, on the contrary, more to show… the topics Ryan feels have already been covered somewhat exhaustively."

The ultimatum does not bode positively. We were already anxious about speaking to the doyen of left-leaning country rock, given his reputation for hissy fits with journalists and random members of the public alike (there is an urban myth that he ejected from a concert a heckler who jokingly requested the Bryan Adams' hit Summer of 69).

In fact, the last time we chatted he'd properly gone off on one as it was suggested his prolificness - he released three full length albums in 2005 alone - had likely damaged his reputation. If you put a new LP out every ten minutes, people start to wonder whether you aren't phoning it in.

"If I want to go and buy a bird house for my garden I don't want to f**king go to a guy who's built like, six birdhouses, because it took him four years to do each one," he had said, angrily. "I'd go a master craftsman who builds birdhouses because they are his passion."

You can, of course, understand why he would be fed up batting inquiries about his lost years as a glamorous druggy. To begin with, those years really weren't all that 'lost'. While never quite matching the impact of his early 2000s albums Heartbreaker and Gold or mustering another hit as enduring as New York, New York, Adams' quality control remained peerless, even as it felt he was churning out two or three records every 12 months.

Plus, he's sober nearly a decade: the Adams that drank all day, and embarked on pharmaceutical benders on a weekly basis is no longer with us. He has a fantastic new album, is married (to actress Mandy Moore), in demand as a producer. And the press just wants to shoot the breeze about some mild indiscretions from half a lifetime ago? You'd be grinding your teeth too.

Still, there's no denying the depth of our fascination with rock and roll hedonism. Because the rest of us live sensible - alright 'boring' -  9 to 5 lives and do not have the option of frittering away days in a chemical haze, we have an endless appetite for tales of rock star excess. Adams didn't invite the attention: he should have known it was coming all the same.

As it happens, he appears oblivious to the 'no drugs' interdiction dispatched by his management. Maybe he's in a confessional frame of mind. Perhaps, having twice postponed the chat, he feels he should give me a little extra.

"I don't think I ever really qualified as a huge druggy," he says, without annoyance. "The stories, the idea of it, are bigger than the reality. I never went to rehab, never went to jail - I would like to point that out. As a human being in my 20s, I was having fun. I didn't get into fist fights with people. You know, I was doing my thing. I'm a guitar player: I wasn't shooting up with a needle or smoking crack. Maybe for people who have never experimented with drugs, who aren't musicians... maybe, for them, it makes good copy."

The new album, titled simply Ryan Adams, came together in singular circumstances. Working with Led Zeppelin producer Glyn Johns, Adams had recorded a collection of bitter-sweet dirges, written as he mourned his beloved grandmother. When it came to it, though, he felt the songs too personal to share. This caused no little angst at his label which had understood a new LP was good to go. Over dinner at a swanky restaurant, he broke the news: there was no new album, at least not on the record company's time schedule.

To ease the blow, he promised to immediately begin on new songs. True to his word he bunkered down in the studio, plugged in his guitar... and it was as if a weight had lifted. He was done grieving for his grandmother; now he wanted kick back, rock out. For reasons Adams cannot fully understand, it was like returning to the earliest phase of his career, the days it truly was just all about the music.

"It reminded me when the point of making music was… making music. It's the energy you get starting out - the energy that maybe sustains bands who would otherwise have broken up. It was a blast - literally a year and a half of me and my friends making shit-tons of music in my studio. You can't imagine how much I needed that."

The album 'Ryan Adams' is out now.

Indo Review