The Grammy-nominated rocker opens his CD case
It's not every day that a singer-songwriter receives a fan letter form Elton John. Ryan Adams was in London when he got such a note. Understandably, he was floored. "At first I was like, 'Fuck off! No way!'" Adams says. "Loving Honky Ch‚teau as much as I do, being so down with him, it was cool. The letter was genuine and sweet. I sent him a letter back and a week and a half later he called." This began the much-discussed Elton John-Ryan Adams mutual admiration society, in which they chat on the phone, thank each other in liner notes, (John credits Adams for making him do better) and jam together (they played Rocket Man at Adams' Troubadour gig in Los Angeles). "We get along on a lot of different levels," Adams says. "I feel like he has my back. I know I have his."
We caught up with Adams in Los Angeles shortly before he appeared on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. We asked him to name the bands and musicians that move him. Then we asked about his hit single New York, New York.
Playboy: The video for New York, New York features you performing in front of the World Trade Center and is dedicated to the victims. People are clinging to it for solace. When was that filmed?
Adams: Believe it or not, we shot it on September 7 and 8. I've been writing records about New York for four years, since I was in the band Whiskeytown. I've lived in New York again and in Los Angeles. I can't not write about it. I was doing press in Paris when someone told me, "Your country is being attacked. The towers are gone. The Pentagon has been hit." I thought it was a joke. They were like, "Don't worry, it won't affect the interview schedule." I go, "Fuck off. I live 15 blocks from there. I don't care about rock and roll right now." I had feelings I've never felt before. I still don't know what they were. I ran up to my room and turned on the TV. The phone lines to the States were completely blocked. I couldn't get through to my mom. I was upset and emotional.
Playboy: And now?
Adams: It's important to be optimistic. One day I thought, What do I normally do? I go to the corner deli where the guy never gives me the right fucking sandwich but I eat it anyway because I love him. So I did that. Life is starting to move forward.
Playboy: Now that you're a critic's darling, do you feel more pressure to succeed?
Adams: That stuff never lasts. Ripe one week, sour the next. Doing press has killed every bit of megalomania I've ever had. I'm so over myself. I make records that I'm happy with, and if people don't like them, I'm still proud. When you're done with a record, it's like you've built the biggest house or kissed for the longest time. You're drained. But Iím so happy with my last three albums that I'm beside myself.
Playboy: We've heard rumor about a new band called the Virgins, featuring you, the Lemonheads' Evan Dando and the Smashing Pumpkins' Melissa Auf Der Maur and James Iha. Is it true?
Adams: We're trying to coordinate it, but it's hard because we're four people with erratic schedules. We want to make a band that's all about love. Like the Grateful Dead on lots of pills. It will be just a one-record thing. Maybe two.
Playboy: In your liner notes you thank Alanis Morissette several times. Regarding your ex-girlfriend Winona Ryder, you wrote "damn, girl". Would you care to elaborate?
Adams: I wanted to make Alanis laugh. She has a great laugh. When I was making the record, she gave me pep talks. I was trying to stretch and write about who I am and how I feel. Lani's last two records were superforthcoming. I have huge respect for how she writes. Winona is cool, amazing, talented and smart. If I talked about her my teeth would rot out with sweetness. What I wrote wasn't like, "You damn girl!" It was more of a "Dammmmmmmmn, girl. Mmmmm." I should have put a few extra m's in there. Or maybe I just should have shut the fuck up.