From the Independent
By Angie Carlson
The question of where to go to welcome in the millennium is a daunting one. Ignore the whole thing? Wait for† the Y2K fallout and watch the whole event go down from the comfort of your home, surrounded by bottled water and the cash you took out of the bank? As with any New Year's Eve, there's the element of "amateur night" to contend with -- the less than savvy dilettantes who don party† hats as an excuse to commit dumb acts of drunken excess, unmitigated†† by the usual sense of embarrassment or† decorum 'cuz--hey--it's New Year's Eve!
With a† lot of rather ho-hum events going on, the Whiskeytown Cat's Cradle show promises local fans an actual event, as well as a rare chance to hear old material from a band who seems to be morphing into a new beast with each recorded effort. It seems only fitting that Whiskeytown's farewell nod to the 20th century should take place here in the Triangle -- even if frontman Ryan Adams has been a† New Yorker for some time now. What with the announced dissolution of Outpost Records (Whiskeytown's label) and a new, more Beatlesesque album in the can, this show is a timepiece of sorts. It's probably also the last (and first ever?) chance to hear Faithless Street and Strangers Almanac (more or less) in sequence and in their entirety.
Enough has been written about the band's revolving-door lineup. (In a moment of brilliant self-parody they sold "I played in Whiskeytown and all I got was this lousy shirt" T-shirts at gigs.) With the early departure of guitarist Phil Wandscher, the core of† the group is Adams, violinist-vocalist Caitlin Cary, and multi-instrumentalist (pedal steel, keyboards, guitar) Mike Daly. Former N.C. guitar legend Brad Rice (Backsliders, Finger) is now the band's permanent lead guitarist.
"There's really no other place we could play a show like this," says Daly. "In a way, it's a farewell to that era of the band and the beginning of a new chapter." Skillet Gilmore (the first drummer) will play the first set (or album), with Steven Terry doing the second. New Jersey-based musician Mike Santoro will play bass. Says Adams, "The rest of the band is pretty much the band as it stands. Faithless Street will have some omissions and some additions. The first version was incomplete and the second had too many bonus tracks. Live, we'll do it the way the band used to do it." Adams adds, "I don't think we'll ever play that record again; when the new record comes out there won't be much time for the old songs. When I look at the Whiskeytown equation, I feel like we're still in a snowball effect," he adds.
"It's not a time [career-wise] to be repetitive," Adams continues. "Two more albums down the line,† maybe we'll play our faves from the first records, but we're not a band that has made records of that importance yet, and even if we were, there's no reason to be that repetitive. We're not developed yet; It's like, 'check it out; we're not even half Polaroid."'
I tell Adams I was surprised to hear about the show--I figured he'd be starting the millennium pounding bourbon in some hip New York City dive.
"No, no, no. I don't do that anymore," he laughs. "I'm 25 now and I decided to be vain. I don't want to look bloated I didn't plan on partying my whole life and being one of those people who are battling hangovers I don't think it fits my agenda now that I'm older," Adams continues, "but I had a lot of fun partying, though. In your late and early 20s everybody's doing it, but because I'm a musician and do interviews, it became an issue."
Articles about "the troubled Mr. Adams" and "drunken rage" started becoming the norm a few years ago, as Whiskeytown seemed hell-bent on becoming the '90s Replacements, a comparison Adams ultimately found limiting.
For many young rockers, especially those as influenced by the Stones as Adams, there is a sort of Keith Richards archetype to live up to. There's also the bloodlust of the audience, who delight in seeing an artist push the envelope and self-destruct onstage. For them, it's a voyeuristic, safe, entertaining experience to watch performers confront† their demons and lose it in a public, dangerous way. But†ultimately, it's a dry
hump for the artist.
I ask Adams if he feels sheepish, looking back on some of his exploits or reading his old interviews. "No. I think that stuff is great," he says. "I still believe that in rock 'n' roll, all is fair. That's who I still am; there are just different means of going about it now.
"Throwing a fit onstage or getting drunk? I mean come on, that's cool. That was real. I was writing about things I was maybe naive about and didn't really understand--there's not a whole lot of self-restraint for someone who's been in music since they were 15. Everybody would say, 'Oh, rock star' But I always wanted to answer, "No, no, not rock star. No day job.
Adams laughs, "Y'know, I didn't have a post office to be mad at, so I couldn't go randomly shooting people; I broke guitars. [The stage] was my office, and that was me throwing the book off the desk. If you can't look back and laugh at yourself, what good are you? That's the whole point of anyone learning anything. You have to embrace every moment, good or bad.
"These writers," Adams muses, "when they were 22 they were saying, 'hey, hold my beer while I do a keg stand' They were in a dorm. I was onstage."
Equal parts talented artist and ass, Adams keeps reinventing himself. Largely self-educated, but with a spongelike quality for digesting musical styles, language and pop culture, Adams--no longer the brat savant--emerges as an artist with a sense of his own reputation nipping at his heels. This is a guy who doesn't want to torch his remaining bridges. Ever the provocateur, he now realizes that not everyone was in on the joke.
There's been some high-profile backlash: the famous New Times Los Angeles article ("The Emperor's New Pose"), which basically called Adams on his rock-star 'tude. For every landmark performance--the band's stellar set on Austin City Limits, or Adams recent duet with Emmylou Harris for the Sessions at West 54 tribute to Gram Parsons--there have been some legendarily infamous shows. Most notable was the notorious Fillmore gig, where a destructive Adams, throwing mic stands and pushing the monitors off the stage, incited the crowd to near-riot and had the venerable venue's crew ready to kill him. (He was whisked out the front door before anyone could find him.)
Adams insists that his new lifestyle has made him a changed man. "I work harder up here [in New York]. My music has started to take an overview of things. I don't want to be the victim in my own songs anymore. He elaborates: "Living up here either eats you alive, breaks you in half and sends you home or it rids you of all your bullshit and makes you a stronger person. Before I stopped using. I saw the bottom and I think that's all I needed. To get the lowest you can get--there's no sense going back."
Expect a serious, heartfelt rendition of the band's critically acclaimed records at the New Year's Eve show. The Cradle will pass out champagne at midnight, and there may be some surprise guests as well.† Chris Stamey (former dB's member and local producer who's also working on Cary's new solo record) will sit in on some songs.
"The idea of rock 'n' roll is to sort of sweep you off your feet--a feel-good type of thing. Little Richard and Chuck Berry... those are beautiful and complex songs. I'm sure we'll do some cool covers or something funny," Adams says. "I wanted to do this show so I could say I was playing when the millennium turned; that's the most natural thing I could be doing. We've taken a long enough break. Next year is our year."
a heartbreaker review from the austin american statesman:
Here's the guy who seemed to have the whole package when he burst onto the Americana roots scene with Whiskeytown a few years ago.† The North Carolina country rocker not only had the puppy dog looks and the haze-cutting voice, but he had the attitude that he was the real deal and everyone else was faking it.†† If the self-centered make the best music (a theme of the Bob Dylan documentary "Don't Look Back"), this cocky kid would have quite a future.
What his debut solo album sadly shows, however, is that Adams is a brick shy-and it's a big un-of the creative load required to sustain an album's worth of songs.† For all his drawling sense of purpose and rambunctious poetry, he just isn't a very engaging songwriter.† His material sounds unfinished, as ideas fall apart before the second chorus and the shortness of melody makes all the slow tempo songs sort of melt together like self-conscious goo.
The album opens with such promise, as a trivial argument† between Adams and guitarist David Rawlings about whether Morrisey's "Suedehead" is on "Viva Hate" or "Bona Drag" (it's on both) leads into "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)," a track that starts off on Dylan's "Route 61" and takes a wonderfully unexpected
The encouraging first third of the album includes a guest spot by Emmylou harris on "Oh My Sweet Caroline" that adds not only sweet harmonies but an endorsement of Adams as a spiritual descendant of Gram Parsons.† There's also a nicely orchestrated Indian pop vibe on "AMY" to mix things up.† But the opening flashes soon give way to the tedious dripping of songs that sound written at 4a.m., right after her cab leaves.† Tunes "Damn, Sam (I love a woman that rains)" and "Why Do They Leave?" don't live up to the titles.† When he finally does put together a great song, "Come Pick Me Up," Adams delivers it like he's screen testing it for the role River Pheonix left on the sidewalk outside the Vipor Room.† What's with all the heart-wringing and whisper-to-a-roar dramatics?† It's a song, not a soliloquy.
"Heartbreaker" will no doubt be hailed a masterpiece in corners where self-importance is contagious.† But self-expression is just the road, it's not the car.† Adams said it himself on "My Winding Wheel": "I feel just like a map, without a single place to go".
from the San Francisco magazine, SOMA:
"I never wanted to be the sole frontman of Whiskeytown," admits a soft-spoken Ryan Adams. "If it was going to be my band, it wasn't good enough." The pensive singer-songwriter has just released 'Heartbreaker' on Bloodshot Records, a light-years-ahead-of-his-old-thing kind of solo album that will have young Americans swooning in the beauty of his heavy-hearted songs, while the musically sheltered pen down generic descriptives like "undiscovered genius."
More prophetic than Ruchard Ashcroft (not to mention refreshingly void of a manicured ProTools sound,) and more heartfelt than Steve Earle, Adams has segued from No Depression into Know Depression with the ease and grace of a seasoned troubador. The more wistfully hayseed sounding songs here tap into something as timeless as Bob Dylan and Neil Young, yet are as relevant as any good modern band.
Adams' new tunes walk a tightrope dividing what sounds like a more mature version of his former band's rustic roots rock -- he even sings a high-lonesome, front porch duet called "Oh My Sweet Carolina" with Emmylou harris -- and the sound of a stronger identity, with the kind of raw beauty that you can only find in sad songs.
"I like the sad song," Adams says. "I like to identify with it because I like the place it sends me. If the characters in my songs start off with a new pair of jeans, their lucky to walk out with their t-shirt. I beat them†up pretty good. To feel sad is just as intense as any kind of glory. Glory fades."
In the natural progress of a young and prolific songwriter, it is often wise to follow the interminable lessons of tune prophets like the aforementioned Dylan, who once advise that the good artists don't look back.
"I like those records for what they were, but I don't forsee Whiskeytown as being a priority ever again,†actually," the 25-year-old Adams says. "I don't think that were going to play anymore. I think that we're done."
from pulse! (tower records)
As the fickle frontman of Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams alternately inspired and infuriated those who hoped he'd lead the loose-knit No Depression collective to Nirvana-style glory. Adams' best songs convincingly expressed raw emotion and the complexity of real relationships. His singing had a ragged soulfulness that balanced swagger and sensitivity. But like many gifted performers of his generation, Adams seemed not to trust his ability. Brilliant one moment and sloppy the next, his unpredictability undercut his promise. The fact that band members passed through Whiskeytown like guests in a boarding house underscored the perception of Adams as a temperamental egotist. 'Heartbreaker' opens with a snippet of a studio conversation that plays into Adams' self-indulgent reputation. But with each successive song, he peels away the doubts with the uncommon efficacy of his lyrics and stripped-back arrangements. Backed by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, Adams picks up the pieces of his potential and puts them together with offhand authority. From cheeky rockers to textured pop epics to soft-spoken and heartbroken tomes, Americana's brash boy blunder has come home, heart in hand and head clear, to show that he's worth the trouble. (Four Stars)
- Michael McCall
heartbreaker review from usa
Ryan Adams, Heartbreaker (3 stars)
Whiskeytown may be on the outs, but the uncertain future of the erratically brilliant alt-country band hasn't left prolific frontman Ryan Adams in limbo. Heartbreaker, recorded in 14 days with producer Ethan Johns and occasional support from friends including Gillian Welch, Emmylou Harris and Kim Richey, is a solo album in the most intimate sense of the term. On Why Do They Leave? and Come Pick Me Up, Adams sounds like the romantic casualty of a love affair reluctantly ended. Even on the intensely personal AMY, Adams never wallows in sonic self-pity, and only in the electric-Dylan yowl of To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high) and the Bo Diddley rhythms of Shakedown on 9th Street does he let loose in fury. These songs are as stark as the emptiness Adams feels, as if the emotional blow stunned them into near silence.
- Brian Mansfield
from the spectator
A living legend and two departed spirits help define this stripped-down and soul-baring debut from ex-Whiskeytown (at least it's looking that way) leader Ryan Adams. The specter of Bob Dylan loiters in Heartbreaker's corners, surfacing in the Blonde On Blonde vibe of the opener "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high)" and in the confident, risk-taking songwriting on the record. From beyond, there's Gram Parsons, who's invoked by the stunning travelogue "Oh My Sweet Carolina" on which Emmylou Harris plays, well, Emmylou Harris to Adams' Parsons. But ultimately, it's the ghost of a recently ended relationship that haunts Heartbreaker: the feelings of anger, desperation, and that mercurial bastard hope driving songs like "To Be the One," "Why Do They Leave?" and the album's highlight, the gritty and soaring "Come Pick Me Up." It's heartbreak rendered hummable and most human.
- Rick Cornell
country standard time
You can't keep a wild man down. Ryan Adams, the lead force behind now-seminal alt.-country band Whiskeytown, is stepping out on his own for this effort, but really now, hasn't he always been on his own? Whiskeytown's lineup is an ever-changing permutation of like-minded musicians, and its music a constantly-shifting amalgam of stuff from the nexus of country and punk. Whatever Adams' M.O. and whatever Whiskeytown's ultimate form, the stuff it puts across is usually daring and edgy - and
quite good, too.
The same is true on "Heartbreaker," on which Adams teams up with David Rawlings and Gillian Welch along with others to produce a startlingly excellent piece of work. Think of Adams as Paul Thomas Anderson, the young genius behind films like "Boogie Nights" and "Magnolia," and you've got the trick. Those films are sprawling works, culled from a variety of genres, filled with an odd mix of characters.
This is the same way. Adams comes out swinging like a roadhouse Bob Dylan on "To Be Young (is to be sad, is to be high);" brings out Emmylou Harris for a jaunty "Oh My Sweet Caroline" and melds swampy textures with CSN-type vocals for "Bartering Lines" (there might even be an "Ohio" guitar lick in there). Whatever. We'd all do well to spend less time trying to figure Adams out and more time listening to his music. It's going to be an interesting journey.
- Brian Steinberg
Adams at Schubas
September 25, 2000
As frontman for the band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams gained a reputation as the bad boy of alternative country. Sloppy and drunk one moment, surrendering raw emotional songs the next, he left fans shaking their heads and wondering what was up.
But the last few years have seen a monumental change in the singer-songwriter. In a transforming solo-acoustic performance Friday night at Schubas, he more than redeemed himself for all those nights of lost music.
In a perfectly modulated show, Adams stunned the sold-out crowd into a trancelike silence. He mostly stayed away from the old Whiskeytown songs, concentrating instead on the exquisite mix of tunes found on the recent Bloodshot release "Heartbreaker." A prolific songwriter, he also offered a handful of new songs, including one he claimed to have written during the sound check earlier that evening.
Alone on the dimly lit stage and shrouded in a cloud of cigarette smoke, he infused his always amazing vocal style with a soulfulness that perfectly captured the heart-broken ache of his love songs. These are songs full of poetry that rips at the emotions.
And while he may have turned over a new leaf, Adams has lost none of his edge when it comes to songwriting. He writes with the spirit of a young Gram Parsons ensconced in the gritty soul of an older Neil Young. Now living in Nashville, he can count himself among the industry's best.
Adams admitted that he still gets nervous when performing (something the alcohol used to numb), but to his credit he has finally found a comfortable zone in which to work.
He bantered easily with the appreciative crowd and several times offered something his fans have never heard before: a simple "thanks for clapping."
-- Mary Houlihan
from raleigh's independent weekly
(Van Alston's Lakeside Lounge is a stepping stone for countless alt-country acts.)
Renaissance Man of†Raleigh
Van Alston has spent the past decade backing Raleigh's alt-country scene
Local musicians thank him during their shows and credit him in the liner notes of their CDs. One artist described him as a "spiritual advisor" while another acknowledged him as a co-songwriter. And it was Emmylou Harris who christened him the "Renaissance Man of Raleigh, North Carolina."
With such a mystique surrounding Van Alston, it's no shock to find that he has his hands in about everything that is alt-country in Raleigh. He's the co-owner of the Comet Lounge, a gritty musicians' hangout on Hillsborough Street, next door to the Brewery. He's the co-proprietor of the Lakeside Lounge, a swanky little bar and music venue downtown. And he's the CEO and co-owner of the local record label Rice Box Records. Needless to say, he's got it going on.
One would hardly expect such entrepreneurial fervor from someone whom Ryan Adams describes as "a 30-something Linus from Peanuts ... [whose dress] is like a Picasso in a barber shop." But Alston's jovial and innocently disheveled exterior belies the hard-line businessman beneath.
As far back as 1987, when the inchoate stirrings of the alt-country movement were just beginning to be felt in the Triangle, Alston was already backing Raleigh's music scene. That year he booked what was the first incarnation of the Backsliders at Kisim's, a little bar he managed on Hillsborough Street. At the time, the band was called Pokin' Yoko. Alston remembers Chip Robinson, the lead singer: "We were talking and the name Joe Ely came up and Gram Parsons and he was, at the time, one of the only people I had ever met who had: (a) heard of Joe Ely and; (b) liked him. So, Chip and I really hit it off."
That was obviously the beginning of a lasting friendship, for it was Chip Robinson who, 12 years later, named Alston as his "spiritual advisor" on the Backsliders' CD, Southern Lines. And though Alston claims to have no musical talent whatsoever, stating, "If I knocked over a stack of guitars it would be like the tree in the forest, not a one of them would make a noise," he is, nevertheless, well remembered for his one-time performance with Chip Robinson and the Backsliders at the Brewery during S.P.I.T.T.L.E. Fest.
Alston and the Backsliders had just driven 32 hours straight through from Louisiana, where the band had recorded Southern Lines. In a state of delirium, Alston committed to playing the tuba on one of Robinson's songs, even though he hadn't picked up the instrument in almost 20 years. When all he could find was an E-flat tuba, which he didn't know the fingering on, he opted for something simpler. He decided he would shake boxes of Comet Rice like maracas. Half-embarrassed and half-amused, Alston recalls, "I was caught up with being on stage--got my wrap-around sunglasses on, trying to act cool--and I missed my big shaky thing." Robinson laughed and said, "That's all right. I'll bring it around again." So Robinson brought it around again and Alston got to do his big shaky thing. Alston's performance debut has since become a community hallmark. In fact, it's inspired both his Internet handle, "boxorice," and the name of his fledgling record label, Rice Box Records.
It was back in the early 1990s, when the Backsliders were picking up speed, that other alt-country artists like Ryan Adams of Whiskeytown had started to break out. Alston remembers, "Yeah, I knew him back when he was sneaking into the bar at the Comet. I was throwing Ryan out of there until he turned 21." Well, Alston sure isn't throwing him out anymore. Alston claims, "more than half the songs on Ryan's new album [Heartbreaker] were written on my living room floor." And two of the songs, "Bartering Lines" and "Come Pick Me Up," were actually co-authored by Alston.
It was through his close friendship with Adams that Alston first met alt-country icon, Emmylou Harris. Flattered as all hell, Alston recounts: "She grabbed my arm and said, 'Gosh, I sure like those songs you wrote on Ryan's record. I hear you own a bar in Raleigh and you're going to open one up in Nashville. You're just like the Renaissance Man of Raleigh, North Carolina.'"
Harris was referring to the Lakeside Lounge, which opened in downtown Raleigh on tax day of 1999. That evening's playlist included Hazeldine, Whiskeytown (minus Ryan Adams), the Backsliders, Patty Hurst Shifter, Tres Chicas, the Bottle Rockets, Peter Blackstock (the editor of No Depression) and some folks from the Black Crowes. "It was a star-studded type deal," says Alston.
Since that grand gala, the Lakeside Lounge has served as a stepping stone for countless Triangle and touring alt-country acts. "We give anybody a shot [and] we usually give people a second chance, if they want constructive criticism," Alston says. No matter who is playing, however, there is always a feeling of camaraderie. "I hear it over and over. It's the one place that they feel comfortable," he claims. And it's more than just a place to play. The Lakeside Lounge has become the center of a musical community. Kenny Roby, formerly of Six String Drag, Chip Robinson of the Backsliders, and Mikey Ross, from the band Brown, all work at the Lakeside.
Eight years ago, alternative country music in Raleigh was a smoldering spark but Van Alston fanned the fire and now it's in full blaze, making it Raleigh's most happening music scene. Alston continues to encourage the music he loves by booking shows at the Lakeside Lounge, signing fresh talent to Rice Box Records and even offering up his living room floor.
"You know, my house is used as a flop pad by everybody who's coming through town," he says. "There is nothing better than waking up in the middle of the night and hearing music coming from your living room and walking out there and seeing Chip and Alejandro [Escovedo] and Kenny Roby and Ryan Adams ... You know, the people that have played in my kitchen are just phenomenal. I just feel really, really, really lucky."
The line in front of Iota Thursday night snaked down to Fresh Fields a long block away. The joke was that the advertisements had a misprint, announcing 1980s pop rocker Bryan Adams instead of former Whiskeytown front man Ryan Adams. Whatever drew in the crowd, this is what it encountered: the frail singer-songwriter sitting on a chair alone, smoking, with an acoustic guitar, harmonica and a new CD called "Heartbreaker" (Bloodshot Records) to promote. Without the artists--Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch among them--that helped record the disc, Adams's set of velvety, yearning and melancholy four-minute ballads revealed considerable talent and insurmountable weaknesses that will preclude wide appeal.
Adams found limited fame early with Whiskeytown, and no doubt the crowd came to hear a few of their favorite songs from the band's two terrific albums. But whatever promise he presented as alternative country's heir apparent to Gram Parsons was squandered when Whiskeytown evaporated after artistic--and even physical--confrontations among Adams and the band members. Clearly there's an ego situation, and Thursday's set confirmed Adams's reputation as a self-indulgent artist who got too much great press too early. The boy needs a band to keep things lively.
The album has spirit, but the live set--including the tender "Amy," the Dylanesque "My Winding Wheel" and the keening "Oh My Sweet Carolina"--had one speed--slow--and it was hard to tell if the audience, which stood rapt and responded respectfully, was into it or just numbed by it.
One longed to hear "Cuts Like a Knife," a pop hit by the other Adams, Bryan.
courtesy of jay holdren.
RYAN ADAMS: Originally from the cultural hotbed that is Jacksonville, N.C., Captain Adams re-located to this area a few years back & started laying the groundwork that would end up making his "reputation." I must say that when we were in a band together for a little while recently, there have been several occasions when I really wanted to kill him. Bad. I also can't deny that he writes some of the catchiest tunes that I have ever heard & is immensely talented at "songcrafting." Check out the new split single of Glamour Puss & Patty Duke Syndrome, & listen to Ryan's songs on the Patty Duke side for proof. I did this chat at Logan Ct. one afternoon in May. Also present for this were Jessica & Mike Dean.
Brian: Ryan! How are you?
Brian: That's good. Tell us how the hell you ended up moving here from Jacksonville, & what was Jacksonville like?
Ryan: It's this one strip kind of town with lots of pawn shops & bars.
Mike Dean: Motels..
Ryan: Yeah, lots of motels. The town is not so bad itself, its just that there is a military base, a very large military base next to it, & it is just kind of a bad scene.
Mike: The biggest jarhead ranch on the face of the earth. (laughter)
Ryan: Yeah, right.
Brian: Was living in Jacksonville a big inspiration for what you are doing now?
Ryan: Ooooooh yeah.
Mike: You mean you didn't want to grow up to be a leatherneck?
Ryan: The last time i talked to my Mom she said I should go back there, she said that my life was a wreck!
Mike: (in a real stuffy voice) "We'll give you some discipline.."
Ryan: Yeah. But what happened was that I had accidentally ran across these records & tapes that I ended up really liking. C.O.C.'s "Animosity" was one of them. One of my friends recorded a copy of Black Flag's "Damaged" for me & from there I had just started hitting all of the pawn shops in Jacksonville looking for tapes. I bought all of that SST rock. I was thirteen years old then, I was a skateboarder. Through that I met this guy Shane, who was a member of Jacksonville's only punk rock band called Pumphouse. I went to see one of their shows one night in this barn. There was like a hundred or so people there drinking & there is this..fucking loud punk rock band playing. It was the first live music that I had ever heard, & it freaked me out. The bass player of that band, Jere Mcilwean worked at the Record Bar that I kept going into, & he noticed that I kept buying all of these Sonic Youth & Half Japanese records, & eventually he asked me what my deal was & I said, "Well, I just swapped my skateboard for a guitar." I asked him if he wanted to play music & he said yeah, & the following week we came up with the first version of the Patty Duke Syndrome. We had four songs.
Brian: How did you find yourself in Raleigh?
Ryan: I came up here for a Cows & Jarvis show, which is where I met my friends Ben & Steven of Regraped. I said, "Hey. Help. I'm stuck in this small hick town. How can I move here?" Actually, I was in Chapel Hill, but I had hung out in Raleigh a couple of times, enough to know...
Brian: (interrupts) That it was a booming metropolis?
Ryan: No. Compared to where I was from, yes. It was more liberated, & all of the kids were really cool. They said, "Well, why don't you move up here right now?" I didn't know that I was going to moving here, I just came. I just ended up getting a job & stuff. So what happened was I just got a guitar & I got really into music, & I always have been really into it ever since. I'll always be into playing guitar, don't even have to be in a band. It's just..self entertainment. I like to write lots of songs.
Brian: Now that you have been here for a couple of years, how do you feel about it now?
Ryan: I think it's uh..I think that when I got here, it was really happening. Lots of bands, lots of shows, there was always just a lot of stuff around back then, & everyone was really into it. Lately, I don't think that no one is really into anything, I mean there is still some bands around but there doesn't seem to be much energy, it doesn't seem that exciting anymore, but that's just probably from my point of view.
Mike: It's just that rock & roll is dead as a cultural force..
Jessica: Well, Raleigh has always gone through waves of being really happening, & then really dead, & being really happening again, & so on.
Ryan: I have thought that myself. It is probably a seasonal thing.
Brian: You have been in a bunch of bands..
Ryan: American Rock Highway, Patty Duke Syndrome, Cotton, T.V. land, I was also in this band Ass, I played drums for Blank Label, it was the only band that I was in that put out a record, & that's it. I am sure I left out some others..
Jessica: The Lazy Stars!
Ryan: Fucking Lazy Stars..you saw us, Mike. That's when you said, "Hey..it's Paul Westerberg!" (laughter)
Mike: That was just like Patty Duke with different people! That's not bad. Jere wasn't there.
Ryan: I'm just really into music. It's not a narcissistic kind of thing, but if I could put out a record every year & put out a different band..as long as I have a band & play guitar & write songs, then I'll do it. I can play drums too, so I have been able to do all of this four track stuff. Recently I have recorded a small record called, "Exile On Franklin Street" which is like my tribute to the Rolling Stones. (laughter) I don't know..Anything that I have ever done, as bad as it may seem, & even if my girlfriend hates me, it's still a lot better than living in Jacksonville. Do you have any more questions?
Brian: A lot of people question your rather excitable nature & behavior sometimes. Maybe they have missed the point. Do you have anything to say to your small group of detractors?
Ryan: I'm into spazz rock. I spazz out on anything that I do, I am hyperactive all over the place, & I dig it.
Brian: One time David Sullivan said, in your defense, was about how lame he thought it was that people were giving you a hard time about being super excited about doing stuff & how most people thought it was uncool.
Ryan: Well, here's the thing: Would you rather walk around in a coma, or would you rather walk around really getting into shit, or would you rather walk around really hating shit? I would much rather be the second. I'd much rather be affected & affecting my environment than walk around going, "Oh, I don't care." I mean, what's the point about doing anything artistic or creative if you don't have a reaction or musically. Playing loud guitar for me is just the best kind of therapy. It's cool. I am not a rockstar, I never will be. I am actually a pretty big loser.
Brian: Actually, you are going to be on a split single soon with the Patty Duke Syndrome along with Glamour Puss.
Ryan: Uh..yeah. (laughter) At first I really didn't want that to come out because I was in a really bad mood but the funny thing is it was just a bedroom rock band from Jacksonville & like check it out, came all the way to Raleigh & got a record. Even if it is a little late.
Brian: Fave stuff to listen to?
Ryan: Well, it is obvious what I like. I like Finger a lot. I have actually lost some respect for them because after you quit getting drunk all of the time, they are not as good. (laughter) I really liked Erectus Monotone, & they are broke up now, of course. I saw Shiny Beast play recently & that was really cool..I don't really like anybody locally right now. I like Orifice, but the joke kind of wore off. (laughter) Well, I shouldn't say that.. I am really into emo-rock. I really dig that stuff. I am a sap. But, I do not like "girlfriend rock.."
Brian: What's "girlfriend rock?"
Ryan: You know. Like, "You are my special person," those kind of lyrics. I don't know...I am really into Big Star & the Grifters. They are doing it right.
Brian: Let's face facts, Ryan. Whether you want to admit it or not, you have earned quite a reputation around here. Do you think that your excitability really alienates people or what? What's the deal?
Ryan: I really don't know what kind of reputation I have, obviously I have one but once at this party in Greenville that I went to, this girl came up to me & said, "you are notorious!" & walked away. That was it. I saw her later that night, but she was too drunk to speak. I am sure that I do have one, obviously I have earned it, due to drunken stubborness or just..I don't know, I can do some creepy stuff. I can be a really creepy person, but that's cool, I dig it. I'm not out to get anybody, I just want to rock. (laughter)
Ryan: ..but I will say this on my behalf. If anyone ever grew up living in Jacksonville, then they would know why I am so into what I am into, cause it's like..hell.
Brian: Very good interview! Any final comments?
Ryan: (long thoughtful pause) If you think that I am creepy, then that's really cool, & I am going to get my teeth fixed so I don't look like such a heathen. (laughter)
Whiskeytown to Spread Pneumonia across U.S.
Whether critics will sweat feverishly or vomit remains to be seen
After three years of major label purgatory and label-less uncertainty, it looks as if Whiskeytown's third album, Pneumonia, may finally see the light of day. After the untimely demise of Outpost Recordings during 1999's orgy of industry integration, Whiskeytown was left floating with a double album in the can but no one to release it.
Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams, fresh off the release of his first solo album, offered this hint as to the album's future in a recent interview with Checkout.com: "There is a new label being started and I won't name the people, but there are some people involved that were with Outpost and [some] other people that I'm really excited to be working with. As far as I know, I thought it was going to come out next year, in January, but it may come out this year. Nothing's official, but it looks like I found a place to go."
Adams also mentioned that the album may be Whiskeytown's last. Although the band plans to do a tour for Pneumonia, Adams may look into other musical endeavors afterwards. His first solo album, Heartbreaker, was released over the summer, and a follow-up is already in the works.
Everything is Everything: Ryan Adams and the Art of Growing Up
Flashback: October 30, 1997. Scrappy, bibulous blue-collar cowpunkers Whiskeytown are playing the 7th Street Entry in Minneapolis while their more grizzled genre-mates Wilco perform before a packed house next door in First Avenueís main room. Notoriously cranky Whiskeytown singer/guitarist Ryan Adams, feeling no pain, stopped the show cold right after the second song. He peered out at the sea of sweaty faces crammed into the tiny space before him, grinned wickedly, and announced, "Jeff Tweedy quit Wilco and joined our band, but I just fired him!" The audience dutifully howled and clapped, but a good 40 percent of them were engrossed in loud, self-important conversations of their own. Ryan frowned, but plowed on, belting out six songs the crowd had never heard before, culminating with "Everything I Do," from the bandís upcoming album, Strangerís Almanac. Throughout the song, which Adams had written for his then-love Amy Lombardi, the incessant gabbing had continued. He glared out at the offenders with a look of sheer disgust and confronted them. "What in the hell is so important that you people over there are talking your asses off? Now, shut up, weíre playing rock and roll." After two more songs, he again addressed the crowd, this time in a softer tone. "Sorry about being an asshole about the talking people. Itís annoying when you go to see a band and somebodyís running their fucking mouth. Shut up!" A portion of the audience continued to talk, but they stealthily slipped out before the end of the gig, flicking nervous glances towards the stage. Nobody had told them that rock and roll was still dangerous.
Cut to: October 17, 2000. 25-year-old former Whiskeytown frontman Ryan Adams is participating in a phone interview from his adopted home in Nashville, Tennessee. He bops around restlessly, zipping to and fro on a skateboard while he fixes himself lunch and his positive energy is contagious, even long-distance. "Itís weird lately," he says, munching away at his mid-day repast, "but people are pretty quiet and pay attention. It makes for a better gig, and if itís just me itís really hard. But Iím less confrontational than I used to be." That mellowed attitude is more than apparent in the easy-going, folksy grooves of his new solo album, Heartbreaker. Gone are the ubiquitous liquor references, deathly despair, and overwhelming hopelessness of Whiskeytown tracks like "Faithless Street," "Nervous Breakdown" and "Drank Like A River." Heís open and effervescent, laughing about his wildly eclectic tastes in music (Mariah Carey, Morrissey, Christina Aguilera, Voivod), his friends (Billy Mercer, guitarist for his latest band, The Pink Hearts, has just called to thank Ryan for allowing him to walk home naked after a party the previous night) and his own antics of the past. Adams thanks his relationship with Amy and a break from non-stop Whiskeytown activities for the changes. "I really find it [Heartbreaker] a very spiritual record. I definitely came into my own in that respect pretty hard, and I had lots of time to think and sort of grow up."
Adams formed Whiskeytown back in 1994 in his hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina, along with pals Phil Wandscher (guitars, vocals), Caitlin Cary (fiddle, vocals), Skillet Gilmore (drums) and Steve Grothman (bass). They were a tough, hard-rocking outfit who were never quite sure if they were playing to drink or drinking to play, a younger version of outlaws whoíd come before. Their music was like a liquor-soaked sponge filled with equal parts Gram Parsons, Black Flag, Hank Williams and The Replacements -- yet they were clearly too green to do much but rail drunkenly against a system they didnít really understand. Adams, who grew up "not at all rich," knew right off that he didnít fit in with the Old Southern standards surrounding him in Raleigh. "There is a lot of prejudice where Iím from, but you can transcend it. My first crush was a black girl and when they saw us holding hands, they removed her from my class! It was all masked by this veiled racism. That stuff always broke my heart, man. I had to get out of there, out of my hometown. People are acting out this Planet of The Apes shit, stuff that was going on in the fucking 60s. I was like, this is grotesque, how uneducated. When I grew up, you were lucky to find a copy of Rolling Stone in town." Despite the stultifying, old-school atmosphere, he admits that the rich, soil of North Carolina had a profound influence on his music. "I definitely think thereís a lot of spooky, weird, weird, shit there. Thereís alot of superstition,
Whiskeytownís first official record, Faithless Street, was released by MoodFood Records in 1996, and they signed with Outpost Records later that year. The band experienced ongoing personnel changes over the next few years, and after Wandscher left, Adams was thrust into the position of leader, something he never wanted. Following the 1997 release of Strangerís Almanac, an album many fans thought was slick and overproduced, Whiskeytown toured as openers for CCR founder John Fogerty. The gig was an honor, to be sure, but the classic rock fans streaming to see their childhood hero had no time for a bedraggled group of nobodys without a recognizable radio hit and the group felt the sting of rejection from mainstream music fans. Not long after that disastrous outing, Outpost folded amidst the Universal/Seagrams merger, and Whiskeytown was left with an uncertain lineup, a double album (Pneumonia) in the can and no label support. Adams says it was clearly time to move on.
"We donít exist anymore, weíre not a band anymore," he saidwith a palpable shrug. "I mean, itís done what itís supposed to do. I want to do other bands in my lifetime, and Caitlinís got her own record, an EP called Waltzy on YepRock Records. Iím not blue that Whiskeytown isnít together anymore. I thought that we did great. And I think when people hear Pneumonia, theyíre going to be so in love with it. ĎCause itís fucking really beautiful!" The unreleased album, he says, is "...nothing like the record before. Ethan Johns (who produced and played on Heartbreaker) made it as well, so the production is like a 70ís Stones record, his dad being Glyn Johns. Itís the same style production [as Heartbreaker], itís just grander, bigger, thereís string sections on it, and we used these weird organs. itís real trashy, but itís really complicated and beautiful as well. Pneumonia reminds me of what it would be like if Whiskeytown made our own Sgt. Pepperís. Itís really trippy and really all about God and fear and spirituality. Not a whole lot of stuff about getting drunk or crying in your beer, which I didnít want. Itís kind of like a concept record, because itís sort of about your soul, and what may or may not happen to it. Thereís alot of references to the devil, and drugs. Iím not saying itís about the devil and drugs, but itís really heavy."
Fans will have
to wait awhile yet for Pneumoniaís release and even then, Adams says, itís unlikely the band will re-form for a tour. "Not a chance in hell. I mean, I hate to say never, but it would take a lot for me to want to do Whiskeytown again. Iíd really be surprised if anybody ever sees a live Whiskeytown show again. I donít think the album needs to be toured upon, I just think itís a record that needs to come out so people can hear it for what it is," he pauses, then says slyly, "When I sign to another label this year, a bigger label, that record will be purchased from Universal and it will come out. Iím going to do press, the label is going to promote it, thereís just not going to be a band to tour with it. I canít really go into it, but you will definitely see the record next spring or summer. Youíll see it next year come hell or high water -- our swan song." Which brings us to the recently released solo album -- his second attempt at such a project in the past year. The first, tentatively titled Destroyer, remains on the shelf. "I donít know if Iím going to release it," he speaks slowly, thoughtfully, "I think some of itís really good, I like it, but I donít love it. I want to be really careful about what I release as a solo artist. I think itís really important that I donít ever make a bad step again." Heartbreaker, a collection of down-home-style folk-rockers and bluesy ballads, is a painfully honest peek into the last few years of his personal life. Along with Adams on acoustic and electric guitars, harmonica, piano, and banjo, the lineup includes Johns on drums and bass, David Rawlings on guitars, Gillian Welch on bass and vox and guest appearances by Emmylou Harris, Kim Richey and Allison Pierce. Though heís playing solo this time out, he says heíll try to regroup the original players should any offers for TV appearances arise. The record is a coming-of-age statement, documenting his time in New York, his relationship with Amy, (he includes a song, "AMY," that speaks of his genuine awe and respect for her on the album, though theyíve since broken up) and the feelings he experienced coming out of band life.
"I had three years of life experience to put behind me when I didnít have a Whiskeytown record out." He muses. "I was just like a domesticated housekeeper for a year-and-a-half when I was in New York. I would go to the grocery store, take the cat to the vet, watch my Ďstoriesí [snickers], make dinner for my girlfriend. I didnít go out for maybe nine months, I just stayed home and I had this amazing amount of time to really become a real person. I think Amy changed a lot of that, too. I was like one piece of pizza and she turned me into a whole pie. I ended up being a whole guy, somebody I respected as well as other people could respect. I just got a lot of time to love and to learn and to heal and change my output." He takes a breath, then says forcefully, "Like, my life wasnít centered around any false aspirations to become some kind of vapid rock personality. My whole life changed, I just wanted to be happy at every moment, you know? Like, Iím sitting on the porch right now and Iím watching all these leaves fall and the neighborís dog is scratching himself and the sky is really beautiful and I just made lunch. Itís perfect. Iím happy right now! And thatís really important, because I wasnít that kind of person in my early 20s, I was somebody that was always operating out of fear and I didnít know how to deal with all these adult feelings I had. What I didnít realize was that I had to grow up a little bit and learn some things and open myself up. I think what comes to you when you give yourself that kind of time, is that you get much more in touch with your own spirituality and I did. And Iím happy I did. I really love what Iím doing, I love what Iím playing, and I really love people, you know?"
A quick run-through of the songs on Heartbreaker reveals just how much growing up Adams has done since that raucous evening at the Entry just a few short years ago. "To Be Young (Is to be sad, is to be high)," "Damn, Sam (I love a woman that rains)" and "Donít Ask For The Water" are witty, off-the-cuff nods to mid-60s-era Dylan, (Adamsí glib reaction to this observation: "You got to serve somebody!") while tracks like "Shakedown On 9th Street" and "Come Pick Me Up" tie in with the poppier side of his earlier work. Sweet harmonica riffing abounds, and though the production is tight, the songs, which were all recorded live in the studio, retain their integrity throughout the album. Nothing sounds forced, and Adamsí messages come through as loud and clear as those of an old friend over the phone, confessional yet mostly upbeat, and with simple conviction. Heís plainly proud of the work, and harbors no illusions about where his muse lies these days.
"You know that song by Lauren Hill, called ĎEverything Is Everything?í" he asks. "Itís really a great song, but that statement is a very fundamental, philosophical, spiritual statement about the world. Everything is everything. Itís like, everything you want it to be if you want it and itís nothing if you donít want it. And itís still there if you donít. You just have to take responsibility in your own life. For me, I basically woke up one day and I handed myself the bill. And it was really long! It was like a scroll and the fucking thing, when it hit the floor, it rolled right out of the room. All the bullshit I didnít pay attention to or all the stuff I didnít accept with perfect love and trust, all this time Iíd wasted. You know, sometimes the only way to open your eyes is to close them to fear. I was operating out of fear, and I refuse to do it anymore. I mean that musically too, artistically, spiritually. Itís weird, man. I get up and Iím so fucking stoked every morning. I feel great. Iím happy to be around doing things. (laughs softly) I used to be the crankiest fucker in the world, Iím just not anymore. Just embrace the things you fear, then you can understand them and the bad parts will go away."
pop culture detox:
Ryan Adams carries the weight of the world on his smooth, young shoulders. It somehow seems wrong that he should do so, but he carries it well. Originally from Jacksonville, NC. He moved first to Raleigh, NC. There he started the band Whiskeytown. Later still he moved from Raleigh to New York City. After leaving New York (and a girlfriend) for Nashville, Adams put together the song on this, his first solo outing. This album is about lonely rooms, empty bars, and deserted AM streets.
The South has a deep tradition of storytellers. Authors William Faulkner and Truman Capote. Playwright Tennessee Williams and musicians by the score from Hank Williams to Gram Parsons have all told the tragic and humorous tales that are part of the American experience. Adams is the next in line to join this parade of Southern storytellers. Steeped in this tradition, Heartbreaker can easily stand among the greats mentioned above.
Where the obvious things about this record are attention to traditional arrangement, good playing and solid cry-in-your-beer moods, there comes after repeated listening that Adams has a feel for human nature and a gift for a turn of phrase. Adams wrote all but three of the fourteen songs on this record (one being an argument about a Smiths song) and still co-wrote the other three.
Heartbreaker is a mixed bag of familiar moods and sounds. On the first listen through a few double-album classics will come to mind. Strains of the Dylan classic, Basement Tapes, will leap to mind. There are also echoes of Exile on Main Street, not to mention the late great Gram Parsons. But on the second and third go-round you'll notice it's simply traditional window-dressing.
Adams rounded up a top-notch crew for his debut. First off is David Rawlings who serves as a general partner-in-crime. He also co-wrote some of the tunes. Adams is also joined Gillian Welch and Kim Richey. But the real feather in Adams cap is the addition of Emmy Lou Harris, who unites on the song "Oh My Sweet Carolina." This tune alone is worth the price of admission
Adamsí Heartbreaker is due out this month, and he should be touring. If you get a chance to see him, do. It should prove to be a loose and boozy roots rock party!
Whiskeytown -- "Pneumonia"
4 out of 5 (If I had a rating scale, that is...)
It's been a long road, ain't it? This, Whiskeytown's swan song (although opinions differ on that one, even
within the band), was supposed to be released two years ago before the grand Polygram/Universal merger that left many bands and labels withouthomes. Whiskeytown, part of the Outpost stable, was left in the cold. The album, mixed at that time by Scott Litt, was being called a masterpiece by many. Over time, "Pneumonia" achieved a "Basement Tapes"-like status, as many were unsure it would ever be released. And without a new home to record for and no new record to tour behind, Whiskeytown seemingly disintegrated, with its key members -- Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary -- starting critically-acclaimed and successful solo careers.
The stage is now set, and "Pneumonia" is finally here. Does it live up to the hype? Yes, I think it does. Is it the best work the band has done? Absolutely. Is it possible that there could be more Whiskeytown music in later years that would kick the living crap out of this record? You bet your ass.
At first listen, I know some listeners will be thinking, "What the hell? Where are the rock songs? Where's that Westerberg-style swagger? And what's 'Paper Moon," anyway?" I know, because I asked many of these questions myself. Over time, however, the disc grew on me.
I'm a bit biased, mind you. I've heard the Litt mixes, and the completed record, as it's being released, remixed by producer Ethan Johns and Adams. I miss some of the Litt mixes, as I thought they were superior to these. Adams and Johns appear to be accentuating the sparseness of these arrangements. The Litt mix of "Don't Wanna Know Why," for instance, is lush and beautiful, where, on first listen, the Johns/Adams mix appears to be missing something. Both are good. I just prefer the Litt mix. The same is true of "Sit & Listen To The Rain," my favorite on the record. Some of the Johns/Adams mixes are superior to Litt mixes, though, particularly "Reasons To Lie," "Don't Be Sad" and "What The Devil Wanted." Either way, the songs are what is key. And they're magnificent.
The interplay between Cary and Adams is amazing, as always. Their voices blend in all the right ways. The increased involvement of Mike Daly is a boon to these songs, as he helps ground them, and the songs he co-wrote are some of the strongest on the record. The pool of talent in the guest artists also augments the sound in ways that are not easy to define: the best thing you can say about a guest musician.
Overall, "Pneumonia" is a great record, worthy of joining your collection. I would like to say that it's a better transitional effort than a swan song, because the effort just shows more clearly what great promise was present in the band at this time. It is the best release this year, and, if I may paraphrase a similar bit of praise, the best release of the past two years, as well.
I still don't much care for "Paper Moon," though.
Keep The Corpse Beautiful
When it comes to Ryan Adams, contradictions appear to be the rule, not the exception. On the one hand, Pneumonia is the presumes final album from Whiskeytown, the band Adams has fronted since he was 20. On the other hand, Whiskeytown wasn't much of a band at the time these tracks were cut; or, some might argue, ever.
The revolving door that started spinning after Whiskeytown signed to onetime Geffen Records imprint Outpost never stopped. Pneumonia was recorded after the tumultuous tour in support of Strangers Almanac, a campaign which found Adams and his sole constant musical companion, fiddler Caitlin Cary, shifting from one tenuous band lineup to another. With each spin of that door, perceptions of Adams floated forth, ranging from affected poseur and fuckup to misunderstood genius and budding songwriter for the ages. Could they all be accurate?
In hindsight, and with apologies to those musicians who contributed meaningfully to the band (most assuredly Cary and, on Pneumonia, Mike Daly), Whiskeytown might best be described as an incubator and an idea. For as much as Adams surely loves the notion of a "rawk" band (witness his recent SXSW set with the Pinkhearts), he progressively outgrew that framework with his bandmates. As for the idea, Adams has said he once believed Whiskeytown might be like the Eagles, with different singers and songwriters stepping forth, but no true leader. Then there's his memorable quote about how Whiskeytown was expected to be "the alt-country Nirvana."
As off-base as those descriptions turned out to be, they frame two key insights about the man and his band. First, that it took Adams time to acknowledge himself as the leader, the singer, the songwriter, something special. When Whiskeytown first surfaced, the most frequent comparison made to Adams was Gram Parsons. What rings truer is Bob Dylan, not so much in musical style as in artistic development.
Like Dylan in his early 20's, Adams appears to be the quickest of studies, absorbing and synthesizing musical styles and influences with a depth and speed so uncanny, so easy, that it has provoked (just as it did with Dylan early on) occasional charges of disingenuousness. As a singer, his improvements from Strangers Almanac to Pneumonia and his solo debut Heartbreaker is astonishing. On Pneumonia, he sings in four or five distinct voices.
Then there's the prolific songwriting. Aside from his recorded work, dozens of Adams songs are floating out there as demos or live performances. And damn if nearly all of them aren't good. Writers with that kind of output don't come along often.
The Nirvana quote sums up succinctly that Whiskeytown could never escape expectations: From its label, from rock cities, from fans who wanted the band to be the next thing that mattered - Nirvana, the Replacements, the Burritos;; take your pick. Pneumonia feels like the record where Adams let go of those expectations and went where his mood took him.
He's drawn parallels between Pneumonia and both Sgt. Pepper and Big Star's Third/Sister Lovers. Provocative comparisons to be sure, especially when you consider Thirds/Sister Lovers is also an album recorded after a band had effectively imploded, and a work that grew in legend precisely for being a "lost masterpiece" until Rykodisc releases it properly in 1992. Pneumonia picked up a bit of that same buzz last year as it sat in unreleased limbo. One suspects Adams appreciated that.
As for Pneumonia being "our Sgt. Pepper," there's a musical ambitiousness to the album that supports such an audacious suggestion. It is a masterfully assembled and brilliantly played collection of songs that jumps genres with gleeful confidence. Those who appreciate Whiskeytown more from the "ragged but right" perspective may squirm to hear Adams crooning over the orchestration, flamenco guitar and castanets of "Paper Moon", or belting out the sunny-side-up pop of "Mirror Mirror", which are just two of the album's surprising and utterly enchanting performances. For the rest of us, however, it all sounds fresh and heartfelt.
The album opens with "Ballad Of Carol Lynn", one of seven songs written with guitarist Mike Daly, and sets the stage for what's to come with its muted horns, passionate vocal, and Adams' piano and harmonica. "Don't Wanna Know Why" offers the first of several lilting and lovely choruses ("Breathe in/ Breathe out / Carry on / Carry out / Try to / Never say goodbye"), with fine vocals and fiddles from Cary, who co-wrote the tune with Adams and Daly.
With "Jacksonville Skyline" and later "My Hometown" (which is Springsteensque in more than just its title), Adams settles into first-person storytelling mode and adult ruminations on place and home, the former filled with evocative childhood images (skinned knees and cap guns), the latter with hopes of salvation rediscovered and sung in one of those aforementioned distinct voices.
Another discreet vocal, somewhere between Aztec Camera's Roddy Frame and John Wesley Harding, appears for "Don't Be Sad", co-written with Daly and former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha and one of the album's richest musical slices. Equally seductive and simple is "Crazy About You", an unabashed profession of love that some Nashville lass could ride to the top of the country charts.
Credit producer and drummer Ethan Johns for giving each track its own sonic touch while still maintaining continuity. The album's boldest experiments are also among its finest moments. The aforementioned "Paper Moon" (featuring orchestral arrangements by Johns' father, legendary producer Glyn Johns), with its dreamy soundscape, is unlike anything Adams has done to date, and he pulls it off with aplomb. Same for the Nilsson-flavored "Mirror Mirror", where his vocals and Cary's shine in bouncy pop terrain. And then there's "What The Devil Wanted", a haunting piano signature with pops, clicks and bells punctuating the cloistered mood and unsettling vocal.
Elsewhere, the sparseness of "Under Your Breath" would fit neatly onto Heartbreaker, "Sit and Listen To The Rain" revisits the charging guitar chords that drove Strangers Almanac, "Easy Hearts" pairs more orchestral accents with sublime vocals from Adams and Cary; and "Bar Lights" bring the album to a poignant and satisfying close complete with spontaneous studio chatter bookending the gab that opened Heartbreaker. There's nary a clunker in the bunch.
Some may feel Pneumonia lacks the emotional weight of Heartbreaker, but beneath all of these gorgeous performances, Ryan Adams just may be revealing himself. The last words he sings in Pneumonia (at the end of the album's hidden track) are, "I'm not evil, I'm just scared." I believe him. And even if he's only fooling us, he's doing one hell of a job.
One For The Road
Lost Highway Records (5 stars)
Third and final album from now defunct root rockers.
This much-delayed album was originally produced by Ethan (son of Glyn) Johns and recorded at a studio in Woodstock during early 1999. After mixing in LA, the band's label Outpost had them return to the studio with Scott 'Nirvana/R.E.M.' Litt. He apparently "cleaned its face" in ways the band didn?t approve of, but it didn't matter by the end of the sessions because record company mergers left the album (by then, a double with the working title Happy Go Bye Bye) sitting on the shelf. In the meantime, the band broke up and Ryan Adams and sidekick fiddle player Caitlin Cary launched solo careers.
Fast forward to winter 2000, and Ryan Adams was back in the studio with Ethan Johns. They re-mixed a single album's worth of tracks, giving them, a vintage Stones/Beatles sound (something they'd also explored on Adams' critically acclaimed solo debut Heartbreaker) and, with the backing of new label Lost Highway, the record now sees the light of day. All of this accounts for the album's status on the dark regions of the Internet as a legendary epitaph for a band that were talked up as Nirvana of the New Country scene. There were only three members of the ever-changing Whiskeytown line-up left by the time this album was recorded; Adams, Cary and guitarist Mike Daly. The rest were lost along the way to all manner of alleged debauchery. To flesh out the sound, Adams called in two like0minded musician friends: James Iha (ex-Smashing Pumpkins) and Tommy Stinson (ex-Replacements, Guns N' Roses). As icing on the cake, Ethan Johns banged the drums while assorted session musicians filled the gaps whenever necessary.
The 14 tracks that made it past the final cut are a natural evolution of the heights scaled on the band's breakthrough second album Strangers Almanac (1998) but also a taster of where Adams would head with Heartbreaker. It's loosely reminiscent of The Replacements' Hootenanny, in so far as the band tackle a mind-boggling array of musical genres and styles. There's Smashing Pumpkins/Johnny Cash goth-folk ("What The Devil Wanted"), a cheeky Sgt. Pepper pop steal ("Mirror Mirror"), kitschy Hawaiian crooning ("Paper Moon"), rootsy Steve Earle rock ("Crazy About You"), a great cousin of Bruce Springsteen's "Valentine's Day" ("Easy Hearts"), Dylan between '70-'75 ("Ballad of Carol Lynn"), New Country ("Jacksonville Skyline", "My Hometown", "Under Your Breath"), Fleetwood Mac circa Tusk ("Don't Wanna Know Why"), Jackson Browne balladeering ("Reason To Lie"), Pernice Brothers country-pop ("Don't Be Sad"), a tip of the hat to The Pogues ("Bar Lights") and, of course, a blustery, beautiful acknowledgement of Paul Westerberg's influence on Adams' songwriting ("Sit And Listen To The Rain") made even sweeter by the fact that Westerberg's old partner in crime, Tommy Stinson, plays on it.
The whole LP is littered with countless blink-and-you'll-miss-'em moments of inspired magic-a split-second soaring vocal, a sprinkle of banjo, a spine-tingling run of fiddle, a shower of seedy horns, a cluster of melancholic guitar notes run through a flanger, a tinkle of pedal steel, sampled static from an old vinyl record that will touch anyone who appreciates great music. Lyrically, Adams is as despondent as ever but never whiny, always a mile clear of hollow complaining. He's still a proud graduate of the Westerberg school of throwaway one-liners, though, the kind that simultaneously mean everything and nothing, the kind that stay with you for a lifetime. He's there, certificate in hand, when he sings "Then I wouldn't be somebody else that you'd grow accustomed to" on "Reason To Lie" or "Gonna" watch TV and pray for decent re-runs" on "Sit And Listen To The Rain", over music that's a mirror image of the same inexpressible feelings.
And that's what the whole LP is about: the inarticulate speech of the heart. It may be the last handful of soil over the corpse of Whiskeytown, but what a way to go out-tangled up in blue and all shook down.
If you gave me a penny for all the albums that have been shelved in the midst of corporate rationalisations,
I could've built my own recording empire by now.
Whiskeytown's story is depressingly familiar - their third album was recorded in a converted church in Woodstock in the spring of 1999 but its completion coincided with the Universal/Polygram merger, prompting the closure of the subsidiary label Outpost.
It took 18 months for the band to be released from their contract, by which time they had gone their separate ways. The singer Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary were both pursuing solo projects - Adams' solo debut Heartbreaker was releaased on the alt.country/roots label Bloodshot to universal acclaim last year. Still, such were the levels of anticipation surrounding Pneumonia that, prior to its release in the US, bootleg copies were changing hands for up to $100.
This is effectively their swan song then, one that perfectly illustrates their eclectic and uninhibited approach to music-making and will leave you mourning the fact that they are no more.
The core line-up of Adams, Cary and Mike Daly has been augmented with the producer Ethan Johns on drums alongside former Replacement bass player Tommy Stinson, Smashing Pumpkins? guitarist James Iha. The Album drifts through all manner of genres, from shimmering folk and alt.country through to scuzzy rock.
In the past Adams has been likened to Bob Dylan, a fearsome comparison that would normally kill a career stone dead. But when you listen to the opening track- a spectacularly spiky love song called "Ballad Of Carol Lynn" ("when you need someone who can let you win, you can count me out") - it doesn't seem so ridiculous.
Whiskeytown are the champions of understatement. There is a magical simplicity in the horns and acoustic guitars that drift quietly in the background in "Under Your Breath" or in the gentle purls of pedal steel in "Jacksonville Skyline" a truly devastating piece of country balladry.
It's not all doom and gloom, either. There is the comparatively upbeat "Don't Be Sad," which reveals an intimate Flaming Lips-style sense of wonder at the world, while "Don't Wanna Know Why" is the ultimate rootsy, round-the-campfire singalong number. "Mirror, Mirror" heralds a dramatic mood shift halfway through beginning with an audacious steal from Sgt. Pepper. "Paper Moon" is a joyous Hawaiian hoe-down with its smoochy strings, castanets and priceless lyrics: "Oh, rainy day don't bother me/I'm her baby-doll, she's my cup of tea." Way to go.
Pneumonia Fitting End for Local Band
Published May 30, 2001
Saying goodbye is rough. Especially when you don't want to let go.
Whiskeytown, a Raleigh-based alt-country band made good, have broken up and pursued solo careers for some time now. Their last recorded work as a band, a double album, was one of the many unreleased casualties of the Universal/Polygram merger in 1999.
Thanks to the excellent Lost Highway label, the best works were distilled and remixed into Pneumonia's 14+ songs.
For those fans who still lament the band's break-up, Pneumonia brings a sense of closure. For those who want to hear what Whiskeytown's billing as the "alt-country Nirvana" was all about, the album is a fitting testament to that band's magic.
Musically, the album veers and twists around all manner of genres. There's plenty of straight-up Americana throughout the album ("The Ballad of Carol Lynn," the brilliant "Jacksonville Skyline") that you'd expect from alt-country giants.
But there's also a touch of Beatle-esque pop here ("Don't Be Sad," "Mirror Mirror"), some beach music there ("Mirror Mirror" again) and a nod to Bruce Springsteen thrown in for good measure ("My Hometown"). And a eerie, abstract little ballad called "What the Devil Wanted" to boot.
The band -- which consisted only of front man Ryan Adams, fiddle/vocalist Caitlin Cary and guitarist Mike Daly during Pneumonia's recording -- transitions seamlessly throughout the shifting styles and tones.
As good as the music is -- and it approaches perfection a few times -- the resigned melancholy floating through all the song's lyrics and Adams' phrasing complete the package.
If people wonder what "alt-country" is all about (and it's very open to interpretation), understanding its musical foundation in roots-rock or Americana is only half the idea. The spirit of the singing is often simultaneously depressed and hopeful, romantic and worldly, and those are combinations Whiskeytown capture perfectly and why they are considered alt-country's sacred cows.
Be they love songs, break up songs or meditations on life, Adams' voice sounds heartbroken and weary, but keeps a stiff upper lip while doing it.
When he sings "I used to feel so much/now I just feel numb" during "Sit & Listen to the Rain," you believe it. But the quiet confidence in Adams' voice lets you know that's just the way life goes sometimes. It adds a powerful and often moving emotional depth to the album, and gels with the the subdued, albeit diverse, tones of the music.
So while you might be saddened by Whiskeytown's demise, at least Pneumonia gave us a chance to say a proper goodbye. In that spirit, I guess, the band wrote "thank you and goodnight" on the last page of the album's CD booklet. As if they needed to thank us.
No, Whiskeytown. Thank you and goodnight.
Russ Lane can be reached at email@example.com
May 8, 2001
Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith
As frontman of quasilegendary "alt-country" band Whiskeytown, Ryan Adams found excitable listeners likening him to Gram Parsons or even Bob Dylan. Comparisons like these have killed many artists stone dead, but Adams' solo album, Heartbreaker, released last autumn, was strong and varied enough to enhance his burgeoning mystique still further.
Adams is treating this solo tour like a performing laboratory and songwriter's workshop, trying out the new songs that seem to teem through his brain, and lobbing in highlights from his back catalogue as helpful signposts. In between, he sustains a rambling montage of jokes, asides and anecdotes.
As he wandered off on sarcastic monologues about Britney Spears, Radiohead, and Smashing Pumpkins, and essayed a prolonged sketch in which his uncontrollable mop of hair became a character in its own right and threatened to steal the show, you could begin to believe that Adams was preparing for a career in stand-up in case the songwriting should run dry.
There's no danger of that yet, though, as he seems to be experiencing that hair-trigger creative condition where any fleeting thought or passing observation instantly prompts another song. Slow songs, quick songs, sad songs, songs on guitar or piano - there were so many that Adams couldn't decide what to play next, taking long pauses to leaf through his notebook while absent-mindedly smoking three cigarettes at once.
Yet when he stops clowning around and starts to sing, the shambolic faÁade instantly vanishes. A rapt silence descended on the house when he sang "Oh My Sweet Carolina", while "My Winding Wheel" derived its impact from its folksy simplicity. Duets with Corina Round on "The Idiot Dance" and the Neil Young-ish "Come Pick Me Up" were spellbinding, even if somebody is bound to accuse him of emulating Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. Although not Bryan Adams, fortunately.
||dallas observer - 03.13.97
Town and country
Whiskeytown and No Depression pour into town
This is country music? An institution so distanced from its past that it won't allow living legends such as Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings airplay and ignores the heritage of past masters like the Carter Family? An industry that paves over its roots, the better to make way for the scamperings of a bunch of sanitized gym rats with guitars and no fashion sense? Blame Tom Wopat, blame Urban Cowboy, but regardless of whom you blame, it all smells of a scene about as country as Richard Simmons and as likely to get in a barroom brawl as Celine Dion.
When it comes to carrying the torch of real country, many agree that it's the youngsters--long-haired, flannel-clad, worshiping at the altars of not only Willie and Waylon, but also the Beatles and the Beach Boys--who are the hope for the future. You can call it "insurgent honky-tonk," "Americana," "alternative country," or any of a dozen other handy media labels, but much of this new movement in truly young country is reported on by No Depression, a fan/maga/webzine that has made quite a name for itself in the last two years as acts like Slobberbone, the Bottle Rockets, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Wilco, and Son Volt pick up critical acclaim.
No Depression's manifesto, declared in its first issue, put it plainly: "We declare that there is such a thing as alternative country music. We claim the forgotten legends of the country genre as our spiritual ancestors, and Gram Parsons as our unholy ghost, minister to the shotgun wedding of country music and rock and roll."
No Depression recently made the jump from electronic (http://www.nodepresion.net) to print media. The record industry, noting the flagging sales of alternative bands, is willing to pick up on any grouping that looks like it might sell. Particularly interesting are bands that might sell well to two segments that buy lots of records: country and rock.
Now the fanzine's spreading the word, coming to Dallas with a package tour featuring four of the genre's brightest lights: Whiskeytown, The Picketts, Hazeldine, and Dallas' own Old 97's. All four acts enjoyed a showcase at last week's South by Southwest music festival in Austin, and from there they wheel from Texas up to Seattle, across to Minnesota, and then down to Nashville. Each band is far outside Nashville's mainstream and brings a unique brand of relief to a musical style about to choke on its own lameness.
Unlike the Grammy-winning Ms. Dion, for example, Whiskeytown guitarist Phil Wandscher has, in fact, been in a bar fight. "A guy has to be a gentleman sometimes," he explains. "I was in a hipster club in Raleigh, and some guy was talking shit to a girl, and I cracked him over the head with a cuestick and hit him in the face. He got thrown out, and I got free drinks."
Not a surprising story for Whiskeytown, the band No Depression's founding editor Peter Blackstock calls "the most volatile and unpredictable band of the bunch. On any night they're either an epiphany or a trainwreck, which is pretty much Ryan's [Adams, band leader] personality. It's a good thing that he's backed up with capable musicians," Blackstock adds. "It's weird how easy it is for them to turn out unforgettable music, and it's a pleasure to watch them develop." Several live shows have seen Adams smash his guitars to matchsticks for a wowed audience. "He probably won't do that anymore," says bandmate Wandscher. "He finally got a guitar that's worth a shit."
Whiskeytown is far closer to Jason and the Scorchers' wild Western twang, Rank and File, X, or the hard-edged biker rock of Steve Earle than any Poco-esque prettiness; they cover Richard Hell and the Voidoids. They--like Wilco, Son Volt, or Colorado's 16 Horsepower--have come to acoustic guitars and ballads after having dug their way out from under the prison of punk. Their guns are sometimes carved out of soap, but they still know how to hide a musical shiv from the guards, and none of them is above distracting with squalls of feedback.
The band--Wandscher, Adams, Jeff Rice, and Steve Terry--hails from one of the great hotbeds of indie rock, the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle in North Carolina, the source of the hip, troubled sounds of Archers of Loaf, Superchunk, the Connells, the Backsliders, and the metallic Corrosion of Conformity. Whiskeytown, however, heeds a different call: the call of history and moonshine. The call of alt-country.
Wandscher, Whiskeytown's aural architect, is thin, with a close-cropped mop of dyed-blond hair; he looks more like the guy who scored drugs for Sid Vicious than someone who'd write winsome ballads of love and loss. Dressed in an outfit he got for a total of five dollars--a powder blue velveteen jacket, Wranglers, and black Ichabod Crane shoes with buckles--the Ron Wood of alt-country won't let you call his music country. He might just give you a cuestick to the head, regardless of how you think they sound.
Once in a punk band, the Patty Duke Syndrome, frontman Adams, 22, found his way to country by writing about it. "I started this damn country band 'cause punk rock was too hard to sing," he croons in "Angels Are Messengers From God," on their last LP on Geffen records, home to Nirvana and Sonic Youth. Setting it far apart from softer, gentler cousins, the rough edges and real-life action of Whiskeytown's songs and playing make them instantly memorable.
Dallas' Old 97's are smart retro twang and play heady, booze-driven country rock, with whopping lyrical twists ("If my heart was a car/you would have stripped it a long time ago") courtesy of Rhett Miller, Dallas' musical posterboy done good. Their 1995 "Wreck Your Life" CD on the Chicago-based Bloodshot Records is a dog-eared volume of singer-songwriter Miller's well-studied, drink-fueled longing and loneliness pulsing along a bouncing beat. Their new album is nearly ready for release and was produced for Elektra by Wally Gagel, of the Deluxx Folk Implosion. "We don't need help sounding like we're from Texas," says Miller. "We needed a guy who could make us sound like a rock band."
Christy McWilson, singer for Seattle's the Picketts, channels the spirits of Kitty Wells and early Emmylou Harris. The Picketts dance deftly, two-stepping through songs not necessarily made for a Southern accent. The Who's "Baba O'Reilly" becomes infected with a languid swampiness, while the Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go" hops up into a shuffling Western swing groove on their debut Euphonium.
Rounding out the tour is Albuquerque's Hazeldine, a band that breathes high desert wind underneath the lilting harmonies of Shawn Barton and Tonya Lamm. Drummer Jefferey Richards is best known for his work with Vic Chesnutt on "West of Rome." Transfixing and intense, their dark, wine-soaked ballads and lock-tight harmonies are addictive. The bandmembers all met at a hippie grocery store, but play like they were born in the clubs; they reveal more at a waltzed crawl than a hundred bands hide at breakneck speed. A recently finished self-produced first album is currently being shopped around and will be distributed in Europe through Glitterhouse; Hazeldine can also be found on Bloodshot's "Straight Outta Boone County" sampler.
Mixed together in the confusing rush are innovators and coattail riders. "In time, when all of this alt-country crap has boiled down, then you'll realize who the great bands are," says Whiskeytown's Wandscher. "We don't have to put uniforms on [like the band BR5-49]. When you see them, they're great, but when you go home and put that record on, well, you realize that that's all they got: the live show. We are not a bar band. Sometimes we are fucking horrible, and sometimes we are really great.
"It's about punk rock," he adds, twiddling the knobs in an East Nashville studio. "That's what rock and roll is about. We play country music, but we listen to the Replacements."
In the control booth--underneath the tapestry depicting the last supper (with Fred G. Sanford and Bill Cosby as disciples)--Wandscher, Adams, and producer Tim Scott (Tom Petty, Danzig, the Wallflowers) put finishing touches on 12 songs for their new record, the follow-up to Faithless Street. The new album is infused with the same longing, regret, drinking, and misery that charged their sleeper hit of '95, "Too Drunk to Dream."
"We're burnin' lots of incense and smokin' a lot of pot," says Wandscher. "All of the money on this new record is going to call girls, limos, first-class air fare, and room service. Actually, that's not what it's like. We're saving money by not getting the call girls. The rhythm section is thoroughly disappointed."
Wandscher and company embody the alt-country or Americana tags that fly around the music like buzzards circling the corpse of Uncle Tupelo, distinctly different from their hat-wearing, celebrity-marrying musical kin. "Clint Black plays in a country band, and we don't," Wandscher claims. "We're a rock and roll band that plays country. That's like comparing Neil Young and Hank Williams, Jr. The difference is that Hank and Neil both have trucks, but Neil's gunrack isn't for guns. It's for guitars."
The No Depression tour, with Whiskeytown, the Old 97's, The Picketts, and Hazeldine, will be at the Sons of Hermann Hall Tuesday, March 18.
the michigan daily [10/24/97]
Ryan Adams, The Enigmatic Mayor of Whiskeytown
To some, Ryan Adams is a genius. To others, he is a pariah. While these positions are extremes, it is certain that he is a controversial, compelling and enigmatic figure.
And the truth is that, whatever he may represent to some people, he is largely unknown to most. If you're among those, meet Ryan Adams -- founder, singer, guitarist and chief songwriter of Whiskeytown (who will play the Blind Pig tomorrow night).
Adams hails from Raleigh, NC. Just shy of his 23rd birthday, he is at the helm of a band that has released two critically acclaimed albums (last year's "Faithless Street≤ on the tiny indie Mood Food label and this summer's "Strangers Almanac≤ on the fledgling Geffen subsidiary, Outpost) and today is recognized by many as the torchbearer of the burgeoning alternative-country scene.
This success has come as a surprise, Adams said in an interview with The Michigan Daily.
"This whole thing is just as fucking baffling to me as it is to anybody else," Adams said. "I've been totally glad; a hundred percent excited and glad for it, but it really came out of the blue."
But with this success has come other baggage.
"It's a lot of pressure to put on anybody and I think that those pressures only help to create a weird, strange environment," Adams agreed. "You just try not to pay any attention to it, because if you think about it, then you're gonna fucking drive yourself crazy. I like to look at it like this: The day that this isn't around anymore, if one day there isn't any work for this band, I'll know that I can just go back to doing whatever the fuck I was doing. Which was just being an utter loser anyway," he continued with a self-deprecating laugh. "... And if things snowball and get bigger and really go crazy, I suppose I'm as ready for that as I am if it just stays a comfortable low."
Through it all, Adams tries to maintain a sense of perspective, but the glare of the spotlight can have a distorting effect.
"A lot of people put a lot of stuff on us, saying we're 'gonna be the Nirvana of this scene' and all that crap. I just kinda laugh and go, 'You're kidding me, right?' I just try to make sure the band is healthy. I try not to read too much press on the band because it might freak me out."
It can be understandably difficult to maintain an even keel in spite of the effusive praise that has been heaped on both band and songwriter. Those who call Adams a genius point to the songcraft on the two albums, particularly his lyrics, which illuminate a dark landscape of disillusionment and loss.
"For some reason I'm a little bit more involved with the disillusionment of things as opposed to just being content and happy," Adams said. "I like to focus more on that type of stuff just because that's what moves me so hard musically. It's almost fulfilling and moving to sit down and have a couple of beers and get a little bit lost in, like, part one of the George Jones compilation. You go, 'God, man, there's something really beautiful about a sad song.' I guess I always wanted to try to unlock that somehow."
Indeed, while the album is far from flawless (for every stunning lyric there's a tiresome cliche; for every moment of musical epiphany there's plenty of mediocre garage rock), Adams shows flashes of an uncanny ability to cut to the quick, both lyrically and musically. He and the band are at their best when the songs and stories are stripped down -- witness the straightforward but heart-rending "Houses On the Hill," the subtle, devastating "Avenues" and this profound but simple line from "16 Days": "I've got 16 days; 15 of those are nights / Can't sleep when the bedsheet fights / Its way back to your side."
"That's totally about missing; that's when I was going through missing her," Adams said of the disintegrating relationship that inspired the verse. "It wasn't even like an exhumation of the feelings I was having at the end of the relationship, it was more of an actual presence of her being gone.
"The record kind of moves through different motifs of losses," Adams explained, "and it gives examples -- (but) I don't think it actually gives any answers until the very end, which I think is quite nice, for an effect.
"... I'm as surprised as anyone when I hear people and they know those lines," Adams continued. "To me, they're just like these lines -- I don't ever really go, 'Oh, that's my line,' but sometimes I'll get to thinking about it and I'll go, 'Damn, I did write that. That's pretty cool.'"
Adams attributes his interest in and talent for telling everyday stories through his writing to his family. When he speaks of his grandparents, his voice takes on an endearingly fond tone.
"My grandmother always gets tickled whenever she reads People or something and sees us in there," he said, "and she's like, 'Oh, you're doing so good. I remember when you'd sit down and write stories and you'd tell me and your grandpa stories, and I always thought, "Boy, he can really write."' And I'd go, 'Well, I got that stuff from you guys.' ... My parents' and my grandmother's and my grandfather's lives were so enriched with local things, things that were happening to them that I had everything I ever needed to learn right there in front of me. I'm just really lucky -- I was really lucky to be as observant as I was, but I was also lucky to be around people that were that full of life."
But there is another side to Adams that contrasts sharply with this sentimental, grateful demeanor. It is this side that those who view Adams as a pariah are prone to remember when they cite instances like Whiskeytown's now-infamous performance at Mac's Bar in Lansing this past summer. That night the band played a short and sloppy set before storming off the stage to a flurry of boos, curses and even tomatoes lobbed by the crowd.
"I just couldn't have been more uncomfortable that night and I don't know why, I don't know what was wrong, but I do know that I ended up making a farce of it," Adams admitted. "I put on this mascara and I went and I played and I couldn't have cared fucking less that night; I was just like, 'Fuck it.'
"They all thought, 'Maybe he was drunk, maybe he was this, maybe he was that,'" he continued, "but I was just at a point where I didn't know how to believe in myself that I knew how to do a good show because I had so many people telling me what it was I should be doing.
"I suppose a lot of (the Mac's audience) went to see their favorite band and it turned into a band that they hated. Now, I can't blame them for that, but that was honestly one of the times when there was so much pressure on us as a band and on me that I think that it got to be too much," he concluded. "There was no support system for anyone to not freak out and have weird times or problems."
In the past, similar incidents, coupled with rumors of band members' alcohol abuse, rampant semi-public infighting and erratic stage shows all contributed to the stigmatized perception of Adams as a bad guy. He is also quick to speak his mind, a trait that can rub some the wrong way. For instance, he is less than tactful about his disdain for critics who he feels do not give the band proper respect.
"The Village Voice, the last time we were there, said something like, 'The Old 97's and Whiskeytown are playing; you can be sure that they'll quit doing (alt-country) as soon as it's not profitable,'" Adams said, recalling a preview written last week by legendary Voice rock critic Robert Christgau. "What an asshole. I was very offended because I have been coming up to New York with my bands since I was 18, almost 19 years old and we've been coming up three or four times a year, sometimes more. We never went up there to prove any point and then this fucking Robert Christgau wants to act like we just blew into town last week with fucking spurs on our boots .... That guy can kiss my fucking ass for writing that. ... I like to be public about who I think is a fucking idiot and that guy is. ... That guy's just asking for a visit to his office. ... When I read stuff like that, it infuriates me because it's ignorant and there's just no excuse for that kind of ignorance. Yuck."
To be sure, such profanity-laden indictments of well-respected figures in the industry, coupled with a reputation for smashing guitars and quarrelling with bandmates onstage, are not positive traits. In addition, three of the band's six members quit just two weeks ago in not the first major personnel shakeup in Whiskeytown's relatively brief history.
But it must be recognized that Adams is under a tremendous amount of stress and pressure -- and at a young age. Thrust unexpectedly into the intense glare of public scrutiny and subjected to relentlessly high expectations from critics, fans and industry-types alike, Adams' own personal (and interpersonal) struggles have been complicated and magnified to ridiculous proportions. He has become something of a walking chemistry experiment -- a beaker with several volatile compounds poured into it and shaken. Why, then, is it any surprise when he explodes?
Encouragingly, it seems that Adams has begun to examine himself and his behavior closely of late. Since he parted ways with former guitarist Phil Wandscher -- the chief protagonist in many of the band's misadventures -- Adams has seemed to reflect on his situation with remarkable maturity and to come to grips with his own fallibility with uncharacteristic grace.
"Whatever talk there might be of how mature I am at 22 or how good I am at handling things, people have to remember that there does come mistakes," Adams said. "I am not perfect. I don't know the ins and outs of all this. It takes me a long time to learn how to be comfortable in my situation.
"... I just can't tell you, when you're doing a band like this, how many people start coming around and getting involved, people that you never needed," he continued. "Some of those people are gone now; some of those people are right and I was taking them the wrong way. And I just couldn't be sorrier, I could never be sorrier for playing a bad show for somebody that paid money to go see something that they believed in and then, there it is, I'm not even believing in myself. Those are the bad days; those are the bummer days. That's what makes next records, I suppose."
Hopefully the creation of the next album will not require such personal suffering from Adams. But there is certainly at least a grain of truth to Charlie Parker's saying: "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn."
And it is also true that Adams is neither a genius nor a pariah. He is a human being -- at times frighteningly talented, at times just plain frightened. Regardless of how one views him, there can be little question that his music is important and his stories intriguing. In a music industry -- indeed, a culture -- that lives by slick packaging, Adams is very much an exception.