The prolific and musically passionate Ryan Adams recently released a punk-rock seven-inch that quickly sold out in its physical form, but is streaming freely online. It is titled 1984. On his forthcoming self-titled album, Adams stays in the eighties, referencing the Smiths and the lean pop of some of Canada’s finest and earliest music-video memories.
We spoke to him from New York about his near namesake, an underrated decade, and never surrendering.
You’ve said that the writing of this album was inspired by the Smiths, but I hear a different sound, specifically the leanness and cleanness of Tom Cochrane, Billy Squier and Bryan Adams.
Oh God, yes, Bryan Adams was a totally huge part of everything that I am musically. The beginnings of MTV had everything to do with me as a kid. I was transformed by that. I challenge anyone to put on Run To You and let that wash over you in a pair of headphones, in your normal listening zone. That stuff is fire-hot.
After you put aside the work you did with producer Glyn Johns, you started fresh, this time on your own, in your own studio. The sound I hear, from the early eighties, was that the sonic direction you had in mind?
Well, let me ask you, first; it won’t upset me if you’re honest with me, and tell me if you don’t like it: But are you asking me because you feel like you’re trying to understand something you didn’t connect with?
No. It sounds like 1981 to me, and I connected to it immediately.
It’s just there have been some people who have mentioned the eighties element with the album, and I hear a timid thing in their voice. And it’s so curious to me. Some people never found their way through that era, that sound.
So what’s your connection to that sound?
There’s this one side of me where I miss that part of me that was referencing Bruce Hornsby and the Range – those beautiful, beautiful songs. Or even Bruce Springsteen, by the time he got to Tunnel of Love. When you say Billy Squier, I think Eddie Money. But I think of Eddie Money really breaking your heart. What I loved about that music and what I realize was missing was that that stuff always messed me up. Like messed me up hard-core.
Do you think it was the production on some of the eighties records that turned people off, rather than the songs themselves?
I know the production is weird for people. They might think it was cheesy. But what if Paul Westerberg sang Corey Hart’s Never Surrender? It would destroy you. The actual information in the song is tremendous. I’m not judgmental. I can listen and love it.
And so how does all that work its way into your new album?
I remember thinking that I had been hinting at this my whole career. And that I was tired of kind of playing with this and having to ask permission to go completely in. I wanted to go on the other side of it. And so I went all the way up the river with it.
This interview has been condensed and edited