“I make records for my car,” says Bryan Adams, speaking from London. Indeed, the new album from Canadian rocker and power ballad enthusiast begins with the line “Driving down Trans-Canada One – top down, I got the radio on.”
The song is So Happy It Hurts, the album’s exuberant title track that is accompanied by video with Adams driving a Corvair convertible with his nonagenarian mother beside him and a dog in the back seat. What’s interesting about the Trans-Canada Highway lyric is that 40 years ago Adams’s management and record label would have almost certainly dissuaded him from such an overtly Canadian reference, homegrown folksiness being unmarketable for a pop star with international ambitions.
That’s all in the rear-view mirror. Adams is the 62-year-old Officer of the Order of Canada for his music and philanthropic work. With his age and legacy artist status comes a freedom to write what he wants, when he wants. He’s got his own studio. On the new record a guitar-based defiance is often evident, no more so on the lead single Kick Ass, a crashing ode to riff rock and the way things used to be.
“I’m not going to follow trends,” says the Summer of ‘69 singer.
In the same week as So Happy It Hurts is released, it was announced that the 20-time Juno winner and his long-time songwriting partner Jim Vallance are the newest inductees into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. Adams spoke to The Globe and Mail about songwriting, set lists and the archival value of cocktail coasters.
Keep your receipts, kids: “When this whole lockdown happened, it was unexpected. Nobody knew quite what to do. I hunkered down with my family. For the first time in a couple of years, I was able to go through all my coat pockets and unravel all the receipts and drink coasters with scribbles on them. I got all my lyric ideas together and put them on a big bulletin board together in my studio with all my little ideas. You have a lyric for a verse on one coaster and a chorus on a betting receipt, and that would become a song. These things were the foundation of this record.”
The live show starts in the studio: “I always have to think about how things will play out on stage, and how I will sing them going forward. I’ve got a song on the record, Kick Ass. It was built to be the opener of the show. I’ve already been playing it live as the opener. It’s fantastic.”
Go Down Rockin’: “I wrote a song on my last album, Get Up. It’s Go Down Rockin’, and it sums up what I do. I really don’t know how else to make records. I write for myself. I write my truth.”
Play the hits: “For my live shows, it’s always about giving people what they want. I always play the hits, all the time. I’ll put a couple new songs in the set because that’s what satisfies me, and it’s why the band and I are out there on the road again. When I go out and do my shows I do it with the intention of making people happy. At the same time, I make myself happy.”
Sign up for The Globe’s arts and lifestyle newsletters for more news, columns and advice in your inbox.