|10/25/97||Ryan & Caitlin||Interview||Previous|
|Down Home Show||Interview|
|Ann Arbor, MI||My Heart Is Broken|
|Bastards I Used To Know|
|The Blind Pig||16 Days|
|Ann Arbor, MI||Yesterday's News|
|Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight|
|Street With Sirens (a.k.a. Things I Heard)|
|Not Home Anymore|
|Everything I Do|
|Waiting To Derail|
|Houses On The Hill|
|Full Band Encore|
By Anders Smith-Lindall
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.
Meet Ryan Adams - singer, guitarist and chief songwriter of Whiskeytown (playing the Blind Pig tomorrow night).
Adams, 22, leads a band that has released two critically acclaimed albums (including the new "Strangers Almanac") and is recognized by many as the torchbearer of the burgeoning alternative-country scene. But some fans believe that success has gone to his head - and it's true that the band has been unstable. Three of the six members quit just two weeks ago in not the first personnel shakeup in Whiskeytown's brief history.
"This (success) is just as fucking baffling to me as it is to anybody else," Adams said in a recent interview. "I've been 100 percent excited and glad for it, but it really came out of the blue."
This surprise success has been stressful, Adams said. "It's a lot of pressure to put on anybody and I think that those pressures only help to create a weird, strange environment," he said. "You just try not to pay any attention to it, because if you think about it, then you're gonna fucking drive yourself crazy."
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."
Much of that press has heaped effusive praise on both band and songwriter. Those who call Adams a genius point particularly to his lyrics, which illuminate a dark landscape of confusion and loss.
While the album is far from flawless, Adams shows flashes of an uncanny ability to cut to the quick. He and the band are at their best when the songs and stories are stripped down - as in the straightforward but heart-rending "House 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 / It's way back to your side."
Those who view Adams as a villain or pariah will say that his emotions aren't always expressed only within the confines of his songs, citing instances like Whiskeytown's now-infamous performance at Mac's Bar in Lansing this past summer, when 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 suppose a lot of (the Mac's audience) went to see their favorite band and it turned into a band that they hated. 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 said.
Such incidents, coupled with band members' semi-public infighting and rumored alcohol abuse, contribute to the perception that Adams is 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 respect the band.
"The Village Voice said something like, 'Old 97's and Whiskeytown are playing; you can be sure that they'll quit doing this as soon as it's not profitable,'" Adams said, relating a preview written last week by legendary 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 years old ... three or four times a year, sometimes more. We never went up there to prove any point and then this fucking Christgau wants to act like we just blew into town last week."
To be sure, a profanity-laden indictment of such a well-respected figure is not usually the way to win fans. But Adams is under tremendous pressure at a young age.
Thrust unexpectedly into the intense gaze of public scrutiny and subjected to relentlessly high expectations, his personal and interpersonal struggles have been complicated and magnified to ridiculous proportions.
Encouragingly, since parting ways with former guitarist Phil Wandscher - the chief protagonist in many of the band's misadventures - in the shakeup two weeks ago, Adams seems to have reflected on his situation with remarkable maturity.
"Whatever talk there might be of how mature I am at 22, people have to remember that there do come mistakes," Adams said. "I am not perfect. It takes me a long time to learn how to be comfortable in my situation.
"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 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."
Ryan Adams is neither a genius nor a pariah. He is a human being - at times frighteningly talented, at times just plain frightened.
October 24, 1997
You can call Ryan Adams a hothead. Call him passionate. Just don't, uh, call him from East Lansing.
Adams, the 22-year-old vocalist, songwriter and brains behind the much-heralded Whiskeytown, isn't too happy with the college town he's come to describe as a "hole in the earth."
"It's a big drag" to have made people angry, Adams says. "But you couldn't pay me to play there again."
It's been a tall and tumultuous 1997 for North Carolina-bred Adams: He's reaped glowing reviews from the national press for his rich and genius "Stranger's Almanac" album, he's been exalted as a ball of young creative fire and as a leader for the next wave of roots rock, and he axed three of his four Whiskeytown bandmates after deciding the relationships were "abusive."
Then there was that little matter up in the middle of Michigan.
Seems Whiskeytown trucked into East Lansing in June to play a gig, hot on the heels of raves from Rolling Stone and Spin, along with burgeoning airplay for the band's "16 Days" track.
When they showed up, Adams says, they discovered they were booked to play what he perceived as a ragged college watering hole -- not exactly prime turf for a group whose stuff is seeped in front-porch twilight and late-night heartache.
What happened next at the packed club is up for dispute: Fans, who arrived eager to catch the heavily hyped band, say they got a half-hour, half-baked performance and a verbal middle finger from Adams at night's end. They were offended that Whiskeytown slagged their venue, and one disgruntled fan pitched tomatoes at the band's crew as it packed up equipment.
Adams says no: Road-weary band members were treated poorly by club staff from the get-go. They wound up in a miserable mood, running through their set and simply telling the crowd they were "humiliated playing here."
It might have ended there, a typical thorny road story from a gritty traveling rock band. But the incident got played up in the local music press and on the Internet. Adams was made out to be an impetuous jerk, band members written off as prima donnas before their time.
An apology letter from Adams -- which he says he wrote privately to five fans -- wound up in this month's issue of the Lansing mag Etch.
"They said I was whiny about playing a sports bar," he says now. "I'm like, you know what? I don't care who else was cool enough to play there. I'm cool enough to not want to play there, because I wasn't comfortable with it."
Adams says he's not afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve -- no, to shove it in front of you if need be. It shows in his candid, alluring songs, and it shows in his no-nonsense approach to propelling his career.
"Yeah, I can lead people astray, and I can overdramatize things," he says. "But I think it's important to get to the root of things, to not beat around the bush. You know, I wouldn't be happy if I had to be the guitar roadie for Morrissey next year -- I'll be upfront about that."
It's that drive -- "fighting for yourself," Adams calls it -- that led him to split up a Whiskeytown lineup that had played together since forming in Raleigh, N.C., in 1994.
Ousted from the band last month: guitarist Phil Wandscher, drummer Steve Terry and bassist Chris Laney. Added immediately, after a week of frantic rehearsals: guitarist Ed Crawford, drummer Skillet Gilmore and bassist Jenni Snyder, who will join Adams and violinist Caitlin Cary onstage Saturday at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig.
He won't divulge details, but Adams implies that his relationship with Wandscher had long been rocky, even violent. And though infighting certainly injected musical moonshine into classic work from the Who, Rolling Stones and Husker Du, Adams didn't see much rock romance in his situation.
"You get into an abusive (band) relationship and it's easy to laugh it up: Oh, Keith and Mick did this, Bob and Grant did this," he says."But you don't have to do that, to get into stuff that doesn't have anything to do with the chords in a song. It doesn't make for good press or a good story. It just ruins lives."
Part of www.AnsweringBell.com