Ryan Adams on His Full-Album Taylor Swift Cover: ‘You Just Have to Mean It’

21 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Adams Says Covering Swift’s ‘1989’ Was ‘Incredibly Humbling’.

NEW YORK — Rocker Ryan Adams said covering Taylor Swift’s entire “1989” album was “incredibly humbling” and helped him explore himself more deeply as a musician. “It’s actually incredibly humbling to find a connection with someone else’s words and someone else’s songs and to open yourself up and to feel them fully, and find out where those stories take you,” Adams, 40, said in an interview last week. “It felt no less genuine than any song I’ve ever written for myself.” So far, Swift’s fifth album has sold 5.2 million units and launched multiple hits, including No.1s like “Shake It Off,” ”Blank Space” and “Bad Blood.” Adams’ interpretation of “1989” offers a slowed-down take on her upbeat anthems. “I got to work different parts of my brain, different parts of my heart and different parts of the musical aspects of my personality,” Adams said of covering Swift’s music. “It’s really its own thing. …It’s not the same record.” After completing his version, the singer-songwriter-producer played it for 25-year-old Swift before taking it any further. Last Christmas, Ryan Adams was, in his words, “a little lost.” He’d wrapped up one leg of a tour supporting his self-titled album, and he and his wife Mandy Moore had just separated. “I had gone through some life changes, and it would be the first Christmas and New Year’s I’d spend by myself in over five years,” he recalls. “And I thought, ‘What the fuck am I going to do?'” Chilling out on his tour bus, Adams would read or fixate on the same album so many others were obsessing over at the time, Taylor Swift’s 1989. “I was listening to that record and thinking, ‘I hear more,'” he says. “Not that there was anything missing.Adams, who released a track-by-track remake of Swift’s blockbuster 1989 Monday, got a call from Swift while she was writing songs for her 2012 album Red, asking if they could work on a song together. “She basically already had this thing done,” says Adams, a prolific singer-songwriter and five-time Grammy nominee whose music Swift has said helped shape her songwriting. “I just sat down and went, ‘What about this?’ And ‘What about this?’ We worked on a bridge, and we finished it.The Internet is abuzz with the debut of a Ryan Adams cover album of Swift’s wildly popular 1989 album, which features hit songs like “Shake It Off” and “Bad Blood.” We can make an educated guess. He namedropped Bob Mould as one his favorite musicians, but added in the same breath: “But then I also love all those songs on (Swift’s) ‘Fearless’ (album).

One of those albums was snagged by Ryan Adams, a Swift supporter who’d already praised the “pure alchemy” of working in the studio with “one of the most fucking amazing writers” he’d ever seen. I would just think about the sentiments in the songs and the configurations.” During his lonely-guy Christmas break, Adams had what he calls “this weird idea.” Buying a four-track cassette recorder, he decided to recut Swift’s new songs in his style. “It wasn’t like I wanted to change them because they needed changing,” he says. “But I knew that if I sang them from my perspective and in my voice, they would transform.

I guess I was the guy who could call people that would come in around 11 or 12 to jam.” Swift never released that song, but that session gave Adams an inside look into the creative process of one of the world’s biggest pop stars. Back in August, Adams announced plans to cover 1989 in full, an undertaking oddly appropriate for an artist with a history of making more albums than his labels knew what to do with. He needed fresh stimulation. “It’s not like I had a ton of shit left to say,” Adams told me over the phone last week. “I was like, ‘Well, I’ve already exhausted so much information and feelings.’” Adams decided to undertake a project he initially considered a lark: A song-by-song cover of his friend Taylor Swift’s blockbuster album, 1989.

I thought, ‘Let me record 1989 like it was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.'” For several days, Adams did just that, reconfiguring Swift’s songs as stark voice-guitar-harmonica remakes. While Adams believes the two share a kindred songwriting sense — “I joke that we’re the F to A Minor Club,” he says — he’s also a little in awe of her ability to craft songs that speak to massive audiences and individuals alike. “There’s that special, very interesting ingredient where you hear a skeleton of the song, just the bones, and her voice, and you go, ‘Well, of course, this person plays to 60,000 people.’ It’s like at the end of Dune, with Paul Atreides riding the Sandworm, and his eyes are all blue from the spice mélange. While Swift dressed her songs up as retro-leaning dance pop, Adams pulled 1989 in a more overtly melancholy direction, layering the tunes with glistening guitars and reverb.

The experiment didn’t last long—four songs in, the recorder malfunctioned and devoured and mangled the tape—but the idea of recasting the entire 1989 stayed with Adams. It would hark back to Adams’s own 2004 album Love Is Hell, when — like Swift — he broke with country music and embraced Reagan-era sonic textures. This past August, he tried again, this time with fellow musicians in a full-on studio, and the second time around, Adams made it all the way through his complete, same-sequence remake of 1989. “It’s not a reimagining or a reconstruction at all,” Adams insists. “It’s a parallel universe. By 15, I was skateboarding, I had gotten my first guitar,” he said. “I had my first record player and I remember I got my first couple of real albums that were my own records and I was really excited about them.” And with the backing of his trusted pros—bassist Charlie Stavish, drummer Nate Lotz, guitarist Tod Wisenbaker, keyboardist Nate Walcott, and pedal steel player Stephen Patt—he started recording his tribute to 1989 in earnest this summer.

During the three weeks it took for Adams to record and mix his version of 1989, he and Swift were texting behind the scenes. “Taylor was like, ‘Are you going to put this out? The lotus blossomed.” Indeed, what elevates Adams’s 1989 beyond a mere meme and to an actually great record is how fully he inhabits Swift’s eminently durable songs.

A Swift fan since he first heard “White Horse,” he’s an unabashed admirer of her skills, which became vividly apparent to him when the two collaborated on an unreleased song a few years ago. Adams’ take, on the other hand, has the sparseness and introspection of indie-rock. “For me, the sonic geography of this record is like a combination of The Smiths’ Meat Is Murder and (Springsteen’s) Darkness on the Edge of Town,” Adams says.

I think some people are able to remain completely personal but able to create something at the same time that’s as vulnerable as any song can be.” Those sessions were never released, but Adams reflects fondly on that batch of songs. “We cut a pretty cool, uncomplicated demo that sounded pretty vibey. I could feel them wanting to manifest in the arrangements.” So Wildest Dreams transforms into a jangly guitar rocker, and Out of the Woods becomes a waltz featuring an old Estey pump organ.

I spoke with Adams on Thursday, not long after he confirmed that he would release 1989 after all. (It’s available now.) His excitement about the project was readily apparent. And as we went [through the recording process], there was a beautiful open discussion about what’s an appropriate path for the song. “Blank Space” was the first turn. The quick and easy way to describe how it came to be is, I basically was on the road for a year and three months, and when you get off the road, your body isn’t ready to let go of the time of night when you’re going to get ready to start playing. By emphasizing the sadder aspect of Swift’s songs, Adams’ 1989 has the feel of a break-up album, certainly more than Swift’s version does. “I suppose there’s some of that in there,” says Adams, who filed for divorce from singer/actress Mandy Moore earlier this year. So at 8 p.m. every night, for three weeks to a month, your adrenaline will start firing and your body is going, Oh shit, I’m going to play in an hour.

Similarly, “Bad Blood” is now flowing Americana, “How You Get the Girl” is slowed down to ballad speed, and “All You Had to Do Was Stay” takes on a U2-gone-synth-pop vibe a world apart from Swift’s original. “This Love” went through several configurations — one reminded Adams of Nineties emo faves Jawbreaker — before it settled on a midtempo approach. As soon as it was wrapped up, he sent her a link to the tracks, and the two spoke about it at length the next day. “She was listening, and we were exchanging commentary as each track went down,” he says. “She was stoked. Even if there are elements that describe these situations—that describe interactions and the world of romance and the confusion of being alive and knowing how you fit in—all that stuff is there. I can only imagine what that’s like.” (Swift soon Tweeted that it was “surreal and dreamlike.”) At first, Adams says he had no plans to officially release his 1989. “I just wanted to make it for me and play it for her and be done,” he insists. “I didn’t go any further than that. Right after we got the take we wanted — which would be between the first and third take — we would right away record two electric guitar overdubs and percussion.

It’s about doing something that means something, whether or not it will be understood.” As far as appearing onstage with Swift during her 1989 tour — where he’d join the ranks of everyone from St. Last night I played Neil Fest, and I tried not to mess up the chords of ‘Old Man.’ That’s as far ahead as I’m thinking right now.” 2015 may not bring everything that Back to the Future II promised it would: flying cars, self-lacing shoes, we don’t see ’em happening over the next 12 months. (Then again, don’t bet against Nike.) But this year will definitely pack plenty of punch when it comes to cultural happenings. It becomes a weird cycle where I just get so excited all over again, which is totally what playing music is supposed to be.” With 1989, Taylor Swift transitioned to ’80s-inspired pop after a series of country records. To promote their Flex Plan for 2015-16 season tickets, the Hawks decided to go the risque route by creating a campaign inspired by Ashley Madison – the site tailored towards people in committed relationships who are looking for something on the side. To put the campaign in motion, the Hawks have hired three people named Ashley Madison, one of whom stars in a commercial urging you to feel “the rush of a new relationship.” The Hawks have even set up a hotline (855-HAWK-LUV) that puts fans in contact with a sexy voiced woman while they wait to speak to an actual ticket representative, according to ESPN. “We were talking about how we wanted people to have a love affair with us, and we thought this was a playful way to do it,” said Steve Koonin, the team’s chief marketing officer. “Everyone thought it was a good idea, which actually scared me.”

I think it was really liberating for her on a lot of levels to be able to go, “I wanna write these badass songs, but I want them to pop out and feel lighter.” That’s probably very brave for her, if only because I’m sure that idea was met with some resistance. But when you break a song down to what it is, to its bones — the emotional structure, the way the words are, the cycles in the song — there’s usually a blueprint there, a fingerprint.

I’m sure this is probably a problem for any producer that she works with, [where] they’re just like, “Which of these do I use?” Because she just has a super concise, melodic mind. But it all goes back to that song “White Horse.” You can’t hear that song, as a songwriter, and not know that this person’s totally locked into their craft, 1,000 percent. There’s an interesting paradox to your career, which is that you’re known as a really prolific songwriter, and yet some of your most popular songs are covers.

And I used to say to this person — this person that I fell in love with after I had lost someone sometime while I was living over in London — I used to say that song is so much sadder than anybody realizes. Blur thing, so by including “Wonderwall” on the record, it was commentary — a very private commentary — and probably meaningless to other people unless they could find a thread in that record to see what I’m saying.

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