Steven Hyden Interviews Ryan Adams for Grantland, Talks ‘1989’

If it isn’t obvious, I’m just a bit excited about the Ryan Adams cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989. I’ll try to make this the last post about it (for now), but Steven Hyden’s interview with Adams for Grantland is just too good to not post about it. The entire interview is great, seriously, just go read it. But here are my favorite bits.

Hyden doesn’t waste any time jumping right in, quickly asking Adams how the album came to be. I love the response:

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. 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. Then nine to eleven, you’re in the weird space-time continuum of where you’re not onstage, but you feel like you are.

Over the Christmas holiday I had a three-week break, and that’s when I originally started to track 1989. But I was tracking on a four-track cassette recorder. It was like, “Yeah, cool, I’m going to cover it like Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.” Then the cassette tape was eaten by the machine, which was unbelievable — after a week of setup, too. I didn’t get discouraged, but in my mind, I went, Well, this is not meant to be in the style; I’ll do it later. I’ll make it an after-tour, fun project.

Next, Hyden deftly weaves a question by contrasting Adams’ prolific songwriting career with his growing notoriety (as he appears to some) as a cover artist:

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. Your version of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” is easily your most streamed track on Spotify, and 1989 is poised to become one of your most successful albums. How do you feel about that?

Well, I’m not surprised that they’re more popular because they’re already more popular, so that makes sense. But I usually don’t think to cover a song unless it’s something that really moves me or there’s something for me to offer the song. I also cover Greg Sage, who was in the Wipers. My favorite band from New Zealand, the Verlaines, I’ve covered them. Or I’ll cover Natalie Prass. Or Black Sabbath.

“Wonderwall” always belonged on Love Is Hell, and it always belonged in that style, because it said something in the middle of that record that needed to be said, and it actually needed to be said in that context because that record was about a time that I spent between New York and London, and it was about losing someone that I loved very much and then falling in love with someone else while I was on a lot of drugs. [I was] taking pills and drinking and stuff, and sort of staying in this daydream to nullify a huge amount of psychological pain associated with losing someone that passed away.

The interview also offers more insight into how Adams approaches his craft, his appreciation for Taylor Swift’s music, and the level of Swift’s involvement and prior knowledge of the project (beyond her fangirl tweets).