Ryan Adams hasn’t arrived for a scheduled afternoon interview, sending instead an apologetic manager with an explanation.
“Ryan went out last night with Ron Wood,” the manager said.
Oh. Enough said. The bar tab for a summit between two generations of notorious rock ‘n’ roll party animals must have approached the gross national product of some small nations.
But all is not as it seems. The next day, Adams insists it was a low-key evening; his Rolling Stones pal wasn’t drinking. Twin cups of Alka Seltzer and black coffee suggest some recovery time for Adams.
His music is confounding expectations, too. After making a name for himself with heartfelt alt-country, Adams releases a rocking disc Tuesday that’s even louder and more energetic than the new one by his buddies in The Strokes.
“All of my band shows have been loud, rock experiences,” Adams said. “I got tired of taking all my songs and reconfiguring them into a live rock thing so I could play electric guitar.”
Asked if many fans were eager to hear the change of pace, Adams said, “I’m hearing the opposite kind of mumbling, that I’ve totally deserted people, deserted my craft and (I’m) bandwagon-jumping.”
Such is life when you’ve spent a few years on music’s most-likely-to-succeed list, since his days fronting the North Carolina band Whiskeytown and mostly since 2000’s “Heartbreaker,” his naked confessional disc about a failed love affair.
The expectations have been there long enough for some followers to grow impatient and for Adams, who turns 29 on Wednesday, to question the worth of such success.
The prolific Adams, barely able to sit still for an interview, exudes restless creativity. He talks about forming his own record company – news to his current one – to release songs once a month that don’t fit on his albums.
The album, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” is two weeks’ worth of work with some friends and producer James Barber.
“I can’t seem to show people enough of the puzzle yet to show them that the picture is more complex,” he said. “Every time I make a record I’ve redefined who I am. They’re not proclamations of ‘Look at me now.’ They are literally one little bite.”
One interviewer described “Rock ‘n’ Roll” as Adams holding a mirror to his record collection, a description he found fair.
The song “Shallow” is Nirvana meets Cheap Trick. “So Alive” channels early U2. Echoes of the Smiths and Replacements turn up elsewhere.
In a perversely funny twist, the title cut is the quietest, most soul-baring cut on the disc. “There’s this girl I can’t get out of my head,” he sings, “and I don’t feel cool at all.”
For the most part, it’s Adams having fun.
The songs lack polish but not inspiration. Adams describes himself as a sketch artist who’s always working. He jokes that if he gets hit by a bus, he’ll have more material for posthumous albums than Tupac Shakur.
“I want as many pieces of art to get out to as many people as will have them,” he said. “It’s not about how many people. It’s about how many songs.”
Mass popularity seems to confine many of the artists who achieve it, he said. Through his song, “New York, New York,” he’s already had experience with the more disorienting aspects of public attention. It was about lost love – like most of his songs – but was adopted as an anthem for the city when released shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Adams would perform it on TV sets inexplicably decorated by American flags.
His record company, Lost Highway, will love to hear all this, just like they love it when he blows off a round of interviews to rehearse with his band. He said he hates explaining himself and his music.
“I have to defend my personality all the time because people have decided that I’m going to be some crazy, alcoholic weirdo who’s starting fights with Britney Spears,” he said.
Well, it’s not as if Adams hasn’t provided them with ammunition.
He’s lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. He dates an actress (Parker Posey, who co-wrote a song on the new album). He memorably blew a gasket at a Nashville concert last year when an audience member yelled out a request for “Summer of ’69,” a hit song by Bryan, not Ryan, Adams. Adams ordered the lights on and the fan removed.
The reputation even works in his favor: Adams says he often has a few free hours because everyone’s afraid to call his home before noon.
“There’s a really good chance that in my early 20s I didn’t know how to function as any kind of complex person or any kind of sophisticated individual, or even as an adult,” he said.
Ultimately, he said he doesn’t want to wake up in his early 40s and found he’s wasted his time, wasted his chances, acting like a jerk.
“You pay for all the (stuff) that you miss, all the people you neglect, all the life lessons that you didn’t get to learn firsthand and that morality that gets compromised into a little world that only functions in your apartment, in a rock club and out of a bus,” he said.
“Those are not interesting things to me,” he said. “There’s nothing to write about in that scenario. Who would want to be friends with that person? I woke up.”