“You know I’m the weirdo that put ‘Wonderwall on one of my records, right?” laughs Ryan Adams, talking about his top-to-bottom re-imagining of Taylor Swift’s ‘1989’, peeling back the chrome pop production to find the dirt under those songs’ fingernails. “I like to cover songs that people might deem uncoverable.” We got on the phone to chat to the singer-songwriter about his strangest project yet…
How did this covers album come about?
“I knew I was going to spend Christmas by myself for the first time in six years [following his divorce from Mandy Moore], and I’d been wanting to cover one of Taylor’s songs for a while – I almost covered ‘White Horse’ for the BBC. But I felt she deserved something more significant. This ‘1989’ cover album happened twice – first on my Christmas break on a four-track cassette recorder, and it felt far more like ‘Nebraska’ by Bruce Springsteen. But the tape broke and I decided as soon as I get off the road and back to my own studio in Los Angeles, I’ll call the guys in – we’ll have some fun with it.”
Did you play it to Taylor Swift?
“She was the first person to hear it – she was excited. We were talking about it as we were doing it. I told her: ‘As soon as this thing’s done, I’m going to send it to you first. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.’ Songwriter to songwriter, I feel she’s extraordinary. She’s a really hard worker and a really good person and I admire her greatly. A lot of this was about me loving not only her records but her voice in music – and wanting to get lost in that. I also loved those songs and thought they could take me on a journey. The night we finished, I made a link and sent it to her. She was like, ‘This is amazing’.”
On ‘Style’, you swap the James Dean reference for a Sonic Youth one “You’ve got that ‘Daydream Nation’ look in your eye”. How did you approach the record?
“I was imagining the songs in a different place. My sonic geography for my version of ‘1989’ was supposed to be somewhere in between ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ by Springsteen and ‘Meat Is Murder’ by The Smiths. I wanted to paint the black and white movie of the very colour film she had made.”
Will you be touring it or playing it live?
“I don’t have any plans to. Not yet anyway.”
Have you been surprised by the huge reaction to it?
“Some people were really excited and that’s awesome. It was liberating to do. I’d already finished my own new album, so there was no pressure to finish my own record. That’s already done. It’s a two-part record. I don’t think it works as a 23-song record, that’s too many songs at once, so they’ll be a part one and a part two.”
What does it sound like?
“It’s not that different from the feel and sound of ‘1989’ but it’s also an evolution from my self-titled record from last year. It feels more expansive. A lot of my friends say it sounds lyrically like ‘Heartbreaker’ but musically like ‘Love Is Hell’.
Does it have a name?
“I’m trying to figure out a name that works for a part one and a part two with an ‘And’ in it. One record will be one thing and another will be another and then eventually I’ll make them a double-LP. But how do I make it work so each one’s its own thing and then I put them together and make a bigger thing? It’s difficult because music is delivered in such a different fashion. It’s ambitious to expect anyone to have time for a double-record in a very fast-moving information society.”
Any plans for you and Taylor to perform ‘1989’ together?
“No. I mean, I just made it a few weeks ago! My only plans are to finish watching all of The Walking Dead I missed when I was on tour and then I’ve got the rest of the year off.”