Published Feb 14, 2017Ryan Adams releases his latest LP Prisoner on February 17 (on Pax-Am/Blue Note/Capitol) and while it's been touted as a record about the singer-songwriter's more-public-than-usual personal life and heartbreak, the roots of the new album can actually be traced back to a particular bout of physical, rather than emotional, pain.
Adams tells Exclaim! that the process behind the record really began on a tour bus during a stint on the road in support of 2014's self-titled effort. Despite carefully selecting the top bunk at the back of the bus to minimize turbulence ("It sort of swings with the bus, so you don't knock around"), getting out of the sleeping quarters proved to be problematic.
"I was getting out of the bunk and I just twisted myself in this particular way and I didn't land," he says. "The bunks don't have ladders or anything, so when you get out, you have to know where your foot's gonna land on the opposite lower bunk. And I miscalculated it, turned for a second and hurt my back. I think I just pulled a muscle or whatever, but it was really painful and kind of bizarre. For a short amount of time, I couldn't really move around the way that I wanted, so it was very disconcerting."
Pressure massages and acupuncture didn't immediately relieve the pain, so Adams turned to a different source of treatment.
"I probably took an edible or something for the pain," he says. Then he settled into the makeshift demo-recording area he and his crew had installed on the bus. "I just started scratching down words to a song, and it just sort of happened."
He thinks "Outbound Train" was the first track to fall out of him, followed by Prisoner's title track. Eventually, he was left with "a little five-pack of songs" — all of which, even after a year-and-a-half, made it onto the record.
Eventually, that first set of new songs was expanded upon at Electric Lady Studios in New York and finished at Adams' own Pax Am Studios in Los Angeles, with accompaniment from his frequent musical collaborators Don Was, Johnny T. Yerington and Charlie Stavish.
The final product is a cohesive 12-song collection runs the risk of getting pigeonholed as a documentation of Adams' personal life gone public — but he doesn't think that's a totally fair assessment.
"That just the way it was," he says. "But to be honest, this record is more about me asking myself questions like 'What does it mean to be how old I am?' and 'What does it mean to still have this feeling of hope on the outside of damage?'"