Ryan Adams, 23, celebrates Whiskeytown out-adding the Stones on American rock radio


By Steve Newton

Theresa Blackwell, the local ambassador for Universal Music, is widely acknowledged by the Georgia Straight editorial department as far and away the best record rep in town. She’s efficient, genuine, and a joy to work with.

Not only that, but she plies us rock critics with booze!

Actually, Blackwell only did that once. The day yours truly was interviewing Whiskeytown singer-songwriter Ryan Adams, she dropped into the Straight office brandishing a promotional mini-bottle of rye that was labeled with the Raleigh, North Carolina, quintet’s moniker.

While I was pondering the mixer possibilities of the office pop machine, she informed me that just that morning the band’s most recent single, “Yesterday’s News”, had become the number one “most-added” track on rock radio in the U.S.

At that point I decided to hold off on downing the Seven Crown in one fizzy gulp. I mean, if these guys make it big-time, that 50 millilitres could be worth the price of a Texas mickey!

When Adams called from a hotel in Flagstaff, Arizona, an hour later, he confirmed the day’s airwave honour.

“Yeah, we beat the Stones, even,” reported the 23-year-old rocker between bites of onion rings. “They’re number two, I think, which is pretty cool, ’cause they’re my favourite band, pretty much. I mean, I love Exile and Let It Bleed and Beggar’s Banquet, that’s sort of what I listen to most.”

As well as the Stones, Adams—whose band plays the Starfish Room on Saturday (February 14)—was also heavily influenced by American punk rockers Black Flag and Sonic Youth. He traded a skateboard for his first guitar when he was 15, and shortly afterward started playing in punk bands, including a five-year stint in the Patty Duke Syndrome.

“Patty Duke Syndrome was actually more like Hüsker Dü–sounding,” he related, “and kinda art-rock too. And then I did Whiskeytown, which is kinda the same thing really, except that we added fiddle and pedal steel to it, ya know.”

Although alternative rock paved the way for Whiskeytown, Adams has always been a serious country-music fan. As a kid, he heard the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Conway Twitty on his grandparents’ hi-fi. And he’s always been big on Loretta Lynn.

“As far as attitude is concerned, Loretta was very punk-rock for her day,” he said. “She was very solid country, but at the same time she was feminist and controversial. She was opinionated, you know, and to me that’s classic.”

Lynn herself might be comfortable singing some of the tunes on Whiskeytown’s most recent CD, Strangers Almanac; with their themes of emotional misery and unrequited love, the songs would seem familiar to any Nashville songwriter.

“Houses on the Hill”, a mournful tale of generations-old sadness, is a striking example, while titles such as “Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight” and “Losering” secure the CD’s status as “a romantic split-up album”, as Adams described it. The youthful tunesmith harbours a healthy attitude about heartbreak, though.

“Just as soon as I lose something I go out and get somethin’ else,” he declared.

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