Ryan Adams

Increasingly, it’s being said that the music business is becoming more business than music. But Ryan Adams doesn’t let the pesky establishment get in the way of his art.

He doesn’t pretend to care about where his tour is headed or if his song is on the radio. And he doesn’t have to. With savvy reps like agent Frank Riley and manager Frank Callari on his team, Adams can focus all of his energy on making and sharing his music.

The New York-based singer, who formerly fronted alt-country band Whiskeytown, basically has the same attitude about the business as he did when that critically acclaimed band graced the cover of POLLSTAR in 1998.

“Anyone with any intelligence knows that you don’t get into the music business to make money, at least not on this side of it you don’t,” he said back then.

The difference between then and now is he’s got a hit song, “New York, New York,” on mainstream radio. But don’t think that was his goal. He’s really pretty apathetic about the whole radio success scenario.

“I couldn’t imagine trying to decide how to modify my own songs for mainstream,” he told POLLSTAR recently. “I don’t actually ever spend any cognitive time thinking about who’s going to listen to it. It’s usually a bit more self-serving than that.”

His indie mentality probably doesn’t mix well with most major record labels that are looking for the big hit single. However, Adams has managed to find a home that suits him well with Luke Lewis’ Lost Highway Records out of Nashville.

“He (Lewis) has a pretty realistic idea about the whole songwriter person thing and modern music,” Adams said. Plus, “His barometer for bullshit has only got about two or three gauges on it. So it seemed like the right place because I had already done the whole thing where you get bullshitted into something that’s not really gonna happen.”

What does he want to happen? Adams wants to write his songs and play them live. It’s that simple.

However, his radio hit has come with an offstage spotlight that has the media suddenly pronouncing him “the next big thing.” Unfortunately, that’s not the kind of attention that flatters Adams.

“That’s just ridiculous,” he said. “It doesn’t really mean anything because if you really think about it, it immediately speaks of there being a dated period of when things are supposed to be good or bad and I don’t really believe that’s how things go.

“It’s like someone saying an artist’s time is coming or it’s their time. What, are they gonna blow up or something (later)? When you look at it like that, I’m not really interested in short-term goals.”

Ryan Adams

The song “New York, New York,” coupled with the image of the American flag on his latest CD, Gold, has also led some to think that Adams is making a statement about the 9/11 tragedies. Nothing could be further from the truth. The record was made months before the terrorist attacks.

The confusion was compounded when Adams’ CD was reviewed in Rolling Stone’s 9/11 memorial issue.

“In Europe, somehow, they thought [the song] was some kind of anthem. I kind of involuntarily quit doing press because of it for a long time,” Adams said, adding that New York has been a topic of his songs for many years because that’s where he lives.

As far as the album cover with Adams pictured with the American flag, he said, “We thought it was kind of a funny pose and that it kind of took a nod, a wink and a little bit of poking fun at [Bruce Springsteen’s] Born In the U.S.A. album cover.

“It’s not in any way political,” he stressed. “I would actually never write a song that concerned what happened because my view of that stuff is it’s none of my business because I don’t know enough about it. I don’t think a lot of us know really enough about what’s really going on … except for the fact that it’s pretty uncool to kill people.”

He continued, “I would never in a million years try to be clever enough to ever write something concerning that. I think it’s inappropriate and, as a matter of fact, I’ve heard a couple of things written in response to it and I just can’t even relate.

“It’s about the people who suffered and people who aren’t there. It’s not really about some guy playing fuckin’ guitar. I just think it’s kind of pretty ballsy that somebody would have the nerve to do that.”

In case anybody’s wondering, Adams’ “New York, New York” is about “makin’ sweet love down by the fire in New York City to some girl that doesn’t give a whole flyin’ fuck about you anymore.”

Adams and his band, the Pink Hearts, will bring that and his many other heartbreak songs to a stage near you, whether it be Europe or America, where he’ll be out with Alanis Morissette shortly.

The singer makes no bones about the fact that he hardly knows his tour schedule. That’s Riley’s job.

“I feel like I’m making some kind of NASCAR statement but really, they just point me to the car and I just do the driving,” Adams said. “The crew and everybody is shit hot and really, really fun to be around and we don’t ever have any problem.

“A good thing about Riley definitely is that his respect is with his artists and artist comfortability. And I’ve never been more comfortable in any capacity.”