At the turn of the century, Ryan Adams was in a bad way. His alt-country band Whiskeytown dissolved, thanks in large part to major record-label consolidation; a long-term relationship with music publicist Amy Lombardi ended, prompting her to move out of the New York City apartment she and Adams shared on 10th Street and Avenue A; and, worst of all, the singer ran out of money. Having spent three years living in Manhattan, Adams felt he had no choice but to move back to his hometown of Jacksonville, North Carolina.
“I went from living [in New York] to basically moving back to the house behind the house I grew up in, which is a pretty intense thing to do,” he recalls of holing up at his childhood friend Alan Midget’s house, separated from his grandmother’s residence by only “a single fence and the remnants of a pretty huge wooden half-pipe.” Adams, however, made the most of this rough patch: While in Jacksonville, the singer-songwriter wrote and demoed the majority of what would become Heartbreaker, Adams’ revered 2000 solo debut, which will be reissued May 6th as a deluxe four-LP box set via the singer’s own Pax-Am label.
Adams says the album, which he later recorded with producer Ethan Johns at Nashville’s Woodland Hills studio, was little more than a last-ditch effort to save his dream of life as a musician. “I felt at the time that I needed to say goodbye to my career,” Adams recalls, speaking from his Los Angeles home on a recent afternoon. “There wasn’t anybody really looking for me.” In early 2000, when he arrived in Nashville following his time back in Jacksonville, Adams had plans to record his debut album. Still, he wasn’t expecting anything much to come from it. He figured he’d do some gigging around town or maybe pick up a trade job on the side to pay the bills. “I was fully humbled and prepared to sort of go, ‘OK, I had my shot and it was over,'” he says.
His manager at the time put him up in a large, old-fashioned two-story Southern-style residential home that he recalls being “haunted” and “infested with brown recluse spiders.” “I had no furniture; I had no clothes; I had a very small amount of things,” Adams says with a laugh. “There were no lamps in the house but one – I didn’t have a shade on it. It had luckily been left there. So I would just plug that in at night so I could see to get into the room I slept in.”