There is black metal in the heart of Ryan Adams. It is an obsession for the folk-rocker, who hosts a black metal talk-show on YouTube called “Night Sweats,” where his female co-host, Balphazar, wears corpse-paint and groans her approval amid the skulls and candelabras. Adams performs the morose theme song on banjo.
So Adams was not being ironic when he wore a pentagram Slayer T-shirt a couple weeks ago at a private performance for KCRW-FM in Santa Monica, Calif., that will be broadcast and streamed online at kcrw.com this Friday night. He is the most metal of sensitive singer-songwriters.
“I love it,” he told station DJ Jason Bentley during an onstage interview. “There’s all these musicians in the world, and anybody that takes enough time to create a record or even think about the fantasy of rock & roll, it’s a vulnerable place to be in, it’s a huge thing to do. I hear that when I listen to black metal.”
Adams performed no metal at the KCRW taping, instead focusing his 15-song set largely on the solo acoustic rock of his new album, Ashes and Fire. Sitting onstage at engineer-producer Bob Clearmountain’s intimate Berkeley Street Studio, Adams explained that he’s most happy while hearing musical variety that goes from Napalm Death’s “Scum” to Toots and the Maytals to the Go Go’s.
He noted that his wife, singer-actress Mandy Moore, is “luckily not terrified of black metal – I desensitized her to the entire thing.” He recalled taking her to a shop in Norway called Nose Blood Records, where one of the gift items was made of real body parts. “Several of the spokesmen of this movement are totally dead and some of them impaled each other, burned a lot of churches down.”
Adams also praised metal icons AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne, and endorsed the newest album from Ratt, last year’s Infestation. “It is so good. Put track two on, sit down on your couch and wait for fucking Memorex hair,” he said, only half-joking. “The sickest guitar parts ever. It’s like every song is ‘Round and Round.’ Every song is that good.”
His own songs were not as loud, but were fueled on subtle playing and sudden vocal bursts of searing emotion as he swayed in his chair, strumming and singing with his eyes shut. The song “I Wait” was a mix of anguish and resignation as he sang, “I’ve been waiting here all night / If you’re not going to show, we’re not going to fight.”
During the interview, he said he still writes his songs on a typewriter. “I’m super ADD. I have to work on something simple and keeps me focused,” he said. “I like the sound of it and I like the permanence of when I see the lyrics written out. It makes me feel good. I can write on a computer, but there’s too many options.”
He also prefers an open window in front of him when he writes, not a glowing computer screen: “You can get the far away eyes thing – you can get that glaze when you’re really lost in thought. And I can never attain that in front of a computer unless there’s a vaporizer. You can’t naturally space out.”
“Oh My Sweet Carolina”
“Ashes & Fire”
“My Winding Wheel”
“Let It Ride”
“Please Do Not Let Me Go”
“Chains Of Love”
“Do I Wait”
“Somebody Remembers The Rose”
“Houses on The Hill”
“When Will You Come Back Home?”
• Photos: The Intimate Ryan Adams
• Video: Ryan Adams Plays ‘Lucky Now’ on Conan