Who would have imagined that 2015’s most talked about album would be written by Taylor Swift and performed by everyone’s favourite alternative singer/songwriter? Not us
“I’ve never been interested in comparative literature,” Ryan Adams tells ShortList over the phone from LA. Honestly? He could have fooled us. When a cult folk-rock hero covers an album by the world’s biggest popstar, and said popstar tweets the tracks to her 63.9 million followers, there’s bound to be a few comparisons.
And so we have it: the biggest gob-smacking surprise of 2015. Ryan Adams has released an album covering every song on Taylor Swift’s album 1989, and it actually works. Not just ‘this doesn’t make my ears melt’, but a genuinely brilliant, heartfelt, this-isn’t-even-a-joke record.
The real question, though, is why did he do it?
“I just really love her songs,” he says. “I thought, ‘I need to learn these songs.’ Once I did, I realised I was releasing a lot of emotion that I wasn’t aware of.”
Last Christmas, Adams was, in his own words, “pretty bent out of shape”. He’d just finished a tour and was in the middle of separating from his wife Mandy Moore. So, already a fan of Swift’s album, he bought a four-track cassette recorder and recut the songs in his own style.
But here’s the thing: how does a guy who’s not 25 years old and hounded by the press, cover songs by a 25-year-old woman who is being hounded by the press?
“There was no way to make Shake It Off do what Shake It Off did. There was no reason to cover that song to just match it. So I sat down, looked at the lyrics and said ‘Well, in my personal life I know that tension. I’m in the public eye and maybe I’m seeing this person and maybe she’s of interest to [the press]. I’ve had my share of shit. Of people talking about me.’ That’s how I interpreted her words. It was a really interesting place for me to go with my feelings.”
So, on a scale of one to 10, how nervous was he unveiling the tracks to Swift? “I wasn’t nervous at all. I really wasn’t. I sent Taylor the songs along the way, so I knew she liked them. I was nervous about everyone else. I thought a bunch of people were going tell me it was a mistake!”
Thankfully, it didn’t stop him. And for all those thinking this Taylor-fandom might be going to his head, think again. “It’s totally crazy, isn’t it? But I’ve kinda lost interest,” he laughs. “I’m already working on more covers.”
1989 by Ryan Adams is out now
(Image: Julia Brokaw)