Marking the release of a new album and the 30th anniversary of his studio classic, Reckless, Bryan Adams’ career is one any artist would envy and any fan would appreciate. On his latest studio work, Tracks Of My Years, Adams is in new territory as he interprets classics such as “Sunny,” “Rock And Roll Music,” and “God Only Knows.” The album’s original track, “She Knows Me,” showcases (yet again) the unparalleled collaboration shared between Adams and longtime songwriting partner Jim Vallance. For more on Adams’ music, tour plans, and award-winning, spectacular photography visit bryanadams.com or bryanadamsphotography.com.
There are so many things we can talk about, from awards to photography and of course your music career. Where would you like to start?
Let’s talk about the new album. That’s a good start.
OK. So what can you tell me about the song selection process for Tracks Of My Years and why were those songs so influential for a young Bryan?
I knew you were going to ask me that. OK, well, look at the album cover, alright? I’m just about to turn 16 there, my world is kind of all about hard rock, and I loved my little AM transistor radio. It was kind of like my outlet to the world. AM radio didn’t play one kind of music back then. They played everything so you’d hear “Kiss And Say Goodbye” into a Beatles song into a Janis Joplin song into a Ray Charles song, it didn’t matter if it was a good song.
The idea for this record came about and when choosing songs for it I decided pretty early on that there was no chance that I was ever going to be able to record the songs that were truly the influences that I had because, why would anybody want to hear me do a version of “Hey Jude” or Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love?” It’s not gonna happen. But I could choose songs that were, perhaps, not as well recognizable. I had to record a Beatles song because they were sort of the cornerstone of why I even started making music, or loving music really. I used to drive around in my parents’ Corvair playing with the AM radio, turning it up as loud as I could til I got smacked.
So, AM radio was kind of exciting. I kind of thought I’d choose songs that were around on AM radio and that I still loved today, but there was no way that I ever would’ve bought them (laughs), except perhaps for Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Down On The Corner.” I thought all of these songs are just good songs and I love singing them. I was way too into The Who that I would have ever bought The Association, or The Manhattan’s “Kiss And Say Goodbye,” but I still loved those songs. I remember when we were in Japan after a show we went to this tiny little bar—I think it held 10 people, this bar—and the owner of the bar in Tokyo had a jukebox just full of 1970s Philadelphia and Motown records. We’d sit in that bar all night until he’d kick us out. That song was on all the time because we kept playing it over and over. I just remember how fantastic that song is. So when we cut that song, we were like, “Yeah! Remember when we used to sit in that bar in Tokyo and…” That led to that whole thing on YouTube where, you know when you listen to a song and it brings up a directory of other songs? So that directory ended up being kind of an encyclopedia when we’d go into the studio and figure out what song I wanted to do.
I read a quote on the 30th anniversary of Reckless, where you say you pushed people so hard to get what you thought would be a perfect album out. Did you carry that same work ethic into the studio on Tracks Of My Years?
Kind of, yeah. You’d have to ask David Foster about that. I know he wasn’t too happy with me, because I have a particular opinion on how I want my song to sound. It’s not disrespectful to him, because I have immense respect for him as a producer, but in my own pea-sized brain I had this idea of how I wanted it to sound. And because I was working with a couple different producers, I decided I wanted nothing on my voice. I wanted no harmonies. I didn’t want any reverb. I didn’t want any echo. I wanted my voice to sound just like I’m talking to you on the telephone, really really raw and really clear. That would be the glue that would unify all of the different types of songs and would be the glue that would unify the different productions. That would be the key to making this record sound like it does. It was kind of a fight. I really had to fight for it, but in the end I’m happy with it.
Specifically, I wanted to ask about “God Only Knows.”
Well there’s a very good example. Listen to how simple that is and how there’s not much. There might have been one or two little tiny harmonies throughout the record that David would talk me into but for the most part there’s no orchestration. The temptation was there because it’s so sparse and you can just imagine a great big swirling string section underneath it. I think the intimacy of the lyric and the sentiment of the song and production being so close, almost like somebody whispering in your ear, I really wanted to keep that intimacy without a lot of extra orchestration.
Earlier you mentioned having a pea-sized brain, but judging by your love songs, you must have an enormous heart. What do you think of the love song these days? It doesn’t seem to me that people write them quite like you do any—
Oh wait, no, you can’t say that. Because that song that came out this year by Coldplay called “Magic?” Oh my God, what a beautiful song. That song is like…ah! I wish I’d written that song. It’s so beautiful. It kills me. The song kills me! And the production of it, too. It’s beautiful.
Ok, ok (laughing) I’m happy to be proven wrong on that one!
Ok. You put that song on, it’ll make you cry.
I mentioned Reckless before. What does that album mean to you after so long?
It’s really such a fine memory for me. It was such a lot of work, but with a team of really good people I’d assembled. We stuck together and worked really hard. I’m talking specifically of Jim Vallance, my songwriting partner, Bob Clearmountain, and even my manager, Bruce. All of these guys were all thinking the same way and all pushing ourselves to do better and make a better record.
I’d been on tour with Cuts Like A Knife the year before that and had assembled a few songs that were looking like they’d be the beginning of a new album, specifically “Heaven” which came out on a soundtrack shortly before Reckless did, and “Run To You” which I’d written for Blue Oyster Cult who didn’t want it. So when it came down to writing more songs we had a good head start. It looked like it was going to be a good one.
It’s all very well to talk about the songwriting process but the other thing that was important was making the record. You mentioned how I pushed everybody and I really did. I recorded and re-recorded and recorded and re-recorded until I thought it was as close to being as good a record as it could possibly be. I can even remember when the final fader went down on “Summer Of ‘69” I still thought we hadn’t quite got it. I listen to it now and I don’t know what I was wondering about because it sounds right to me. I think if you’re complacent with things, it’s not the way to be when you make records. You always have to second-guess yourself quite a bit.
But at any rate, it was the right record for the right time. So many interesting things happened. The duet with Tina [Turner] for example. I’ll be forever grateful to her for taking me on tour with her in Europe after that because it broke the album. The record company had kind of shelved it by that point. “Summer Of ‘69” never got any traction, anywhere, except in America and Canada. 10 years later in 1992 or 1993, sometime after the release of the So Far, So Good album I started getting people calling and saying, “You know I just heard ”69′ is number one in Holland this week!” You know? (Laughs) This is, like, maybe 10 years after it was released.
I kind of felt like those records were right but we might have been a little bit ahead of everybody else because they didn’t catch fire at the time. “’69” was Top 5 maybe in America, I can’t remember, and surely didn’t even break the Top 30 in the UK, but America was the place that that record really did its job. That was a beautiful thing. I remember I got a call…you know what, I got a telegram…
I’ve got it somewhere. “You have the #1 album in America. Congratulations.” I sat there and looked at it for a while and thought, wow. I have to dig that up.
Do you approach photography in the same way you approach working on an album?
I like the idea of waking up every day and making something beautiful, whether it be music or photography. I like the idea of starting with nothing and at the end of the day having something really nice to look at. That’s all it comes down to.
How about the subject matter of Exposed versus that of Wounded? They are both beautiful, but for different reasons. What brought those collections together?
I really like to make portraits of people. Wounded took about four years because a lot of guys weren’t comfortable in the beginning to reveal their wounds. It took some time to work out the best way to do it. Was it going to be an exhibition? Was it going to be a book? I didn’t know what it was going to end up being. It came about because I’d done Exposed and I’d shown the pictures to my publisher and he said (lowers voice), “I want this. I want to make this into a book.” (He’s German by the way. That was a German accent.)
Bryan Adams will be playing the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA on Oct. 23, and the Theater At Madison Square Garden on Oct. 25. His new album, Tracks Of My Years, is available now. For more information, go to bryanadams.com.