Ryan Adams stopped by Zane Lowe’s Apple Music radio show, Beats 1, for the first interview about his album of 1989 covers (also titled 1989), which was just released digitally today. He was accompanied by guitarist Todd Wisenbaker, with whom he made the album.
Though it’d already been anticipated — based on a hint Lowe had dropped last week — that Taylor Swift would be joining them for the interview, allegedly Adams had no idea this was in store, and was surprised when Swift called in, especially since she’d just texted him to wish him good luck. Before Swift’s telephonic arrival, he explained the origins of the idea. Unsurprisingly, given its downbeat approach, it came from an emotionally grim period in his life, and he was drawn to the 1989‘s emotional immediacy:
I’ve always been interested in Taylor’s music. A lot of those songs are pretty flawless or they’re so well written or so clean. Like ‘White Horse,’ it bothers me so much, because it’s really a perfect song. It’s almost impossible to sing that chorus…and not get a lump in your throat.
He spoke of how informal the project was initially, and how he didn’t really know the direction it’d take until social media went wild about the idea. He’d originally thought, “I’m going to make 1989 Nebraska style, Bruce Springsteen Nebraska, just acoustic guitar, just spring reverb.” He said:
I’d recorded about four songs, and I actually shared on social media that I was doing it, and all of a sudden I was like, I didn’t think anybody had payed attention to it. But it got a lot of static, and I just went, ‘I don’t know if I have this,’ so I took one of the posts down, and right when I did that, someone asked, ‘why did you take this down right when Taylor retweeted it?
Then Swift showed up, made fun of Adams for his surprise, then began returning the flattery:
The album is absolutely gorgeous, and you can tell it something that was well thought out, that was conceptualized and not thrown together. My favorite thing about it is that they’re not cover songs. They’re like re-imaginings of my songs. And you can tell that he was in a very different place emotionally when he put his spin on them when I was when I wrote them. There’s this beautiful aching sadness and longing in this album that doesn’t exist in the original. I would start singing his new melodies on tour and I’d have to stop myself…it really got in my head, and upon the first listen I knew it was a great album. But those melodies reinstating themselves in my brain, replacing the originals, I was like ‘alright, this is a really great album.’
Adams clarified that the sanctity of Swift’s melodies was important to maintain throughout the making of the album:
We talked about it — we actually talked about never deviating from what the chords are actually doing, and if it’s melodically deviated, it had to be in context.
Listen to the full interview: