Whiskeytown - Falling down, standing up
You could see it in his eyes. "Hey, hop in the van, let's have a shot," Ryan Adams beckoned, and who was I to argue with that Peter Pan gleam and Pied Piper smile. It was Saturday night of the 1996 South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, and a handful of A&R reps were milling around the van with North Carolina plates parked in front of the Split Rail, just after Whiskeytown had delivered an impassioned 40-minute set to a room so packed that even conference badge-holders were being turned away at the door. You could tell things were heading in this direction ever since Whiskeytown had released its first album, Faithless Street, the previous fall. Issued on a tiny indie label for whom it was a challenge just to get the disc in stores outside the band's home region, Faithless Street nevertheless started making waves nationally, simply because it was too good not to be heard. Firing twin barrels of the rawest rock 'n' roll and the grittiest country, it was the kind of debut that signals something truly special is on the horizon. And so, six months later, record label folks who had gathered in Austin were curious to see what all this "alt-country" buzz was about. Industry pressures be damned, Whiskeytown delivered that night -- albeit nervously and tenuously at times, but in a way that only served to underscore the emotional intensity rather than detract from it. His microphone slipping from its stand at one point, Adams crouched and staggered awkwardly as the mike dangled ever more precariously, nearly crashing to the floor, struggling to still be heard, somehow holding everything together even as it all seemed to be falling apart before his eyes. I don't really recall what we talked about in the van that night we first met, before I headed off to catch another band down the street. Something about he was gonna send me a tape of some new stuff he'd recorded recently (which of course never did happen). Probably a little guffawing at the gaggle of weasels lingering on the sidewalk just outside the windshield. Mostly, though, I just remember the sense of excitement that exuded from this 21-year-old boy wonder -- and that irrepressible shine in his eyes. "Ryan is the perfect frontman, irreverent and passionate both, a great singer and a charismatic little twerp too. I can't take my eyes off of him." --Shawn Barton of Hazeldine (from her web-page diary of Hazeldine's tour with Whiskeytown) Several months later, when the dust eventually settled from the major-label jockeying in the wake of that SXSW '96 show and a showcase three months later at LA's Spaceland, Whiskeytown had landed on Outpost, a relatively new subsidiary of Geffen. (Quite a bit happened to the band in the interim, including a change in rhythm sections, but we'll deal with that in more detail further in.) They entered a Nashville studio in February '97 with producer Jim Scott and emerged a month later with an astounding 36 songs recorded; 13 of those eventually made the final cut for Strangers Almanac, which is due in stores July 29. The magic is plainly evident right from the heartbreaking strains of the opening track, "Inn Town", an acoustic tune on which the voices of Adams, guitarist Phil Wandscher and fiddler Caitlin Cary coalesce in richer and fuller harmonies than they'd ever hinted they were capable of before. The pedal steel that kicks off the second track, "Excuse Me While I Break My Own Heart Tonight", sews the band's country influences firmly on its sleeve, with Texas songwriter/rocker Alejandro Escovedo chiming in as a duet partner on the last verse to charge the song with an unexpected spark. The fire continues on the rocked-out third track, "Yesterday's News", Adams avowing at the top of his lungs, "I can't stand to be under your wing/I can't fly or sink or swim." Despite Whiskeytown's clear grounding in no-bullshit rock 'n' roll and country, however, Strangers Almanac is perhaps most notable for its pop songs. "16 Days", the fourth track in and likely the album's first single, is a mostly midtempo number, opening with Cary's sweet fiddle drifting over acoustic guitars and gradually building to a sure-fire singalong chorus. "Everything I Do (Miss You)" shimmers with a pop-soul richness that recalls classic Motown and Muscle Shoals recordings. "Turn Around" is spooky, cloaked in sonic layers and recalling nothing so much as mid-late-'70s-era Fleetwood Mac (an influence Whiskeytown readily acknowledge with their cover of the Mac smash "Dreams" at recent shows). "Losering" is a masterful mood piece, nonlinear lyrics wrapped around an initially unassuming melody that slowly reveals itself like a sunlight-shy flower, a few more petals opening up each time it spins back around. Then there are the ballads, achingly spare and desolate and sad. "Houses On The Hill" tells the story of a woman who has never quite recovered from losing her lover decades ago, "when Eisenhower sent him to war." On "Avenues", a beautiful loser wanders the streets alone while "All the sweethearts of the world are out dancing in the places/Where me and all my friends go to hide our faces." The most haunting cut of all is "Dancing With The Women At The Bar", a letter-perfect lament of nature's undertowing pull toward the deeper and darker side of the night, the town, and the soul. If you see the moon and hear the sound of the strip Call out my name, and call my friends' names too --"Dancing With The Women At The Bar" It's a warm spring night along Hillsborough Street in Raleigh -- a.k.a. "The Strip" -- and, sure enough, a full moon is beaming brightly in the sky above as we head west toward the Comet. It's a familiar hangout at the far end of the strip situated next door to The Brewery, a longtime fixture on Raleigh's live-music scene that has played host to no shortage of Whiskeytown gigs in the past couple years. With North Carolina State University spanning its southern side and a string of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, record stores and the like scattered over several blocks across the street, Hillsborough is like many such avenues across America. "There's a 'Strip' in Jacksonville, too," Adams says as we walk along, referring to the small North Carolina town (pop. 30,013) about an hour and a half southeast of Raleigh where he grew up. His comment sheds a little light on another line in "Dancing With The Women At The Bar": "My daddy saw the moon and heard the sound of the strip/It called out his name, and it called his son's name too." Since he moved to Raleigh shortly after quitting high school and getting his GED about five years ago, most of Adams' life has revolved around this definitively slackerly stretch of Hillsborough. Presently, we pass the Rathskeller, a restaurant where Adams worked as a dishwasher shortly after he moved up from Jacksonville. A block or two down is Mitch's, a warm, friendly tavern where a few scenes from the movie Bull Durham were filmed; "Phil's probably up there right now," Adams guesses of his guitarist, pointing toward the bar's upstairs window. Just off the main road a block or two is a large grassy triangle flanked by a couple of neighborhood streets lined with low-rent houses, a couple of which Adams used to live in. "That's Faithless Street, right there," he says of the desolate block, revealing the source of his songs on Whiskeytown's first record. Down on the eastern end of The Strip, shortly before Hillsborough segues from an edge-of-campus boulevard into a commuter thoroughfare leading to downtown Raleigh and the North Carolina state capitol building, is a modest little sandwich shop called Sadlack's. Regulars idle up to the wide-U-shaped diner-style counter for cheap eats and a beer, or lounge around on the wooden picnic tables populating a patio area that's more spacious than the limited confines of the indoor room. In the late afternoon and early evening hours on a balmy North Carolina spring day, the patio is an ideal place to sit around and pick a guitar, as a couple of hippie-looking stragglers are doing on this mid-May afternoon. Something's slightly askew, though: Instead of the requisite classic-rock nugget or trail-mix-folk song you'd usually hear being played in such a situation, these guys are strummin' and singin' Robert Earl Keen's "You Keep A' Swervin' In My Lane..." "I consider us to be more of a rock 'n' roll band, but we are country. I'm a country boy from West Virginia. And Ryan's a country boy, too. The country comes more from ourselves, because we are country." --Steve Terry, Whiskeytown drummer "The whole premise of the band started when I was walking by here one day, and Skillet was leaning over the deck, and he goes, 'Hey Ryan! I hear you wanna start a country band,'" Adams recalls of a chance encounter at Sadlack's in the fall of 1994 with Skillet Gilmore, who was the owner of Sadlack's at the time. "And I said, 'Yeah, that's what I wanna do, man.' And he said, 'I'll play drums.' I said, 'All right then, meet me here tomorrow at 11:30.'" For the past couple years, Adams had been playing in a punk band called Patty Duke Syndrome with Jere McIlwean, who had befriended Adams when they both lived in Jacksonville. "I was growing up a freak, this weird music person, and in that town, there was no one like me. Except Jere. He worked at Record Bar, he was already 20-something years old. I was going to the record store and buying, like, Half Japanese albums and Sonic Youth records. And one day he just asked me, 'Why in the hell are you buying these records?' I said, 'Because I like 'em.' We hit it off, and next thing I knew he took me out to his place and he had all this musical equipment, and we started that band. Our drummer, Alan, had this big ol' barn where we played music at all hours of the night." Patty Duke Syndrome had a brief run in Jacksonville before Adams moved to Raleigh and was in a couple of bands he describes in hindsight as being along the lines of the Replacements and the Minutemen. McIlwean eventually moved to Raleigh as well, and Patty Duke re-formed, with Brian Walsby on drums. "Its official Raleigh time was about a year and a half; we broke up four times," Adams recalls of the band's off-and-on tenure. "But we were the shit in Raleigh for a while. And I was just 18. I couldn't believe it....They got mad at me because I started drinking. If I had one beer, Jere would get mad as hell at me. And then I come to find the whole time he's a closet heroin addict. And he ended up dying. "The song 'Theme For A Trucker' [issued by Bloodshot Records earlier this year on a double single] is actually about Jere. He was in a band called Trucker after Patty Duke Syndrome broke up. They were like an MC5- and Bad Brains-influenced band. Hearing them would give you chills; you could feel something was gonna happen, like they were gonna change the world. And damned if he didn't go and die on everybody. I wanted to write about it for a long time, and then finally I started writing that song. He'd hate that song so bad; he hated country. Well, he didn't hate country music, but he didn't like my version of it, anyway." There's a motel with a vacancy But there is no possibility That you could drive yourself to ever be The man you once were. --"Theme For A Trucker" So I started this damn country band 'Cause punk rock was too hard to sing. --"Faithless Street" "The band started with me and Skillet and this guy named Rags playing banjo," Adams says. "And then, his roommate, Brian, became the bass player, and we were a coffee-country band. That's what Skillet called it. It was a three-piece electric band; it sounded kinda like the Gun Club, a little bit like Uncle Tupelo. We called it coffee-country because we were really wired. We'd get a 12-pack and drink about three cups of coffee, and get stoned and get drunk. And by the time all the chemicals got in us, we were playing pretty fast. "And then Phil joined the band. I always hated Phil, and I still do. He walked up to me one night in a bar and we were both drunk, and he said, 'Hey man, I think I wanna play guitar for your band.' He bought me a beer and we talked about it for a few minutes, and I was like, 'All right.' He hated my guts, and I hated his guts. I thought he was a fuckin' jerk." This, understand, is the nature of the relationship between Ryan Adams and Phil Wandscher. For the record, Wandscher makes similar comments about Adams; in the band's official bio issued by Outpost/Geffen, Wandscher recalls the first time he met Adams by saying, "He was like 16 or 17, a real brat....He's still a brat." However much they may engage in their punk-rock revelry of pretending to despise each other, the magic of their musical relationship is the spark at the heart of Whiskeytown. Eventually, they both fess up to that. "It was perfect," Adams recalls of the first time he and Wandscher got together to jam. "It just worked. His guitar playing and my guitar playing, and his sensibilities and my sensibilities, they were perfect." "We came from different angles musically, and we still do, but it just kind of meshes," Wandscher concurs. "I respect what he does and I try to understand it, and he tries to understand where I come from. Like, it's kinda funny that he's so gung-ho into the Rolling Stones now, and he never really was before -- because that's my favorite band. And ultimately he's grown attached to them as well, partly because of how much they've influenced me." Unlike Adams, who brought his experiences with Patty Duke and a scattering of side projects to the table, Whiskeytown was Wandscher's first real band (though he does admit to a six-year tenure with the North Carolina Boys Choir in his grade-school days). "I kinda used to be in a band, but I didn't play guitar, I just sang and played harmonica," he explained. "We had a bass player and a drummer and I was singing, and we just needed a guitar player, and could never ever find one. All these people always came over and tried out, and finally I was like, 'Fuck it, man, I'm gonna learn how to play guitar. Because I know what I would wanna hear, and this is probably what would work the best, and these guys can't do it, so I'm gonna do it. So I sat down and started noodling around and started teaching myself how to play." Wandscher presently invited his friend Steve Grothman, a bass player, to join in the jam sessions he'd been having with Adams and drummer Gilmore. "And the next thing you know, Caitlin Cary walks in with her fiddle, just off the street," Adams says. "Nobody knew her. She just walked in, she didn't know anybody." Well, it wasn't quite that fatefully serendipitous. "A mutual friend that was in my department in grad school somehow leaked it to them that I played fiddle," recalls Cary, who was attending North Carolina State at the time. "He came up to me and said, 'My friend Ryan wants a fiddle player for his band, are you interested?' And I said, 'Oh, sure,' and gave him my number to give to him, and I never really expected to hear anything. But he called the next day, and said, 'We're practicing tomorrow,' and I went in and started playing." The intangible musical magic that ties Adams and Wandscher was immediately apparent with Cary as well -- particularly in the way their vocals intertwined. "Oh, definitely, right off the bat," she affirms. "I've never found anybody, outside of my family, who was that easy to sing with. I have a pretty good ear for singing harmony, but I've certainly tried to do it with other people since playing with Ryan, and found it to be harder." Adams' new musical companions, meanwhile, were helping to turn him in a different direction from the punk and indie-rock that had dominated his previous endeavors. "Phil introduced me to country blues, like the Rolling Stones," Adams says, "and Skillet introduced me to a lot of Gram Parsons and George Jones and people like that -- I mean, I knew of them, but I really got turned on, I got tapes to listen to. And Caitlin turned me on to bluegrass." The spontaneous combustion of Whiskeytown's earliest days was captured almost instantly: Less than two months after they started playing together, they recorded a four-song, 7-inch EP that was released in the spring of '95 by Mood Food Records, the same local indie label that also eventually released Faithless Street. This past April, several other outtakes from those first sessions were released by Mood Food under the title Rural Free Delivery -- against the band's wishes, as their relationship with Mood Food appears to have soured irreparably over the past year. Nevertheless, the worthiness of those early recordings -- regardless of their spotty sound quality -- hinted that Whiskeytown was capable of greatness in the not-too-distant future. They delivered in spades when they returned to the studio in July 1995 to record Faithless Street, which came out later that year. I'll ride with you tonight, I'll ride forever There's no way to predict this kind of weather --"Midway Park" From the opening line of the opening song, Faithless Street radiated with a reckless emotional force, tangled up in a beautiful mess of hard-charging honky-tonk rockers, irresistibly catchy pop songs and gorgeously lilting laments. Nevermind that they'd been together less than a year: Whiskeytown had arrived. "I love it. I think it's a masterpiece," Adams says confidently when asked what he thinks about Faithless Street with a couple years of hindsight now in his periphery. Musicians often tend to cringe at recordings they made in the infancy of their bands' careers, but Adams clearly has no regrets. "I think it's a strong youth album. It's crazy. It loves what it borrows from musically: It tips its hat to Gram Parsons, it tips its hat to the Stones, it's shaking hands with Uncle Tupelo on some levels. I don't think of it as an 'inspired' record or an 'inspiring' record -- I think it's both. That's what albums should sound like; that's what a record is, to me. Faithless Street is a proud, proud thing for me. ("I cared about it enough to where I asked Geffen to buy it [from Mood Food]," he adds later; Geffen agreed to do so, and now possesses the rights to reissue it in the future.) The haphazard circumstances under which the album was recorded simply serve as evidence that one need not spend a lot of time and money in a fancy studio to get artistic results. Faithless Street was recorded at a place called the Funny Farm, which Adams describes as "a big barn out in the country where they make records. We were in there for like a week and a half, and that was it, we were done, we made a record. It was all a big blur. That was Faithless Street. "My version of recording is, when I get in there, you can't stop me. I'll keep people in there till 6 in the morning, going, 'I got a guitar part, I'm ready, let's do it,' and they're like, 'Whoa, we gotta set up.' And I'm like, 'I don't care, you ain't settin a mike.' I'll just throw a mike right in front of the amp and go, 'That's your sound, fix it.' And they'll record it. I mean, I'm a bastard in the studio, just because I go like time is everything." Wandscher confirms that. "Oh yeah, it was always, how much can you do in this little time? It's all basically live recording, and then it's like, 'Overdubs? We don't have time to overdub, man!' And a lot of times, that worked out better, because you don't have time to mill around and think about it and then fuck stuff up." Though no one is listed as producer in the liner notes, Adams claims that "Phil produced it, pretty much....At that point, Phil's ear for recording was genuinely amazing. He made our first album to be recorded the way Exile on Main Street would be recorded....When we went back to find all the original signals, the drums sounded horrible and things like that, but we got all the levels to be good enough to where we actually got to make a good record with it." "To end the night, Ryan tossed his Vox guitar into the middle of the room with the cable jerking tight. I was right at the side of the stage and saw Ryan running my way, but he veered off to the side to skid on the guitar as if it were a skateboard. The Vox didn't seem terribly damaged until their guitarist, Phil, jumped straight from the stage and landed his boot heels flat on Ryan's guitar. It was still plugged in and made this sound which could only be described as Eugene Chadbourne's rake caught in a lawn mower. Ryan was on the patio and had not seen his axe being stomped to splinters. I picked it up and took it to him and he proceeded to finish the job against the back steps." --Jeff Hart, recounting the finale of a Whiskeytown gig in at the Berkeley Cafe in Raleigh in October 1995 However haphazard the recording sessions for Faithless Street may have been, Whiskeytown was quickly earning a reputation for their utterly volatile nature as a live band. Some nights were transcendent, some were disasters; some were a little bit of both, scattered amidst the mayhem and destruction. All of which made for legendary entertainment, but also hinted at deeper problems within the band. Even as Whiskeytown's star was beginning to rise nationally and major labels were expressing interest, the increasing pressures and personal conflicts were starting to widen rifts within the band. Pedal steel player Nicholas Petti, who had been performing live with the band for a few months after Bob Rickers had laid down the pedal steel tracks in the studio on Faithless Street, was dismissed in June of '96. Things began to fall apart more dramatically about three months later, when bass player Steve Grothman quit the band for what Adams says basically boiled down to a typical "artistic differences" situation. A bigger blow came when Gilmore followed Grothman's lead: "Skillet came in and quit that same day, two minutes later," Adams said. "About three weeks later, he asked to rejoin, and I declined him the opportunity, because I believe that, if you quit, you're gone, you don't come back." Given that the band's origins could be traced back to Gilmore and Adams hanging out together at Sadlack's, the loss of Gilmore was a particularly trying turn of events. "It hurt pretty bad," Adams admits. "It compromised a lot of the integrity of the band, and it compromised my stability in being able to do the band. I was pretty damaged because of that." (The personal wounds have since healed a good deal, enough so that Gilmore served as the band's road manager on a nationwide tour this spring and even sat in with them on a couple of occasions.) "I remember me and Phil sitting on the front porch going, 'What are we gonna do?'," Adams continued. "I almost signed as a solo artist to A&M, I almost quit the whole thing. And then I said, No, I can't give up the ship. I've worked too hard, and Whiskeytown is still a good band." The continued interest and support of Outpost also helped hold the group together. "Outpost just said, 'Hey, we'll still sign you guys, and if you need a bassist and drummer just to be in the studio, we'll work with you,'" Wandscher recalls. "And that was just like the biggest thing. Because, you know, most people don't even get this opportunity, and then, if something like that [the near-breakup] happens, you definitely don't get that opportunity." Oddly enough, the personal conflicts that epitomized Adams and Wandscher's relationship ultimately helped them keep Whiskeytown together just when everything seemed to be falling apart. "There was a lot of friction between me and Ryan, and there was some dramatic shit that happened at shows," Wandscher recalls. "But ultimately, that stuff made our relationship stronger, because there was a fire there to fuel every now and then. Which is sometimes pretty good -- rather than nothing ever happening, and people keeping stuff inside. That was what happened with our band breaking up. ... And that was never the case between me and Ryan. We would just blow up upon each other, but it was good to get all that out in the air right then and there." Cary came close to quitting as well -- close enough to where an interim Whiskeytown press photo issued by Outpost/Geffen, which appeared on the cover of Billboard, pictured only Adams and Wandscher. "At that particular time, she wasn't even sure what she was gonna do," Wandscher said. "She never really even knew until we went to make the new record in Nashville." Take a second to stop Think about it again See what you would be losing --"Losering" Somehow, all the falling-apart fell back into place by February of this year, and Whiskeytown -- with new drummer Steve Terry and bassist Jeff Rice (who has since been replaced by Chris Laney, formerly of Ithica Gin and the Adams side-project Freight Whaler) -- headed to Nashville to record what would become Strangers Almanac with producer Jim Scott. Not that things were any less fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants than usual. "Steve and Jeff really just came together as a rhythm section about a week before we went to make the record," Adams recalled. "We didn't practice to make the record. We just said, 'We're going to Nashville to make a record, are you guys ready to go?' They said all right, we got in the car, and there we were. The first three days of rehearsal, I thought he [Scott] was gonna cry. Because we sounded like shit. We sounded horrible." Furthermore, Scott had a fundamentally different approach to recording than the band had experienced during the sessions for Faithless Street. Adams explains: "We're good with first takes; we're good with, 'The guitar part was wrong, but it was great.' Jim's not like that. Jim's like, 'You're not gonna wake up in 10 years and call me and tell me what a bad record I made, or that I listened to you and I shouldn't have because you were dumb.' He's like, 'Quit jerkin' me.' That was his line the whole time: 'You're fuckin' jerkin' me. Are you gonna play something good, or are you gonna jerk me?' And we jerked him for about a month, and then we finally did some good takes." True to form, different band members had different perspectives of the Almanac sessions. Wandscher described the experience as "fuckin' great; we just ended up loving him [Scott] to death," and says he appreciated the chance to use a variety of amps and effects to come up with sounds that would have been impossible on Faithless Street. On the flip side of the coin, Cary observed that the making of Faithless Street "was much more spontaneous....The other guys in the band might say it [making Almanac] was really great fun, but a lot of my stuff had to be done in overdubs, so I didn't get a whole lot of that vibe of the first take of the song. Even though almost everything was recorded live as far as basic tracks went, for me it was mostly in the box later that I got my moment." Whatever the pros and cons, some of the exchanges between Adams and Scott were classic. "He'd listen to a couple takes, and he'd say, 'I believe this guy.' That's how he would talk about it. He wouldn't ever put it on me; he'd listen to the recording and go, 'This is the guy I believe.' He'd ask me, 'Are you this guy right now?' And I was like, 'No.' And he'd say, 'Well, when are you this guy?' I'd go, 'In about an hour.' Scott: "Well, where are you going?" Adams: "Down to the store." Scott: "What are you gonna do?" Adams: "Go get a bottle of Southern Comfort." Scott: "What are you gonna do then?" "So I went down to this store, and this part of Nashville was kind of a predominantly black area, and I bought this framed picture of the black Last Supper in this liquor store, and a bottle of Southern Comfort, and commenced to getting trashed as hell walkin' down the strip, with a bottle of liquor in a brown bag, drinkin' Southern Comfort. So I got back there, and walked in, and I was the guy. "Not that drinking pertains to that; I was lost, I had nothing to do, I needed to go walk down the street, I needed to feel something, feel alive. Because I'd been confined in the studio. So I come back, and I had been in the shit. And now I knew where I was." You think that you have found a way To ease your troubled mind You fill a glass then drink it down And fill it one more time Well the wine will flow And the pain will go But the spell will never last You'll never find the answer In the bottom of a glass -- "Bottom Of The Glass", Moon Mullican One would be remiss not to address the significance of alcohol to the existence of a band that has whiskey in its name. "Down here, when somebody gets really fucked up, they put the word 'town' on the end of something," Adams explains. "You know, like, 'Goddamn, that guy's fuckin' coketown or something. Or you'd go like, 'God, I was so stoned, man, it was like fuckin' hallucinationtown.' And you'd go, 'God, man, we had so much liquor that night, we were fuckin' whiskeytown.' "So, sort of metaphorically speaking, Whiskeytown pretty much means loaded. Means fucked up. I also liked the idea of a fictitional place where everybody was drunk. It's kind of this fictitional place, you know. Actually, not here, it isn't [fictitional] at all. Because just about everyone I know is drunk. Pretty much all the time." Discussions of alcohol are scattered consistently throughout our interview -- which, true to form, was conducted on a bar-hopping tour of "The Strip" in Raleigh. (And, yes, I was drinking right along with Adams, lest anyone think this tangent seeks to be sanctimonious.) At Sadlack's, Adams talked of how Gilmore would "play me Gram Parsons while I was getting early beers [i.e., before noon]. This is where you'd come if you were that bad. Which isn't that bad for down here. Because everybody drinks, all the time. This is what we do." Of course, that's not exactly true. You can visit Raleigh, North Carolina, and find plenty of people who don't spend the majority of their time drinking. On the other hand, if you spend even a couple nights in the company of a certain crowd along The Strip, it's plain to see how easily alcohol becomes you. Hang around with the people that I used to be hang around on a corner waiting to go have a see Now that I'm in town I feel fine for now --"Inn Town" "Almost all the songs on the record are about loss," Adams is quoted as saying in the press bio for Strangers Almanac, and a close listen to the lyrics verifies that confession. In the past year, Adams endured the loss of his old friend Jere McIlwean; a breakup with his girlfriend of three years; the departure of a couple bandmates; and an intangible loss of innocence as music became a full-time job. "It ultimately changed us -- as a band, and as individuals," Adams admits. But Raleigh remains a small town, and along The Strip, most everyone knows everybody else. Adams talks to the lady behind the counter at the bowling alley as if she's a longtime neighbor. At the Rathskeller, where he once worked, he runs into Brian Walsby, the drummer for his old band, Patty Duke Syndrome. Later, a Rathskeller waitress chides Wandscher and drummer Steve Terry as they scrounge through their wallets to pay the bill: "Shit, you guys oughtta have some money!" "Half the people that we know hate us now," Adams says. "But at the end of the night, even the people that are disgusted that Whiskeytown got a great record deal are the guys that sit next to you at the bar and go, 'Hey, did you see that game,' or, 'I heard you went bowling, how'd you do.' No one cares at the end of the day." Well the greatest love could be At the end of every day What is left for you and me At the end of every day --The Reivers, "End Of The Day" It's four in the morning, and my flight back to Seattle leaves at 6:20 a.m., meaning I've got only an hour or two more to kill without falling asleep. But those are the hardest hours. Ryan Adams really didn't have to oblige when I call up to ask if he's still awake and would it be okay if I stopped by -- but he does. There's not much to adorn the room of this apartment he recently moved into about a mile farther out west just off of Hillsborough, far enough away from The Strip to perhaps offer a much-needed buffer zone. It's the first time in months he's actually had a place to live, after an extended stretch of recording and touring and living in hotels and sleeping on friends' floors. He still has no bed, apparently content to keep sleeping on the floor; on the walls hang album covers of Fleetwood Mac's Mirage and Gram Parsons' Grievous Angel. (Coincidentally or not, Adams was born one year to the day after Parsons died.) From a small collection of videocassettes, he pulls out a couple tapes of early Whiskeytown gigs, even one of Patty Duke Syndrome, and offers to loan them to me -- perhaps a long-delayed substitute for that tape of new songs he'd promised to send me when we met in Austin more than a year ago. (As fate would have it, I end up forgetting to take the tapes with me when I head out the door a little later.) Sitting on a table is an envelope that just came in the mail the day before, which he proudly shows to me. It's his first-ever check for publishing royalties from BMI. The amount: Two dollars and seventy-four cents. Welcome to the big time. Finally, he's ready to call it a night; there's still a couple beers in the fridge, but it seems Adams does know how to forgo one more drink after all. Instead, he brews up a pot of coffee to help keep me awake on the road to the airport. In the final, waning moments of darkness before the dawn, it's a warm gesture, an affirmation of the Southern hospitality and human kindness at the heart of a North Carolina country boy. You could see it in his eyes. No Depression co-editor Peter Blackstock once gave Ryan Adams the (Reivers) shirt off his back.