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Bryan Adams is ‘So Happy It Hurts’ on New Album — The Interview
In his classic hit, “Summer of ‘69,” Bryan Adams sings of getting his first six string from the local five and dime store. Talk about an investment that has paid off handsomely!
Since the early ‘80s, the Canadian singer/songwriter has racked up a mountain of hit records, among them “Cuts Like a Knife,” “Run To You,” “Heaven,” “ This Time,” “It’s Only Love,” “Somebody” and countless others.
His latest album, So Happy It Hurts, is the feel-good record we need right now during these troubled times. Playing all the instruments on the new record except additional six-string help from longtime guitar player Keith Scott, the new album demonstrates Adams’ enduring ability to write and record picture-perfect rock and roll songs meant to be blasted on car radios around the world.
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Click here to pick up So Happy It Hurts on Deluxe CD from our Rock Cellar Store
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Rock Cellar: The first thing to say is thank you for delivering a feel-good record at a time when we all need some positivity.
Bryan Adams: Thanks. I’m glad you think so.
Rock Cellar: Was that your thought behind the overriding tone of the record?
Bryan Adams: Well, to be fair, I didn’t really design it in any way. It just came out that way, it was how I was feeling with the songs I was writing. All my albums are pretty much the best songs I could write within a year. This album was finished in January of last year, I’ve been sitting on it for a year.
I actually wrote it and recorded it during the worst part of the pandemic.
Rock Cellar: The record has that much-needed positivity, but it also emphasizes the importance of human connection. Was that something important for you to get across, that we can’t lose that human connection? It’s a harder feat to attain now with what’s been going on.
Bryan Adams: Yeah, that’s pretty much exactly how I’m feeling. But again, it wasn’t by design, it’s just how I was feeling. And it was pretty difficult in the beginning for all of us musicians because we couldn’t do what we do best, which is go on tour. We couldn’t go on the road. All of the spontaneity was taken away.
So Happy It Hurts is really about the sentiment of spontaneity and freedom. It’s great. I’m actually here in Portugal right now. We’re starting on Saturday night, playing to a big crowd here and then another one on Sunday and believe me, I’m going to be filming it to show the rest of the world that people can get back together again.
Rock Cellar: For touring artists like yourself, having so much time off must have felt a little weird. What were things you were able to do with that time off? Were you able to use it to your advantage?
Bryan Adams: Yeah, completely. I just went straight into making an album. I didn’t skip a beat, went right into it and emptied out my pockets of all the drink coasters with ideas on it and just put them up on a board and started going through them one by one until I had about six or seven songs.
The only thing that’s different on this record compared to previous albums is I couldn’t perform it with my band. I had to find another way. And so what I was doing was recording all the instruments myself, one by one, and trying to create the feeling of a band — and in the meantime, perhaps this is one of the reasons the record is quite joyous. I had such a good time doing it. It was really fun to try and live my lifelong dream of being a drummer and then structuring each piece of the record one-by-one until it sounded like a song or it sounded like an album.
Rock Cellar: Well, to your credit, it sounds like a band.
Bryan Adams: Well, that was the impression I wanted to give. I do want to say that I would send the tracks to Keith [Scott], my guitar player, so he’s the only other musician on the record.
Rock Cellar: Tell me about the song “Never Gonna Rain,” with its lyrics that touch on time being a healer.
Bryan Adams: It’s a song about optimism in the worst possible crisis, but it’s not really about the crisis. It’s a personal feeling about working things out and turning negatives into positives. That was the idea behind the song.
Rock Cellar: Do you find music to have a healing property for you?
Bryan Adams: Yeah. The one thing I really miss in the last couple of years is singing onstage every night. It’s extremely cathartic to be a singer — you probably wouldn’t know that, but then I don’t know if you’re a singer. Are you?
Rock Cellar: I am.
Bryan Adams: Okay, well, then you know how cathartic it is.
Rock Cellar: In what ways is it cathartic for you?
Bryan Adams: It’s not only cathartic, but there’s the physical release, having to sing for two hours a night, no matter how crap I was feeling before a show. After a show, I’m always feeling quite good because the adrenaline starts to move everything around and you’re filling up your lungs and you’re going for it.
What was that thing they used to have years ago where they had sort of shouting therapy? Screaming therapy or something? [Author’s note: Bryan is likely referring to primal scream therapy].
It’s not quite like that, but I think there is something to it.
Rock Cellar: Speaking of your voice, what’s the first time someone said to you, “Bryan, you have a really good voice?”
Bryan Adams: Well, I was quite young when I started singing. I only did it because they couldn’t find a singer in the band that I was in in my basement — so I was the one doing all the singing. I don’t think they actually ever heard me, because we were just so loud.
And then one time we got together, there was probably about six of us and we were going to record a song in this guy’s house and they asked, “who’s going to sing it?” And I said, “Well okay, I’ll sing it.” And so I sang the song and then when we finish the song, nobody said anything. They were up looking at me. I said, “What? Did I really suck?” “Oh no, let’s listen to it.”
And that was the first time I’d ever heard my voice back, and it was also the first time they’d ever heard me. So after that, I became the singer in the band.
Rock Cellar: “Kick Ass” is such a fun song. That spoken interlude at the beginning is fantastic.
Bryan Adams: The intro is done by Monty Python’s John Cleese. I met John at a lunch. I recorded my version of the intro but was really unhappy about it. I didn’t think that I should do that and then sing the song, so it was about finding the right voice to do the opening.
I just said to him, “Would you like to come and do the narration of one of my songs?” And he went, “Yes, of course.” He showed up at the studio and we did it and at one point he listened to my version and he said, “This sounds really good, why would you want to change that?” And then he stopped and he said, “But actually you’re right, it should be British.”
Rock Cellar: You refer to kick ass rock bands in the lyrics. So who are your go-to kickass rock bands when you’re in that mood to listen to that type of music?
Bryan Adams: AC/DC for sure. They’re great. When we were recording it, I kept thinking as my mantra, even though I’m nowhere near this, I’m not a very good drummer, but I can put down a groove. I would say to my engineer Hayden, “What would [John] Bonham do?” That was the mantra on the record. What would Bonham do?
As for the song itself, I give credit to Mutt Lange because he’s the one that sort of put it all together. I came in towards the end of that song so really Mutt was the genius behind it.
Rock Cellar: “Just like Me, Just Like You” is a beautiful song, and has a little nod to The Byrds’ “My Back Pages.”
Bryan Adams: Well, that’s amazing. You’re the first person to mention that song in all the interviews I’ve done, so thank you. That song was about how relationships seldom succeed on a level playing field. One person is up and the other one is down, one person’s in and the other one is out. And there are the ones who just can’t help but mess things up, even when the going is good and that’s kind of what the song is about.
Rock Cellar: What was the first song you wrote where you felt you had a breakthrough as a songwriter?
Bryan Adams: That would have been one of the early songs that I wrote on my first album, but they’re not really known. Maybe something like “Remember,” which is on my first album, or maybe something on my second album like “Lonely Nights” or “Tonight.”
There’s a few songs on that album, but I really felt confident that I figured out what I wanted to do with my style and that record was a real breakthrough record for me — not only as a songwriter, but as a producer, and how I wanted everything to go in the future. I never wanted to go back to making records the way I had made the first album. The difference was that I’d taken my songs on the road. I played them out in clubs. I rehearsed with different musicians and I recorded all these different ideas that I had.
So when it came time to make a new record in the studio, I was so prepared with how I wanted them to sound and get it down on tape.
Rock Cellar: Bryan, you mentioned “Lonely Nights.” That’s an earlier one of yours that has the trademarks of everything that’s great about what you do. But my feeling is, had that song came on the next album, where you were starting to really gain a foothold, it would have been even a bigger hit.
Bryan Adams: I remember being very frustrated about not getting that song off in the beginning, because I was so sure that it would fit rock radio at the time. I pulled into a town, St. Louis, to be exact, and it was one of the stations that wasn’t playing my record. I think I was opening for Foreigner, and I woke up one morning and decided I was going to go to the station and find out what the problem was.
Imagine I’m 21. Okay? So I walk up to the station and I say, “Who’s the program director here?” He says, “This guy Bobby,” or something. And I said, “Okay, can I see him?” “Who are you?” I said, “I’m in the band that’s playing here tonight.” “Hang on a minute.” And the guy saw me and I said, “Hey, I just wanted to know how come you’re not playing my song.” And he said, “Well, it’s not really for the format, blah, blah, blah.” And I said, “What do you mean, it’s not for the format?” And I got up and I put the record on his record player, and I played it for him and he added it the next day. [laughs]
Rock Cellar: I understand you were a fan of the great Steve Marriott and had a chance to sing with him.
Bryan Adams: Yes, first of all, I’m a huge Humble Pie fan, especially the Rockin’ the Fillmore album. I think that album was pivotal for me in terms of my wanting to play more guitar because if you listen to that record, Peter Frampton and Steve Marriott are unbelievable. Of course, nobody ever sang like Steve and no one ever will because he was a force.
I hung out with him a couple of times, and I actually sang with him. You won’t believe this. Somewhere in Texas, I think might have been Houston, I picked up the paper to see what was going on, maybe go see a film or something ’cause it was a night off. In the paper it said Humble Pie. I thought, no way. What? I told Keith [Scott], “We’ve got to go see this,” because we were both fans. So we went down there and here’s Steve Marriott on the stage with broken leg sitting in a chair singing his heart out. And he got off for the break, and I walked right up to him and said, “hey man…”) and next thing you know, he said, “Come on up and sing, let’s do a song.”
I’ve got a great picture of him and I together, actually. What a loss to the music world. We sang the Ray Charles song “I Don’t Need No Doctor.”
Rock Cellar: 37 years ago you performed as part of the Live Aid concert, which was kind of the Woodstock for people of my age. What was that experience like for you?
Bryan Adams: I don’t remember much about it other than Jack Nicholson introduced me, and then we had to leave right away to go and do a gig in another state. We all had to jump on the bus and go. I don’t think any of us realized what we had just done. It would have been nice to hang out and watch the rest of the show, but we couldn’t. I was the first artist to be broadcast from Philadelphia to London.
Rock Cellar: You’ve written songs with Jim Vallance for decades, can you describe what that partnership works so well?
Bryan Adams: Jim is super talented. We put together simple ideas and the next thing you know it’s a song. The very first time we sat together, we made music and we made original music and that’s what we do. And it’s called chemistry.
There’s people that have chemistry in many different ways. They put business people together. Some people are great hikers together. Some people are great lovers together. Jim and I are songwriters together.
I want to mention two other things: one is that Jim and I wrote this musical called Pretty Woman in 2018 and I just recorded my own versions of the 16 songs. They’re all going to come out in the first week of March. I’ve also done eight new masters of my original big hits.
So I’ve done a Taylor Swift, so to speak, and they’re going to come out on the first week of March as well.
Rock Cellar: Last question: what song of yours were you most surprised became a hit, and what was a song of yours released as a single that you thought was going to be a bigger hit than it was?
Bryan Adams: Well, I was really surprised that “Straight From the Heart” was a hit. It had been recorded a couple of times beforehand and did nothing. I was pretty sure that the song “When You’re Gone,” I thought for sure that would be a hit in America. It was a massive hit around the world, but it just didn’t happen in America.