Up until a week or so ago, Ryan Adams made most of his headlines by scoring Grammy wins, covering Taylor Swift albums, getting into silly feuds, or being a bit of a diva (See: That breakdown over a heckler at The Ryman early in his career). But all that changed with last week’s New York Times’ expose “Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price.”
The piece, the first real reverberation of the #MeToo movement in the music industry, laid out in unflinching detail how Ryan Adams had allegedly tried to use his stature to pressure aspiring female musicians into sex; stifled the career of his then-wife Mandy Moore; and most damningly, sent explicit messages with an underage fan (a claim that is now being investigated by the FBI). Obviously, the revelations from the Times’ report raise serious questions about Adams’ actions, and makes clear he has left a trail of victimized women in the wake of his career. The women brave enough to speak out, and the ones who haven’t yet decided to make their stories know, are the victims here.
The shockwaves are already being felt, as the April release for Adams’ new album Big Colors has been indefinitely shelved (the record was supposed to be the first of three in 2019, though it’s likely those will also be either canceled or indefinitely delayed) at least until the FBI inquiry can be completed. He also had a full tour slate coming together for the year, kicking off with several dates in Europe. It’s unclear if that will be affected at this point, though even if not, it stands to reason an eventual U.S. leg could be altered or canceled.
Looking to recent history, the #MeToo movement to this point has seen Hollywood largely cut ties with those accused of sexual misconduct over the past year or two, but Adams serves as a test case of sorts for the music business. Unlike the movie industry, even if labels were to drop Adams, he could still (theoretically) continue releasing music independently. The overhead to produce an album is obviously a bit different from a blockbuster film, and an artist can manage their distribution online themselves. The real question is — will anyone actually buy his records now? Will anyone show up to see him play? In the short term, Adams’ singles have already taken a hit on Triple A radio, quietly falling off the charts. It’s obviously too early to know if that’s a permanent trend, or simply a response to the Times’ report.
As fans process Adams’ clear character deficiencies and wrongdoings, it can lead to a crisis of conscious and faith all its own. Sure, most fans had probably gleaned that Adams could be a bit of a jerk, but it just played into his tortured artist mystique for the past couple decades. The allegations laid out in the Times report went far beyond that, though. Obviously. To the point that many fans might want to hang up the headphones altogether on Adams’ output. So what do you do with that shelf of records? The closet full of tour T-shirts? The hard drive full of demos and deep cuts? How do you reconcile the artist from the art? And should you even try? There are no easy answers.
I’ve been a fan of Adams since Heartbreaker and Gold in the early aughts, and his music has been a stalwart of the soundtrack to my adult life. I became a fan in high school, and remained one through college and beyond. I’ve seen him live anytime he’s made his way to my part of the country, and over the years I’ve accumulated his entire catalog on digital and most of his releases on vinyl. I even spent the time and money to track down the relatively hard to find vinyl release of Rock ’N Roll, and racked up a half dozen or so of his 7-inch releases in the years since he started putting them out on his boutique label at Pax-Am. When I first saw the New York Times story break, all I saw was Ryan Adams’ name, and assumed it was a story about his new album.
My stomach dropped once I actually read the headline. It dropped a whole lot further once I finished reading the full report. I couldn’t help but glance at Adams’ Live at Carnegie Hall box set open on my record shelf across the room. I haven’t listened to any of Adams’ music since the report was published (though it did inadvertently lead me to discover the insanely talented Phoebe Bridgers, whose song “Motion Sickness,” written about her time with Adams, takes on far more biting gravity in the wake of these allegations). I’m not sure when, or if, I will turn to Adams’ music again. It’s hard to reconcile that songs you’ve loved for years come from someone who allegedly made jokes about being like R. Kelly while texting with an underage fan who was being coerced into sending explicit messages from a man claiming to be her mentor. Do his actions change the albums upon albums of songs he wrote while doing that? Maybe not, but they absolutely color the perception of the man who wrote them. It goes far beyond a troubled soul making music — he’s seemingly a troubled man who hurt women, and needs help.
For fans who are able to reconcile the man from the music, the situation still brings up deeper ethical questions. Is continuing to support Adams’ output in the wake of these allegations simply feeding into the circumstances that gave him this power and authority over these women in the first place? Is simply continuing to enjoy his music only empowering Adams to continue these actions? Again, there are no easy answers.
It’s a personal question every fan will have to ask themselves in the coming days, weeks and months. Can you still listen to “Oh My Sweet Carolina,” or “Gimme Something Good,” and not be reminded of the damage Adams has wrought over the past few decades? The aspiring talents who, after being coerced by Adams, decided to stop making music at all? Though he’s already issued a half-hearted apology, if Adams does make a sincere effort toward making amends with these victims, could that eventually change things? Everyone deserves a chance at redemption, yes, but not everyone deserves to sell records — especially when there are plenty of talented musicians (i.e. the aforementioned Phoebe Bridgers) out there who haven’t tried to creep on their collaborators.
As for me? I’ll probably leave Ryan Adams’ records on the back shelf, because it just doesn’t feel right, knowing what we all know now. Instead, I’ll give some younger artists my time and money in the meantime. Here’s hoping Adams gets the help he needs and tries to make things right moving forward — or at least as right as he can at this point. There’s no doubt he’s talented, but no amount of talent is worth the human toll his career has seemingly taken on those around him.
#MeToo has come to rock ’n roll, and it’s up to all of us to figure out exactly what that looks like.
The Beauty and Journey of Hellions’ 20s Series
Australian alternative band Hellions have written a series of songs that journals the band’s history and growth. Josh Hockey explores.
Australian based Hellions are an alternative heavy band that have taken their audience on a journey of evolution. They have taken their sound from brutal hardcore to an atmospheric theatrical production unlike anything else. Over the years their music has matured and developed as they have as people into something special.
Hellions have established countless themes through their music since their 2014 debut album, Die Young. The prominent example of this is the series of “20” based songs that appear on each of their albums. “22”, “23”, “24”, “25”, and “26”, are all songs the band write to keep track of themselves. Through the lyrics of these songs, they explore where their lives are at that point in time, and touch on their current values and beliefs in a powerfully emotional way. While each tie in with another, each one is unique and has its own meaning. They have become some of the most highly anticipated tracks of every Hellions release.
This all began back in 2014 when Die Young released featuring the closing track “22”. The song takes you on a passionate journey through the exploration of youth. The freedom of youth is often underutilized, and the innocence and joy of being young can all go to waste. Worrying too much about silly issues or stupid mistakes drag you down, and you lose the passion for life that was once the only thing keeping you going. This is what “22” is about. It is preaching to you to be everything you want to be. It is telling you to break out from the norms. It is telling you to make the most of the time you have. If you take the leap you’ll fly, and this song makes you feel like you can.
An empowering chorus asks the bitter question of “why should we squander ever-waning youth”. The fast verses build perfectly and work to mesmerize you into a feeling of inspiration and freedom. This all leads up to, and hits its peak, with the final verse. “We are the wild ones, forever free, forever young!” A warcry of the aforementioned emotions, this section of music is as effective as anything I’ve heard. Every time I listen, it fills me with adrenaline and puts a smile on my face. Passion and joy fill the vocals and sends a shiver down your spine as the raw-strength of this closing verse hits you at your core.
The message that “22” sends out is important, and the way it does is breathtaking. “22” shows the array of emotions they were experiencing at that time in their lives, and adds an optimistic edge to everything else they touched on during the album. Looking on the bright side, at this stage, the entire world felt like it was at their feet, and was theirs to explore. They’re determined to fight off mediocrity and are desperately trying to maintain their freedom.
“23” was the closing track of Hellions’ 2015 album Indian Summer. Tying back in with “22”, it speaks of releasing oneself from the rut of mundanity. They dealt with the ditches of mediocrity and conformity and despised it more than anything. “23” explains the inner monologue behind dealing with these issues and takes you through their mental journey to regain their freedom.
Opening up with an erratic rhythm of guitars and drums, and leading into frantic structured verses, “23” is an intense listening experience. Lyrically it walks us through the process of self-discovery. The world cannot hold you back, and you embrace the freedom that comes with realization. Liberated and elated, you reject the conformity of the wooden world. “Brother can’t you hear the inexorable sound? The march of time drawing close.” The walls of the world are closing in and “23” wants to inspire you to get away.
Hellions want you to be the wild ones that they referred to in “22”. An enormous build and phenomenal riff-filled instrumental and vocal release references “22” and shows how they have changed since then. “These contemporary lies are no longer bothering me, I’ll never squander ever-waning youth, the bullshit doesn’t matter because you’ve always got you.” Much more certain of themselves now, they are grabbing their dreams with both hands and running with them. It isn’t the time for talking, it is the time for acting.
There is a sensation of empowerment as the certainty and assuredness hammer home the power of “23”. It has its peaks and lows and appears to be fully designed this way. It wants to take you on this journey with them, and it does so in a beautifully powerful way that ends Indian Summer on an incredibly high note.
Opening up as the first track on the 2016 album Opera Oblivia, “24” kicks in by referencing “22”. “Breathe, be still, be free” are the opening words of “22”, and is representative of the process of reminiscing. Moving on lyrically they speak of getting bogged down in the judgment of others, and how this brought them waves upon waves of embarrassment and discomfort.
Instrumentally “24” takes a heavily theatrical approach, and involves a conscious effort to make everything sound dramatically bigger. This musical dramatization works fluently, with every note feeling like it is exactly where it needs to be in order to create an uplifting anthem.
Finding out who you are is integral, and although it may cause some social discomfort, Hellions want you to discover yourself. “We are born and raised as cattle to be the same, but we are not the same we have to change and if we don’t we’ll suffocate.” This chorus features the strong clean vocals as well as the passionate yells and adds to the emotional effectiveness. “24” begs you to help change the world. Referencing “23”, they ask their mother and father for forgiveness and express their fear of time closing in. This slides nicely into the final anthemic singalong of the chorus and ends “24” with the bringing together of people. Feeling like an enormous group hug, multiple voices come together to serenade you through the chorus as the song comes to a close. An incredibly strong way to open an album and a fine addition to the series, “24” was the indicator that Opera Oblivia was going to be something special.
“25” is the closing track on Opera Oblivia, and is a message about the importance of valuing the past as much as the present. It also touches on reclaiming oneself, the beauty of art, love, and having a passion. It is the most diverse of the “20” songs as it touches on so many things, but it does this in a way that isn’t messy. Every word feels like it belongs, as does every instrumental note, and it is clear the amount of love that went into crafting this song.
Why spend so much time regarding the work of others and drawing from it when everyone could be making their own inspiration? “25” takes on a form of self-dialogue as well as everything else as they empower themselves with the idea of continuing their freedom. “And as long as we sing, we can stay young like this.” They acknowledge their inspirations and their creations and examine the fact that they are living out their childhood dreams every single day. The reason that they are living these dreams is because of those inspirations, and that is why we need to cherish every single piece of art that means something to us. You have no idea just how much it could end up meaning in the future.
“Reinvent the world, like we used to: screaming.” Take the initiative to make whatever change you want to see in the world. Nothing is stopping you. Years can pass and things can change, but if you create something that means something to you, or to other people, it will be immortal. Like Lennon, Cash, Sinatra, Morrison, or Jackson, anything you create will maintain its beauty until the end of time. “25” is Hellions taking pride in their own art, as well as acknowledging the great musicians, poets, and artists before them that inspired them. As time slips away from them and they feel like they are losing grip on their youth, they know deep down that they will always have their art, and they will have the undying love and passion for it that will keep them forever young. All of this passion, inspiration, and integrity, comes from love. The love for art and the love for creating, as well as the love for the world. They want to help fix it, and “25” is asking for your help.
“26” is the closing track of Hellions’ 2018 album, Rue. It is a good indicator of how far they have come. It is more polished and theatrical, and thus makes it a perfect album closer.
Suggesting a series of battles against mental health and one’s inner demons, “26” deals with what holds people back when dealing with such troubles. They work themselves half to death to numb the pain, and when they finally take a second to rest the demons come for them. They run and run, and the next thing they know the world has passed them by. People they relied upon are getting on fine without them, the world continues to move without them in it, and that feeling of isolation only makes things worse. Happiness is an impossibility when the idea of suicide is constantly in the back of their minds, reminding them that they always have that escape plan if they need it.
“Maybe we’re dredging up the discontent we’ve held subconsciously, accumulation of the pain we’re not acknowledging. But my dear friend we’ll survive.” Things may be hard at times but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. This anchor dragging you forever down needs to be cut loose. Hellions are saying it is time to revolt against the inner demons. They don’t want to become another product of an unrelenting mental disease, and “26” takes you through their pain, their anguish, their suffering, and their rise out of that rut.
“We may be plagued by a glitchy condition but your voice isn’t forbidden, speak up”. One of the more powerful messages sent through Hellions songs. They don’t want you to waste your freedom, and on that charge through to the end of the song with soft instrumentals that remind you that it will all be okay. “26” is one of the more heart-wrenching additions to the series, and closes out Rue in a painfully beautiful way. The lyrics and instrumentals work together in a poetic and vulnerable fashion that makes it all the more effective and admirable.
The 20s Series takes you on a journey and is an indicator of the mental and emotional journey Hellions have gone on together over the years as a band. From the inspirational uplifting “22” to the daunting and vulnerable “26”, they have expanded themselves musically and personally in every way possible. These 5 songs are just the surface of Hellions near flawless discography, but picking them out and exploring them on their own merits has been an experience that I have loved. My admiration for this band is unmatched by almost any other act, and I think their music is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. Having listened to this band since their debut release in 2013, it has been an honor seeing them expand their sound. More recently I attended their Rue album tour at Max Watt’s in Melbourne. There was a special feeling throughout their entire set, and as the deafening singalongs were a constant throughout, it hammered home just how much this band means to people. The 20s Series documents the highs and lows of what they have gone through, and builds up the Hellions that we see today.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once more on vinyl
The Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical episode, ‘Once More With Feeling’, comes to vinyl. We take the record for a spin.
The acclaimed genre-bending series Buffy the Vampire Slayer pushed a whole lot of boundaries — but few were as wild as the 2001 musical episode “Once More With Feeling.” It was one of the first modern TV musicals (a trend that’s only gotten more popular in recent years) and an insanely ambitious proposition.
Series creator Joss Whedon (who would go on to direct the first Avengers film to universal acclaim) wrote and directed the Season 6 episode, which featured all original tunes that were not only catchy and creative in their own right — but also integral in moving the plot of the episode, the season, and even the series forward with some momentous reveals hidden amongst those show tune lines. He also scored a surprisingly great musical performance from the show’s actual cast, as opposed to simply dubbing in professional musicians.
The episode’s soundtrack received a CD release back in the day and drifted into geeky cult icon status for the past decade and a half. But, Buffy’s iconic musical is getting a new shot at primetime all these years later thanks to niche distributor Mondo. The company puts out everything from special edition posters to soundtracks, and its latest offering is a high-end take on “Once More With Feeling.” The pressing is on 180-gram vinyl and comes on blue splatter vinyl as well as a red variant. Like most Mondo releases, it features some gorgeous cover art, as well as in the gatefold, and even a geeky bonus for old school fans. Original creator Joss Whedon has written up some all-new liner notes to go along with the release (complete in its very own “Slaybill”), giving fans a bit more insight into the beloved episode.
Though the appeal here is obviously meant for Buffy fans, it’s worth noting there are some great songs on this album. Whedon is a proven songwriter and would go on to pen the award-winning web series musical Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. He showcased those skills in spades here, with a line-up that spans everything from rock ’n roll to ballads. “Under Your Spell” is a slow, foreboding track about love. “Rest In Peace” is a snarky punk rock number loaded with Buffy-centric gags. There’s “Standing,” a ballad about growing up and moving on in life; and the full cast closer “Where Do We Go From Here?” a sweeping tune that set the stage for the remaining run of the series. Then, there are the clever gag tunes, such as the medley “I’ve Got a Theory / Bunnies / If We’re Together,” and the short tunes such as “The Parking Ticket” and “The Mustard.”
Buffy was a low-key hit when it debuted, and the show has only grown in popularity and acclaim in the years since. Along with being an excellent album all its own, “Once More With Feeling” now lives and breathes as a pop culture artifact of a creative force who would go on to make a couple of the biggest movies (Avengers, Age of Ultron) and most beloved TV shows (Firefly) of the modern era. It’s also one of the boldest episodes of network television ever put to the airwaves, and yes, that still holds true to this day. If you’re a Buffy fan from way back, a new fan who found the series on streaming, or just a curious collector who digs on colored vinyl sets — “Once More With Feeling” deserves a spot on any shelf, regardless of what leads you to pick it up.
Order a copy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More With Feeling on vinyl from Mondo.