COVER STORY: Can’t Stop This Thing We Started: Bryan Adams is Back in India!
In an exclusive chat, the Canadian musician shares his success story, the death of rock, and whether he has come to terms with his cult status
A Bryan Adams Greatest Hits Collection makes no sense logically— how do you pick, say, a dozen tracks out of an oeuvre that is almost entirely made up of banging chartbusters? Can you even name a Bryan Adams song that hasn’t been a hit? But then, that also doesn’t mean the world doesn’t deserve yet another compilation album — Ultimate is his sixth so far — and one more reason to watch him live. India, for that matter, couldn’t be more thrilled. We aren’t the luckiest people in the world when it comes to witnessing global acts on tour, but Adams has not only been a consistent visitor but also one rock legend whose concerts have created mass frenzy every single time in every single city he’s played here.
“Our shows in India back in 1993 were the first big concerts for a Western artist in India,” says Adams, in an exclusive chat with Rolling Stone India. “I remember we played the cricket club in Mumbai where they had divided the field in half; one half was for the public, the other half the cricket club… they were all drinking tea or maybe they were gin and tonics.”
The upcoming Ultimate Tour in India will be Adams’ fifth visit here — the 1993-94 tour was followed by multi-city gigs in 2001, 2006 and most recently, in 2011. This time around he will be playing shows in Ahmedabad (October 9th), Hyderabad (October 11th), Mumbai (October 12th),Bengaluru (October 13th) and Gurugram (October 14th). Unlike other touring artists that tend to attract a certain group of fans based on age or genre preference, Adams’ shows in India have time after time drawn both rock and non-rock fans. If you’re reading this, there is a hundred percent chance you or your family, or friends — or their parents and even grandparents — have an anecdote to share about their Bryan Adams concert experience. If you’re a ‘Western music’ lover in India, the Canadian superstar has given you enough chances in past 25 years to attend what most say is the concert of a lifetime. For many Indians, that experience could have just been watching the opening riff of “Summer of ‘69” being played live by their hero. For others, Adams embodies everything that is both reckless and romantic. Is there a better tale of toxic love than the 1983 banger “Cuts Like a Knife”? (Although Adams has mentioned in a previous interview that the lyrics were pieced together from a incoherent mumble). Could rock rage ever be written to a tune better than in “Kids Wanna Rock” or in the anthem of all rock anthems —“Summer of ’69”! And could there ever be a gentler, more earnest apology than “Please Forgive Me”?
None of these songs have been a result of pure luck or fluke. Making good music is hard labor but Adams wouldn’t have it any other way; he’s been at it for 37 years now. “It’s really a great gig to make, write and perform music, even the days of getting nothing done seem to disappear once a new song appears. I think it’s safe to say I’m grateful and thankful for the live gigs, as they have played a huge part in my working out my sound. Playing live is the ultimate test of a new song.”
In this exclusive interview, the rock star discusses life, loves, failures and why he can’t stop this thing he started.
“Rock has been dying a slow death on the charts for a long time, yet for the most part, rock acts
dominate the live concert scene still…”
How is your stay in Germany going so far? Is it a vacation with family? And what are the best (maybe new) things you’ve experienced there this time?
It’s not anything that glamorous, I see a physio for my shoulder here, I damaged it sometime ago when coming off a motorbike.
The Ultimate Tour is your 19th concert tour! After all these years of being on the road, what’s that one thing that keeps you as thrilled as ever about travelling to different cities and being on stage? Can it be a drag sometimes?
19th tour? I didn’t know that… well it’s not surprising that we are still touring.If you follow my Instagram page you’ll see its filled with the jubilation from the concerts we’ve been doing around the world. I really can’t think of a better job; music and backpacking around the world. But to answer your question, it can be hard if the tours are long, there are only so many beige hotel rooms one can take in a month.
How excited are you about returning to India? It’s going to be your fifth time here and everyone is ecstatic about it…
I’m super excited about it too. Our shows in India back in 1993 were the first big concerts for a Western artist in India. I remember we played the cricket club in Mumbai where they had divided the field in half; one half was for the public, the other half the cricket club… they were all drinking tea or maybe they were gin and tonics.
Sorry about the incorrect information in the news we reported about your opening act, and thank you for correcting us. Could you now tell us who will be opening for you?
No one is booked… yet.
Over three decades in music—does it still amaze/baffle you that the whole world continues to be crazy about you? I mean you are just doing your thing – writing songs and playing gigs—and then you become this personality that everybody wants to know more about. They want to know what you do every day and how you do it… Long question short: have you come to terms with your cult status?
I don’t think about this at all, I’m only interested in what’s next, and certainly not the fame side of things—that is the least interesting thing. It’s about creating music that might have some lasting effect. It’s not as easy today as it was when I started, simply because there is so much more music to listen to but I put that down to computers being able to make people that aren’t musicians, into musicians. I’m not saying it doesn’t have a place to make computerized recordings; it’s just that there is so much of it. No one can tell if they are truly talented or not, even when they start to tour, as most shows nowadays are done with computer-generated technology.
In a recent video interview on Lorraine you mentioned that “it isn’t easy now and it wasn’t easy then either for a band to break onto the circuit.” What were the biggest hurdles then and how have they changed now—in this social media-driven climate?
The biggest hurdle is the instant gratification hurdle. If you’re an artist and you put out your first album or song and it’s not an instant success, you might as well go back and pack groceries. It used to be that artists (myself included) would make a couple of albums and hone the craft, do some touring to figure things out, and then shoot for a bulls eye. There is no MTV to help young artists now and push them, so you have to really have something to be able to break through. Hence so many manufactured artists relying on other songwriting teams and producers to give them a sound that sounds like they know what they are doing…
If MTV was instrumental in introducing some of the biggest stars back in the Eighties and Nineties, what is that platform, you think, today—YouTube?
Yes, without question, and unfortunately they don’t push artists like MTV did. Also they pay virtually nothing to the artists and songwriters for the music they plaster with advertising; we laugh about it sometimes: a million plays on YouTube—one million times nothing. At least MTV and radio paid normal rates.
Ultimate is your sixth compilation album—how significant/relevant do you think are compilation albums considering a lot of songs also overlap with the previous greatest hits anthologies.
Ultimate is an excellent approximation of the most popular songs I play live at the moment. I’ve always put a new song or two on these record company compilations, to give fans something extra. I always liked compilations of other artists personally, so that’s why I never minded doing them. You get most and sometimes all the songs you love of the artist in one place. But they are moveable feasts, as the times change so does the list of songs, albeit a few that are always there.
It’s remarkable how you and [long-time songwriting partner] Jim Vallance have created so much great music together! How do you guys still manage to create magic — what is the work ethic/professional relationship at work here?
It stuns us too. Occasionally we talk about it, like with the recent score we wrote for the new Broadway musical Pretty Woman. It was an extraordinary undertaking, but I could never have done it without him. We somehow connected early on and managed to make songs that have lasted way beyond our expectations. Plus for the part, it’s always been fun, I don’t know how he’s been able to look up and see the same toad looking back at him all these years.
A lot of young musicians, and even audiences, do not realize the sheer work that goes into making and chiseling songs — the hours and hours of hard labor. What are the most unglamorous bits about your job, you’d say?
There’s nothing unglamorous about it, it’s really a great gig to make, write and perform music, even the days of getting nothing done seem to disappear once a new song appears. I think it’s safe to say I’m grateful and thankful for the live gigs, as they have played a huge part in my working out my sound. Playing live is the ultimate test of a new song.
Is a new studio album in the pipeline? Tell us all what you can about it, please!
Yes, I’m putting the finishing touches on it now.
The current global charts are dominated by hip-hop and pop. Does it bother you that rock is dying a slow death, as some people are saying?
Oh rock has been dying a slow death on the charts for a long time, yet for the most part, rock acts dominate the live concert scene still. So figure that out!
Who are your favorite young rock musicians/bands right now?
I really like Chris Stapleton, he’s the real deal, but I have to say I have a lot of respect for the new music coming from Canada, like The Weeknd, Drake, Shawn Mendes (I love promoting Canada!).
How are you coping as an artist in this rapidly changing world of social media? People rarely listen to whole albums, streaming has caused us to become so fickle and impatient with music… Do you often look back at the good ol’ days when listening to music was so easy, when you let the music grow on you?
I don’t really look back, I look forward. So what if things are changing? I just concentrate on the music. The most popular things on my Instagram account are the moments when I sing, I think that says it all.
What are the things you could do very easily artistically, say, in 1995, that you struggle with right now. And vice versa.
The biggest change is I had a record company who was going out and killing to make songs hits, those days died in 1998, when my contract got sold to a rap label in the USA.
Are you going to be spending some time in India after the shows are over?
Yes, that is the plan, but probably before the tour starts. I’ve not worked out quite where I’m going to go, I’m open to suggestions.
A little existential: why do you feel the need to create? What does it do to you and your being — to work on music from scratch?
It’s not that existential, creating your own things is really like an addiction and when you’re doing it you are constantly reminded you need to do it – that’s what your ‘being’ tells you. It’s hard to not think about creating new things, and in my case because new opportunities seem to surface on a regular basis. It’s kind of like a good cake, you can never just have once piece.
At this stage in your career where you’ve been loved so much, honored a lot and continue to do what you love — do you ever worry about failure or even disappointing people? Do you ever think — “my work is done, I can sit back and relax, I don’t need to please anyone now”?
Expect nothing and you’ll never be disappointed, that’s how I’ve worked most of my life. And as far as pleasing goes, I’ve only ever wanted to make music for myself; if I liked it then I’d release it. Luckily, I’ve always surrounded myself with good people who have helped when the pressure was on.
What do you think music and photography have in common? (Adams is an accomplished photographer and the co-founder of Zoo Magazine).
They are both about creating something from nothing, and just like creating a song is the first part of the making of a record, the shutter release on a photo is just the beginning of making a photo. Both have to go into through the various processes to get the final result.