Two years ago, Ryan Adams took up a new pastime: hiking in the Californian mountains. He'd been diagnosed with Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that affected his hearing and nervous system. Soon, he'd quit working with his band The Cardinals and, in 2010, baffled fans by releasing Orion, a heavy metal concept album recorded four years earlier. Adams seemed to be in need of some peace.
"I'd been sober for many years," he says now. "But in order to survive the Meniere's, I had to give up smoking, pharmaceutical drugs and drinking espresso." Adams found one of the few recreational pursuits that didn't leave him feeling sick and delirious was exercise. His wife actress Mandy Moore, took him walking in the hills. "She just reminded that when I did my first elevation peak I was still smoking," he laughs. "I like to head out to the hills near Dante's Peak. Once you get to the top you can see the ocean and condors, owls and coyotes."
This state calm seems to have fed into Adams's forthcoming album, Ashes & Fire 12 elegant country-rock songs, featuring Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers' organist Benmont Tench and guest co-vocalist Norah Jones. The album also continues Adams's long relationship with the Johns dynasty. Producer Ethan Johns worked with Adams's old band Whiskeytown in 1999. Ethan's father, Glyn Johns, whose credits include The Who and The Rolling Stones, produced Ashes & Fire. "Glyn's a gent," says Adams. "He's working on a book of his life, so I don't want to spoil it by repeating his stories."
After testing his stamina with acoustic UK dates in June ("I had a good night every night"), Adams plans a full UK tour this autumn. He also intends to make this record his prime focus. Unusually there are no plans to release any previously recorded albums or out-takes. "Music was the first thing I loved to do after drawing, making my grandmother laugh and eating cake," he insists. "I think the tag 'prolific' is used to minimalise what I do. I'm always working, but I've decided not to share."
Adams has already shared two books of his poetry and short stories, Infinity Blues and Hello Sunshine. Expect a third, "I'm now writing a novel about a lovable rat. But if I say more it won't happen."