Town Without Pity

The country-rock heroes of Whiskeytown find solace in their instability

For that reason, it's easy to dismiss Whiskeytown as a media creation, just the latest in a long line of third-hand, Gram Parsons wanna-bes. But as all country fans know, the proof is in the details, and Adams possesses an innate grasp of the details. The man described by Outpost partner Mark Williams as "the closest thing to a pure songwriter I've ever come across" has a plainspoken knack for storytelling, and he comfortably moves from the soul balladry of "Everything I Do" to the pop-rock melodicism of "Turn Around" and the pure honky-tonk of "Inn Town." It's no mystery why he's a critic's dream: He looks a bit like Matthew Sweet, sings a lot like Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, and can ingest liquor like a young George Jones.

It is the drunken, bad-boy reputation which has garnered Whiskeytown the most attention, even earning comparisons with the '80s' most lovable sloppy alcoholics, The Replacements. As The Replacements learned during their career, the role of staggering, drunken buffoon can get old after a few years, particularly when your audience gets attached to such misbehavior. Adams, however, refuses to be swayed by the collective will of his audience.

"I don't care what the audience wants," he insists. "I don't give a fuck about our audience. I just make the doughnuts. They eat 'em. I don't want to sound rude, but I can't be concerned with what they want, because I'm not doing it just for them, I'm doing it for me. So I could give a fuck really what a crowd wants, or what our fans want when we make a record, 'cause if I do that, then I'm fucking up. I make records and play shows that satisfy me, and us, first.

"I don't think popularity necessitates happiness at all. I think quite the opposite. So as long as I stay kind of a brat about it, then I'll be fine."

Even at his worst, Adams is an unusually prolific songwriter, but the heartbreak that enveloped him last year after the end of a three-year relationship resulted in a flood of new material, with the band forced to whittle 36 new tunes down to 13 for Strangers Almanac.

"I grew attached to all the numbers we were doing, all the tunes," he says. "It was really weird for me to have to pick. Actually, I left it up to other people, and then I complained when it wasn't what I wanted. At least I didn't have to be the one involved in the process of elimination. It was just too strange. If I had my way, I'd just have released all of them.

"There's some stuff left over from every record. We have more unreleased material than we do released. We're pretty confident that if we broke up tomorrow, they could be putting out records by us for years."

He and the band have already demoed 13 new songs, with Adams saying that the new lineup is encouraging him to revisit his punk roots and crank up his guitar, "kinda like Black Flag, The Wipers or TSOL." And while he knows that his nonstop devotion to the craft of songwriting can take a toll on his personal relationships, it's a bargain he willingly struck many years ago.

"It's like second nature to me," Adams says of songwriting. "It isn't a big deal. It's something I've grown accustomed to; part of my daily life is writing a song. It's just how I cope or deal with the world.

"It's definitely gotten in the way of relationships, being obsessed with writing songs. It isn't really an obsession anymore, it's second nature, like I said. But other people, they don't understand. It's definitely made it hard to keep a girlfriend, but I don't care. I have enough friends."

Whiskeytown is scheduled to perform on Saturday, January 31, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe, with 6 String Drag. Showtime is 10 p.m.

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