Rock superstar Bryan Adams is back with his fifteenth album, So Happy It Hurts, released this past Friday (March 11). So Happy It Hurts might seem like a weird title for an album written and recorded during COVID. But, as Adams tells me, he was just trying to bring some joy to his fans.
Creating joy is certainly something he knows a great deal about. Going back to his early ’90s breakthrough with the back to back to back top 10 albums, Cuts Like A Knife and Reckless, Adams has crafted an incredible string of hits.
“Summer Of ’69,” “Run To You,” “Cuts Like A Knife,” “It’s Only Love,” “Kids Wanna Rock, “Somebody,” “Heaven,” “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You.” and the list goes on.
On this new album, Adams goes back a bit to the feel of his Reckless days sonically. As we also discussed, Adams had a lot of energy in making So Happy It Hurts and it explodes on songs like “Kick Ass,” “On The Road,” “I Ain’t Worth S**t Without You” and more.
I spoke to Adams about the new album, his pent-up energy to get back on the road, how he teamed up with Monty Python legend John Cleese for the intro to “Kick Ass,” his photography and more.
Steve Baltin: I have talked to a lot of artists during lockdown. Some can’t wait to get back out there. Others enjoyed the break. You kind of answered the question for me with “On The Road,” which makes clear you can’t wait to get back out there.
Bryan Adams: In some ways, there’s no question about it. When you’ve done 40 years of touring to suddenly have nothing it’s a real shocker. And initially, I was a little bit pissed off by it, but eventually I became a bit more Willie Nelson about it. I love being with my family, it was really fun. And it also gave me an opportunity to really knuckle down and make an album without any interruptions. That’s kind of what happened, and that’s why I have an album out now because I had this free time, I had loads of ideas, and I got together with my engineer and we just worked and worked and worked and worked and worked. It was really fun ’cause I was doing it at home and in my studio in Vancouver, and it was such a creative time, and at the same time a real family time.
Baltin: With the extra time were there things you approached differently on So Happy It Hurts?
Adams: Every day I would sit down and either work on the thing I did yesterday or I’d start another road map for another song. My way of working is usually I only have about 10 or 20 ideas for songs and then those become the album and I have to finish those first before I can get another 10 or 20 ideas. But having all this time on my hands, I suddenly have loads and loads of ideas that just kept coming. I’ve actually got a photograph of a chalkboard, which I had in my studio which had every single song I was working on written down. There was so many on there that I had to redo it all the time, and the letters get smaller and smaller, but I ended up recording about 30 songs of which got narrowed down to 12, and that’s a luxury for me.
Baltin: I was joking with a lot of people about the COVID box set? Now, for you, will there be a COVID box set? Will those other 18 songs eventually come out?
Adams: I don’t know. The reason they didn’t come out this time was because I didn’t feel they worked with that collective of songs. We’ll have to see. They need to be re-recorded or they need to have another look, another round of writing on them or something.
Baltin: I know that you are friends with Bruce Springsteen, who’s one of my favorite artists. And he’s famous for that, of basically songs don’t fit a collection, and then they turn out to be amazing songs. So certainly there’s precedent for like, “Okay, cool, I’m gonna bring stuff back out in the future.”
Adams: Well, in fact particularly one song, I was about 10 years old, and I never finished it for the other albums because it just wasn’t coming together, but it came together beautifully on this record, and the song is called “These Are The Moments That Make Up My Life.” When I started this version I did everything, I played virtually all the instruments on the album, including the drums. So when I put this track down, I started with a very simple guitar part and then I added drums to it. Being a singer, you develop songs around the voice. So when I was playing the drums, I was singing along as I was playing them. And I think that drum track is what was missing on the previous version of “These Are The Moments That Make Up My Life.” When I listen to it now, it’s like, “God, this song really moves me.” I can’t wait for everyone to hear that song. I’m definitely gonna add it to the show.
Baltin: It feels like on this record, you had a lot of pent-up energy in a good way, whether it’s “Kick Ass” or “I Ain’t Worth S**t Without You.” Do you feel like when it comes time to be able to play these songs live this record is going to explode on stage?
Adams: I just did a residency in Las Vegas and we added two of the songs already to the show. One being “Kick Ass,” and the other one being “So Happy It Hurts.” Both of them went over as if they’d always been in the set so I guess the pent-up frustration of not being on tour was translated into the songs.
Baltin: Were there songs that you found you missed? And when you got back to the stage in Vegas they felt almost new again ?
Adams: One of the things about my set that I look forward to every night is looking down to see what the next song is. Because there’s always another moment in the show which I know is gonna get people off and that includes myself. So it never feels like it’s new, but it always feels exciting. Certainly adding the new songs to the set always is exciting and it adds something to the night ’cause it’s something to introduce people to. We opened the show with “Kick Ass,” which is hysterical. And it’s really funny to hear people laughing at the beginning of your show because the introduction by John Cleese, it’s so silly [chuckle]. We hear people laughing. You think, “Wow, that’s great. What a great way to kick off an evening.”
Baltin: I wasn’t aware that John Cleese did the introduction. How did you guys come together?
Adams: I was invited to a lunch and he was there. And we happened to be sitting next to each other. I’d been looking for the right person to do that and it suddenly occurred to me when I was talking to him, I said, “Do you ever do recordings for records? I asked ’cause I think your voice should be great on this song.” He said, “Well, I’d absolutely love to try.” And he came to the studio and I really wish now, looking back, I wish I’d filmed it because [chuckle] the banter that happened in between takes was so funny, and it would have made a great piece just in itself just to have. Imagine a video of him doing that. [chuckle] But at the time, I wasn’t really thinking, I was just thinking, “I gotta get this, I gotta make this work.” And he was the perfect voice for it.
Baltin: I talk about this to people all the time. There are moments that you can anticipate, like going to the Grammy Awards, you can anticipate working with other musicians. But I doubt you could ever imagine that one day you would have someone from Monty Python on one of your records.
Adams: That’s right. And Monty, I don’t know how big Monty Python was in America, but it was huge in Canada, and so was his subsequent television show Fawlty Towers. So I was a big fan and still am of their work.
Baltin: Let’s go to the title track, “So Happy It Hurts.” It’s an interesting song and an interesting title track to have in let’s face it, what’s been pretty freaking bleak times. So take me through a little bit how that came about.
Adams: Well, the song was basically initially a lyric that my co-writer Gretchen Peters had started and sent to me. We didn’t have a verse, we just had this little chorus idea. And a couple of years ago, actually pre-pandemic. I had gone into the studio with Keith, my guitar player, and Pat Stewart, the drummer I work with in Vancouver. And we just did a basic day of jamming ideas to see what would work. And sometimes, when you put people in a room together, you get something. I remember putting down the chorus and mucking around. I had some terrible verse idea. [But] when I was searching around for ideas when we were working on the album, on making the album during the lockdown. I went back to that old track and just erased the verse. I thought, “Let’s take this chorus, let’s do a new track around this chorus and see if we can make it work.” Did an arrangement, came up with a new verse, called Gretchen. We’ve knocked out a new verse on FaceTime, and then sat with the song for a bit and thought, “That’s pretty good. ” And then I was speaking to my other co-writer on this album, Mutt Lange, and I said to Mutt, “I got this song. I think it’s really good. Could you have a listen to it and tell me what else you think it might need. Because I think it’s really close.” And he came back and suggested a couple of things, and that took it over the top, and they were arrangement ideas that he had. And so the collaboration between the three of us made that song work.
Baltin: What are your favorite happy songs of all time?
Adams: Well, you mentioned the Beatles, and I love that song, “All You Need Is Love.” That song always makes me smile when I hear it.
Baltin: You mentioned having a photograph of the board in your room in your studio. Is there photography that goes with this work from this period?
Adams: I did a couple of sessions of photographs to make the album, and when the album does come out, there’s a whole book that comes with the album of photographs. Not so much recording photographs, because those kind of photographs I usually tend to put up on my Instagram sort of thing. But I had a lot of time for photography, and in fact, aside from doing my own work for the album, I worked with a band called Rammstein, and just worked with them on their next record, and I also worked on this calendar called the Pirelli Calendar, which came out last month. And so I’ve been busy.
Baltin: Do you find the two infuse each other and having the opportunity to step away from music for photography or vice versa keeps both fresh for you?
Adams: I think so. It’s certainly exciting to sit down in either medium and start creating something from nothing, and I think that’s what has always excited me about music. When you do have an idea, what you think is good, and you start to put it together, there’s actually nothing that’s more exciting except for maybe your children. Because it really is magic, and in the same sense, photography can give you the same rush because when you see a photograph that you think that’s really captured the moment. Again, it’s a little thing, but it’s an exciting thing.
Baltin: One word answer for both. One photograph and one song for you from other people that when you hear that song or when you see that photograph, it absolutely is a moment in time for you.
Adams: Well, the first thing that came to mind was Aladdin Sane by [David] Bowie, and the photograph from that album cover, and it’s just so incredibly genius. And if we’re talking about that, we might as well just take something from that album as well. “Panic in Detroit,” for example.
Baltin: When you go back and you listen to So Happy It Hurts all the way through as a complete work what do you take from it?
Adams: I did a pretty good job as a drummer.
Baltin: So Phil Collins and Don Henley better look out. And Dave Grohl.
Adams: (Chuckles) No way. It was with the magic of studio that I was able to pull off some of that stuff and it was just really exciting to do it. Seriously, the answer to the question really is I’m really proud of the record, I think it’s a moment in time that I’ll never forget, as you articulated earlier about this being the worst time ever. So, to be able to hopefully bring a little bit of joy to everyone’s lives once it comes out, it will be my ambition for it, and I hope it is able to achieve that.