Bryan Guy Adams is the 51-year-old Canadian musician that your dad loves, but has also somehow made it onto your iPod playlist. A firm staple of soft rock radio, almost all of his 207 songs are the music of choice for high-school reunions, raucous brunches, weddings, malls and 50th wedding anniversaries (‘Everything I doooo, I doooo it for youuuuu’). He’s also bagged 15 Grammy nominations, been awarded The Order of Canada and appeared on a postage stamp. Not bad for a diplomat’s son who left school at 15 to make it in a band.
So it’s a somewhat touching moment when, mid-interview with Time Out, the biggest name in rock (fact) suddenly breaks off our phone conversation to take a call from his father. ‘I’ll Skype you later, Dad!’ he says, and suddenly Mr Adams seems very human indeed. The interruption leaves him trying to recall what he was telling us about – ah yes, performing. ‘I still work as much as I ever did as a musician, in some ways more. I do 10 shows a month, which is 120 concerts a year. There were times when I would tour for a year, then I’d take a year off, but I don’t do that any more.’ Could it be argued he is a workaholic, or just addicted to performance? ‘You know what? I don’t feel like people want anything from me,’ he insists. ‘I don’t get that impression at all. I think any time you are doing something, people expect things from you. My responsibility is to make sure that everything is of a certain standard, and not to slip below that. I love what I do, I love singing and it’s really hard to stop. I don’t even want to stop, I’ve never even considered stopping.’
Starting his career in Vancouver in the early ’80s, the surprisingly softly-spoken Adams quickly worked his way round the globe, spawning power ballad after soft-rock anthem. He’s known for sky-high guitar riffs and fist-bumping rhythms, but he laughs when he reveals that it was never his intention to be this famous. ‘My ambitions were only to get out of playing nightclubs. My other ambition was to be able to pay my rent.’ These days he is the best-selling Canadian musician of all time, with album sales hovering between 65 and 100 million records worldwide. With songs including ‘Summer of ’69’, ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it For You’ and ‘Cuts like a Knife’, he has officially burrowed his way into our brains; but with the release of his latest album, Bare Bones, he seems to be straying from his power-ballad roots into guy-with-a-guitar acoustic territory.
Though he’s reluctant to reveal too many details about what fans can expect from his concert in Dubai next week, Adams does tell us he’ll be performing classics from his new greatest hits album. Is it a pain playing the same old songs? ‘I like them all, or I wouldn’t play them,’ he laughs. Good news for those hoping to hear Adams’s most famous hit, ‘(Everything I Do) I Do it For You,’ which featured in the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. ‘That song enabled us to tour places like Dubai,’ he tells us. ‘It’s going to be a great show, and what else are you going to do that night? There’s only so much falafel you can eat down there.’
But we don’t mind raising a falafel in the air to a song that spent 16 consecutive weeks at number one in the UK, seven weeks at number one in the US, and even won him a Grammy Award and an Oscar nomination. ‘I will never see that kind of success again,’ he tells us. ‘Those are once-in-a-lifetime things. It opened up a door, because until that point I’d had big hits in America and Canada, but not really outside. That was the first one, and what a hit.’
It’s a feeling that many new musicians would give body parts to replicate. Adams isn’t shy with his advice for new musicians. ‘In the music business, everybody gets ripped off,’ he says. ‘You want to be a musician? You’re going to get ripped off somehow. You’ve just got to be able to balance it with things you can do that make up for it. You have to have good people around you, and good wits, and just hang on to as much as you can. You can’t get anywhere in this business without someone taking something away from you, it’s just the way it is. You have a laugh, you pick up, you dust off and you keep going.’
You keep going, it seems, until you hit another industry: Adams has now dived into philanthropy and photography, becoming a coveted photographer for magazines such as Vogue. But he says he’d never hang up his guitar. ‘No, I consider myself a musician. Why would I ever do that? That would be the worst thing ever,’ he reveals, along with the revelation that he continues to write new material, just to enforce the fact. ‘If you’ve been doing this as long as I have, everything that might seem surreal to somebody else is kind of normal to me. It just is what it is. I think I’m a good team player, so I can motivate and get things going. That’s probably my greatest strength. Being a motivator, I can motivate myself into doing certain projects, keep the team alive, keep it going. It’s not hard to be motivated when you love what you do. Just think about the music. Always concentrate on your songs and don’t worry – just make sure your music’s great.’
Perhaps when hearing it played live, we’ll finally understand what ‘Summer of ’69’ was about – although Adams did allude to Time Out, last time he graced the GCC, that it was not about the year. Maybe when he calls his dad back, they’ll discuss it.