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David Crosby on Here If You Listen

Poet. Survivor. Living legend. The mighty DAVID CROSBY (Croz) talks to MARTIN RUDDOCK about his excellent new collaborative album Here If You Listen, mortality, singing along with yourself and that “asshole” in The White House…

Shindig!: Your latest album Here If You Listen is your second with The Lighthouse Band (Snarky Puppy’s Michael League, guitarist Becca Stevens, and keyboardist Michelle Willis). Its a collaborative effort.

David Crosby: Yes it is in fact… The first one went down so well. I was so knocked out with what great musicians, great singers, great writers they are. The first one was sort of a “me” album with Michael producing and the girls sang on it and contributed to it. It went so well that I went to all three of them and said “I want to make a group record, I don’t want to make a David Crosby record I want to make a Lighthouse record. I want you to sing lead too, I want us all to write the whole thing together.” And that’s what we did. We went into the studio in Brooklyn and we had two songs… we had Michelle’s ‘Janet’ and we had the one I wrote with (Snarky Puppy pianist) Bill Laurance, that I wrote to my son ‘Your Own Ride’. We wrote the entire rest of the record in eight days together, right there.

SD!: Throughout your career, you’ve always had a love of making music through jamming and collaboration. Is that how you prefer to work these days?

DC: I’ll work any kind of way. Anything that produces a good song, produces decent music that makes people feel something… I’ll go anywhere, any way. I’ll do it stark naked in the middle of a snowstorm. Anything that will make good art, I’m willing to go through to do.

SD!: You’re one of the great songwriters of the last century, but on Here If You Listen you’ve thrown open the writing process to the rest of the band.

DC: Well, they’re such talented people man. Michael League is one of the best writers I know, and Becca Stevens is the same, Michelle the same…

They are unbelievably good writers. The result is this record and the proof is in the pudding. The quality of the songs is really high.

SD!: The song ‘Your Own Ride’ is lovely, and features a very poignant lyric addressed to your son, Django.

DC: Yeah, I wrote it about my son and to my son about 10 years ago when he was like 12 years old. And I showed the words to Bill Laurance last year and he thought they were one of my best sets. He asked me if he could work with those words, and he gave me an unbelievably good song back. It’s funny you should ask about him, I’m meeting him here for lunch today in Boston.

SD!: You’ve been making music in so many different ways over the years, you’ve done the band format with The Byrds and CSNY where you’re trying to accommodate other people’s songs or find a space in there. Would it be fair to say you’re more like a jazz bandleader these days?

DC: There’s something in that…. I don’t really feel like a band leader so much. I guess I am in the Sky Trails band more probably than The Lighthouse Band. When I’m with them I tend to feel more like Michael is the leader. He’s a firm and natural bandleader, and he’s a much more knowledgeable musician than I am – so when we work in The Lighthouse Band generally I’m the lead singer but I’m not in charge (laughs). The two girls make damn sure I’m not in charge ‘cause they’re very strong women, both of them.

SD!: It seems a very harmonious set-up you’ve got there.

 DC: It is yeah, we’re very very good friends and we really do care about each other. We do respect each other’s work tremendously so there’s a really good work ethic there. If any one of the three of them says something to me man, I’m really listening.

SD!: Two of the songs on the new album ‘1967’ and ‘1974’ have been worked up by you and the band from old demos, how did those come about?

DC: Yes. One of them (‘1967’) is a really magical thing because you can actually hear me writing the song. We actually had the tape machine going while I was thinking up the song. It’s the only time I know of that that exists. You can hear me find the melody, right there on the tape. And then what we did was Michael said “There’s no rules, we can be a time machine, and take them right up to now and complete them.” And I said “Jeez, could we? It would be fun, there’s no law saying we can’t.” Michael and the girls said “Aw c’mon, let us at it!” and the result is what you heard. We wrote words to one of them and we completed the other. I think it’s fantastic that there’s a tape of a thing all the way from the first moment that you think the melody up. And it’s all there, the whole thing on tape.

SD!: Were you still in The Byrds when you recorded that demo or was it just after?

DC: I think it was right after, yeah.

SD!:Is it a strange feeling to sing along with your younger self on those tunes?

DC: You go through a lot, but the person is still the same person so it really connected up pretty well.

SD!: Your voice sounds amazing on this album. How do you keep it in such good shape?

DC: I…don’t. I have no idea how it works at all! I did everything wrong, the only thing I didn’t do was smoke cigarettes and drink whisky. So, don’t smoke cigarettes and drink whisky I guess! (laughs)

SD!: It sounds pretty seamless where you’re singing over these old recordings. (Former Byrds manager) Jim Dickson once said that you re-sung a line on the Byrds’ version of ‘Triad’ 20 years later for the Never Before album and you can’t tell where the substituted line is at all.

DC: Yeah I believe that’s probably true, and I don’t know why. I can’t explain it but there it is. I think the thing for me to do is be grateful that my voice has stood the test and use the shit out of it, sing as much as I possibly can.

SD!: What have you got planned next? You’ve had a very prolific decade, with four albums in the last few years. Is there a new album planned with the Sky Trails band?

DC: Yep, we’re already writing it (chuckles). The fifth album is being written right now, and it’s another Sky Trails band record. The truth is, man… I don’t want to sound maudlin about this, but I’m getting towards the end of my life, and when you get to that point you look at the time that you think you might have left. How am I gonna use it? Am I gonna lay around or go to the park and stare at the leaves – or am I gonna work? And I can still work. And it seems to me that the world is in a pretty shitty state… so I’m gonna work my ass off.

SD!: Speaking of the state of the world, on your new song ‘Other Half Rule’ there’s mention of “Rocket Men” and “little hands”. Is that Trump you’re talking about there?

DC: Yeah! Oh man, can you imagine what it’s like to be American and come over (to the UK) and have everyone turn to you with a horrified expression and say “What the FUCK is going on?!” Because it’s awful, it’s so embarrassing. It’s past embarrassing, it’s humiliating. We have to be as honest as we can and discuss it. We’re trying to change it but what a piece of shit he is. Racist asshole. I can’t even begin to describe what a disgusting guy this guy is.

Here If You Listen will be released by BMG on October 26th.  A Family Album interview surrounding If I Could Only Remember By Name will run in Shindig! issue #85


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