Sunday, May 14, 2017

DAVID CROSBY: SOUL MEDICINE AND SKY TRAILS


David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz



Back with his third album in less than three years, David Crosby is having the time of his life. Beginning with 2014’s Croz, followed by 2016’s Lighthouse, the legendary former Byrd and co-founder of Crosby, Stills, Nash (& sometimes Young) is charging headlong into his golden years with a focused passion, an inexhaustible supply of musical energy, a flow of brilliant songs, and the help of some blindingly talented friends. Both on record and in concert, Crosby is captured at stunning heights of creative power. His new album, Sky Trails, is exclusively available as a limited edition at his shows; an official summer retail release is planned. Crosby and Friends are currently on the road to showcase the new album in a performance that interweaves a treasure-trove of greatest hits drawn from many phases of a long and legendary career. The tour arrives on Long Island on May 18th at The Space at Westbury.


Preparing for this interview, I reflected back to the last time I had the opportunity to speak with David Crosby. Lighthouse had just been released, and the tour had just completed its first show. Early album reviews from both critics and fans were resoundingly positive, and the opening night concert in Atlanta left both performers and their audience ecstatic. David was in a chipper mood as he called me from his tour bus. At one point during our conversation, I referred to Lighthouse as “soul medicine” and he picked up on the phrase right away, repeating it to his band mates on the bus.


From my initial introduction to David Crosby’s music at the age of 15 through the many interviews with him during the span of more than 25 years, my love of the music has remained a constant; my respect and admiration for the man has grown exponentially.



Speaking with the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as he continues to break new musical ground, I am struck most by his humility, his humanity, and the feeling that, in some fashion, I am speaking with an old friend. So, as always, for the music, and for the friendship, I say: Thank you, David.

   
 

Roy Abrams: How are you, sir?
David Crosby: I’m a happy guy, man.

 

RA: I can’t believe we’re speaking this quickly again, with all that’s going on in your life!
DC: And in the world! Holy …

 

RA: Yeah. That’s a whole other subject!
DC: Yeah.

 

RA: I wanted to congratulate you on the Lighthouse album and the tour. David, since I got the album, I listen to it every day. That’s no bullshit.
DC: I’m thrilled! That’s really, really wonderful to hear. You know, I’m very proud of that record. I think that this thing of me being in two bands—one acoustic, one electric—is the best way to stretch myself and push myself. And at this stage of my life, that’s exactly what I need. This new record, Sky Trails, and this band, with my son James, is a fully electric deal. It’s the completely opposite end of the scale from Lighthouse. Having both of these to be able to do and push myself with? Boy, it’s so terrific, man. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.


 

RA: Listening to Lighthouse again last night, I was thinking about how your 25-year-old self would have been awestruck by the degree of prolificness—
DC: Yeah, what the hell? What’s going on here? Yeah, I’ve been baffled by it, too. All my friends ask me, what are you eating for breakfast? You know, I’m very happy. I did love being in CSN but being out of CSN is kind of great; it opened a floodgate on material—I’ve been writing like crazy. So that’s a very good thing. Not to say that I won’t ever be in CSN again; but it’s just making me write like crazy and, of course, that’s the center issue of the whole deal: you’ve gotta have songs, or you don’t have anything.

 
image by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
David Crosby
image by Buzz Person


RA: Speaking of Sky Trails, you and James had put out “Capitol” a little while back; once again, I was struck by the instantly identifiable sound that the two of you have formed.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do have an identifiable thing … and the jazzy chords kind of pushing (things); that’s us!

 

RA: Regarding the core musicians who you’re working with on this album, I’m floored to see Jeff Pevar back in the mix. How did that happen?
DC: I said, “Hey! James and I would love you to come and play guitar with us again.” Because he’s a terrific player! It’s not like CPR, though, because we have these two girls in the band now. Mai Agan plays bass and is a stunner of a player from, of all places, Estonia. She’s a jazz bass player who has her own band in Scandinavia. And then we have Michelle Willis from the Lighthouse band who is an astounding singer. It’s very exciting, I have to say.


 


David Crosby and Michelle Willis
image by Buzz Person


David Crosby and Mai Agan
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

 
RA: Are the musicians who played on the record the same who are accompanying you on tour?
DC:  Yes, (including) our drummer Steve DiStanislao, who fortunately is on a break in-between tours with David Gilmour.

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Steve DiStanislao
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

RA: How have the rehearsals been going?
DC: The way I do it is very exciting, man. Every day I get ready to go and I get all excited and charged up [laughs]; I want to go over there (the rehearsal space) early and start playing sooner, because it’s really fun!

 
RA: I saw from pictures that James had posted the other day while you were rehearsing in L.A. that you have some pretty illustrious company next door!

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Paul McCartney
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

 
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. He came wandering in … it was so funny, man. We were singing a song that I love to sing, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”; we have a vocal arrangement of it. So we’re singing that, I’ve got my eyes closed, all spaced out and loving it and thinking, “Wow, this sounds so good!” and I get to the end, and somebody’s clapping, somebody’s applauding. I turn around and it was McCartney! He’s a really sweet guy, man. He came over and brought his whole band over another time and we played a few songs for him. We went over there yesterday and they played a few songs for us. We’re all a bunch of hams; we love showing off for each other. But I really like the guy. You know, that’s not an easy crown to wear, and he does it pretty gracefully. I’m proud of him as a guy; I think he does a good job!

 

RA: Something else I’ve always admired about you, separate and apart from your own music, your own songwriting, is the way in which you’ve supported and introduced new talent, going back to Joni and Jackson. Shawn Colvin was somebody who you turned me on to 25 years ago; certainly, Michael Hedges as well. Now, we’ve got Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. My question is: Why that is such an important thing for you? It’s not something that I see many other artists do.
DC: Here’s the thing: Yeah, I agree. Not everybody does that; I do do it. I’m always on the hunt for really good singer/songwriters because I think that’s where the best of the stuff comes from, and particularly lately, I’ve been on it even more because the streaming services have killed us being able to make money off of records. We no longer get paid on our music; so that’s what we have to face. So, that’s okay for (some artists); I can handle it because there are a lot of people want to buy tickets for my shows. But for a young person, there’s no record money! You can’t sell any records because everybody’s used to getting them for free! That just makes it almost impossible for new, young talent to break in. They’re still at the stage we’re they’re driving a van 300 miles to play to another 35 people. And that doesn’t work out. So I try to find them and give them as much of a leg up as I possibly can. If I find somebody really talented, then I think it behooves me to focus a light on them, because they deserve it!

 



RA: That’s a beautiful thing. I have Becca’s album and Michelle’s album thanks to you; I would not have known about them otherwise. So, thank you!
DC: [Laughs] Well, at least you can count on me to only turn you on to good stuff, I promise.

 

RA: It’s been way more than that! I started listening to you when I was 14-15; I’m 56 now, so that’s the majority of my life, which I why I always say thank you every time you and I speak.
DC: Man, I really appreciate the help, so thank you back!

 

RA: You mentioned the last time we spoke that there were a couple of guest artists who appear on the new record—Michael McDonald and Jacob Collier.
DC: Michael McDonald wrote one of the songs, called “Till Tomorrow Falls on Love”, and it turns out that he’s just a good a writer as we all thought he was!

 
RA: What was Jacob’s role?                       
DC: He sang on the first song on the record, one of James’s songs called “She’s Got to Be Somewhere” and he sang harmony on it. He did a great job, of course!

 

RA: I spoke with him back in January, and he singled out you, Herbie Hancock, and Quincy Jones, saying that he loves that you still bring that childlike energy to the table. He said, “I’ll play a song for David, and he’ll hear something, and he’ll jump up and clap.”
DC: I can’t help it! Look how good he is!! [Laughs} He’s one of the people I’m trying to turn the rest of the world on to. I think he is one of the most talented people I have ever met in my life.

Jacob Collier and David Crosby
image courtesy of David Crosby


RA: Scary! And he’s so grounded; it’s uncanny to me.
DC: He has got his head screwed on right, doesn’t he? I really love him. I just love him.

 

RA: We had spoken briefly at the beginning of this conversation about our current world circus. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, our whole condition, and also how you see the role of music in playing the cultural resistance role as it has in the past.
DC: I think circus is a great choice of word. I think it’s a clown car. I rarely this many truly stupid people I one place. It’s doing harm to us, and to the United States of America, and to the world. So I’m very disturbed by it. I’m very, very upset by the ridiculous Congress, by the ridiculous president, by the complete collection of unbelievable assholes that he has managed to put together. I’m a bit of a corny guy, man. I really actually believe in the United States. I love it. I think it’s the best idea that anybody’s ever had about how people could live together in a representative democracy. But we don’t have it. We have a corporatocracy and there’s nobody in Washington working for you or for me. So, we have to get down in the trenches and earn it back. And it’s not going to be easy. They’ve done a lot of redistricting, a lot of gerrymandering, a lot of pick-and-shovel work to make it harder for us to unseat them, but we simply have to. We have to get into this next midterm election and cream them. Anything else isn’t going to save the country.

 
David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz

RA: I agree with you. I also wanted to get your take on the incredible upswell of public resistance. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and have vague memories of older relatives and neighbors getting involved in anti-war protests. I see that happening again. I’m a teacher by profession. My high-school students are galvanized like you would not believe.
DC: I see it too, and I see that also. I think that as bad as Washington D.C. is right now, I think it’s going to inspire some good art. I’ve seen some graphics that were brilliant; I’ve heard some music that’s starting to happen that’s pretty good. My own song about Congress, “Capitol”, is (pretty) critical—

 

RA: —It’s spot on!
DC: I think you’re going to see a lot of that. Hopefully, the artistic community in the United States will step up to the plate, because it’s part of our job. It’s not the whole thing; our job mainly is to make you boogie or take you on an emotional voyage, but every once in a while it’s our job to be a town crier, and say, “Hey, it’s 12:30 and all is not well.” And all is definitely not well, so it’s time for us to step up. Every day, I get messages on Twitter saying that CSNY should get back together again, because they want us to be their voice. We should. We absolutely should. I don’t know if we will, but we should.

 

RA: You just saved me from asking my next question! The last time we spoke, that was a subject I didn’t broach just out of respect. You’re in the middle of creating some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard in my life, period. I respect your history, but I also respect your desire to live in the present. I get it. I’ve also had my ears and eyes open and have heard two of the other three members of CSNY start to talk about, “Well, maybe we should … “ so now it’s interesting to hear you say, “Maybe so.”
DC: I know they ask us all the time. Every day, I get messages. I don’t know. It’s not up to me. It’s up to Neil.

 

RA: So if Neil were to say, “Let’s do this,” that would be something that you would hop on.
DC: Yeah, I’d do it. No question I’d do it.

 

RA: Where would you find the time? [Laughs]
DC: I think the country needs it.

 

RA: I think the country would be honored! Shifting back to the present, people who have followed you throughout the years are just blown out by Lighthouse.
DC: [Laughs} I should have gotten the new record to you, because I think you’re gonna love it, too. It’s the same deal, it’s (got) very, very good songs, but it’s totally different production.

 

RA: Is there a release date for Sky Trails?
DC: Yeah, it’ll be out this summer, while we’re on tour. We’ll be selling advance copies at the show.

 
image courtesy of David Crosby

RA: Final question for you: As far as the set list is concerned, will be hearing a majority of songs from the new album?
DC: Certainly a lot of it. We’re going to do a bunch of songs from there, a bunch of songs from CSN/CSNY, and a bunch of songs from CPR—that’s the core of this band. Me and Pevar and James are here together again, so we’re going to do some of that material. I love that material!

 
Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, James Raymond
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

RA: We’ll see each other in May when you come to Long Island—
DC: Do come to the show, man, because the songs will speak better for me than I can.

 

RA: Thank you so much for your time today, David! See you in a few weeks!
DC: Thank you, man! I appreciate the help!

image courtesy of Roy Abrams


© Roy Abrams 2017

1 comment: