|photo by Anna Webber|
For his fans, the past four years have been a non-stop source of musical wonderment; bountiful blessings in the form of a series of stunningly brilliant solo albums coupled with a near-constant touring schedule. As for the artist himself, he has never been more musically active, never been more content with life than the present. An old soul aglow with the energy of a 19-year-old, David Crosby is, at 76, not giving in an inch.
Crosby remains in full-throttle creative mode. Fresh from completing a new album with his Lighthouse band that includes Snarky Puppy leader/bassist Michael League, singer-songwriter Becca Stevens, and singer-songwriter Michelle Willis, he is back on the road with his Sky Trails band that also features Willis, James Raymond on keyboards and vocals, guitarist Jeff Pevar, bassist Mai Leisz, and drummer Steve DiStanislao. The tour visits Long Island on June 9, at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center.
The musical icon—co-founder of The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young—remains as outspoken as ever, as his legion of Twitter followers will attest to.
Roy Abrams: Mr. Crosby! How are you today, sir?
David Crosby: I’m probably the happiest guy you’re gonna talk to all week!
RA: That seems to be your status quo for the past few years!
RA: Let’s talk about the album you’re currently working on with the Lighthouse band. I know that Michelle Willis was posting some pretty neat videos of the collaborative songwriting process.
DC: Yeah, it’s been that. We wrote almost the whole record together. I’ve never done that before, really, with four people … kind of an amazing experience – a fully contributive, fully cooperative space. I’ve made music in competitive bands where we make good music – CSN, CSNY, definitely competitive bands – but this is a wonderful, elevating experience. I am kind of freaked out and thrilled by it. We played it for the heads of the record company last night and they loved it. I played it for my wife, and she cried, and that’s always a good sign. I don’t think anybody else is doing this stuff, man. It’s a vocal band, it’s folk instruments; mostly acoustic instruments, and pretty dense vocals … a lot of counterpoint, a lot of harmony, a lot of big stacks of vocals. I hope people are gonna like it, I definitely know I love it.
RA: I cannot wait! Where is the album being recorded?
DC: It’s being recorded at Flux Studios down in Alphabet City in New York. It’s a place run by a man named Fabrice Dupont. He’s a very famous mix engineer, he’s also a very famous recording engineer, and he’s really good.
RA: He mixed the Lighthouse record, which was amazingly good.
DC: He did a great job on that; this is probably four times as good, because we cut it in his space with him. His ability to get sounds is really kind of stellar. I know Michael League, who’s the producer, is just freakin’ thrilled with it.
RA: I wanted to get some updated insights into the people you’re recording with, given the collaborative nature in which you’re working with Michael, Becca, and Michelle. What are some of the things you’re learning about them, or even from them, in terms of their own unique sensibilities?
DC: Well, you know what I’ve learned? It’s a very reassuring thing. They’re much younger than me; they’re half my age, but they are exactly like me. They are people who have given their life to it; it’s their life. They have the same thing I do: they have family, but that’s the only other thing. There’s family and there’s music. These are people who, at their 30-year-old level, have already done the 10,000 hours. And, they are incredibly talented and incredibly able. The thing is, they’re still in love with it; they don’t have this long, grinding history, you know, that I’ve had with the other guys. They are still really in love with music, and they are still thrilled that we get a chance to make it. The result has been a record that … I don’t even have words to describe it, man. It’s not like anything that anybody else is doing. (We got) really good songs and they got worked on by some of the best vocalists that I’ve ever heard.
RA: I was watching your expression on that video Michelle posted of you, her, and Michael; the vocal jamming with the handclapping, and the phrase that came to mind was “youth eternal.” Given your experiences during the past few years, has your perspective on aging changed at all?
DC: Yeah, you know, as you get older, you can look at it two ways. You can get very frightened by it all, sort of retreat into your own shell, and try to hide from your place in your life. Or, you can say, this is what the real world is, I have a limited amount of time; I’m gonna use every freakin’ second to do the only thing I can do that makes a contribution: to make this music, and make the absolute best music (that) I possibly can. It’s a weird situation, because we’re not getting paid for it. I’m putting the egg money that we need to pay the rent with into this thing, and I’m not gonna get it back. That Lighthouse record you like? I haven’t made a nickel.
DC: Not one cent.
RA: I don’t know what to say. For the people who buy the record on CD, none of that comes back to you?
DC: Well, it didn’t. The record company that we had it out on cheated us and so I haven’t gotten anything. I think I’m gonna get paid this time, because I’m with a better record company. But the main point is, the streaming killed us, because nobody buys anything anymore, they just stream it. But the process of making the records is still a complete joy, and it is our art, and it is what we leave behind, and it is so much fun for me, man. Yes, it’s bragging, but I would have never even believed that I could make four records in four years, and have them be really good, and they are, and I did.
RA: Yes, you did!
DC: [chuckles] Yaaay!
RA: The last time we saw each other, I bumped into you and Jan at the Mercury Lounge for Becca’s show back in January. I don’t know if I even have any words for that, because you weren’t there to sing, you were there to show support. In your early days as an artist, were there older mentors in your life who attended your shows and offered the kind of support that you give to so many others?
DC: Hmmm, no, not that came to my shows or anything. There are people that I followed, and that I learned a lot from: Odetta, Travis Edmonson, Johnny White, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie. I never met Woody myself, but all those other people I met, and I learned a lot from them. Joan Baez … that’s where I come from, that folk music thing, and I couldn’t have asked for a better intro to music because it was very genuine stuff, and then, you know, after I struck myself, then I met a whole bunch of people.
RA: I hesitate to go where I’m about to go, because everything you’re doing these days is about forward momentum and you’re so focused on all things new, but there are increasing calls for CSNY to reunite and provide a voice for these troubled times. How appealing is the idea to you personally?
DC: Well, not very appealing if it’s CSN, because that was a pretty unfriendly party. But if you add Neil to it, then there’s a challenge there, because he’s always gonna push the envelope; he’s always gonna try and push the thing out toward the edge, and I like that, I do like that! He doesn’t like me right now, but I do like his music and I do love how he approaches his music. I would say, never say never. I don’t think it’s gonna happen; I don’t think that Graham is gonna outgrow his anger at me, or Neil. They’re both very angry at me; well, I can’t do anything about that. I don’t have any bad feelings about them, or Stephen. I’m fine with them; I wish them no ill at all. I would do it if Neil wanted to do it and I’ll tell you why. I get probably about five messages a day saying, “Would you guys please make up and do your job? The country needs you very badly right now.” They say that over and over again, and they say things like, “You were singing the ‘Let’s Impeach the President’ song of Neil’s, but too soon! The only thing that was off was your timing! Now we have a president who lies all the time. Every word that comes out of his mouth is a lie. Now, the song is entirely appropriate and you assholes should be out here singing it!” [chuckles] And I can’t disagree. I think that we should be out there singing “For What It’s Worth” … you know, young people speaking their mind …. I think we need to be saying that, and I think we should be singing “Ohio.” And I think we should be singing “Long Time Gone” and “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Chicago.” You know, those songs, they’re fight songs, man, they’re marching songs. They give people the kind of juice that it used to give people to sing “We Shall Overcome” when they were doing the civil rights marches. The music really helps you to gut up to face the situation that you’re facing in the street. As far as that goes, yes, I think we should be doing it, and I would love it if Neil wanted to.
RA: The Carnegie Hall concert that you did with Snarky Puppy a little while back had a lot of that spark, that magic to which you just referred. What are your reflections of that show? You seemed to be floating on that stage that night.
DC: Well, I loved it. In the first place, I love Snarky Puppy, and I love Michael League—he is one of my really good friends now—and he is an incredible producer and an incredible musician. So, I love working with him, I loved playing with him. I loved that the show had people from all over the world; from England, from Africa, from America, from Canada. It was really international, and really good that way. I really liked that about it. That’s the thing that Michael, who put the show together, is always trying to do; he loves world music. It’s true of Chris Thile, too; he does the same thing. I really admire that in both of them.
RA: What are your thoughts on the Musicambia benefit that just took place in NYC?
DC: It’s a wonderful thing. (It was started by) this guy, Nate Schramm. He’s the one who married Becca, and he’s the violist in one of the best string quartets on the East Coast, the Attacca Quartet. He was in Venezuela and he saw something really fascinating. He said that the government was terrible, but they did a wonderful thing: they had music education programs in the prisons. He said that really sparked his mind, because it was very definitely making a difference. So, he started that up here. That’s what Musicambia does; they take music education into prisons. They’re very brave about it, and they do it very well. These are schooled musicians, not like me; I’m illiterate. They really know what they’re doing and they can teach it. I was in a prison; I know what it’s like. I know how much a difference it makes if you do something that gives you some sense of self-worth. At that point, your self-worth is really on the bottom of the floor. And knowing what it’s like to be able to create art in there, and to be able to do something beautiful in the middle of what’s a devastatingly bad situation … if you have music, music’s a lifting force, man. It makes it all better. I completely support this idea, so that’s why I did that.
RA: I recently read that Cameron Crowe is producing a documentary on you. How did that come to pass?
DC: Cameron’s been my friend since he was 16 years old. [laughs] He knows me really well. He has an incredible gift as an interviewer; he always did. He gets stuff out of me that nobody else can. So we have these interviews that are remarkable; they are, above all, honest. They are not self-serving. They are not, “Oh, then I discovered California, and right after that I invented electricity.” It’s probably going to be the most honest documentary on anybody that you’ve ever seen.
RA: That’s cool. Is there a tentative release date?
DC: My guess, since BMG is paying for it, that they want to release this record and that documentary at the same time so they get cross-talk in the same field.
RA: That’s great! I also hear you’re working on another book.
DC: Well, I’m trying to! The guy who I’m trying to write it with called while we were talking, just now. I have to call him back as soon as I get off with you. Yes, we’re trying to get a deal to write a book about current politics and what I feel about the United States of America. I’m a kind of corny believer, strongly believing in democracy and the United States. I don’t think we have it right now, but I do love it. I like the idea very much, and I’m trying to defend it any way I can.
RA: I’m assuming that you’ve seen Emma Gonzalez’s various speeches?
DC: I have seen some of her stuff, and (David) Hogg’s too. I am really happy about those guys.
RA: What are your thoughts on the emerging youth movement?
DC: They’re pissed, man. Look at it! We’re handing them a really seriously damaged world, we’re handing them a broken democracy, we’re handing them an America with the scab torn off of the racism so it’s blatant, and then the president pours gasoline on the fire and says, “Racism cool, yeah! We wanna be right-wing, racist assholes … real good!” He’s encouraging the worst part. That’s the world we’re handing them! Of course they’re gonna stand up and take a stand. I’m so proud of them, I’m so happy about them, and I want to encourage them any way I can, but I really don’t think they need us; I think they to be them; they don’t need any grownups telling them what to do.
RA: Their organizational skills, their use of social media to rally the troops is nothing short of mind boggling.
DC: If they can get the kids out to vote, we’re gonna take the Congress back, and then we can start repairing all the damage … that would be really good. In terms of global warming, I don’t think we have the time to waste. We have to get it back on track.
RA: Are you familiar with The Ocean Cleanup project which was started by a Dutch teenager named Boyan Slat?
DC: Yeah. I think that that’s gonna continue. When I see that, I feel encouraged. When I see the orange-headed disaster in the White House, I feel very discouraged. Listen, I’ve got to call another person, and it’s kind of a drag, because you’re really fun to talk to!
RA: Same here, David. Thank you so much for your time.
DC: It’s my pleasure, man.
© 2018 by Roy Abrams