THE SONG ALL I WANNA DO PROPELLED SHERYL CROW INTO THE POP-CHART STRATOSPHERE. NOW A MOTHER OF TWO, SHE’S GONE BACK TO THE FUTURE FOR HER NEW ALBUM
She dominated the charts in the ’90s and now Sheryl Crow is back with a new album – and a new attitude.
Fans still hung up on Sheryl Crow’s greatest-hits back catalogue aren’t alone, given the woman herself had to listen to her old stuff to make her new stuff.
After dropping off her sons, Wyatt, nine, and Levi, six, at school, Crow tells Stellar she would go home and listen to the early records that landed her at the top of the international pop charts more than two decades ago.
There’s no escaping retro Crow on her ninth album, Be Myself, yet lyrically it’s all about now. Her sons, who she adopted, exerted a particular influence on new track “Roller Skate”, courtesy of their protests about her screen time. She laughs when asked if their admonishments informed the song’s commentary on society’s social media obsession.
“Yeah, well, it goes both ways, I have to say,” she says. “I have a nine-year-old, who may as well be a teenager, and I’m trying to make sure both of the boys don’t wind up with their faces in a screen, and get outside,” she says.
“Oh my God, I totally sound like my mum. They always come back at me with ‘Oh, you’re so mean.’ Yeah, that’s my job… but they’re very good-natured about it because luckily they love being outside.”
The record was mostly written and recorded in the converted barn studio at her Nashville home. It marks yet another career rebirth for an artist who’s been well versed in the fickleness of pop fame since she emerged from the backing singer line-up in Michael Jackson’s band, and studio sessions for Don Henley and Stevie Wonder.
It took a couple of attempts and a shelved debut album before she successfully launched her solo career with Tuesday Night Music Club in 1993, the songs written during a weekly jam session with a crew of LA musos and producers. The breakout single “All I Wanna Do” – a No.1 hit in Australia – propelled Crow into the pop-chart stratosphere at the age of 31 and won her three Grammys, with the album selling around 10 million copies worldwide.
Her next two records, Sheryl Crow and The Globe Sessions, added to her impressive catalogue of singalong pop gems, including “If It Makes You
Happy”, “Everyday Is A Winding Road”, “A Change Would Do You Good” and “My Favourite Mistake”, and paired the singer-songwriter with two men who would prove pivotal in bringing her full circle to Be Myself.
After an unremarkable detour into the country music scene in 2013 with the Feels Like Home album, Crow decided to return to the roots of the sound which made her inescapable on pop radio throughout the 1990s. She called Nashville-based songwriter and producer Jeff Trott and sonic architect Tchad Blake, who had both been on board for her early records, to help her get back to being herself.
The comfort of the old crew did foster new discoveries, as the trio enjoyed a relaxed approach to crafting the record, working during the day while her children were at school and knocking off in the late afternoon for a pint of Guinness.
“I didn’t even know how good it was and it’s so good for you, I’m told. I felt completely guilt-free having a few Guinnesses,” she says. “It was our treat each day at 4.30pm at the studio. My friend Tchad Blake had come over from Wales to work with me and Jeff Trott on the record at my home in Nashville. Tchad had beaten cancer a year before – he had a head and neck cancer – and his tastebuds were pretty much fried after the treatment, and the only thing that tasted good to him was Guinness.”
The downside of social media and its effects on our relationships would loom large as the theme on Be Myself. The title track cleverly distils the difference between a 1990s pop star and the post-millennial wannabes as she sings about taking an Uber to a juice bar en route “to hear a new indie band play/ They got 99 million followers/in only one day”. While her on-point commentary will provoke knowing nods and eye rolls from her older fans, it’s Crow’s view on relationships from the perspective of a 55-year-old woman that says something decidedly new about pop music’s time-honoured topics of love won and lost.
“Obviously I’m not writing for 20-year-olds, and what’s getting played on the radio is very sexy or very sexual,” Crow says. “Writing a record being my age is liberating because you can write whatever you want and you know that there will be a fair amount of the population on the same page as you.”
Unlike much of the general public, however, Crow has been linked to several famous men, including Eric Clapton and Owen Wilson – and, most famously, was engaged to disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong in 2005 before the relationship ended in early 2006.
“I’ll still care about relationships and being in love until I’m dead,” she tells Stellar. “You take a song like “Strangers Again” [from the new album]; it’s fascinating to me that you can spend so much of your life with someone, and when it’s over, you go back to being strangers. It’s weird, but it’s always the way it is.”
Crow admits she finds herself in a quandary writing songs about relationships, past or present, while protecting her privacy. She isn’t a Taylor Swift kind of artist. Even now she refuses to lift the veil on the identity of the lover who inspired her 1999 hit “My Favourite Mistake”. It’s her “You’re So Vain”, a song that’s inspired endless speculation as to the track’s protagonist, with most critics and fans pointing at Eric Clapton, whom she was rumoured to have enjoyed a brief affair with in the late 1990s. When jokingly asked by Stellar to finally spill the beans, she insists “never!” – but she does reveal something for the trainspotters.
“You know what’s funny is that the song has a part 2, a part 3 and a part 4, it keeps rolling through my albums, telling a different chapter each time. There’s a lot of hints along the way if you wanted to try to figure it out.”
Listen to the album’s irresistible funkified pop-hit-in-waiting “Grow Up” and you can hear the influence of another man whom she’s always adored. Prince and Crow worked together in the late 1990s, with the late pop idol joining her onstage in 1999 during the famed Lilith Fair in Toronto, which featured female artists. He also covered “Everyday Is A Winding Road”.
“I’m frustrated with myself I didn’t reach out to him when he was alive. I didn’t know he was where he was at… but then what could I have done? That song “Grow Up” – I think I had a lot of residual stuff going on after he passed away and that compounded with the election cycle and the vitriol everyone was treating each other with. I kept thinking that if this is what adulthood looks like… I don’t want to grow up.”
“I kept thinking if this is what adulthood looks like then I don’t want to grow up”