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Neil Young and his girl­friend Daryl Hannah tell Will Hodgkin­son about their ‘‘home­spun’’ iPhone film.

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It is hard to keep up with Neil Young. When it was ar­ranged in Jan­uary for us to meet at the South by South­west mu­sic fes­ti­val in Austin, Texas, it was to talk about a live record­ing of Tonight’s the Night, the ragged rock’n’roll clas­sic he made in 1973 as a re­sponse to the death by over­dose of two close friends.

But then, in the few weeks be­tween set-up and in­ter­view, Young an­nounced that he had made a psy­che­delic Western movie called Para­dox with his girl­friend, Hol­ly­wood ac­tress Daryl Hannah, and it would pre­miere at SXSW. He had made a sound­track for it too. And he had launched his en­tire vast back cat­a­logue on­line as the Neil Young Ar­chives. Then he posted an ar­ti­cle about our in­ter­view on his news­pa­per, the NYA Times Con­trar­ian, hours af­ter it hap­pened. “The guy was pre­pared,” he wrote of our en­counter. Well you would be, wouldn’t you? “Good or bad, it doesn’t mat­ter. I be­lieve in ev­ery­thing I do and I do it for my­self,” says Young, star­ing at me from a sofa in a suite at the Four Sea­sons Ho­tel in Austin. I’ve just asked how he man­ages to do so much stuff, all the time, and let’s not even go into the two mem­oirs; the car he built that runs on grass; the al­ter­na­tive to an iPod he de­signed called Pono; or the model rail­way he built for his son Ben, who has cere­bral palsy. “I’m not work­ing to get a chart num­ber or any­thing. Some things groove more than oth­ers and I chalk that up to all kinds of things. Could be the moon. Could be the weather. I just keep bum­bling along and do what I do.”

Many of us bum­ble along. Most of us don’t make an av­er­age of two al­bums a year while per­form­ing count­less con­certs. Neil Young is 72. Doesn’t he ever get tired? “I’m slow­ing down,” he con­cedes. “I have three melodies go­ing around in my head right now. They’re good melodies, I like them, but the only words I have been able to come up with are pro­fan­i­ties. Per­haps my 58th al­bum or what­ever it is will be called Pro­fane. It will fea­ture a bunch of beau­ti­ful songs on which all I do is swear. I have al­ready writ­ten some pro­fane cho­ruses. They have a lot of soul.”

There is a lot to dis­cuss be­fore a pos­si­ble new al­bum called Pro­fane hits the stores in – judg­ing from Young’s work rate – a few weeks from now. Para­dox is very much a prod­uct of the Neil Young world. Shot on Su­per 8 film and Hannah’s iPhone, it is about a crew of out­laws, played by Young and his back­ing band, Prom­ise of the Real, who scav­enge for old tech­nol­ogy in a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic land­scape in be­tween sit­ting round a camp­fire, play­ing songs and turn­ing up on a vast stage in Cal­i­for­nia to rock out at 2016’s Desert Trip fes­ti­val. There is a mes­sage of en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivism, with a group of women, led by Hannah, grow­ing or­ganic seeds in de­fi­ance of GM crop com­pa­nies, but es­sen­tially this is a loose-limbed home movie fea­tur­ing Young and his band lark­ing about.

“Daryl and I wanted to make a lit­tle movie, just for fun,” Young says. “She did all the work. She wrote the script, she did the cos­tumes, she went to thrift stores and bought ev­ery­thing her­self. She has an amaz­ing amount of en­ergy and love for film-mak­ing.”

“It’s El Topo with­out the bud­get,” Hannah says, re­fer­ring to a cult ex­is­ten­tial Western from 1970. “The ini­tial spark is that the guys were hang­ing around for a few days to ad­just to the al­ti­tude be­fore a gig in Colorado, so I thought we may as well make a film. It was as spon­ta­neous and home­spun as it gets. You want to watch it with a bunch of your pals, get some beers and smoke a big fat­tie.”

Hannah is with three mem­bers of Prom­ise of the Real, in­clud­ing Wil­lie Nel­son’s son Lukas, in a room next to Young’s in the Four Sea­sons. Mak­ing stoner movies with her rocker boyfriend and his gang is quite dif­fer­ent, pre­sum­ably, from her Hol­ly­wood day job.

“Oh my God, this is 100 per cent dif­fer­ent,” says Hannah, who at 57 has changed lit­tle since her days in Splash, Steel Mag­no­lias and Kill Bill. “You couldn’t do an el­e­va­tor pitch for this. It doesn’t have a plot and com­pared to the stu­dio movies I nor­mally make it is more like kids in the yard putting on a theatre show.”

Young can be dif­fi­cult, or at least un­pre­dictable. The mogul David Gef­fen once got so frus­trated that he sued him for mak­ing al­bums that didn’t sound like Neil Young. You won­der how Hannah man­aged to tell him what to do. “He wasn’t dif­fi­cult at all. And I had been hang­ing out with th­ese guys so I was just writ­ing car­toon ver­sions of who they were.”

Young was never more un­pre­dictable than dur­ing the mak­ing and tour­ing of Tonight’s the Night. The vast suc­cess of 1972’s Har­vest turned him into the poster boy for gra­nola-munch­ing mel­low­ness, but at the end of that year Danny Whit­ten, the gui­tarist of Young’s back­ing band Crazy Horse, died of a heroin over­dose. Bruce Berry, a roadie who worked reg­u­larly for Young, fell to the same fate a year later. Young’s forth­com­ing al­bum, Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live, cap­tures a series of gigs he and his band played in 1973 at the Los An­ge­les night­club of the title, dur­ing which he sub­jected au­di­ences to loose, rough songs about death and de­cay, none of which they had heard be­fore.

“Those were strange times. It wasn’t hard to do [ Tonight’s the Night], but on the other hand I was com­pletely s...faced. I drank te­quila from the be­gin­ning of the ses­sions all the way to the end of the tour. It was mind­less. I wanted to ex­press how I felt, so I wrote the songs and very quickly went in and sang them. We didn’t dec­o­rate any­thing, we didn’t fix any­thing wrong with them, we knew it was loose and we didn’t care. I just said, ‘F... it.’”

So much of what Young does is loose and un­struc­tured, from Tonight’s the Night to Para­dox, that it comes as a sur­prise to trawl through his dig­i­tal ar­chives and find out how much past ma­te­rial he has held on to. Not only are there count­less record­ings that stretch back to the early 60s and in­clude ev­ery­thing from his for­mer bands – the Squires, Buf­falo Spring­field, Crazy Horse and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – but myr­iad film footage, news­pa­per clip­pings and lyric sheets, all ar­ranged in a dig­i­tal ap­prox­i­ma­tion of a weath­ered fil­ing cab­i­net. “I’m a col­lec­tor,” he says. “I keep things and I like chronol­ogy and that’s how I re­mem­ber my songs. But it’s not like I save things in an or­gan­ised fash­ion. Some­times the scrib­bles that I start songs with will stay on my pi­ano for a year and a half. They just sit there un­til some­one work­ing on the ar­chives comes by and says, ‘Th­ese go with this and that.’ Then I’ll scan them in.”

He is the first top-level rocker to build an on­line archive of this sort. “I’m proof you can do it. What’s to stop Paul Mc­Cart­ney, or Bob Dy­lan, or any of my peers? It is the an­tithe­sis of what peo­ple think the in­ter­net is, which is con­stant change and do­ing 80 things at once.”

Young doesn’t like to live in the past. “I’m more in­ter­ested in what is go­ing on right now,” he says. “It’s eas­ier to deal with.” At present he is stick­ing with Lukas Nel­son’s Prom­ise of the Real as his band, but he doesn’t rule out us­ing Crazy Horse again. They’re used to Young’s spon­tane­ity. They have been wait­ing for his call since 1969. “It’s com­pli­cated,” says Young on how he de­cides whom to work with. “I love Crazy Horse and I love Prom­ise of the Real and I love be­ing solo, and I try and do what is right, based on what I’m feel­ing and what the mu­sic tells me.”

Nel­son says: “You start feel­ing where Neil is go­ing to go, but he will take you in an­other di­rec­tion if you get too com­fort­able.” Al­though he is talk­ing about jam­ming on stage, he could be talk­ing about work­ing with Young in gen­eral. “One thing we have learnt from Neil is: if it is wrong, maybe it is OK. Maybe the wrong note is the right note.”

As to Young’s ap­proach to life, mu­sic and ev­ery­thing, Young says it is sim­ple: “You re­ally have to be­lieve in what you’re do­ing to make it worth­while. Other­wise you do a dis­ser­vice to ev­ery­one who goes to see you. If you don’t have a mes­sage, if you don’t have a rea­son to sing a song…” He hits me with that deathly stare one more time. “Then you should shut up.” Para­dox is on Net­flix. Roxy – Tonight’s the Night Live is out now on Warner Bros Records.

“Daryl did all the work. She wrote the script... She went to thrift stores and bought ev­ery­thing her­self. She has an amaz­ing amount of en­ergy and love for film-mak­ing.”

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