Classic Rock

David Crosby

An icon of 60s countercul­ture, who with The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash helped soundtrack a golden era, he’s now more prolific than ever, still political and still gets a thrill out of simply singing.

- Words: Hannah May Kilroy

After more than 50 years in music, David Crosby is still an emblem of 1960s countercul­ture. With The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he created music that helped to define a generation. Now in his late 70s, his music making is more prolific than ever. Together with his two line-ups – the acoustic Lighthouse band and the electric Sky Trails – he’s released four solo albums in five years, the latest being the stunning Here If You Listen, and is still taking his music out on the road.

You’ve been making music for more than fifty years. What motivates you to continue making new music?

Both of my bands are with younger people, so I have to paddle faster just to keep up. But I think the writing has been the biggest sustaining factor. We’ve all been writing these incredible tunes, and they speak to me and make me want to write more records. I also feel the pressure just from time – I’m seventy-seven years old. Whatever time I have, I want to spend it doing this.

Your new album, Here If You Listen, is described as collaborat­ive. How was it put together? For the first Lighthouse band record [Lighthouse, 2016] I had Michael [League] as the producer and he brought in Becca [Stevens, vocals] and Michelle [Willis, vocals]. I said to them I thought it was a great record, I felt a real chemistry, and I want to do another record and do it differentl­y, a group record where we write it together. They said: “Are you sure that’s what you want?” I said: “Absolutely! There’s a chemistry there and I want to follow it.” They said whoopee and we dove in.

We went to Michael’s studio in Brooklyn with just two songs: Michelle’s Janet and a song I wrote with Bill Laurence, Your Own Ride, with words I wrote to my son Django that Bill put to music this year. In the next eight days we wrote the entire record, and then recorded and mixed it in the remaining month.

Has that ever happened to you before?

Never. I’ve never written with four other people before! I didn’t know you could – writing with one other person is hard enough. You have to get egos out of the way, be in a good relationsh­ip with that person, you have to be good at it all and it’s not easy to find. But the chemistry was so hot and so good that we had to run to keep up. It was a joyous experience making this record. In today’s age, things are pretty terrible, so a record that makes you feel happy is a precious thing.

Two of the album’s tracks, 1974 and 1967, were created from old demos of yours. What made you decide to revisit them?

I decided to after all these years because these were the right people to do it with. In 1967 you can actually hear me writing the song: I’m finding the melody in the chords and you hear me doing it. It was the only time I had a tape machine running as I found the song, which is kind of magical. So I went to Michael with them, and he wanted to make a time machine: to take them from then ‘til now seamlessly and make it work. And he did. I love them both. It’s been such a busy year for you. What were the high points? There have been some really great moments. I would say the Sky Trails band in Milan was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever done, and also the London show was spectacula­r. David Gilmour was there! He’s a wonderful friend and a great man. Those shows were great – the audience went crazy.

What about low points?

Yeah… our president, who’s a real piece of shit. It’s very bad. It makes me want to fix things, and I’m trying, but I don’t have the song yet. We need a fight song really badly – something like Ohio or We Shall Overcome. Somebody’s gotta write it.

Do you think people are becoming more political?

No question. Young people are becoming more political and they are my hope. The most hopeful I’ve been, actually, was at the Women’s March. When I saw that I thought: “Oh God, we do stand a chance.” Please, women of the United States, please get involved and run things. You could definitely do a better job! That’s actually what the song Other Half Rule on Here If You Listen is about.

You’ve had such a long and interestin­g career. What is the most significan­t way in which life as a musician has changed?

The biggest change is not getting paid on record. That has placed so much importance on touring. Touring is the only way that we make any money now. We don’t get paid from streaming, and that cut my income in half. That’s very tough. When I left CSN – which I pretty much had to do because it was starting to spoil the music for me – that cut it in half again. It’s okay, I’m grateful that I have a job. When we lost the record income I couldn’t afford to keep my boat any more. It was very painful, because I’d had it for fifty years, but I had to make a tough choice and keep a roof over my family’s head.

Do you find touring difficult?

Touring is tough. It’s a joy when I’m singing. Singing is like having your own rocket ship. It’s more fun than I could tell you! But the other twenty-one hours a day beats the crap out of you. Bad food, bad sleep, always being away from home and feeling lonely…

How do you keep your voice in such good shape?

I don’t know, I really don’t have any explanatio­n for it. I shouldn’t have the voice that I have, but I do [laughs]. And I figure that if it’s going to be this good, I should work the hell out of it!

“We need a fight song really badly – something like Ohio or We Shall Overcome.”

You’re still seen as an icon of sixties countercul­ture. Are you fed up with that tag?

I think it’s fair. I’m definitely on the other side. I’m definitely stoned and I’m definitely having a good time. I’m a human person and I like humanity; I don’t like politics that much. I think I’ve stayed pretty true to myself.

Here If You Listen is out now via BMG.

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