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David Crosby talks new LP, Trump, Paul Kantner, the “psychedelic” label & more

David Crosby

The legendary David Crosby released his latest solo album Lighthouse last month on Snarky Puppy’s GroundUP Music label. It comes over 50 years since he wrote his first song with The Byrds and just two years after Croz, which re-started his solo career after two decades without a new album. He remains on a creative high with Lighthouse, which takes its inspiration from his 1971 debut solo LP If I Could Only Remember My Name and is quite possibly his best solo album since that one. Here’s an excerpt from our review:

Crosby’s selling this one as a “raw, intimate” album, and that description is spot on. So much of it is just Crosby’s voice and an acoustic guitar; even his ’71 LP was more fleshed out than this. Some of these melodies can bring you right back to If I Could Only Remember My Name or [his late ’60s] Byrds tunes or “Guinnevere.” And the harmonies recall that era so perfectly (they also remind you just how much Fleet Foxes take from the Croz). A lot of David Crosby’s contemporaries have either lost the interest or the ability to still write psychedelic music, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and The Who may never write a trippy song again but they still put on better live shows than most people — but it’s nice to get an album like Lighthouse that even further cements Crosby’s status as a psychedelia hero. He’s one of the few artists around that your parents’ radio station won’t stop playing, but whose current music might resonate more strongly with mind-expanding teenagers.

David Crosby begins his tour in support of the album this Friday (11/18) in Atlanta. He’ll be joined by Snarky Puppy leader Michael League, who produced the new album, plus Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, who both sing on it.

The tour hits the NYC-area for shows on December 13 at Tarrytown Music Hall in Westchester and December 15 at Town Hall in the city. Tickets for Tarrytown and NYC are still available. All dates are listed below.

Ahead of the tour, I chatted with David over the phone about the new album, the upcoming shows, Trump’s election, Paul Kantner’s passing, and why he doesn’t like referring to his music as “psychedelic.” You can read on for the full interview.

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Listening to your new album, it especially feels to me like your kind of late 60s, early 70s psychedelic era. Would you say you intentionally tapped into that sound?

David Crosby: You know, I wouldn’t call it that, but I would say acoustic, yeah. When we got together, Michael and I, I thought, because he’s the leader of a big, big jazz band and a really great player, I thought that was probably the direction we would go. And he said no, he really loved my first solo record which was exactly in the middle of that period that you mentioned. He wanted to go more acoustic and more harmony-focused, so I said that’s right where I like to be so that sounds good, and we did deliberately go that direction, you know? No drums, which was a conscious decision to make it be a pretty much acoustic record.

Right. So you were saying you wouldn’t use the word “psychedelic”?

No, I wouldn’t. It’s a pretty silly label, you know? When we started the Byrds, as soon as we started playing “Eight Miles High” they said “oh, it’s jazz rock,” and we listened to some Indian music and they said “it’s raga rock!”, and next thing it was something else. Labels are kind of limiting, and they’re mostly not really relevant to what it is. It’s all music, so I resist the labels as much as I can.

That makes sense. Labels aside though — back in the ’60s when you were with The Byrds and you gave that speech at the Monterey Pop Festival about giving LSD to the politicians… even if you didn’t want call it “psychedelic,” would you say that was still an influence?

Yeah, absolutely. And i think it would have been a good idea! Now that you mention it [laughs], I think we could we could really stand for a little bit of that. Being a politician is sort of a lower form of life.

Do you think today’s politicians could use some LSD?

Hell yes.

Also about that same era. Did you have a struggle to get this kind of stuff out there? I’ve read that The Byrds didn’t want you to put “Triad” on the album and I know now you play it at your shows…

It wasn’t that big a deal. People make a big deal out of it, but that wasn’t really the bone of contention between us. It was more our own egos than it was any particular song. But yeah, I don’t think they liked it, but I don’t think it was that big a bone of contention really. But I’ve always been a bit on the wild side in terms of trying to stretch the envelope and push it, sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but it’s kind of in my nature to work that way.

So it wasn’t a Brian Wilson vs Mike Love kind of thing.

Well no [laughs]. I think Brian’s a wonderful guy. Mike was kinda… well, I’m sure you’ve heard.

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To move away from your record for a second — I’m sure you were gutted earlier this year when Paul Kantner passed. I was wondering if you had any fond memories about playing with him that maybe you’d share.

Many. You know he and I and David Freiberg from Quicksilver were living together in Venice Beach in LA before we all took off to start the Airplane and the Byrds and Quicksilver, and so we’d been friends for a very long time and got along together well. Of course Paul and I and Steven wrote “Wooden Ships” and I wrote other songs with Paul like “Have You Seen The Stars Tonite” and other stuff. He was a very good friend, a really good man.

On another note, in a Rolling Stone interview that went up in September, you called it an “aberration of monstrous proportion” that Donald Trump would even be a candidate for election. Now last Tuesday happened. Did you ever think he would have an actual chance?

No, of course not, and I think most people in the country were surprised. It was kind of unlikely but it shows you how bent the political system is that that could happen. I think we’re in for four years at least of pretty hard times.

How do you think this compares to other hard times, like maybe the Reagan era?

Reagan’s a peach compared to this guy. I think this is going to be very tough for anyone who’s not a rich white person in America.

Considering that Trump really was just a celebrity and not a politician, do you think that his winning means we now have to take it seriously that Kanye West says that he wants to run in 2020?

[Laughs]. I think people do that to get press. I think Kanye — no matter what you think of him, and I don’t have a very high opinion of him — I think he’s very clever at manipulating the press and it’s a good way to get coverage. You can’t tell exactly what’s going to happen in this country, though. I heard that The Rock is thinking about doing the same thing. But I really think it’s just a way to get press.

Being that you came from an era where your music and a lot of your peers music was very politically charged, a lot of protest music, do you see it as important to still do that today? Does that still have an effect?

Yes, I think it is important. On this record, there’s two or three songs that are about current events kind of stuff. There’s the one about Syrian refugees, “Look In Their Eyes.” “Somebody Other Than You” is about people who send our kids off to wars. They don’t send their kids, they do send yours. And I think that’s not a good thing. I don’t think any audience wants a steady diet of that stuff, I think our main job is to take you on emotional voyages, which is certainly what I try to do. Every once in awhile it’s our job to do be the town crier and say “hey it’s 11:30 and you just elected the wrong guy.” So I think I’ll continue to do it, I think other writers are going to do a lot more of it now that things have gone against us the way they have.

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For the upcoming tour, are you playing solo like the record or with a band?

Well the record isn’t really solo. It’s Michael League, who’s the composer for the jazz band Snarky Puppy. Very very talented guy. You know the last song on the record, “By The Light of Common Day,” you hear those girls’ voices in there? Those two girls: Becca Stevens, who wrote the song with me, very very talented singer/songwriter from the Carolinas, and Michelle Willis, another singer songwriter from up in Toronto. They’re with me, so there’s four of us and we’ll be doing a lot of stuff from the record, maybe all of it.

Are you planning to work in stuff off the first solo record, since you were saying that was an inspiration for this one?

Yeah there’s at least two of them I know for sure. Maybe more.

What do you think kickstarted this recent creative peak for you? With Croz in 2014…

I wish I had a clever answer for you. I think it’s mainly because I’m happy, my family is good and the songs are coming, which is really all I care about. That’s my life, the music and my family. So, I wish I could say it’s because I drink Gatorade or something but there isn’t some key factor that I know of other than that I’m happy, and I’m definitely happy.

I have no explanation for why my voice is okay these days either. They certainly recorded it well and I’m extremely happy about it. Mike is a great producer and he brought a really good engineer in to record it and mix it, and we did it very quickly without anything in the way. It was an easy and joyful process.

I know you’ve talked about Fleet Foxes in the past. What other modern artists do you like?

I like both of these girls that are working with me, Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens. I think they’re very good. I listen a lot to a woman named Shawn Colvin. I think she’s one of the best singer/songwriters around. And you know the people you would expect. The people I have the most respect for of course are probably Joni and Bob Dylan, other singer/songwriters like Paul Simon, Jackson Brown, other people that craft really good songs and really good records. That gets me.

Paul Simon’s another one who put a great record out this year.

Yeah.

What I was gonna ask — and what I would ask him too — is with these modern artists making this style of music relevant right now to young people, did that have any effect on you thinking, “Okay I can make a record like that again”?

No, I would have done it anyway. I like hearing that stuff because it matters to me, but I would have done what turns me on anyway. To me, the key thing is the songs. Do they actually have any content, do they make you feel anything? I think people depend too much on a lot of polish and a lot of production and not enough on substance on the song, not much actual content. So the people who can craft a good song are rare and much to be valued to me. I like great players but I like great writers even more.

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David Crosby — 2016 Tour Dates
Nov 18 – Atlanta, GA – Atlanta Symphony Hall
Nov 19 – Danville, KY – Centre College – Norton Center for the Arts
Nov 21 – Ponte Vedra Beach, FL – Ponte Vedra Concert Hall
Nov 22 – Stuart, FL – Lyric Theatre
Nov 26 – Melbourne, FL – King Center for the Performing Arts
Nov 27 – Clearwater, FL – Capitol Theater
Nov 29 – Charlotte, NC – McGlohan Theatre at Spirit Square
Dec 1 – Morgantown, WV – West Virginia University
Dec 2 – Greensboro, NC – Carolina Theatre
Dec 4 – Roanoke, VA – Jefferson Center
Dec 5 – Nashville, TN – Schermerhorn Symphony Center
Dec 7 – Wilmington, NC – Cape Fear Community College (Outdoor)
Dec 9 – Glenside, PA – Keswick Theatre
Dec 10 – Ridgefield, CT – Ridgefield Playhouse
Dec 12 – Boston, MA – Wilbur Theatre
Dec 13 – Tarrytown, NY – Music Hall Theatre
Dec 15 – New York, NY – The Town Hall

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