Behind The Scenes at the "Americana" Album Playback Session
Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse
The upcoming album "Americana" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse is already
highly anticipated and early first listen reports sound promising.
In another Thrasher's Wheat exclusive, an unpublished transcript of the "Americana" album playback session offers us a rare, behind the scenes look at the inner workings of the music industry.
The following transcript is from the "Americana" album playback session which took place at Warner Music Group (WMG) headquarters in Los Angeles, CA in late January. In attendance were Neil Young and his band Crazy Horse with Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Poncho Sampedro, Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager), and much of Warner Music Group's executive management team including Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer), Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO), Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO), Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel) and Will Tanous (Executive Vice President, Communications & Marketing).
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Album music fades out.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): OK. Well. Thanks guys. That all sounded rather ... uh ... spirited.
So let me get this straight. These are all old folk songs that you've re-arranged?
Neil Young: That's right. They're all classic Americana -- or folk -- songs that I brought my band in to record on. It seemed that if I was gonna get back with Crazy Horse, going back to our roots seemed like a good place to start re-grouping.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): It's been awhile since you guys were in the studio together, right?
Neil Young: Yeah, a few years but it didn't take long to catch stride with the boys. Heh.
Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager): The last studio track Neil and Crazy Horse recorded together was back in 2003 on the "Are You Passionate" album. On, on, uhh... which track was that guys?
(either Billy Talbot, Ralph Molina and Poncho Sampedro - Band Crazy Horse?): "Goin' Home"
Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO): Right. OK, fine. I guess I was expecting to hear more ... more... more of that grungey-style Crazy Horse sound?
I mean was that a children's choir on one of the tracks? That was a children's choir I heard wasn't it? Towards the end?
Neil Young: Yeah, on “This Land Is Your Land” we thought we needed to add something special for Woody.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Woody?
Neil Young: Yeah, Woody. Woody, right. Woody Guthrie.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Woody Guthrie. Right. Of course. Some sort of tribute to his 100th birthday, maybe?
Neil Young: Not really. I just liked the song. That's all.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Let's get back to these tracks for a minute. So all of these songs were written by others? Did you write any of these Neil?
Neil Young: Nope.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): So Paul. What kind of copyright and licensing issues do we have here? Are these all public domain?
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel): All of the songs are in the public domain.
Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO): So the label will not be obligated to pay royalties, publishing fees, etc?
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel): That's right.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Now this is starting to make sense.
Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO): Nice job Neil. Thanks.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Alright. So what else? Let's take a look at the album cover.
What are we looking at here? This looks like you've taken some old photo and slapped the bands faces on top?
What's that all about?
Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager): You want me to answer, Neil?
Neil Young: You can try.
Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager): What you're looking at is actually the cover to an album that Neil planned to hand in during the 1970's but never got around to finishing.
Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO): What album was that?
Neil Young: Shit. Got me. Homegrown? Chrome Dreams? Ride My Llama? Just found it when we were cleaning the warehouse after the fire. Seemed pretty cool.
Tom Wilkes designed it.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Oh, the guy who did your Harvest cover, right?
Neil Young: Yeah. Tom passed away a year or so ago. Seemed like a nice way to honor his memory.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): This seems to have been an old photo of some Native American Indians?
Neil Young: That's Geronimo driving a car back in around 1905. The car is called a Locomobile.
Get it? Loco? Crazy. As in .... nevermind.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Oh, those are your faces! Ok, that's you Neil Young. And which one is you?
Billy Talbot (Crazy Horse, bass): I'm Geronimo.
Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse, drums): That's me in the head dress.
Poncho Sampedro (Crazy Horse, guitar): I just got the feather.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): But seriously for a moment guys.
Have you considered the implications here?
It seems you're taking some artistic liberties with a Native American icon.
What are the ramifications of this Paul?
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel) We looked into this. As everyone well knows, Native American icons have been exploited in all forms and fashions for sometime. Look at all the sports teams using Native American imagery. Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians. My lord, look at the travesty of the football team Washington Redskins' franchise name.
If this country can tolerate a sports team with a name like Redskins, it can certainly tolerate a Neil Young album taking some artistic license with Native American imagery.
WMG Legal sees no issues with this cover.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Good. We certainly don't need some faux uproar over an album cover with some outraged minority group right now.
Neil Young: Geez.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): And these lyrics here? American folk songs. What could go wrong? This seems like a safe play. Wouldn't you agree Paul?
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel) We looked into this. Legal has cleared all of the lyrics as being public domain. These songs have been performed many, many thousands of times over the decades and in some cases, centuries.
Now that said, we did research each song and legal did come back with some findings that everyone needs to be aware of.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Such as?
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel) Let's take "Oh, Susannah". This song written by Stephen Foster was originally performed on September 11, 1847. The Americana version was arranged with a new melody by Tim Rose and was originally performed by The Big Three in 1963, and updated by Tim Rose and the Thorns in 1964.
That said, "Oh Susanna" was initially a hateful white supremacist song sometimes performed in blackface and mocking African-American slave history. The version that we just heard - fortunately -- omits lyrics from the stanza which would be considered highly offensive.
Neil Young: Are you guys serious?! We played this at the Bridge School last year with Dave Matthews. The crowd loved it. No one said a single word about this song being controversial until just now.
Paul M. Robinson (General Counsel) OK. OK. I'm just trying to protect the company here. We need to consider these things.
We would definitely recommend that the song "Oh, Susannah" be dropped from the album because of the racial undertones.
Neil Young: Drop it?!
Now hold on here.
Is it really my, or any artist's "responsibility" to either the song, history or the music fan, to adhere to or at least reference or explain the original purpose of a piece of music, and the political, social or spiritual climate of its time, in some way, so that the authenticity and history of something isn't lost or disrespected?
Do we owe it to the song, the song's author or the music fan to prostrate ourselves before the energy that created that piece of music and deliver it into the 21st century in a way that retains, and even helps to convey or preserve a clear idea of the song and its history? Or, more importantly, to not undermine reality or contribute to confusing, or even rewriting, history?
Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager): Neil. Easy, now.
Neil Young: Shut up Elliot. Let me finish.
My responsibility as an artist isn't for some kind of historical or social accuracy, or toward supporting a certain political identification. My responsibility as an artist isn't simply to do something that could be perceived as insulting to those of us with touchy emotional triggers about American Indians, the dark history of Colonial America, or the authenticity of music history.
That's the job of historians. It is the job of artists to paint the sky with beauty, not to write history books.
Livia Tortella (Co-President and COO): Neil, we understand where you're coming from on this.
Truly. We do.
But you can't be politically correct by whitewashing an important aspect of an Americana folk song that became popular because it dehumanized blacks. It's who we use to be as a country like it or not. It's part of our collective experience as Americans. Do we take responsibility for this history by acknowledging it? Sharing it? Singing it? Or do we wash it away by ignoring the folk history?
By ignoring the folk history behind the song, we're denying Americans their own history of struggle and triumph overcoming racial stereotypes and bigotry.
Neil Young: Look, I've explored American history many times in my songs.
Take "Pocahontas". Politically correct?! Historically accurate??
Do you think we had this conversation with Mo and Joe?
Or "Peaceful Valley Boulevard". Did we have this conversation?
Maybe you realize that "Peaceful Valley Boulevard" explored the relationships between scenes of early American settlers, this time being attacked and massacred by Indians, and how the brutality of ignorance, selfishness and fear have translated from one time period to another?
From the peaceful valley to Peaceful Valley Boulevard, again crass American materialism sucking the life out of something beautiful and natural and turning it into something lifeless, meaningless and culturally or spiritually dead.
Were either of those songs really "accurate" in some important historical sense? Politically correct?
Certainly they make references to terrible things that happened, in a general way, in the history of early America, and convey very poignantly the sense of hopelessness as industry and materialism annihilate the beauty of the world, which is all very important and meaningful...
Altering things is as much a part of art as anything else, and in fact, throughout history, art has served as a vehicle for re-imagining things. And while the artist has every right to be as accurate as he or she wants, the very nature of artistic license makes it unnecessary to do so.
Billy Talbot (Crazy Horse, bass): It's just not the purpose or responsibility of art to define history.
Ralph Molina (Crazy Horse, drums): If we perceived art to have that kind of responsibility, it would serve only to undermine the very free-flowing expressions and nature of art itself.
Poncho Sampedro (Crazy Horse, guitar): Is it really necessary for an artist like Neil to cater to everyone’s sensitivities?
Altering a historical photograph is an artistic statement, not a historical statement. Is it necessary for an artist to say, “This is Americana and that is not Americana” in some sort of agreed-upon way because of some kind of universal social agreement that we have?
Neil is not a historian.
If he says God Save the Queen and Gallows Pole are going to appear on his “Americana” album, then well, dammit, that’s what he’s gonna do. It doesn’t invalidate the record, the music, or anything he’s doing. At all.
Neil Young: And as far as bigotry goes, I think we can all pretty much see the reality that Oh Susanna is always going to exist. It is a part of the lexicon of music from which America was born.
Elliot Roberts (Young's Manager): Neil does not have to answer to anyone else’s sensitivities, and that’s not only his right as an artist, but it’s absolutely necessary. If Neil gave in to everyone’s sensitivities throughout his career, would half of his music even exist, and would the other half be nearly as good?
Neil Young: Shut up Elliot.
Guys, there's a reason we sometimes call you guys record company clowns and suits. It's this type of lyrical analysis bullshit. You're almost as bad as some of my fans who chatter, twitter and blog over everything in microscopic detail. You guys way over-analyze everything.
It's all one song, for god's sake.
Unidentified Voice: Well, these are multi layered questions that require multi layered answers, but I think that like anything in life it’s a double edge sword.
A “one size fits all racial stereotype” cuts both ways.
Like all peoples, Native Americans were widely diverse and unique from each other, both geographically and culturally. Too often we “worship and respect” a wisdom and way of life that we attribute to Native American culture as a rule, without also acknowledging that conflict and subjugation existed there as well. I don’t know that indigenous cultures were obliterated for purposes of entertainment tho, so much as the white culture just wanted its own way to their detriment, to say the least. I think that many of us feel a “sense of hopelessness as industry and materialism annihilate the beauty of the world”,
The only thing that we can be guilty about as a people is to ignore or excuse away the lessons of the past, and fail to utilize them in avoiding the same thing in the future. Art “needn’t reflect” the past, but it is one of many ways that we can, but even the attempt is dependent on the audience. Somehow we have to create the awareness in ourselves, and a discussion like this is a good start.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Well, that was deep.
So are we finished here?
Will Tanous (Executive Vice President, Communications & Marketing): Rob, we haven't discussed promotion, marketing, tours, etc yet.
Todd Moscowitz (Co-President and CEO): OK, how are we going to market a bunch of old folk songs? Who is the target market for this album?
Neil Young: C'mon Elliot, guys. Let's go.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): Wait Neil. Elliot. Guys. Hold on.
Look we know you're pissed off.
We just want to make sure we give your album a fair shot.
Let us get back with you.
We think there's something here we can work with.
Will, take this back to marketing. Let's come up with some new cover art. Maybe drop that "Susannah" song. And how about we add in one of those grungy Crazy Horse songs. Don't you have some unreleased stuff somewhere?
Maybe that album... what was it? Toasted or something?
Wait, wait Neil.
Before you go. We wanted to ask about the Archives.
Neil Young: What about it? You'll get it when it's ready.
Rob Cavallo (WMG’s Chief Creative Officer): How about that old unreleased live album "Times That Do Fade Away"? Can we get that going?
Seriously. You know, fans have been petitioning for its release for years now. Tens of thousands of signatures for its release.
Neil Young: As far as I'm concerned, I'll never, ever re-release "Time Fades Away". I put it out on vinyl. It's out there. And if I ever do re-release "Time Fades Away" it'll only be on vinyl.
Unidentified Voice: Damn. Now what?
Will Tanous (Executive Vice President, Communications & Marketing): I guess it's a good thing we didn't bring up the focus group results on the album title feedback.
I still think this title is going to hurt us on international sales, especially Europe.
Any chance we can ask Neil for a title change? Something more catchy?
Unidentified Voice: Hey, turn that off...
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Thanks to the hands on Ranch Crew for sharing this transcript. Definitely insightful.
"Americana" by Neil Young & Crazy Horse is set for release June 5th (#231 in Amazon.com music pre-orders).
More on the controverseries surrounding the upcoming album Americana by Neil Young & Crazy Horse.
ps - Happy ARC Day!