INTERVIEW: Neil Young on Promise of the Real, Paul McCartney and Telling an Earth Story | Relix
A very good interview with Neil Young touching on many recent topics.
This excerpt originally appears in the January/February issue of Relix | Young and the Restless: Neil Young on Promise of the Real, Paul McCartney and Telling an Earth Story by Mike Greenhaus on January 24, 2017:
“They’re an amazing band, and they have a great groove,” Young says of Promise of the Real, who have grown into his closest musical allies, two years and a flurry of new albums later. “So, when we play together, we can improvise and jam, and they all sing great. They all sing more on pitch than I do. It was about stopping the Keystone [XL Pipeline] from going through a farmer’s land. Everybody was there so I said, ‘I’ll show you a couple songs I want to do,’ and we did ‘em. ‘Who’s Gonna Stand Up?’ was one of the first things we learned.”Full article in the January/February issue of Relix | Young and the Restless: Neil Young on Promise of the Real, Paul McCartney and Telling an Earth Story by Mike Greenhaus on January 24, 2017.
“They’re very supportive, and they’re a working unit— nothing’s in their way,” Young says while calling from his Los Angeles home in December. “They love my music, and they actually come to me with suggestions all the time with songs they’d like to do. And I know that whatever song I want to do, they can learn how to play it as soon as I show it to them. So it’s given me between fi e and eight times more songs to play than I’ve ever had before in my life. That makes it a lot of fun and that’s why I keep doing it—because I’m having a good time.”
“I have been playing with Promise of the Real and I still am playing with them, but they weren’t available,” Young says of their absence from the record, though they’ve toyed with some Peace Trail songs live. “They were on the road and the songs just came to me and I wanted to record them, so I called up Jimmy. We’re good, old buddies and we understand how to do it together and have a great time, so I just went for that and we did this record.”
“Some of these songs are about things that are going on right now,” he says. “The First Nations people and the corporations are going at it head to head, and it’s a historic moment. It’ll probably continue up there all winter long and get bigger and bigger.”
He pauses to address how the situation has changed as more musicians and volunteers have lent their voices. “The situation is bigger than it was when I wrote [these songs],” Young says. “This thing is growing, and it’s an awareness of a situation that we face in this country and other countries like it so it strikes a chord with everyone. Corporations are controlling our government— and that’s what’s going on. Now, we have them head to head. Someone says, ‘You can’t do this,’ and the corporation says, ‘We’re doing it anyway.’”
“I’ve made records for a really long time and what I hear is what I want people to hear,” Young says of the song. “That’s why I make records. So I fear for the way people are going to hear what it is I create because I know how much that end of it has gone down—I think about that. So when I say, ‘I hear Jimi Hendrix’ that means I’m hearing something coming o˜ of a MP3 player through some speakers and it sounds like it’s [coming from] a bad TV or something. It’s very literal. It’s a word-for-word description.” Most of the songs on Peace Trail came to him after his tour with the Nelsons, yet Young is careful to note that they are still elastic enough to live outside any one project. “Each song comes in the room, looks around,” he says. “It either comes or goes— sits down or stands—but it’s by itself. They’re not constructed for anyone else except for themselves. They’re not built so they’ll fi t into what a certain band can play or a certain sound.”
“It was wonderful playing there,” Young says. “We booked a whole bunch of other shows in front of it so, by the time we got to it, we’d just be toasty enough so that it wouldn’t matter. We just wanted to be out of it by the time we got out there. We rented this beautiful local place that had a bunch of hot springs and a pool. We had the whole place to ourselves and were together as a band and had a great time. We got through it without it being anything big or different than anything else—but it was still big and different because we were with all these huge bands.”
“We were in there just singing, working out some changes and things,” he says. “It’s great to play with Paul—I’ve always loved Paul. We’ve been good friends for a long time and it just grew out of a natural lifetime of things that have happened to both of us, and people that we’ve known in common. He’s such a great musician, and I enjoyed being able to get up there with him and give him something to bounce off of—give him a little bit of something else.”
Given that Young has taken on several presidents, wars and countless cultural concerns in his music, it would come as no surprise if he revived any of his older tunes in response to the day’s current political climate. Young brushes off that question, saying, “Well, none in particular. They’re all just individual songs—I don’t look at them that way. I look at them as individual moments. Some of them stand up and ring true at different times as the years go by, and that’s just the nature of it. ‘After the Gold Rush’ is a song that seems to be having another moment, where there’s something about it—I noticed people were relating to it strongly during my last group of shows. It’s funny the way it just comes and goes, but I’m just doing what I’m doing— writing songs as I feel like writing them and then playing them.”
“I put so much love into it and so much care into making it,” he says humbly. “We broke the rules of making a live record; we weren’t trying to make it sound live. I think our post-production on Earth was about four months—there’s a lot of layers to what we did to those live performances, while still maintaining the live mix that came out of the PA. We didn’t remix them, but we did add obvious overdubs and used them in ways that were more like a novel than a record. There were all these other ideas happening, like it was part of something—a bigger picture where, if you zoomed in on it, it was live. But if you pulled back, there were a lot of things going on. It’s an Earth story.”
“It’s very healthy; you gotta trust yourself,” Young adds. “It feels excellent, and there’s nothing about it that’s not free. It’s full of whatever is happening. So there’s no way you could compare that to anything. It’s not better or worse. It is what it is.”