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Friday, January 27, 2017

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.”

“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.”
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.

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At 1/27/2017 11:34:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Earth: "I put so much love into it and so much care into making it".

I think that shines through when you listen to the album.

It's an album of little details. Like when the crow (a recurring character) suddenly gets louder when Neil cuts to the church bells; because the crow is sitting in the church tower, or in a adjacent tree. But you actually have to listen to notice these things, rather than writing the overdubs off as a distraction.

If there's any criticism of Earth, it's that the raw performances are of mixed quality, occasionally turgid and often a bit lacking in dynamics. Parts of Love And Only Love sound particularly unhealthy, like the song has eaten too many burgers and bloated out. Though (on the whole) I think Neil lived up to his promise of picking the best songs and best performances of the year, wisely avoiding the diddly-diddly rootsy-tootsy noodle-fests that dominated many of the electric sets in 2015. And the creative overdubs largely compensate for these issues, to my ears, adding a much-needed extra dimension to the sound; and giving breathing space and air to the songs that were over-saturated with sound. It's exciting to listen to, it makes you feel alive.

Neil has always been good at "artistic overdubbing", and both Earth and Peace Trail are good examples of this. I'm glad he used a stripped-back group on Peace Trail; it's a more Briggs-esque sound with more room to breathe. Though to be fair I did enjoy the POTR versions as well.

With Earth, at a time when the easy thing to do would be to release another standard live album (and I'm sure that is what most people wanted), Neil found a way to do something new and exciting. He took the artistic route, the tougher route, and created magic. And for this I cannot applaud him enough. It's not an easy thing to do, and when the opportunity comes along, you have to grab it with both hands.

And he did.

Neil, it was worth it.


At 1/27/2017 11:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do I keep talking about this album? Because I'm excited by it and want more people to listen to it.


At 1/28/2017 02:32:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

Scotsman, with Neil churning out work at such a prodigious rate these days, thanks for reminding me of "Earth", which shouldn't be forgotten. Lately I've been finding "Peace Trail" to be so fresh and vital, it's easy to forget about the last thing that popped out, even if that last thing needs and deserves to be discussed. One of the drawbacks of producing an expansive body of work--as Neil continues to do--is that it's easy to forget or lose track of previous works over the course of time. How often does anyone bring up Are You Passionate?, Chrome Dreams II, Broken Arrow, or Sleeps with Angels?

At 1/28/2017 02:52:00 AM, Blogger Alan said...

I loved seeing Neil with Promise of the Real play the Peace Trail songs in Boise, ID, on 10/3/16. I got to see them twice after walking into the sound check / extended rehearsal before the show. It was epic: 4 new Peace Trail songs and Surfer Joe and Moe the Sleaze! The band was incredible. I was sad to hear that Neil cancelled the tour but hopefully he'll have a fruitful year and come out with Archives 2 on Blu-ray. I love Peace Trail, the Grunge harmonica, the Native drums, the wailing guitar, and the Social Justice / Environmental message. Thanks for the cool interview Thrasher. -Alan in Seattle

At 1/28/2017 12:21:00 PM, Blogger thrasher said...

@ Scotsman - thanks for words on "Earth". We'll just echo what Ian says about Earth relative to "Peace Trail" -- both fresh and vital.

Yes, as the days fly past, we do lose our grasp...

At 1/28/2017 01:05:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

I liked "Earth" when it came out and listened to it constantly for a few weeks. Since its release, I've listened to it a few more times recently, and it's a solid work with its unique merits and quirks.

Scotsman seems to hear a little more nuance to the animal sounds than I do, so I'll keep listening as closely as my ears will allow. While I like and enjoy the album, it still sounds to me like Neil was just playing around with auto-tune and sound affects without much thought. Again, I enjoy it for what it is and I applaud Neil for his searching spirit. It seems like he had fun with it and in his way made an interesting statement about our interconnectedness with the natural world...

Now to my ears, Peace Trail is the work that has a chance to endure the test of time. No, it likely won't ever be considered a true Neil classic, but it's a solid, cohesive, consistent, moody, topical and personal work. The vocals, music and lyrics blend nicely, at once both lulling us into a sense of comfort while shocking us at various times into an uneasy state of mind and being.

The guitars, drums and especially the uniquely chugging driving harmonica "solos" really resonate with me. And Neil's voice, especially his phrasing and syntax are as good as they've been in a long time. It's all very organic and free flowing, but this time, there's just enough craft and polish to make it sound like it's more than another throwaway work.

I've listened to "Peace Trail" approximately 30 times, and to my ears, it has much in common with "On the Beach" and "Greendale" as they all find Neil looking outward and inward at the same time, accompanied by sparse acoustic and electric arrangements struggling and demanding to be heard.

Take my advice
Don't listen to me

At 1/28/2017 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

I feel the same way as Scotsman about Earth. A unique and inspired work that holds up incredibly well, especially on vinyl. The message is clear and the added effects I feel are tastefully done and unobtrusive. Neil has said he worked long and hard in the studio on the production of Earth, and I believe his efforts are as successful as anything he has ever released. The ebb and flow of the sequencing is remarkable, with a conscious effort on contrast and relief that creates a fully realized storyline much in the same way he did on Greendale.

As for Peace Trail... Recorded in just four days with very few overdubs, Neil has again created a work that feels nothing like a quick throwaway project. This record illustrates once again that Neil Young is capable of music making at it's finest. As TopangsDaze noted, Peace Trail is a solid, cohesive, consistent, moody, topical and personal work. In just four days.... incredible indeed.

As for Promise of the Real and Neil Young working together again, the interview certainly makes one assume that they will indeed. I was not lucky enough to see them live yet, but everything I've seen and heard from their last tour makes me think they're just getting started. Here's hoping I'm right on this.


At 1/28/2017 07:06:00 PM, Blogger Dan Swan said...

.... and that photo of Neil and the tree would make a awesome album cover.

At 1/28/2017 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Is CSNY going to be Neil's next live gig??

At 1/29/2017 01:42:00 AM, Blogger Andy Walters said...

CSNY will never play again that's ole Neil in my view and let's hope they never make another record after the last two shockers. CSNY were finished in 1975.

At 1/29/2017 01:32:00 PM, Blogger Soldier Steve said...

Yes the last two CSNY albums were not that good but the 2000,2002,2006 tours were kick ass in my opinion.Their was some good shows on those tours.Especially Neil's songs.Deja Vu Live cd & film are great! I would rather see a final Crazy Horse Tour,maybe we will have both if everyone is healthy enough.

At 1/29/2017 05:50:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

Regarding the next steps of Neil's concert career, for the first time in quite a while, I truly feel like I have no idea what (if anything) is coming. I have a feeling there's something personal going on that's largely going to "muzzle" Neil for this year, and who knows beyond that?

I'd be thrilled if he toured again with the POTR, or as a solo act. At this time, personally I have no interest in seeing a CSNY reunion or a tour with Crazy Horse. As I harped on about repeatedly in a few previous posts, the "new/recent" version of NY&CH simply bores me to tears. The talent is still there, but Neil has taken their recent collaborations to unrecognizable levels of tedium and sloppiness rendering it all borderline unlistenable.

Actually, in my dream world I'd be in favor of a true career retrospective "final" tour with Neil, CSN/BS and Crazy Horse. The shows would consist of:

* A 45-60 minute acoustic opening set by Neil
* A 45-60 minute set of Springfield and CSNY standards
* A 45-60 minute set with CH (minus the droning false song endings)
* A 30 minute "surprise" encore set with all, some, or none of the above or other special guests

Take my advice
Don't listen to me

At 1/29/2017 05:54:00 PM, Blogger TopangaDaze said...

And I don't think I've seen it posted here, but it has been announced that Neil will be inducting Pearl Jam into the Hall of Fame. That could be an "innaresting" evening!

At 1/30/2017 07:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing with the live show is, when was the last time Neil toured with exactly the same band for more than 2 consecutive years (making an exception for contractually obliged cancelled/resheduled dates)?

In fact, it's never happened; in nearly 50 years of touring.

After two years of intensive touring with The Horse in 1996/1997, he took a year off to recover, spend time with his family etc. After the long "World tour" concluded in 2009, Neil spoke of being burnt out on music and needing to get away from it for a few months. After the sonic extremes of the Weld tour, he took nearly a year off to record Harvest Moon quietly at his home.

So hopefully (in italics) we are just seeing the same healthy pattern repeating itself, like a reassuring regular heartbeat. Rather than any more abnormal concerns.

Re: Crazy Horse, I'd love to hear another album with them, if not a tour. It's interesting that every Crazy Horse studio project in recent history has been very different thematically from what came before. Ragged Glory, Sleeps With Angels, Broken Arrow, Toast sessions, Greendale, Americana, Psychedelic Pill. You couldn't predict any of these by looking at the previous one in the chain.

For me, a Horse collaboration has always been special simply because Neil also tends to consider it a special event; he rises to the occasion, his creativity is stirred, he puts in that bit of extra effort and intensity. There's an emotional intensity and purity of emotion to much of his music with CH that hasn't been consistently matched by any other alternative. Hence the enduring popularity of Ragged Glory, Sleeps With Angels, Greendale and (to a lesser extent) Psychedelic Pill.

Perhaps they really have burned out now, as they enter old age; but I am not convinced of that. I do think they've got another great record in them. Perhaps something a little more bluesy and low-key than Psychedelic Pill. One thing seems certain, however: there won't be all that many years left to find out.

While I think Crazy Horse bring out the best in Neil, I'm afraid I can't be as complimentary about CSN. But I'm sure a reunion with them would be the usual financial success.


At 1/31/2017 01:38:00 AM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

@Scotzman--Good comments. One question: does Sleeps with Angels really have enduring popularity with a great cross-section of fans? I have always loved it (more so than Ragged Glory or, for that matter, the others in your list if I'm honest), but my impression was that, in general, it was both too dark and too musically wayward/eccentric for mass consumption. No smash hits or regular concert numbers have emerged from it, except for possibly occasional airings of Change Your Mind. In fact, I was downright surprised when Western Hero made the track list for Earth, since I just didn't think Neil revived songs from that album very often. I just always had the impression Sleeps with Angels was rather special, in that it doesn't sound much like anything before or since and, if I remember right, Neil said it was such a deeply personal album that he declined to tour with it at the time or play the songs live very often. Maybe the lesser publicity is why it isn't as well remembered now? (Along with its lack of radio friendly or crowd-pleasing numbers: I mean, I love "A Dream that Can Last", but can you see it as part of an FM disc jockey's rotation?)

On a side note, I'm still in anticipation of an official release forum of some sort for the Toast sessions. What's been mentioned about the project has always fascinated me. I know many of the Are You Passionate? songs developed from those sessions, and I've long found that particular set of songs artistically interesting, if frustratingly imperfect. Are You Passionate?, the title cut, is as close to the bone--in its own way-- as anything Neil has ever done, and I can imagine absolutely imagine Crazy Horse carrying it off as a moody, late night-in-a-smokey-barroom slow-burner. As you described it, low-key and bluesy, which the Horse does well (witness Sleeps with Angels and the better moments of Broken Arrow). I don't want to create unsustainable expectations for the day when Toast may actually appear, but I'd quite like to hear those AYP? songs in raw form along with the unreleased songs. Some Neil fans probably can't understand my fascination with that particular set of songs, but there's some almost inexpressible ambience about the AYP? album (particularly the title cut, Two Old Friends,Disappointment, When I Hold You in My Arms, and She's a Healer), a sound and feeling I can only describe as soul-grunge, that keeps me coming back to this set of songs even as I struggle to pin down what draws me in.

At 1/31/2017 04:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Ian! Re: Sleeps With Angels, I meant it was an enduringly popular album amongst fans, rather than "the general public" (so to speak). I think if you did a survey of people who own most of Neil's albums, you'd find Angels to be a highly-rated record. Whereas something like Broken Arrow or Life might get more of a luke-warm reception, I suspect. Maybe I'm wrong!

Some albums seem great at the time because they are new and have novelty value (I seem to remember outraging people a few months back by comparing them to magpies - oops!). But within a few months the appeal has worn off. Whereas others are constructed out of solid material, built to last. Hard to predict, but I think the most recent two albums will probably endure, because overall there's enough substance there to resist the passing of time.

I think SWA has stood the test of time, too; it never seems to get old. If anything, it gets better and better. That's a real sign of quality.

There's always another layer to hear in it. Magical. The production is excellent, and overall it's a very deep album with A LOT of substance. There's this theme rumning through it, some things built to last (Trans Am, A Dream That Can Last), some things not (Piece Of Crap). Some people surviving, others not. It's classic Neil Young. And I love that it wasn't really promoted or supported with a tour; even now, it's one of those albums you have to seek out, blow the dust off the cover (or the screen). It's got the spook.

Neil's comment on this album: "There was something going on - you can feel it. But it wasn't a hit - thank God!".


At 1/31/2017 04:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I mention it more on the other thread, but I really like the Are You Passionate songs, as well. Overall, I think they were done better live in May 2002: a few songs feel a bit tame on the album. But I like the record, too. I'm also really intrigued by Toast, assuming it's not just a "ghost album"!


At 1/31/2017 09:13:00 PM, Blogger The Metamorphic Rocker said...

I wonder if such surveys exist, formally or informally. I was just going by albums you hear about the most and, in my experience, when it comes to the '90s you hear a lot more about Ragged Glory and Harvest Moon, and maybe a smidgen about Mirror Ball/Pearl Jam here and there, but not much else. I may have to research this question, now we are living in the age of search engines!

AYP: On She's Healer, there's the line"My blue-eyed woman is a love ghost. Without that woman, I'm toast". Coincidence, or another clue about the evolution from "Toast" to Are you Passionate?


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