David Crosby: 'Serve The Song,' Not The Self
David Crosby may have one of the most cherished voices in rock history, but it's rare for listeners to hear it alone. His new solo studio album, Croz, is only his fourth such release in more than 50 years of making music.
"If I have songs, then I want to be recording them. It's not as if I sit there with the songs and say, 'This is a Crosby, Stills & Nash song,' or 'I gotta save this until I can work on it with Neil,' or 'I'm saving this for myself; this is too good for those guys' — I do what comes naturally," Crosby says.
"Our job, really, is to serve the song," he adds. "That's really what making records is about. You have to really write a real song that you can sit down and play for somebody and make them feel something. If you don't have that, you shouldn't bother."
Croz is out this Tuesday. David Crosby spoke about it, as well as his Voltron-like relationship with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and how his songwriting has changed since a brush with death in the early 1990s with weekends on All Things Considered guest host Kelly McEvers. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.
KELLY MCEVERS: Once again, you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEJA VU")
DAVID CROSBY: (Singing) If I had ever been here before I would probably know just what to do. Don't you?
: In the history of rock and roll, few people have had the vantage point of David Crosby. He was a founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash and sometimes Young. He performed at Woodstock. He worked with Jackson Browne, Jefferson Airplane, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King. He is the consummate collaborator. And yet in all that time, David Crosby has released only three solo albums. That is, until Tuesday, when he shares his first in more than 20 years. It's called "Croz."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHAT'S BROKEN")
CROSBY: (Singing) Looking out on the buzzing city molecules go flying by. Standing here is a very lost disciple. How could it be that angels fly.
: David Crosby's last solo record was "A Thousand Roads" back in 1993. Not long after that, he almost died. A new liver gave him the time he's had since. So when he came by our studios here in Culver City, California, I asked if this David Crosby is different than the man we heard 21 years ago.
CROSBY: Well, considerably. I came very close to dying. I remember when I was watching a biographic piece, and they had interviewed my main doctor. They said: Well, how close was it? And he said: He was about a week from dying. And I just rocked back in my chair, because of course they don't tell you that. But that's a pretty close call.
: Are there lyrics on this album that you, you know, wrote because you've been through an experience like that?
CROSBY: There's certainly an attitude. It affects you, you know, very strongly. You feel like every day that you get you wake up and you say, oh, my God, they gave me another one. Oh, boy, what can I accomplish today, you know? And it makes you really treasure your time. Yes, there's a lyric I can think of. In "Time I Have," I talk about not wanting to waste my time being angry.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TIME I HAVE")
CROSBY: (Singing) People do so many things that make me mad, but angry isn't how I want to spend the time I have. Cognitive dissonance they call it, and I wonder just how small it could be made to be in me.
: You've been recording and touring with your son James Raymond for several decades now. He's also a major part of this record. I know you've told the story 1,000 times, but I'm hoping you can tell it again, the story of how you guys came to find each other again.
CROSBY: Yeah, it's kind of a miracle. His mom put him up for adoption when he was born - and it was a good choice. And you can't hunt for him from the parent down, only from the kid up. So when he got married, and he was just about to have his first child, his parents had said, you know, you ought to find out who your genetic parents are.
So he had found out that his mom lived in Australia, and he'd found out that it was an open registration. And he looked at the papers, and there was my name. And he said, nah, couldn't be. And then he found out that it was. And he got a hold of someone who knew me, and he did one of the kindest things I've ever seen another human being do.
Now, those kind of meetings usually go badly. Both people arrive with a lot of baggage - the parent usually with a lot of guilt and the kid with a lot of anger - why did you leave me and mom? We weren't good enough for you? He came with nothing. He came with no baggage. He gave me a clean slate. He let me earn my way into his life and his heart. And that is a very high level of human being.
: And James has written a couple of songs on this album, yeah?
CROSBY: Oh, man. He wrote so well on this record that I can't believe it. He's as good as I am or better.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CROSBY: (Singing) This kind of love don't need a home. This kind of heart beats all alone. This kind of world, gonna let it go. Lay down the things that came before.
: My guest is the legendary David Crosby. His new solo album is called "Croz." I want to ask you a question that's possibly out of left field. I'm wondering if you saw the Coen Brothers' film "Inside Llewyn Davis."
CROSBY: Not yet.
CROSBY: I'm going to see it. I'm a little afraid of it.
CROSBY: Well, I've been a Coen Brothers' fan since "Blood Simple." And I know that if they write about singer/songwriters who are not stars, it's going to be real. It's going to affect me very strongly emotionally. I know this movie is going to affect me very strongly because I know it will be truthful and I know there will be pain there.
But they do tell you the truth about what it's like to have this drive to put your songs out there and sing, you know, to people.
: Why would that be painful for you, because you put your songs out there and people accepted them and liked them and you are now who you are.
CROSBY: Yeah, but that's now. For a long time, I was a kid in a bar, broke, before that, in a coffeehouse. My earliest ones, I was passing a basket in a basket house in New York after I sang. And if there wasn't any money in the basket, I didn't have dinner. That was that. It's not easy. And it's gotten harder since then. I'm lucky I got in when I did.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
: We talked about working with your son James on this album.
: And your other son Django took some of the photographs for it.
CROSBY: Yeah, he took the cover.
: He's in his 20s now?
CROSBY: He's 18.
: He's 18? We heard a line in the song "Dangerous Night." I want to believe I can pass happy to my child, but the truth gets lost and the system runs wild.
CROSBY: Yeah, and the two lines before it are: I try to write Buddha and it comes out guns. I vote for peace and the blood still runs.
: So what are these lines about? Is this about what you - the legacy you want to leave to your kids?
CROSBY: Yes. And I worry a great deal about the world we're handing them. Our government is broken. Our democracy is broken. Other people own our government now. Yes, I am worried.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CROSBY: (Singing) Send me someone who has doubts about it, who has conquered their own fear and lived to tell about it, someone who won't give up...
: Listening to this new album, "Croz," you know, there is a kind of hopefulness there, maybe a weary hopefulness, but it's there.
: I know you're worried about the future and what you're going to - the country you're going to leave your kids. But there's got to be some hope there too, huh?
CROSBY: Yes. I have hope because of human beings. I like human beings. It's an attitude thing. If you go down in despair, you can't function, and you can't do any good. If you have hope in your heart, you can. It's that simple.
: David Crosby. His first solo album in more than 20 years comes out on Tuesday. It's called "Croz." Mr. Crosby, thank you so, so much for being here.
CROSBY: It's such a pleasure, ma'am. I am a huge - I have to say this, a huge NPR fan. I listen all the time.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Kelly McEvers. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. You can follow us on Twitter: @nprwatc. We're back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.