A Lifetime High: David Crosby In Conversation

David Crosby (Photo by Anna Webber)

David Crosby is back with another masterpiece. Well into his eighth decade, hot on the heels of his fourth album in as many years, the Byrds and CSN(Y) cofounder is flying high, soaring to new creative heights with Here If You Listen, a collaborative effort with Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League.

The quartet originally convened for 2016’s Lighthouse album and followed with a critically-acclaimed series of tours. Where Lighthouse and Here If You Listen diverge is that the former was approached and billed as a Crosby solo album, while the new release is a true group effort. All four artists contribute their unique sensibilities to both lyrics and music, and the result is nothing short of brilliance. Consider Crosby’s compatriots: Michael League, mastermind of Snarky Puppy and myriad other musical projects; Becca Stevens, a singer-songwriter who represents what a Crosby/Joni Mitchell “soul child” may well have sounded like; and Michelle Willis, a Toronto-born singer-songwriter once described by Crosby as sounding “like God on a good day.”

Fans and critics alike have been increasingly finding themselves at a loss for words to describe just how astounding the past four years have been for Crosby, yet no one is more astounded—or grateful—than the artist himself. His youthful voice is filled with the fearless liberation of one whose understanding of the value of time, of the joy and power of music, is at a lifetime high. At 77, David Crosby continues to speak up and sing out.

David Crosby makes a point in the studio as Becca Stevens (far right) looks on. (Photo courtesy of David Crosby)

Speaking with unmistakable warmth and appreciation for his current collaborative configuration, Crosby says, “It’s a magical chemistry. What happened, man, when we did that first Lighthouse record, I was just completely knocked out with working with Michael as the producer and writing with Michael, and then singing with Becca and Michelle. I went to them this time and said, ‘Listen, I want to do a record, but I don’t want to do another solo record with Michael producing and you guys helping me. I want to do a four-of-us record, where the four of us write and the four of us sing as a group.’ And they said, ‘Are you sure?” And I said, ‘Yes, I’m absolutely sure. There’s a chemistry here that’s a thing I want to follow.’ And they said, ‘Oh, boy! Whoopee!’ and they jumped in with both feet. They are fiercely talented people.

Elaborating further, he added, “Each of them is a completely individual writer, not like anybody else I’ve ever heard. So, what I get from them is creative juice. They are incredible artists, all three of them. Michael can play anything well, and he’s a wonderful composer of music and such a good writer of words. Becca and Michelle are completely different from each other and two of the best singer-songwriters I’ve encountered. I found Joni Mitchell; I do know what I’m doing.”

Noting his reputation for bringing a childlike enthusiasm to every musical project he’s ever been involved with, Crosby admitted, “Yeah, I am enthusiastic. I love this, man, I love singing! I love music! I’m not doing it to get famous or rich, [or to] get laid or anything; I’m doing it because I absolutely adore doing it.”

Crosby recently toured Europe for the first time in several years. I wondered about the vibe over there and how Europeans feel about what’s happening on this side of the pond? The response was unequivocally direct.

“Every conversation started off with them being completely aghast and worried as hell because, obviously, Western Europe is very, very strongly linked to the United States, and they used to be able to count on us to be their buddy. Now, we’ve got an idiot running our country and he’s doing great harm to that relationship. So, every conversation I had over there started with ‘What the hell is going on, and how did you let it get there?’ And it’s embarrassing, and it’s tough. I made jokes about it, I tell people we’re all gonna wear a Canadian maple leaf on our shoulders and [say] we’re Canadians, because everybody likes Canadians! But it’s very tough in Europe right now to be an American; it’s embarrassing.”

Crosby is a passionate believer in the artist’s role in creating awareness of both social and political issues.

“We’re human beings and we live here; we have a responsibility to our families, to our children, to our children’s children. The worst part in what this current administration is doing isn’t the damage to our democracy, which is awful, and it isn’t the damage to the belief in our democracy, which is even worse; it’s the fact that by not doing anything about global warming, by denying any report that gets in the way of profits, we are doing a disservice to the entire human race…every single human being on the planet when we’re supposed to be a developed nation with the intelligence and the technology to lead the way to fixing it, we’re doing this awful, backsliding, stupid, ignorant move, and we’re doing harm to the entire planet and everybody on it. Not a good thing.”

Despite his frenetic writing, recording, and touring schedule, Crosby wishes there were more hours in the day to fit in yet another project: the return of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“I wish we were! You gotta remember, the last time we got together was to sing Neil’s ‘Let’s Impeach the President for Lying’ which is a perfect song to be singing right now! We were just singing it a little too early; we didn’t realize we were gonna have a liar of this proportion to work with. I wish we would; I don’t think it’s gonna happen, but I get messages every day on Twitter and Facebook saying, ‘Will you please stop bickering with each other and do your job? Be our voice; we need it now.’ And I agree, and I would like to. But it’s up to Neil, it’s always been up to Neil, and it’s up to Neil now.”

Questioned about the aforementioned schedule, Crosby is quick to explain.

“You look at your life, you know that you have a certain amount of time; anybody my age knows that they’ve got a certain amount of time. And you think to yourself, okay, how do I spend this time? To me, there’s only one contribution I can make. There’s only one place I can do anything personally; me, to make anything better. And that’s to be doing my job, to be making the music, the best music I can make, as fast as I can do it.”

Visit www.islandzoneupdate.blogspot.com for the complete conversation.

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Roy Abrams
Roy Abrams is a musician and a veteran music journalist. For more, visit his blog, Island Zone Update.

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