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A Legendary Collaboration Continues: Neil Young And Crazy Horse Reunite For 'Colorado'

Oct 23, 2019
Originally published on October 23, 2019 9:53 am

Neil Young has easily one of the most recognizable names in American music, and his familiar voice isn't getting quieter with time. He has played with a lot of people over the years: There was Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. But Crazy Horse has outlasted all of them. Now, seven years since Young's last album with Crazy Horse, they're back.

For all that history, Young is living in the moment:. "I think that I do the best when I'm right here," he tells NPR's David Greene. It helps that he's staying busy: Young's archiving all of his recordings online, he's got a book coming out and he's currently working on 14 films, including one about the making of this new album, Colorado, which he recorded in that state: in a studio at 9000 feet, alongside Crazy Horse.

Young has recorded with Crazy Horse for half a century, returning to the band every few years. But some critics have found fault with the band's musicianship, or said the band just isn't worthy of Young's time.

"They don't know what we're doing," Young says of those critics."That's why they say, 'Well you can't do this, you can't do that,' because we don't play that well, we're not technical. There's much more to it than technical."

His philosophy about recording music is not about reaching perfection."We're thinking about making it sound real, like you can feel that this means something to the people playing it," he says. "We're not trying to impress anybody."

But embracing rawness and imperfection only goes so far as the playing: for the recording technology, Young wants the sound quality to be as pure as possible.

"They're two totally different things," Young explains. "The raw thing that we create is the soul of music and the stories and the feelings of being human. The technical thing that happens is trying to capture that. If you try to capture that and you use tools that are less precise, then you get less of it. You know the feeling that you have when you hear something that's really great and it touches your soul? The chances of it really touching your soul are much better if you hear all of it."

The message on Colorado is unambiguous about climate change.

"I saw white guys trying to kill Mother Nature," he sings on the 13-minute track "She Showed Me Love." Elsewhere, on "Green Is Blue," he laments, "We heard the warning calls / Ignored them."

"Mostly I would like a lot of people to see what's going on [with] the planet — that's so obvious to me," he says. "I just don't know why people don't get it. Or if they do get it, then why don't they get with it?"


Colorado is out Oct. 25 via Reprise.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Here is a familiar voice that is not getting any quieter with time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINK OF ME")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) When you see those geese in the sky, think of me.

GREENE: Neil Young and Crazy Horse have been partners for half a century. And now, seven years since their last album, they are back.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THINK OF ME")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) And I can gallop across your open prairie, while I dive below your deepest sea. Think of me.

GREENE: We sat down with Neil Young at a studio in Santa Monica, Calif. And you could just tell, for all that history, here's an artist who is busy living in the moment. He's archiving all of his recordings online. He's got a book coming out. And he's making movies.

How's the film coming?

NEIL YOUNG: It's just about done now. We're just, you know, buttoning up a few things.

GREENE: Yeah. How involved are you? Are you actually doing all the editing and...

YOUNG: Yeah. I'm there all the time because, you know, it's what I do.

GREENE: And, yeah, he means it. Neil Young is actually working on 14 films, including one about the making of this new album, "Colorado." Neil Young and Crazy Horse recorded it in a studio there at 9,000 feet.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MOUNTAINTOP")

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: No, no - yeah.

YOUNG: This is one time when I want you guys to just go bang and we're doing it.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Do it right on Neil's vocal mic.

YOUNG: Check one, two - louder. (Singing) Got to find myself a new television.

You're going to see a bunch of old rockers playing music, trying to make every song sound great but not perfect. We're thinking about making it sound real. Like, you can feel that this is something that means something to the people playing it. We're not trying to impress anybody.

GREENE: I feel like that's what you've always sought with them. Is that right? Like, a space where it's not about perfection.

YOUNG: It's always been like - yeah. It's a more cosmic thing. There's a connection with them that makes me write different songs. I write songs about time travel, about other things that are a little more out there, maybe cinematic, with Crazy Horse than I do with other people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MILKY WAY")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) I went sailing in the Milky Way, losing track of memories that weren't that day right by your side.

GREENE: Neil Young, easily one of the most recognizable names in American music, has played with a lot of people over the years. There was Buffalo Springfield, of course, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But Crazy Horse has outlasted all of them. And every few years, he's returned to this band that some critics have long said are just not worthy of Neil Young's talents.

There were some people who almost made fun of the group and said they weren't professional musicians. And they didn't understand why you would repeatedly go back to them.

YOUNG: Those [expletive] people know [expletive], OK?

GREENE: Mmm hmm.

YOUNG: You'll have to cut a lot of that. I'm sorry NPR.

GREENE: That's OK.

YOUNG: (Laughter) Now, that's no concern.

GREENE: But what...

YOUNG: That doesn't matter. They don't know what we're doing. That's why they said, well, you can't do this you, you can't do that because we don't play that well, we're not technical. There's much more to it than technical.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE SONG, "SHE SHOWED ME LOVE")

GREENE: So there's climate change all over this record.

YOUNG: There's climate change all over everything in the world, OK? This is a big thing. People got to get on that. We waste so much time.

GREENE: You think the world is not taking climate change seriously.

YOUNG: (Laughter) What do you think? I don't think so. No.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHE SHOWED ME LOVE")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) I saw white guys trying to kill Mother Nature. She showed me love. And I know she has a way with things.

GREENE: I was listening to your song, "She Showed Me Love," on the new album. I mean, when it comes to a big issue of global importance like this, I mean, what is your role in a song like that?

YOUNG: Well, I am the song. That's who I am. I am applying what I know how to do to things that I see.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN IS BLUE")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) We heard the warning calls - ignored them. We watched the weather change. We saw the fires and floods.

YOUNG: Mostly, I would like a lot of people to see what's going on on the planet that is so obvious to me. I don't - I just don't know why people don't get it. Or if they do get it, then why don't they get with it?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GREEN IS BLUE")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) There's so much we didn't do.

GREENE: Some of the other projects that you're focused on - I mean, you have a book about audio quality. And one thing that I've always wondered about was if you could square what you were talking about with Crazy Horse and loving the rawness and imperfection, but when it comes to sound quality, you want the quality to be as pure as it possibly can be.

YOUNG: Well, they're two totally different things. The raw thing that we create is the soul of music and the stories and the feelings of being human. And the technical thing that happens is trying to capture that. And if you try to capture that and you use tools that are less precise, then you get less of it. You know the feeling that you have when you hear something that's really great and it touches your soul? The chances of it really touching your soul are much better if you hear all of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RAINBOW OF COLORS")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) There's a rainbow of colors in the old USA. No one's going to whitewash those colors away.

GREENE: So the archives that you have, there are some people who, like, look back at a career and want to pick the highlights. I mean, you seem to want to have so much documented. I mean, what...

YOUNG: Well, everything is - relates to everything else. If you have the whole picture, you can decide what's valuable and what isn't. I don't know. I've recorded somewhere - 500, 700, 800, 1,000 songs, whatever they are. They're in there, and the different variations of them and the story of how we did them is all in there. You know, it's just one of these things. I like to collect stuff. I like to keep track of things.

GREENE: Are you looking forward more than back? Are you looking back more than forward? Or where are you today?

YOUNG: I'm here. I think that I do the best when I'm right here.

GREENE: And what is being right here mean - just living in the moment?

YOUNG: Yeah, I guess so - in the now, as they would say. I mean, I'm still thinking about things I want to do, but I'm thinking about them right now. I'm thinking about things that I'd like to do to have fun, you know, have a good time, create things.

GREENE: Well, it's a real pleasure talking to you.

YOUNG: Thank you. It's nice talking to you, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ETERNITY")

NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Woke up this morning in a house of love. The birds were singing in the sky above.

GREENE: Neil Young's new album with Crazy Horse is called "Colorado." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.