Deja Vu all over again
Over the last four years, David Crosby has released three solo albums. The latest of which, “Sky Trails,” came out in September. Nash wasn’t hesitant to attribute that productivity to the end of a longstanding supergroup.
“I got out of Crosby, Stills & Nash,” Crosby said during a phone interview. “I’m not slagging it, we got a lot of good work out of it, but it had devolved to the point where we would just turn on the smoke machine and play the hits. We didn’t like each other, and it was not fun.”
But that’s just half the reason. Crosby points the finger at streaming for killing off half his income, prompting the 75-year-old to do more touring. Since CSN fans wanted the hits, there wasn’t any demand for new material. But Crosby is a prolific writer, and now that he’s on his own he has an outlet to play new songs (sprinkled with a few classic hits).
“Sky Trails” includes “Capitol,” a bipartisan protest song where Crosby takes aim at Congress and its historically low approval ratings. But don’t let that “bipartisan” make you think the spirit of the 1960s has made Crosby soft; he referred to the president as an “orange disaster” and a “badly behaved child” during our interview.
But even in the 1960s, Crosby said they knew that it wasn’t a smart move to overload fans with protest music.
“You can’t do a steady diet of protest songs; if you do, people stop listening,” Crosby said. “But sometimes your country is killing children, and you write ‘Ohio.’ That’s what Neil (Young) did.
“You have to be genuine and write what you feel. Don’t adopt a pose just because it’s hip this week,” Crosby said. “If you’re going to write something other than entertainment, to inform people, it better be the real deal. If you’re going to do it, do it about something you really care about. That’s my best advice; don’t go half measures.”
Crosby has two different bands he plays with for his solo material. There’s what he calls his “Lighthouse” band, playing acoustic songs, and his “Sky Trails” band for electric shows. His Nov. 1 show at Hoyt Sherman Place will feature the latter band, which includes his son, James Raymond (who also produced “Sky Trails”). Beyond himself, Crosby said there is a common thread to both bands’ music.
“Our stuff is always tilted toward jazz. Even when we’re playing a fairly rock and roll tune, the chords are a little more complex than usual. That’s the way I tilt, and it’s natural to both my partners. Mike (League, of the Lighthouse band) runs a jazz band (Snarky Puppy), and James has been a jazzer since the get go. They help my songs really live. I want my songs to make you feel something, and for the music to serve that song. You have to deliver the song to the world in a way that communicates that.”
Crosby said he’s already at worth on a next album, with League and the Lighthouse band.
Following up on that advice for writers of protest music, what can Crosby suggest for non-musicians who are living in the turbulent modern political world, yet weren’t old enough to experience the turbulent politics of the 1960s?
“I don’t know if I’m qualified to give advice, but it’s pretty simple stuff,” Crosby said. “Stick up for what you believe in. If you believe in democracy, fight for democracy, or you will lose it. Want to be a decent person? Then work at it every day.
“Have a set of values and bring those into your daily choices. The situation we’ve got in our country right now is pretty terrible. We’ve got a child in the White House, a badly behaved child. If you care about that stuff or this country, you should stand up for what you believe in. I loved the Women’s March on Washington. If you can get out in the street, it will be as good for you as the people you are trying to help. It will make you feel good about yourself as a human being.” ♦