“Hold on a minute, the little doggy’s about to run away,” Robert Plant says as he puts the phone down at his home in England, on the Welsh border. After a vacation in Morocco, Plant sounds antsy as he prepares to release his new album, Carry Fire. He recorded it with a group of musicians under the name the Sensational Space Shifters, many of whom he first worked with in 2002, and returned to in 2014 after projects with Alison Krauss and the Band of Joy and, of course, a one-off Led Zeppelin reunion in 2007. Featuring a diverse crew of world musicians, the band blends Middle Eastern, American and Celtic roots music. “It’s a little wild, a little bit crazy in concept,” says Plant, 69, who plans to tour the world with the Space Shifters in 2018. “We’ve got a kind of communal drift, which has stayed with us no matter what other projects we do. It’s like a brotherhood, really.”
Plenty of your Sixties contemporaries are still on the road, but most aren’t regularly releasing new music.
Anyone who gets tangled up in music and performance wants to keep it going. But by which means do you do it? Cramming the stuff into the suitcase again and playing live? Or is it creativity, another adventure, and trying to impress people who often want to hear how it was rather than how it is? That’s what I’ve been trying to do. After we lost John [Bonham] in 1980, I waited two albums before I went on tour, and when I did, I didn’t play any Zeppelin stuff.
How did it feel touring without Zeppelin for the first time?
Like my world had collapsed. But what happened in the first place when you didn’t have a game? You had to go out and make one. So I’ve shifted around over the years. That way, I keep interested and excited in what I do.
One new song repeats the line “a wall and not a fence,” a direct quote from Trump.
When he first said that, I thought, “Oh, fancy that, where have we heard that before?” Everyone with a certain neurosis has said [“build a wall”], from the first caveman with a stick to the Great Wall of China and on and on. He was only the most recent character to go to the same place.
How do you view Trump?
I got to a point where I could no longer watch. The media makes it such a garish feast. I just decided that there’s a process that will sort itself out and rectify itself in due course. Which it will. I keep my head down and dissolve into books.
You lived in Austin before returning to the U.K. three years ago. What was that time like?
Wonderful. I was embraced by the community there and exposed to so many great musicians and played a lot of great gigs. Patty Griffin and I started a band called Crown Vic. I bought an old cop car and we drove to play a festival in Marfa, Texas, listening to all the appropriate music. But maybe I was a bit too old to make the move. It was with a very heavy heart I had to come back to Wales. It felt like a major defeat.
So why did you leave?
I missed my family, and I wanted some peace. Without being too cheesy, I missed the misty mountains – the wet Welsh climate. I like weather people run away from.
What’s your life like in Wales?
I’ve got great friends and a really good dog. I play tennis. I play soccer every Wednesday at 7 p.m. I play till someone says, “Go in goal – it looks like you’re gonna die.” Then somebody brings the defibrillator quick.
Last year, you spent two weeks with your old bandmates to fight for the writing credits of “Stairway to Heaven.” Did it feel like old times?
[Laughs] Um, well, what was once a steady date becomes a cup of coffee. That’s basically how it turned out, a cup of coffee from time to time. But nothing intimate.
We’re coming up on the 10-year anniversary of Zeppelin’s Celebration Day. How do you look back on that night?
It was magnificent. We hit a home run that night, which is something that we were really fearful of. There was probably more riding on that than we would care to believe. Our performance was crucial, but we could reproduce sound in a much more reliable way, so we could be kickass, and sound kickass. Some of those horrific gigs way back were lacking in quality.
Gene Simmons recently said that rock is dead. Do you agree?
I haven’t any idea of where rock begins and ends. Did it begin with Link Wray? Did it begin with Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88”? Did it end with Black Flag? I think it’s still here, it’s just morphing. And long may it morph.
Almost every other rock star but you has written a memoir. Would you?
Never. What I know between my ears here is priceless. It’s magnificent, sometimes tearful, but mostly cheerful. There have been highs and lows and a lot of adventure, and I keep it hid.