Sheryl Crow still lives in Nashville, but she’s way over her flirtation with that town’s reigning genre, which lasted for all of one album. The process of promoting 2013’s Feels Like Home – which she refers to as her “mega-country” record – soured her on the country biz, and led her back to her actual musical home: the rootsy, tuneful crunch of her early albums. For the just-released Be Myself, she re-enlisted longtime co-writer Jeff Trott and mixer/engineer Tchad Blake, and got herself back into her Nineties mindset: “We’re gonna make something we love, and then whatever happens with it, happens with it.” In a Last Word interview, Crow shared some wisdom on fear in the age of Trump, the lessons of bar bands and more.
You’ve had health crises over the years, including breast cancer and a benign brain tumor. How have those affected the way you see day-to-day life?
I don’t think about it anymore. I don’t think about whether my cancer’s coming back or if my brain tumor’s growing or anything like that. I’m busy with my kids – my objective is to be here as long as I can for them and to enjoy every second of it. But I would say that my life was really changed when I got diagnosed. It gave me the freedom to just say, “Hey, let’s get on with life. If you wanna have kids, either adopt or go have one, get some sperm, whatever.” I also learned how to let myself off the hook, and it really made my life a lot better. I like to blame my lack of memories on having a brain tumor, but unfortunately I can’t, ’cause it doesn’t have any side effects [laughs].
How has having kids changed you?
Everything revolves around what’s good for them. I quit touring [temporarily] a couple of years ago. My nine-year-old cried. He was like, “We’re not going on the tour bus?” But the main thing really is that my work, my so-called inspiration, has been relegated to school hours. I made a record I love between school drop-off and dinnertime. Not many rock stars can say that.
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In “Heartbeat Away,” on your new album, a president launches nukes. Do you have apocalyptic fears?
My sleep has been disturbed. My insides are ridden with unease. I wrote that song before Trump got the nomination – it already felt apocalyptic that people were entertaining the idea of making a man like that the most powerful person in the world. I had to go into deep meditation and find a way to have compassion for the people of this country that are hurting and believe he cares about them. I’m worried, but my meditation teacher said something fascinating. Her phrase was, “This is the way forward.”
You have a pretty serious meditation practice – what does that do for you?
I meditate 20 to 25 minutes in the morning, then 20 minutes in between tucking the boys in and going to bed. It’s compassion-based – the idea is to live life from an extremely compassionate place and be mindful.
Who are your heroes?
Gandhi, and then after that I would say Keith Richards. George Harrison, for a number of reasons. Stevie Nicks. Bob Dylan.
You don’t often hear Gandhi and Keith in the same breath.
For a curious human being who is always looking to navigate life with passion, you know, Gandhi’s it. For someone who’s also curious and who is so playful about music and loves the people that he has loved, that’s Keith. I mean, I’m pretty sure that Keith had a nice, long cry the other day when Chuck Berry died. And that’s what I love about my work – it’s work – but it’s a life force, and that’s what I look at with him.
“I didn’t want to be great. I wanted to be important.”
You recorded and never released a debut before Tuesday Night Music Club. How do you see that album now?
It just wound up being a really soft-rock-sounding record. And I am never soft rock. And I just felt like, if I turn this in and this is my introduction, I did not stand a chance. You always have one introduction. You get one first impression.
Did learning cover songs in bar bands as you were coming up inform your songwriting?
I tell every kid, get in a cover band. It teaches you chops, it literally teaches you why some songs are classics, and it teaches you how to navigate a working band. With songwriting, there’s something to that idea of stealing from the best. You’re only as good as your references. And I pride myself on my references. I have tried to emulate the greatest rock stars and songwriters in the world. I try not to steal verbatim, but if they’ve influenced my work at all, I take a sense of pride in that.
The classic-rockers embraced you right away. Was there any downside to that?
There’s absolutely no downside to that. My idea for music was that I didn’t want to be great. I wanted to be important. I wanted to write important music, and so, when you start having a music career and you’re certainly not one of the cool kids, but you’re embraced by the older class – I was just like, “Wow, I can’t believe these people know me.” As hokey as it might sound, I still feel really humbled by that.
Finally, if it makes you happy, can it be that bad?
As great a hook as that might be, that is a conundrum.
My struggle in life is accepting the idea of choosing to be happy. Happiness is
not something where you wake up that way. You decide you’re gonna be happy. And
it took me a long time to figure that out. I definitely consciously do it with
my children, because they define themselves by your mood and how it relates to
them. As a parent and as a person, life can be so happy, but you have to decide
that that’s the life you’re gonna lead.