David Crosby Talks Solo Rebirth, End of CSN
Two years ago, David Crosby took to Twitter to gush about his new favorite band. “Snarky Puppy is quite possibly the most advanced band in the world,” he wrote. “Certainly the best I’ve heard/seen.” His bassist Kevin McCormick discovered the Brooklyn jazz fusion collective via the online magazine No Treble, and over the next few weeks Crosby tweeted about them so incessantly that Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League reached out and asked if he’d be willing to contribute to the band’s new record Family Dinner – Volume 2. “I invited him to come to my house and try and write,” says Crosby. “We wrote three songs in three days.”
When it came time to plot a follow-up to his 2014 solo disc Croz, Crosby asked League to produce it. He thought that Snarky Puppy would serve as his backing band, but the bassist had a different vision for the album. “He said, ‘I wanna do what your strengths are to me, which is vocal stacks and acoustic guitar, and maybe some bass,'” Crosby says. “I said, ‘Okay. That’s right in my wheelhouse. I know how to do that.'”
Crosby felt they needed a solid month to make the album, but they discovered such amazing chemistry that they recorded it in just 12 days. “There was no drama,” says Crosby. “There was no bullshit. It was an easy, natural thing and it just happened wonderfully.” Most of it was cut at Jackson’s Browne’s Groove Masters studio in Santa Monica, California (where Bob Dylan recorded his 2012 disc Tempest), but they also did a bit at Harmony Studio near Syracuse, New York. “It was a really organic process,” says Crosby. “We both wrote words, melody and chords. You can’t tell who wrote what.”
They called the record Lighthouse, set for release on October 21st. The album’s leadoff track “Things We Do for Love” is a tribute to Crosby’s wife Jan, while “Look in Their Eyes” is about the plight of Syrian refugees. “They’re people just like you and me,” he says. “They’re just trying to get some food and water, and they’re just trying to survive. It was human suffering in a way I could not ignore.” “Somebody Other Than You” is an anti-war song in the same vein as his 1971 classic “What Are Their Names?” “The people who send our kids to war don’t send their own,” says Crosby. “It drives me batty. I think we we wrote the words for that one in two hours.”
Crosby and League handle most of the instruments, but they did bring in organist Cory Henry, pianist Bill Laurence and singers Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis for a few tracks. Crosby also recruited his buddy Marc Cohn, best known for his 1991 hit “Walking In Memphis,” to co-write “Paint You A Picture.” “We’ve been friends for years,” he says. “But it’s the first Crosby/Cohn song.” Every song on the album is new besides the tender “What Makes It So,” which Crosby began playing at CSN shows two years ago.
Up until 2014, Crosby hadn’t released a solo record in 19 years, but Lighthouse is his second in just two years. The fact that Crosby, Stills and Nash disbanded in that time isn’t a coincidence. “When I was in the group, there was always a problem about trying to get the songs recorded,” he says. “At least in the past few years, if I brought anything to Crosby, Stills and Nash, it didn’t really get served well. Also, I always write in bursts. The last couple of years have been the densest, longest writing surge I think I’ve ever had. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Most people at my age are either lazy or they’re just pulling the handle trying to get another hit. They feel that maybe they’ve said everything they want to say. They also just don’t work at it. I’m not smarter or better than they are. It’s just that the songs are coming to me.”
Crosby is in the middle of a solo tour that mixes in a handful of new songs with CSN classics (“Guinnevere,” “Deja Vu”), older solo songs (“Cowboy Movie,” “Laughing”) and even a Byrds number (“Triad”). Despite being 75 and having endured countless medical ordeals, his voice is in remarkable shape. “I don’t understand why I’m singing the way I am,” he says. “I can only write it off to being happy. I’m very happy.”
He’s also nearly done with his next album, produced by his son James Raymond and provisionally titled Home Free. They want to get it out next year and launch yet another tour behind it. “We have vocals on all the songs but two,” says Crosby. “We’ll finish them as soon as we finish this tour. James co-wrote half the material with me. He and Michael are the two most fun people to write with that I’ve ever worked with. Your abilities as a songwriter are like a palate of colors to a painter. When you work with someone else, you get twice as many colors.”
One thing not on his horizon is a reunion of Crosby, Stills and Nash. The trio haven’t played together the National Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony on December 3rd, 2015 and have no plans to reform. “I’m happy I’m not in the middle of any psychodrama anymore,” he says. “I seriously doubt there will be a reunion. Never say never, but that whole thing, man, that’s history. Good history. I’m proud of it, but none of us are who we were then. I’m liking who I am now. I don’t hate those guys. I wish them no harm at all. We made absolutely great music together. But I’m certainly not looking for [a reunion]. I’m focused on what I can accomplish this year. I’m focused completely on the future.”
David Crosby talks about discovering for himself the genius of Bob Dylan in a new original animated video. Watch here.