Neil Young Interview

KGSR Radio Austin, TX

"March 17, 2000

Neil Young News

March 17, 2000 at Austinís Driskill Hotel
By Jody Denberg

For the past 35 years with bands like Buffalo Springfield, Crazy Horse, Crosby Still Nash & Young, as well as throughout his solo career, Neil Young has given the world some of the purest music around. And his brand new album Silver and Gold is pure acoustic Neil.

Q: Neil, as the first song on Silver and Gold says, good to see you.
A: Thanks. Good to see you, too.

Q: The songs on Silver and Gold, theyíre as intense as any rock and roll that youíve ever done, but theyíre in the style of albums like Harvest and Harvest Moon. When you were writing most of these songs, did you know you wanted to produce them this way or did you try various settings?
A: Most of these songs were written in the last couple of years, maybe the last three years. And I recorded them fairly soon after I wrote them. And the guys playing on them are the same guys playing on all of them, basically. Theyíre just, you know, the right guys for the tunes. And I was into playing that way at the time and had the band come -- Iíd write two or three tunes and then theyíd come -- theyíd fly in and weíd try to do those two or three tunes and the some other ones that I already had that I had tried to record before that didnít get or something. You know, Iíve got quite a few of them thatís kind of hovering out there. So I add a couple of those into the mix so that we got a lot of songs to play. And then theyíd come for three days and weíd just play all the songs andÖthatís it. And then try again when I write some more new ones.

Q:Does your personality have to change in some ways when youíre playing with, say, Crazy Horse or Pearl Jam as opposed to when youíre in the mode of Silver and Gold?
A:Well, I donít know if my personality changes, but maybe it does. What changes is the songs. The songs drive the whole thing. And I have no control over what the songs are going to be like. I just -- theyíre just a reflection of whatís going on. And I have no control over whatís going on (laughs)! So it keeps changing. You know, what can I do with it?

Q:The first song on Silver and Gold, Good to See You, it sounds so direct. It sounds like you had the feeling and you just sat down and wrote the song. Is it ever that simple?
A:Yeah, because thatís how that one happened. I wrote that one in my bus in Florida somewhere. There was a thunderstorm and the HORDE tour was playing. And, you know, we had to shut down for half an hour or something. And so I went to my bus and I was in the back. And my voice was real low Ďcause Iíd been playing with Crazy Horse and screaming and yelling and carrying on. So my voice was real low. And I wrote these -- a couple of songs. Good to See You was one of them. And Without Rings, I think, was one -- the other one that I wrote, either that day or somewhere along in there -- on a big piece of newspaper. I remember I had a piece of newspaper with all this felt-tip marker pen stuff written over top of the other writing. I like to see the writing on top of pictures and other stuff, you know, so when you look at it itís not too imposing. It just looks like a big -- thereís nothing there, really. Itís just all jumbled looking. Itís comfortable to leave it around like that. You donít have to hide it. Where if you write something on a piece of paper, itís like a note, you know. Anyway, thatís probably more than you want to know about that (laughs).

Q:Neil, a couple of the songs on the new album date back to the early Ď80s. One is the title track, Silver and Gold. Why would a song like that go unrecorded all these years?
A:Well, Silver and Gold I think I wrote back in -- I donít know 1981 or í82. And I did record it several times. I tried it several ways. And it was such a nice -- itís just such a song, you know. It just kind of lives with the guitar. Itís just there. And itís always a kind of song you do it the first time, itís fine, it sounds great. And then you do it the second time and itís like, you know, why are you doing it again? You just -- youíve already done it. Itís such a simple thing that either you -- I would get it right the first time and then by the time the band knew it, it sounded so contrived to me that I could never get it. So I really recorded, I think, a total of 11 times with different people in all kinds of different configurations. And we got Ďem allÖnone of them are worth listening to. But this one here finally just got back to the roots of it and just sat down with my guitar and played it and said, ďThatís it.Ē Because I love the song and I feel the song now and it means something to me now. And so I just did it. When I got back from the HORDE tour a couple of years ago, I went in the studio, sat down and did this one the second day after I was back, I think.

Q:Silver and Gold, itís a direct love song. It reminds me a little bit of something like Paul McCartney would have done on his very first solo album. And a little bit more than a year ago, you inducted Paul into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Is it only fans who fanatasize that, you know, our heroes would collaborate or would you be open to working with someone like Paul?
A:Oh, Iíd love to work with someone like Paul. Iíd love to work with Paul. I mean, I love Paulís music. Paulís like -- his potential is great. I mean, heís right there, you know. He doesnít -- you know, he can do what -- basically whatever he wants to do. Iím available to play with Paul McCartney any time he wants to play. He knows it, too. I already told him. I said, ďListen, if you want to do something with me, Iím ready. So...Ē

Q:When youíve written a love song like Silver and Gold is your wife, Peggy, the first one to hear it or is it easier to play it for other folks first?
A:I think she heard that one first.

Q:Silver and Gold is the title track of your brand new album. Itís a song about the joys of love and family. And one thing thatís a family affair for you and yours, Neil, is the Bridge School. Most music fans know about the annual concerts, but can you explain in a nutshell what the Bridge Schoolís mission is?
A:Well, the Bridge School mission is to bring communication to children, young students that are -- that canít talk and have, you know, communication problems, have to use an interface, some sort of an interface to communicate. And we try to supply the interface so that they can -- so the kids can communicate and, you know, do the things they need to do go to school and get up to speed on being able to use their devices so they can navigate the world that we navigate. And itís a big challenge. And itís a great school. And itís a model for other schools. There is a program where we share our information that weíve garnered over the last 15 years of existence in teaching kids how to use computers to communicate. Itís a great idea that my wife had. And, you know, we had our son, Ben, is the inspiration for the school. And heís one of the first students. And so itís been a real family thing for us. And all the musicians who have come to help by playing at the concerts have all come away with a good feeling about it. And itís been a great thing. I think my wife has done a great thing there.

Q:Iíd imagine it takes up a lot of your time, maybe almost as much as the music sometimes, keeping up with the Bridge School?
A:Well, Peggy does that. Sheís the one. I canít keep track of stuff like that. I -- you know, I support it 100 percent. But if they relied on me for anything, theyíd be in big trouble. Sheís the organized one.

Q:And it is like you said, the diversity of the musicians who have played the Bridge School benefits over the years, youíve had everyone from Green Day to Brian Wilson to REM to Sheryl Crow. Has it made you feel closer with the music community at large?
A:Yes, I think it has. Iíve met a lot of people. And just the way they keep coming, you know. Every year we just get these amazing bills of people. And thereís always -- you know, weíre looking for new people, but we want to keep -- maintain our roots with the past with, you know, people like Brian Wilson. I mean, he was unbelievable at the show. I mean, he was just staggering. I couldnít -- you know, I couldnít believe my ears.

Q:The thing about the Bridge School and the Bridge School concerts is that it closes this great divide. And your new song The Great Divide, and Buffalo Springfield Again were a couple of the final songs that you wrote for Silver and Gold. It was my understanding that you wrote these new songs for Silver and Gold because you let your friends, Crosby Stills and Nash, cherry-pick some tunes for the latest CSNY disc, Looking Forward. And weíre going to hear Buffalo Springfield Again in a moment. Was your reunion with CSN, was it sparked by putting together a Buffalo Springfield project that you were working on?
A:Well, the project was pretty well complete and I wanted Stephen to come up to the ranch and check it out, see what weíd put together and see how he felt about it and what perspective he could bring to it. And we also had Richie Furay come in and listen to it. And so it -- you know, we listened. Itís a four-CD box set. And itís -- like all of my box sets Iím working on, it is in chronological order. So it doesnít go in the order that the records were released in. It goes in order of the recordings. So you have -- at the beginning, you have all these demos that we did when we first came to L.A. for the first Buffalo Springfield record. And then it goes into the -- I believe, the mono masters of the Buffalo Springfield record that we made -- that Stephen and Richie and I mixed. And then it -- and then thereís a lot of -- you know, a fair amount of unreleased Buffalo Springfield things in there. But itís chronological. So the thing is, you hear us, you hear us as just, weíre just kids. You hear us coming together and you can hear the sound growing. And then you can hear it kind of breaking up and falling apart. You know, itís kind of a sad thing. And then at the end, you know, the group -- they sound pretty watered down and itís pretty obvious that itís not the same group as it was in the beginning. And, you know, people come and go, changes and stuff. And so when Stephen and I listened to it, we realized, you know -- I mean, weíre laughing and crying and carrying on, talking to each other while this thingís playing. And we realized that, you know, we really didnít reach our potential at all. So that was a dawn on us: that we both knew that we hadnít reached the potential of what we could do together. And so we -- you know, he played a song for me, a new song that was a great song and asked me if I wanted to play on it. So he -- you know, when I went down to L.A. a couple of -- oh, a month or so later, I played on the song and I played on a few other ones. And I just kept listening to the tapes and I played on them. And it was like, not really the way I like to do things. I like to play all at once and everything, so...But these songs that they had were done. And so I played on them. And then we played on some new ones where we played all at once. And thatís more fun. But itís kind of like a process of coming back together again. I mean, working on each othersí tapes and then creating new stuff and then, you know, finally we had what we thought was an album. But in the making of it, I -- I only worked on their songs at first. I played on about 12 or 13 of their songs before I played any of my own songs. And then I just played them the 14 songs or so that Iíd recorded for Silver and Gold, which had no title at the time or anything. And I said, ďJust go ahead, just take whatever ones you want. Just take however many. Just take Ďem. Weíll sing on Ďem and weíll -- you know, weíll see what else they need, if anything, and then weíll put them on this record. Theyíll match everythingÖĒ Ďcause thatís the way we did this record, basically. So itíll work. So they chose the ones they chose.

Q:And then what happened in the meanwhile to the Buffalo Springfield box set?
A:We finished it and itís -- I believe itís coming out pretty soon.

Q:You know, itís good to hear you sing about playing with Buffalo Springfield again. So many of us, we think of Neil Young as being in the moment. And yet, this is kind of a nostalgic song. Could Buffalo Springfield really ever play together again?
A:Well, Iím sure they could, but I donít know if they will. I mean, I donít know if thatíll ever happen. Itís more like a musing of, you know, situation, just, you know, reflecting. Sunday afternoon philosophy.

Q:Neil, the live version of Looking Forward doesnít appear on the studio album Silver and Gold. But itís part of a digital video disc concert release thatís also called Silver and Gold. Itís recorded here at Austinís Bass Concert Hall. Isnít it a little confusing that the CD and DVD have the same title but theyíre two, theyíre two different projects?
A:Well, you know, it is kind of confusing, but look at the money we saved on artwork. I mean, we passed the savings on to the consumer (laughter).

Q:I was watching the DVD and actually was at the shows here in Austin. Youíre onstage and youíre surrounded in that semi-circle of guitars and a banjo. And when I watch you, I was wondering, what goes through your mind when youíre, youíre changing guitars and choosing a song?
A:Well, you know, the showís got kind of a structure to it. And the songs are interchangeable. So Iím not really sure what songs Iím going to be doing when I go out there. Although thereís a pattern that develops. And sometimes I deviate from it and sometimes I donít. But when I go out there and sit down with the guitars all around me and everything, itís very comfortable. And on the floor to my left thereís generally a big loose-leaf binder with about 600 songs in it or 400 or something. And theyíre all in there alphabetically so I can go through and -- if I canít remember a song or something I can skim through it. And after I just take a glance at it, I can remember it. And then -- I mean, itís pretty straight ahead. Iíve been playing acoustic solo shows since, you know, the mid Ď60s. And Iíve always gone back and forth between playing with a band and playing acoustic solo. This is just -- a lot of the songs -- the reason why we called the DVD Silver and Gold is because I think thereís eight songs on it that are from the new record. So what it is -- and thereís older ones, too. Thereís, you know, a couple of -- thereís Philadelphia and Harvest Moon and Long May You Run and something else might be on there. But the thing is that itís primarily the same material thatís on the album, but itís a live performance of it. And in this era that weíre in where, you know, you have to format -- your songs fit into a format or they donít. There really isnít much of a format that my songs fit into on -- that are on this record. So the idea of me releasing the DVD of my performing these records is, Iím trying to create another way for people to become familiar with this music because, in case they donít hear it on the radio. You know, I mean, weíre playing it here tonight because thatís what weíre doing. But -- and thatís a great thing. But in reality, when you listen to these songs, theyíre so subtle that they may never make it on the radio. I mean -- so youíve got to do everything that you can do to let people know. Thereís so much going on so if I donít do anything, people wonít even know that the record came out. And I love this record. So I put a lot of my heart and soul into it. So Iím supporting it as much as I can within the boundaries of good taste (laughs). HopefullyÖ

Q:Last spring, you did the solo tour. This spring you did the tour with CSNY. What do you enjoy about playing with a band versus playing, as you say, solo, which youíve done for 30 years?
A:Well, thereís another one, too. Thereís playing in the band that I lead. Thereís three things here, you know. And playing by myself is simple, but -- and itís great and itís direct and itís really rewarding. But, you know, after playing about 40 shows like that, I can hardly -- you know, I get, I get kind of boxed in. I feel like everybodyís looking at me all the time. Itís kind of like youíre -- you sit out there for two hours and youíre the only one out there. And after a while, that kind of adds up. So it has a -- even though itís fun, after a while I think my nerves get a little shattered. So I stop doing that. Then, you know, the playing with CSNY, when I was doing that, itís really great. I mean, because Iím part of a band. Iím -- I donít have to be in the front line all the time. Iím not always singing the lead. Sometimes I donít even sing in the song. I just play my guitar. And thatís a lot like the way Buffalo Springfield was. And I like that, because thatís where I really feel comfortable is in a band where Iím not the leader of the band. Then you have Crazy Horse where I am the leader of the band. And I like to get down and play with them. So I have to have -- you know, keep changing from one thing to another to keep it -- you know, to keep the balance going. And also, as long as the songs keep going, thatís what dictates the pace of the change is the arrival of the new tunes.

Q:Neil, how did you and David and Stephen and Graham come up with a set list for the CSNY reunion tour shows? Seems like that was a big challenge.
A:Well, we rehearsed a lot and we learned a lot of songs. And then, you know, it was -- we had to -- we worked on an acoustic set. We worked on -- we decided on the form of the show, having that opening set an electric set, and then taking a break. It just all kind of came together one night. We had to pace it because we knew it was going to be long. So we had to figure out a way to -- you donít want to come out -- we were thinking of coming out acoustic, but we nixed that idea of playing acoustic when we came out in favor of playing with the band so that we could, you know, introduce the band and kind of get everybody loosened up. It was almost like an opening act, our first set. Itís about an hour long. And then we took a break and then played the acoustic set, about an hour long acoustic set. And then instead of -- our problem was taking the break, another break. We didnít want two breaks. So we came up with this seventh inning stretch, which was kind of a fly by the seat of the pants kind of concept thing for the audience to get into. And it worked. So we got Harry Carey singing Take Me Out to the Ballgame and everything on the videos. And weíre all out there just hanging out, while theyíre changing the set. And Crosbyís out there carrying on. And, you know, itís just -- weíve got these little tents we can go into that are out there like the Dead used to have. So we managed to put it together, put their songs in there, you know. It wasnít that hard, really.

Q:Did the set list vary at all throughout the tour?
A:At first we stuck with pretty well the same set list. And then we varied it a little bit. And then we kind of got into another groove for a while. And then we started adding new songs after we started getting really confident. We added Eight Miles High. That was the first one we added, which really rocked. And it was cool to be playing that with Crosby. It was like the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds playing Eight Miles High with the Hollies singing along, you know. (Smiles) Iím telling you, that was pretty good. No, we just -- you know, we try to, we try to mix it up as much as we can, but itís a long show. And soundchecks are -- you know, they take a little bit out of you. So you want to save what you have for the show, you know.

Q:How did you feel about the publicís response to the new songs from Looking Forward and the album?
A:Well, you know, I think the album was a disappointment because I donít think it reached out. For some reason, it didnít, it didnít really get the acceptance that I hoped it would. But as far as the music goes, you know, my songs that they picked from my selection from -- that I had recorded for Silver and Gold, they took three of my songs. I thought they came out really well. I like the way they sang on Ďem and everything. It sounds really good to me. And the funny thing is, when those songs were taken from the mix, were taken from the other songs, they -- the songs that were left were -- you know, there were too many songs. And they were all -- originally there were too many songs for Silver and Gold. And they were all struggling and kind of holding each other down. And when CSN picked those three songs out and then I was left with the other ten or eleven, they suddenly just fell into place. It was really a great feeling, because I was struggling with trying to put it together. And when they took those three songs out, it just -- everything else was left. I mean, I just wrote them out in order of what I wanted to hear and that was it. It never changed again. The running order was right. Everything was right. So there was something about it that was really right, where you give something away and you get something back. You know, itís like a reward for sharing or something. I donít know. Itís a good feeling.

Q:Do you think youíd ever tour again with CSNY or make another record?
A:Sure. No reason not to. Itís like returning to the mothership now.

Q:You alluded to this earlier, Neil, but for so many years, weíve been hearing that youíre putting together some sort of retrospective box set from your archives. We talked about the Buffalo Springfield box. But this is different. This is the Neil Young -- well, what is it and where is it happening, because weíve heard about a lot of incarnations?
A:Well, itís almost ready to come out, actually. Itís in its final phases of production -- of post-production. And its form is -- it comes in a box -- in a square box, tall box. And it has the package of CDs. Thereís eight CDs. And itís -- the music is chronological from the beginning of my recording all the way through. And itís -- thereís selections. Itís not every song. But thereís a lot of selections from different -- from different periods and some, a lot of unknown ones and unreleased ones and different versions of things. But the thing that makes it interesting is the chronological order that itís in. You know, you can really sense a growth and a change as it goes through it. And it reveals things about where songs actually fit, because a lot of times Iíll record songs and just hold on to them for three or four years and then drop them into a record. So as this thing unfolds, it kind of puts my earlier records in another perspective. And then there are a few performances in there of one live record that I did with Crazy Horse at the Fillmore East that was never released. And itís in there. And some other early performances. So I -- of -- at the River Boat in Toronto where I played in a kind of folk acoustic, little, small coffeehouse setting where you can hear, you know, the glasses tinkling and thereís only about 20 people there. And Iím singing really soft and, you know, it sounds very young and very open. Anyway, thereís a lot of chronological -- it just goes from, I think, 1962 or í63 to something like 1972 or something like that.

Q:So this is going to be Volume One then?
A:Yeah, itís Volume One. And along with that, thereís a book that comes in there thatís got all kinds of -- itís a different approach to a book. What it is is, itís all the things that people wrote about us, about me and about the songs and everything. Negative and positive. Theyíre just all in there. Everything that we could find we just crammed in. Itís like a scrapbook of comments and stuff. And thatís all it is. It doesnít draw any conclusions. And then on top of that, thereís a DVD of the -- of all of the film and video, et cetera, that I did back in those years. And so thatís a chronological DVD also that covers the same period. And thereís a lot of stuff in there with -- thatís never been seen. The original Harvest recording sessions that we filmed and the recording A Man Needs a Maid with the London Symphony Orchestra, the sessions. Thereís a World with the London Symphony. All this stuff. And thereís just a lot of information in there that has never been released before. And thatís in one DVD. And the other DVD in there is a film that I made back in, I think, 1971 or Ď2, called Journey Through the Past. And that has -- itís kind of a collage film.

Q:And this box ends around í72. Are we expecting this around the end of the year this year?
A:I think we are expecting it in the early fall.

Q:And then after í72, thereís a series of your records, albums like On the Beach, American Stars and Bars. And for some reason, youíve never chosen to release these half dozen records on compact disc. Is there any reason why these certain discs werenít released on CD and are they ever going to be?
A:Well, thatís a deep question, because I was hoping that technology would come along to the point where it obviously could be at this point. We have -- the record companies have a huge problem right now with -- they have the DVD audio standard, which we worked for years to establish. And itís -- the quality is just unbelievably better than the CD. I mean, it is -- it approaches what you expected from digital in the first place. And itís much better. But someone cracked the code after we set it all up and there was all these committees and everything and we got it all together. And I was working with Warner Brothers and their representatives in that working group forÖthat was called to make the DVD audio standards. And itís a wonderful standard where the artist has creativity, has control and you program the DVD so that when you put it in, it configures your system to play it back optimum for whatís on the disc. I mean, if you had 40 minutes of music on the disc, you could have a higher sampling rate. You might decide you want to listen in stereo or you might want to listen in 5-1. The artist decides. And the format keeps changing as the artist programmed it to be. So you get to take advantage of all of the digital information that the DVD has, the storage. By configuring your information to fit - to maximize it, much like on an old RPM record that you would -- a vinyl record that you would have to keep the length down to 18 or 19 minutes if you wanted the thing to really hammer when it came out of the radio. So you know, if you get too long, the tone goes away. So if you try to pack too much stuff into a DVD or a CD -- well, not a CD. CDs donít sound good no matter what you do. But DVDs you can put so much information into them. But if you only have like -- suppose I made a record that was 39 minutes long. That thing would kill on DVD. I would use all of the computing in the DVD and focus -- and raise the level of quality of the sampling and the rates and everything to the point where the shorter it is, the higher the quality is. So the artist can control the quality vector -- you know, the quality level. And thatís -- that was a great thing. So what happened? We got it all together and then somebody figured out how to crack it, so that, of course, now it could be duplicated and so nobody -- you know, the record companies couldnít make any money off of it. But, you know, thatís already happened with the CD, so whatís the big deal? Why not put out the quality? If there are people who are going to crack -- you know, if theyíre going to crack it and send it around on napsters and whatever, you know, MP3, who cares? You know, I say, just let it go. Weíve got to work it out. Itís music. If people canít afford music -- if they canít afford it but they can get it with a napster, they can get music. Around the world, people who couldnít get it and have it in their houses and listen to it over and over again are going to be able to do it. Now, whatís the difference -- why doesnít the record companies come out with the higher quality? And then theyíd have something to -- well, okay. Weíve got the higher quality, but maybe the napster or whatever canít transfer the DVD quality or whatever. Maybe itís only a CD quality. The MP3 is less than CD. I mean, MP3 is dog. The quality sucks. Itís all compressed and the data compression - itís terrible. Theyíve -- itís -- thatís not good. But the DVD stuff was approaching the way it should be. And it was frustrating to me. So the answer to your question is: I didnít really see things in CD because they donít sound good. So I like the original analog masters. And I donít want people to have CDs to listen to for the rest of time. I want to wait until these things are ready to be dumped into a format that I can understand is really relative to the original format in quality. (Laughter) There you goÖ

Q:Iím never going to hear On the Beach again.
A:You might hear it. You might hear it. Iím sure that -- I mean, now -- I mean, thatís why I waited so long. I had to -- you know, but theyíre coming out now HDCD. I mean, itís the best CDs you can make.

Q:Neil, youíve always been interested in making movies and videos and the DVD of Silver and Gold comes out Tuesday, the album comes out. And youíve done -- youíve done films before, Rust Never Sleeps and Year of the Horse. They both featured Crazy Horse. First of all, do you ever think youíll ride the horse again?

Q:But Silver and Gold is -- itís so far removed from what you do with the Horse. Was that your vision for this video?
A:For the DVD?

A:Well, the DVD is a -- basically, itís just me playing. You know, itís the way I play acoustic. Itís a performance. And it was a good performance. It was here in Austin and it was played -- you know, it just was a good night. And the crowds are great. You come to Austin and itís like a music church or something. They listen to the music. You know, people donít yell and scream through the whole song and they donít feel compelled to show their enthusiasm while the song is happening. Theyíre more musically sensitive. I think basically the people in the South and the people in Texas are just -- theyíre moving at a pace where they can -- where they have time to listen.

Q:And speaking of a music church, one of the songs you do on the DVD, Long May You Run, you play on some sort of church organ. Is it a pipe organ?
A:Itís a pump organ, actually. I bought it in a junk store about 15 years ago in Redwood City. Itís a funky pump organ. You just pump it. Itís got a good sound.

Q:Neil, our conversation is taking place close to Earth Day. And as a supporter of Farm Aid, you told audiences on your solo tour about some real ways that the family farm is good for our environment. Could you tell me what those were again?
A:Well, the fact is that family farms, today, a lot of them are -- in able to survive, are turning to organic agriculture and providing organic food. So if you want to help the family farmer and if you want to make a good contribution towards the future of our farming lands, you can buy organic food and that would be good statement to make for Earth Day, I think. And you could just continue doing it all year long and feel good about the food youíre giving your children or feel good about what youíre eating yourself. Because the organic food is safe, it tastes better and itís good for the planet.

Q:Thanks, Neil, those are some good words to remember this Earth Day. And thanks for joining us.
A:Thank you for having me. I enjoyed myself. Thanks.

Neil Young Interviews

Thrasher's Wheat - A Neil Young Archives