LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - At an age, 66, when many of his peers have either slowed down or retired from the spotlight, Neil Young is busier than ever.
On Tuesday, the iconic Canadian singer-songwriter and his longtime band Crazy Horse released a new album titled “Americana” with their particular take on classic folk songs. It is the first album from Young and the group in nearly nine years. Live shows follow in August.
Later this month, movie studio Sony Pictures Classics will release “Neil Young Journeys,” a documentary about the singer directed by Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme which showcases the last two nights of Young’s recent solo world tour.
And then there’s his new book, “Waging Heavy Peace,” which will be published in the fall. Young recently spoke to Reuters about the new album, film, book and upcoming live shows.
Q: What was the impetus for making “Americana”?
A: “Simple. I didn’t have any of my own songs I wanted to do, and I was ready to play with Crazy Horse again.”
Q: The album is a collection of classic American folk songs, from “Clementine” and “Oh Susannah” to “This Land Is Your Land.” How did you go about choosing the material?
A: “(Laughs) My basic approach was, we just had to be able to play ‘em.”
Q: Ok, let’s put it this way, what tied all these different songs together?
A: “They’re not what you think they are. There’s a lot more to them than the way I first heard them done by these happy folk singers. They left out a lot of the original verses and the songs are very dark and a lot more political than that. So we tried to create an intensity that was on a par with the original, even though we didn’t use the same melodies or similar structure other than the lyrics. We retained the cadences, but that was about it.”
Q: You also wrote all the liner notes, which is another element from the past. No one does that anymore.
A: “Well, you’re going to have them again. They’re important. Making an album is an art form, and it’s been lost by the content suppliers that now supply music in its lowest technical form ever. We’re at a low ebb right now with digital music, but I think it’s going to get better.”
Q: For the “Oh Susannah” video you used a lot of early American archival footage. Was that fun researching it?
A: “Yes, I love doing that. I have a team of people and interns at Shakey Pictures who went to work on this project and they’re now working on my next project. They take it on much like a newspaper would take it on, as this group.”
Q: You also teamed up with the artist-geared social media platform Talenthouse, and musicians are being invited to submit their own covers of classic Americana tracks via YouTube for the chance to win $1,000. How did that come about?
A: “That idea was from Reprise Records, and I thought it was good as it gets people involved. I started it by doing the arrangements and they just based it on ‘Americana,’ but I don’t really have to do much.”
Q: Are you and Crazy Horse going on tour for “Americana”?
A: “Yes. There’s going to be a string of shows, starting on August 10, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. That’ll go for just a couple of weeks. We’ll also be playing in New Mexico and Colorado. I still love touring, and I‘m really looking forward to doing the shows with Crazy Horse.”
Q: Why do you tour so infrequently with Crazy Horse?
A: Some things you don’t want to wear out. A lot of people wear things out, but there’s a time for everything, so I try and listen to my clock.
Q: The documentary “Neil Young Journeys” is your third collaboration with Jonathan Demme. What’s the secret to that relationship?
A: “He and I respect each other and work very well together and it’s very collaborative. I think it’s a very well-conceived and executed film, and hopefully we’ll keep doing stuff together.”
Q In the film, you drive around your old hometown talking about your childhood. You also have your new memoir coming out.
A: “It’s not really a memoir, at least not in the traditional sense. It’s not chronological and it covers a lot of areas - from the past to the present day, so it’s like a diary. But it is a memoir, and part of it’s a projection and a fantasy. It’s a hippie dream really (laughs). I really enjoy writing. My father was a writer, so I’ve always known about authors and writing, and now it’s my time to do it.”
Reporting by Iain Blair; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte, Gary Hill