A conversation with David Crosby on making the most of his music

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Scott Roth/Invision/AP

David Crosby at a screening of the documentary “Remember My Name” in July.

Mon, Sep 9, 2019 (2 a.m.)

At 78 years old, two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter (and co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash) David Crosby is enjoying one of the most prolific periods of his career. It began with the release of “Croz” in 2014, his first studio album in 20 years, and continued with three more albums in the past four years, an unforeseen stretch of musical output highlighted in the new documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name.”

Crosby returns to Las Vegas this week with his Sky Trails Band for an intimate performance at the Red Rock Ballroom at Summerlin’s Red Rock Resort. Here’s my conversation with this legend about the movie, the music and collaborating with the son who was placed for adoption and reunited with his father as an adult.

How did this new documentary come together? The director is a young guy, A.J. Eaton, whose brother is a fantastic guitar player who’s worked with me, Marcus Eaton. [A.J.] has hung around our sessions and snapped a pic or two, and he was surprised at this weird thing that’s going on which is that I should be walking off into the distance or getting ready to quit because I’m old. Instead there’s been this period with a bunch of songs and really good people to sing with. It’s a bit of an anomaly and not what anyone expected, and he noticed it and said he’d like to make a documentary about it.

And your friend, filmmaker and former rock writer Cameron Crowe, also got involved. He came in and said, “Let me ask the questions,” because he’s been doing it since he was 16 and he knows where all the bones are buried. You don’t have to explain anything about [Crosby, Stills & Nash] to him because he was there, in the bus, backstage, everywhere. He knows all the players. Although he is my friend, when he gets his teeth in and he’s doing his job as a filmmaker, then he’s merciless. And that’s what we intended. Most documentaries [like this] are shine jobs, about as deep as a birdbath. If it’s about you, I want to know what matters to you, what you’re willing to lay down your life for. These guys felt the same way and it was the only level worth it to approach [the documentary].

What was it like for you to watch it? It was thrilling and a little uncomfortable at the same time, but it’s always uncomfortable being naked in public, especially if you look like me. [Laughs.]

To what do you attribute all the new music of the past five years? It’s a combination of stuff. When we were doing the first [album] in this series, I was coming out of CSN. We were no longer friends and it was not something we wanted to keep doing and it felt [bad]. And what happened was I left and it was like diving off a cliff. And then it was like growing wings halfway down the cliff. My son James [Raymond] produced that record and he’s the best writing partner I’ve ever had. [We’ve] written more really stunning songs than anyone else in my life. And then another part of this incredible luck that’s been happening is when I met Mike League, the composer and bandleader of Snarky Puppy. … He introduced me to Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, two of the best singer-songwriters I’ve ever met, and I’ve known all the good ones. I’m a pretty good judge of songwriters. That joy of finding people really committed to making music who were not stuck just trying to make the maximum amount of money, that really inspired me. We wrote three songs on the very first day we all met [to collaborate]. It was insane. So I’m happy, so I’m writing, and being with these people is a gift from heaven. Every person in this band is a better player than I am and I write with all of them. It’s been strange and unusual but also feels natural.

You’ve been playing and touring with James for more than 20 years now. What’s it like to collaborate with your son after having so much time around each other? It’s become better with time, gone deeper. When he met me, he was already a better musician than I was and he has grown as a songwriter every day since I met him. Working with him has been a huge gift and inspiration. I kinda know where he’s going and he most definitely knows where I’m going.

You’ve been playing a lot of different stuff on this tour. What’s the process of deciding which songs to play? We talk about it. Sometimes I’ll say “I miss this [older song] and I really want to play it,” and we’ll take something else out. We do change something every night depending on whatever we feel like would be fun. We’ve got a massive amount of songs to sing and that’s only stuff off the last four records. It’s just crazy, even without music from CSN, CSNY and the Byrds.

You are so excited about your music and your band right now. It seems like you’ve really hit on something here. It’s totally great. Here’s what I’m looking at: I’m 78, I’m at the end of my life, which is okay. I’ve got a certain amount of time, whatever it is. The length of it isn’t significant, it’s what I do with it. I’ve got one thing I can do that could help anybody and that’s this music. Music makes things better and things are not good in the U.S. right now. These are hard times and we have a crazy president and there’s a lot of racism and bad [stuff]. People want to be lifted up and that’s what music can do. I get dozens of Twitter messages every day saying, “Please do CSNY again, we need your voice to speak up against this madness.” And I would gladly do it but it’s not going to happen. And I can’t wait around because I don’t have the time. I’ve got to be making music now because it needs to happen and I love doing it and it’s working. I’m sympathetic to everyone wishing we could have more CSNY but I can’t stand around waiting. I gotta do it now.

David Crosby & the Sky Trails Band will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, September 13 at the Red Rock Resort (11011 W. Charleston Blvd., 702-797-7777) and more information can be found at stationcasinoslive.com.

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