NME Festival blog: Sheryl Crow on Glastonbury, Trump, climate change and why she’s made her final album
Sheryl Crow famously told us that “a change would do you good”, and she’s clearly following her own advice now by announcing that new album Threads will be her last ever. However, this doesn’t mean she’s retiring – far from it. Hot off supporting The Eagles at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, she’s warming up for her first Glastonbury set in 22 years, where she’ll briefly be joined on stage by her two sons, now aged 12 and 9. (She tells me they’ve been getting paid $5 a gig for their guitar-playing efforts on her latest tour.)
Threads is an album of collaborations whose guest list suggests Crow must be one of the popular people in music. Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, St Vincent, Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Sting, Maren Morris, James Taylor and even the late Johnny Cash all appear. In person, Crow is polite and friendly, but perfectly willing to speak plainly about President Trump, the state of the music industry and the dangers of climate change, which she’s been trying to warn us about for years.
How are you feeling about your Glastonbury set this weekend?
“I think we have 70 minutes, so we’ll do all the songs that people know, but we’ll also throw in some other stuff that we just feel is super rockin’.”
Will you get chance to explore the festival?
“Oh yeah. We get to Glastonbury really early in the morning and then we’re there all day. I think we play at like 2.30pm and we don’t leave until late, so we’ll stick around. If I’m gonna be there, I really wanna see it, you know? We haven’t played there in 22 years, since 1997, so I wanna make the most of it.”
How do you find UK audiences compare to audiences in the US?
“I’ve noticed much more this time in the UK and Europe that there are less phones up in the air at gigs. And I’ve noticed less phones in Europe in general. We were walking around Cologne a couple days ago and there were people out in the park or sitting at cafes and they didn’t have their phones out. It was like, ‘Wow, this is like the ’90s. It’s amazing!’ In America it’s not like that. People will be hanging together in groups but they’ll all have their phones out. You know, it’s obnoxious, but it makes me sad because I feel like in America there’s so much anxiety to hold with everything that’s going on right now, that people find some kind of comfort in being checked out and on their phones.”
You’ve said your new album ‘Threads’ is going to be your last – is this definitely it?
“I think more than likely it will be my last album. I’m really at peace about that. I have loved my career, I don’t feel like my career is over, but I feel like things have just changed so drastically. I’ve loved making records, I’ve loved producing, but I feel like for the love and the time and the emotion that goes into creating an artistic statement, a full body of work, that now with technology people kind of just cherry-pick songs, and it seems sort of futile to me. And this just felt like the right project to go out on: a project that is a timeline from my earliest years all the way up until now and even into the future.”
The list of collaborators on the album is incredible. How did you get them all to say yes?
“Well, it wasn’t a project we did in a couple weeks. It was a project where over the course of three to three-and-a-half years I would write something and feel like it was something someone might want to join me on. Or, I would of think someone I wanted to ask [to collaborate] and write something specific for them. Really, the choices were kind of obvious. I have a great relationship with everybody on the record. They’re people I’ve admired, been inspired by, gotten to know, had relationships with. Even the younger artists are people I’ve had the chance of touring with and watching grow; I feel like they’re the hope of the future as far as singer-songwriter kind of musicians go.”
What made you want Stevie Nicks and Maren Morris on the same track?
“Stevie Nicks obviously has been a monumental inspiration in my life. She’s also been a very good friend. And I kind of look to her as being the voice that set me in motion as far as my own songwriting and who I saw myself as and wanted to be. And I’ve gotten to know Maren and feel like she’s sort of an extension of that. She’s a great, hardworking musician-songwriter – she’s really into the songwriting part of it. She’s into the craft and going out and being fierce and delivering it and connecting with people. So it just seemed like a great chance to get them together.”
Do you think the music industry is harder to navigate now that when ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ came out in 1993?
“I don’t know. Honestly, I feel like I’m not part of the music industry today. It revolves around social media and self-promotion and it’s so different to when I started, [when it was about] getting in a van and setting up your own gear and hopefully seeing your audience grow over time so that someday you’d get a bus. It’s so different now. If I had to come out now… I just don’t even think I’d try to do it, I don’t even think I’d aim for it. But that said, there’s something great about being my age now [in the industry] – there’s great liberation in it. I don’t feel like I’m competing for radio [plays] because if I was the last artist on earth, they wouldn’t play me. It’s so geared now to artists aged 30 and under, and there’s liberation in that. And also, much as you might not like what technology has done to the album, it’s created many, many ways of getting your music heard.”
The album features a collaboration with St Vincent, ‘Wouldn’t Want To Be Like You’, which features the lyrics: “Wouldn’t want to be like you / Tell a lie, but that don’t make it true.” What inspired that song?
“Well, all the obvious things that you might think from being in America, particularly during the Presidential campaign. A couple of things inspired it. Obviously the importance of truth in America has gone right out the window – the fact that our free press is under attack by our own President. And the other thing is being a mom. I’m a mom of two little boys, and like every other mom or dad, I’m constantly bangin’ them over the head about telling the truth and treating people with empathy and compassion. And yet, everything you see now, predominantly in America, is counter to that.”
You went on a tour of college campuses to spread awareness of climate change back in 2007. How have things improved since then?
“Oh my God, I think we’ve gone spiralling backwards as fast as you can go. Unfortunately I think there’s a large population of people that want to believe that climate change is a product of cyclical weather. And because the leaders they believe in are saying that, mainly out of convenience for them and their pocketbooks, they’re buying into it. And I think we’re getting to the point now where we’re going to spend so much more money trying to undo what we had the chance to do years ago and didn’t do.”
There’s a huge youth moment fighting for climate action now.
“Yeah, with Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future.”
Do you think our leaders will listen to them?
“I think that… we have to get this guy out of office. And I think the more inconvenient the weather becomes – when we start seeing our coastlines be five-six inches underwater – people will start acknowledging the fact that this is no joke. I resent it because I have small children and they’re already asking me the hard questions. These are questions that little children shouldn’t be asking – like, ‘Are we gonna die?’ You know, I remember asking my parents those questions about nuclear war and the atomic bomb. It’s so personal now that I can barely stand it.”
I spoke to a climate change expert a few months ago, and he said that one of the worst things the UK is doing on climate change is not standing up to Trump.
“It’s been interesting with Trump. For me, it’s a question of whether it’s his bigotry or whether it’s competitiveness, but he’s gone in and undone everything good that Obama that did. And I think Obama was pretty good with regard to climate. Us not signing the Kyoto Treaty [pledging to reduce greenhouse gas omissions] has always been a big sticking point for many environmentalists: why haven’t we shown that kind of leadership? Now it’s not gonna happen, obviously. But I think it’s gonna require someone [new and] young in office to get us caught up again.”
Of your classic bangers, is there one you’ve had a really changing relationship with over the years?
“I mean, a song like ‘My Favorite Mistake’ has had so many different moments and people attached to it. And I still really enjoy playing that song because it takes me back to several different places when I sing it.”
Do you think about your musical legacy? Or does that feel kind of pompous to you?
“I don’t think about it, mainly because now I’m a mom. Do you know what I mean? I feel like now I’ve gotten my second wind and I’ve a lot more good years in me. My main objective right now is trying to do something that will make their lives better. Part of me not wanting to make albums any more is that there are other things I wanna do that I feel are more important than my making music. I would love to go to work for environmental foundations. But I think I will keep making music. If I write a song like ‘Wouldn’t Want to Be Like You’ in a couple years that pertains to what’s happening politically and I feel like I wanna put it out right away, I love the idea that I don’t have to wait for a full album to do that. But we’ll see if I do that.”
Was there a time where you worried about never having a big radio hit again?
“I felt that way. I went through a really bad period in my 39th year. I was getting ready to turn 40, and Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera had come out, and they were 17 or 18, and I started feeling like, how do you… I wouldn’t say compete, because I hate to say compete when it comes to art. But how do I hang with that, you know? I started to feel like at a certain point I’ll be rendered obsolete merely by the fact I’m a certain age. I went through that for a couple years, but fortunately ‘Soak Up The Sun’ came out and we had a big hit with that. And then ‘First Cut Is The Deepest’ came out and did well, so we continued to have hits. And then after that I got breast cancer and that changed everything. It changed my perspective about attachment – attachment to success, attachment to youth, attachment in general. And I’ve been far happier since then, and experienced a real liberation when it comes to my art. And that’s just made it so much more fun for me.”
Sheryl Crow plays Glastonbury’ Pyramid Stage on Friday June 28. Her album ‘Threads’ follows on August 30.
Straight from the NME
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