David Crosby: America is no longer a democracy

The Byrds and CSNY founder has put his wild living behind him and his new album continues a recent hot streak only US politics can darken his mood

At three oclock in the morning on the day we talk, David Crosby woke from a sound sleep and wrote a song. Hell be the first one to tell you that wasnt the case years ago when he was touring huge venues with Crosby, Stills and Nash and CSNY in between bouts of his public struggles with drugs, alcohol and prison (he was jailed for five months in 1986 for on weapons and drugs charges).

But with Lighthouse, a new album due this month, Crosby continues the hot streak he started in 2014 with Croz, his first solo album in 20 years. As a founding member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills and Nash and one of the finest voices of his generation Crosby could well be sitting on his laurels. But the stunning material on Lighthouse, which is focused squarely on his vocals and guitar, suggest he is more creatively engaged than he has been since his much younger days.

This is your second solo album in two years and you say you just finished recording a third thatll be out next year. Where is the productivity coming from?

I think the key to the whole thing is Im very happy these days. Ive hit a streak of writing thats probably one of the densest and best writing runs Ive ever had. Ive always written in little bursts and this burst is lasting a couple of years now and its consistently happening.

Youre 75. Does having one of the most productive streaks happen now opposed to decades ago mean more to you?

It means a lot. Im not sure I fully understand why it happened. But James Taylor made one of the best records of his life this year [Before this World, which actually came out last year]. And had his first No 1 record in a long stellar career. And James is the same age I am. It was very encouraging to me to see that. And realizing its not impossible you can do really good work and if youre willing to work.

Most people my age tend to be either lazy, theyre just trying to recreate the last time they had a hit or theyre just out of it. They think theyve said what they had to say. I pick up the guitar every day and I work at it. I try to write all the time.

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For me, the simplicity of Lighthouse made it easy to rediscover your singing. Your vocals sound incredibly pristine, despite some years of tough living.

Im as baffled as you are! It doesnt make any sense! I was a completely bad boy. I did everything wrong. The only thing I didnt do is smoke cigarettes and drink whiskey. I guess those are the villains here. But Im grateful, man. I love singing. I dont sing the same thing the same way twice. Thats like having your own rocket ship its so much fun! Singing like that is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Its absolutely a joy.

The songs fuse folk and jazz you worked with Michael League from jazz funkers Snarky Puppy.

The thing about writing with other people, man, is the other guy always thinks about something you didnt. I write well on my own. Im not good as Joni Mitchell, but Im pretty good. But when you write with somebody else like my son James [Raymond] we wrote most of Croz together, we wrote most of [our next album] Sky Trails together. I dont understand why people dont do it more. It increases the number of options you have, it increases the amount of information you have, it increases the quality of the music.

Maybe its because the idea of the singer-songwriter is so embedded that some songwriters are afraid to share.

First of all, people who write are often very egotistical about it and they dont want to share the credit. Or they dont want to share the money. Which is very shortsighted of them. Or they just have the ego involved to a point where they dont know how to work with anyone else. But I can tell you its fun.

The new songs are very meditative. On The Us Below, you ask, Why must we be eternally alone?

I was in a very good mood. Even though we talked sometimes about tough stuff. The Us Below is still a love song. There are hard things in there. Songs about people who send our kids to war. The song is about the Syrian refugees coming ashore in Greece. But I feel the overall tone of the record is pretty positive.

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David Crosby in 1970: Im not good as Joni Mitchell, but Im pretty good. Photograph: Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives

On Drive Out to the Desert, youre almost giving instructions about how to live.

[Laughs] Its kind of a funny thing because Im such a goofball you wouldnt pick me to give advice to somebody. But in fact, thats what Im doing. I just dont want anyone to know.

Does the personal tone of the record mean you were looking back?

I dont really look back at all. Ive been less than happy being in the group that I was in for probably several years. I just didnt think there was much forward motion. And the songs I was writing really didnt fit that group. So Ive been kind of restless. The success I had with Croz, I think that really encouraged the hell out of me. Im really proud of it, and it sold more than 100,000 copies, which in todays world is pretty good. I feel that when things start to break your way, you should go for it. Thats what Im doing. Here I am an old guy. I dont have enough time. Its precious for me to do these things and do them at the best level I can do them, right now.

In 2010 the Vatican newspaper named If I Could Only Remember My Name, your first solo record, on a top 10 list of spiritually nourishing records.

[Laughs] Everybody in the world went What in the world is the Vatican doing having an opinion about records? What is going on? The best part was the No 1 album was [the Beatles] Revolver. Im next. And the next one after me is [Dark Side of the Moon by] Pink Floyd. So this comes out and I sent it to David Gilmour. And he said, Goddamn it! [laughs] Hes a funny cat, but the idea he was disturbed I was ahead of him on the Vatican list was some funny shit, man. I laughed for a week.

CSN and CSNY produced the soundtrack to the Woodstock era. So you must be watching the parallels between the divide in the country over Vietnam and the divide over what is happening now regarding the racial unrest and political discord.

Its a very tough time in the United States, man. Donald Trump has pulled a scab off an ongoing infection in this country of racism and stupidity that is beyond belief. Hes made it obvious that the big part of the bell curve of the intelligent distribution is at a room temperature IQ. And theres a whole shitload of not very smart people out there who buy into Donald Trump. Trump is an obvious charlatan, an obvious liar, an obvious piece of shit. The only people who would believe in him are dummies. People who are politically primitive. His and their world is laced with racism. The racism in this country is fully active and fully discouraging in how pervasive it is.

And frankly I have always wanted a woman president and Hillary is not who I would have picked. I think shes just a politician. I think under Hillary, nothing is going to change. Its the same game, same players. But I think that under Trump, we would get into wars and the country would come unglued completely. I love my country, man, it was a good idea when it was a democracy. But its not a democracy now, its a corporate-run place. The corporations have so much money and they throw it at congressional elections and then the Congress does what they tell them.

And thats a very discouraging fact. I have been working at trying to make things better when I can. [CSNY] has always been there for civil rights and womens rights and anti-nuclear and anti-war. But things are not good in the United States right now. I did a swing though Canada recently and every night I would say, You know, you think Im up here on tour but Im actually checking out the real estate! I get them laughing so hard.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/oct/14/david-crosby-trump-country-stills-nash-byrds-election

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