When David Crosby phoned last week for an interview, he immediately apologized for calling five minutes late. A slight lack of punctuality is hardly unusual for a musician, but the 77-year-old rock icon believes that every second is precious these days. After spending much of the ’60s and ’70s at the center of the era’s decadent “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” zeitgeist as a member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, Crosby nearly lost his life in the early ’80s due to dire health problems caused by decades of hard living. (He actually did lose his freedom for nine months in 1982, serving time in a Texas prison on drugs and weapons charges.) After cleaning up, he reunited with Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and occasionally Neil Young, embarking on scores of successful oldies tours over the next 30-some years.
For most artists of his generation, that’s typically where the story ends. But Crosby has had a shockingly productive third act this decade. Starting with 2014’s Croz, his first solo album in 21 years, Crosby has put out a new record almost every year, alternating between his electric Sky Trails band (named after his jazzy 2017 album) and acoustic Lighthouse band (named after his stripped-down 2016 release). During this period, Crosby has made his best music since 1977’s CSN, essentially picking up where that album’s wised-up, jazz-leaning soft-rock sound left off. Offstage, however, Crosby’s life has hardly been mellow — his disparaging 2014 comments about Young’s new girlfriend (and current wife) Daryl Hannah created a rupture in CSNY that caused Nash to declare the band finished two years later.
Crosby doesn’t seem to mind, though; he claims that he quit CSNY anyway. For the new Here If You Listen, due out on Friday, Crosby insisted on billing the album as a collaborative effort with the Lighthouse band, which includes bassist/guitarist Michael League and singers Michelle Willis and Becca Stevens. (The Sky Trails band is anchored by Crosby’s son, James Raymond, a fine songwriter in his own right who contributed a stunning Steely Dan-circa-Ajasoundalike to the 2017 album.) The result is a spare, mystical, and frequently beautiful record that dwells on mortality (the contemplative “Your Own Ride”), politics (“Other Half Rule,” which calls for women to topple the patriarchy), and the past (a new arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”).
While Crosby is the midst of a creative renaissance, he’s arguably been more celebrated lately for his daily missives on Twitter, an ideal outlet for his candid, funny, and charmingly cantankerous nature. This also makes him an excellent interview — Crosby remains sharp, engaged, and unafraid of revealing too much of himself. During our wide-ranging chat, Crosby was refreshingly frank about his life, his creative process, #MeToo, and why Neil Young is the only person who can revive CSNY.
Why do you think so many of your peers are retiring? And why have you chosen to do the opposite of retire?
Well, they must feel that they’ve done what they want to do, and they need to take a rest. Way I look at it is this, man: I have a limited amount of time. I’m not complaining, everybody has a limited amount of time, but I have a really limited amount of time. And what I ask myself is, what am I going to do with that time? Am I going to sit on my butt and watch TV, or am I going to do the only thing I can do that really makes any contribution? The only way I can help, the only way I can live, the only thing I can do that makes it better, is sing. That’s all I got. So, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna make music as best as I possibly can, as fast as I possibly can, until the winds come up. Because I think it’s what I’m supposed to do.
You’re obviously very energized at the moment. But has there ever been a time in your life when you contemplated walking away from music?