Earlier this year, in April, Sheryl Crow released her ninth studio album Be Myself via Warner Bros. Records. The new record features eleven new songs, including the lead single "Halfway There" which features Gary Clark Jr. on guitar.
For this new album, Sheryl says she explored what struck her fans about her previous albums and explained that she "made it a point to sit down and really listen to [her] old records" to accomplish this. So for Be Myself, Crow teamed up with producer/musician/songwriter Jeff Trott who she has collaborated with throughout the course of her career. He co-wrote quite a few of her hits like "If It Makes You Happy and "My Favorite Mistake." Crow also enlisted someone she hadn't worked with in 18 years, Tchad Bake, to engineer and mix the sessions, and she says, "we turned out some good old-school Sheryl Crow tunes."
Be Myself tackles a number of different subjects, and Sheryl herself calls the album "really topical." She explains, "This past summer, because of what was going on in the world and particularly in the United States; I began to feel a sense of urgency about writing."
Speaking of topical, Sheryl and Jeff sat down to tell us about the making and meaning behind each song on Be Myself. Read on below.
Track 1: "Alone In The Dark"
Jeff: "We have such an affection for Keith Richards, and, and the [Rolling] Stones. And I think that's, well I shouldn't say guilty pleasure, but definitely a pleasure. And we're so connected to that in a way. And so, we said, let's try something that maybe Keith might do."
Sheryl: "But the song actually was a little bit about the fact that now with technology, you can really put everything out there in such a major way, and you can't get it back once it's out. And the idea that somebody goes and broadcasts all your embarrassing moments or whatever, somebody that you really trust. In real life, you can have an argument with somebody and ten minutes later, you can kiss and make up. But in today's world, you can have an argument with somebody and they can post something and there is no ten minutes, 'it's all behind us,' because it's never all behind us. It's out there."
Jeff: "I think the whole, 'I'd rather be alone in the dark' kind of thing is sometimes you wanna get away from all that; the postings and all that stuff. You'd rather be isolated from that. So wanting to be alone in the dark is sort of like I'm going dark, I'm turning it all off."
Track 2: "Halfway There" featuring Gary Clark Jr.
Sheryl: "We went into a time change in the chorus, and then it started feeling a little bit like something that Stevie Wonder would've done like on talking book. And he is still such a great player; played a lot of Clavinet. There was a little bit of a Stevie ether on that that you go, 'Oh, what about some roads or what about some you know some clav or some worldly distorted or whatever.' Sometimes that informs your choice about what you're going to play."
Jeff: "And I think we were even listening to something off of Songs in the Key of Life and getting inspired by ... I can't remember what song it was, but then it wasn't, it turned into something completely different."
Sheryl: "I really thought Jeff and I, thank God, we're still like little kids in the studio. It's just really like a play room in here I think. We just are constantly trying to entertain ourselves. There's a lot of 'what if' and then trying stuff. Jeff played the part that Gary Clark Jr. played. We contacted him and said this has got you all over it. Even though there wasn't very much room for him to play, he played some wakka wakka and some fuzz tones."
Track 3: "Long Way Back"
Sheryl: "That was one song that we said, 'Look, we need to write kind of a country-rock song.' That's one thing we do really well. We really haven't done that in a while, and so, we said, 'Can you give us something that is a mid-tempo, just country-rock feeling?' Pretty straight-up groove. And that groove, even though it sounds really cool, and it is really unique, it gave us the feel that we were looking for to write something that was a little more conventional. And the lyric, I don't really know how that came about, except I think there was just so much chaos this summer with having had an election last for two years, and having been bombarded with so much hate rhetoric and so much cynicism. I mean, the climate was really chaotic, and I think it had a lot of people on edge. And for me, that song is about searching, and there's a little bit of sadness in it. That sometimes you have to go so far away from who you are to find out what you really believe in. And, I think that's part of the story of this past election, is that people have really gotten away from who they originally started out to be, or who they wanted to be. And, it's going to take a while for us to get back to being the kind of nation, the kind of people to reinvent ourselves, or to remember who we innately are. I think what's happening right now is that we're finding ourselves having to really do some soul searching about what it is we really believe; and we've been taken on a long journey that I feel like we're still in the middle of that's kind of ugly. And that's kind of where this song started. The line: 'Have you ever seen a person have a heart attack? It will stop you dead in your tracks.' That's kind of how I feel about what's happened. Like, we've watched really the worst come out in people. And I think that song just was on the surface, just waiting to be expressed."
Jeff: "It's a really good reflection of that feeling that probably everybody really has with this whole ... no matter who you voted for, everybody had that uncomfortable feeling. So, I think this song really represents that turbulent feeling. Even sonically, it all kind of has this thing, this angular, trying to get yourself out of a crate or something.
Sheryl: But, hopefully, with a little bit of hope. Sometimes you have to put on your gloves and fight. You got to stay in the ring. And, when you feel like all is lost, or when we're so far away from who we thought we were going to be that we may take the long way home. But we're going to get back. And that's really what the song is about."
Track 4: "Be Myself"
Sheryl: "That's kind of how the song starts, with this person trying to figure out how to be interesting, how to be cool. I'm sorry you're totally normal. Okay, well, you just have to accept that you're totally normal. That's great. There's something cool to being totally normal. And, it kind of spins out towards the end where it investigates the absurdity of how, nowadays, you can show up somewhere, and with technology, you can become famous, and have 99 million people watching you just from one little event, or whatever. And the pressure of that, I think the song just speaks to trying to figure out a way to just accept your foibles and embracing the idea of being happy with who you are and what you've been dealt.
Jeff: "What I also really liked about this song, is that it's this kind of a strong message, but it's kind of said with some sarcasm and humor. And it's not really preachy, it's more like preaching by just putting yourself in a situation, and seeing how ridiculous it is, or whatever the whole ... 'Took an Uber to a juice bar to see an Indy band play.' I mean, it's kind of a real snapshot of how it is today."
Track 5: "Roller Skate"
Sheryl: "Roller Skate was probably the result of several conversations about, well, a couple of things, our kids. I grew up at a time when the phone hung on the wall, and it was pretty rare that your mom was on the phone all day, and I'm really sensitive to being on the phone with my kids around. But the other thing was just our conversations about how kids anymore don't have that understanding of, when they send a mean text, that on the other end of that text is somebody whose feelings are getting hurt. They're not there to see that expression change, or the tears come, or whatever, and just how it's really violated our ability to have intimate relationships; not sexual, but just close relationships. And it is that, 'Hey, let's have some fun. Put your phone away, you're wasting your life.' So, that, that's kind of the impetus of the song."
Track 6: "Love Will Save the Day"
Sheryl: "There was a young boy at Brentwood High who hung himself. And, we had about three or four days where we were talking about just the heaviness, and how hard it is to live in the world. And, even for a child of 14 to just want so badly to leave. So the song is really inspired by words of comfort that, yeah, we do want to just feel like we're floating down a river, and that we're supported, and that we don't have to worry about things. But, that we take on worry."
Jeff: "Sheryl was expressing to me this whole very dour story, and she was really wracked with emotion, and I could really feel that. And she was just sitting at the piano, and playing it, and I'm like, 'Wow, we really need to get that out.' There's a real message of caring, and dealing with such a really difficult subject. But it really needed, needed to come out."
Track 7: "Strangers Again"
Sheryl: "I always think it's interesting that you can be so close to someone, you can be married to them for 18 years, and then once you divorce, it's like you've just cut off an arm and you no longer have any kind of relationship. It's just a strange idea. And clearly I'm single. I've had a lot of relationships with people that I will never see again in my life. I've shared the most intimate moments with people, and I'll never see them again. And it's really just about that. It's about trying to navigate through life, running into people that you've bared everything to, and trying to act like a normal person, a civil person. And that's just kind of what this song's about."
Track 8: "Rest of Me"
Sheryl: "Sometimes when you're making a record, and I'm going to expose us for a minute, you do look at what you've done. And you say, 'What's missing? What do we not have here?' And we knew we didn't have an acoustic song. And really, we've had a lot of songs throughout our record making process where a song has revolved around an acoustic riff. And we just didn't have anything that was just really sparse, and that was just an acoustic song. Once we started playing it, it did lend itself to, sort of an Everly Brothers kind of harmony throughout song. And that in turn, kind of took us towards the Beatles. We did talk about the fact that it does feel a little bit like Beatles. We didn't set out to write a song that was like the Beatles, but the reality of the Beatles is that they wrote great harmonies that were simple enough that when you heard it once, you could sing again. And that's how this song is. It's just a real simple song with a lot of truth in it."
Mark Sheldon photo
Track 9: "Heartbeat Away"
Sheryl: "'Heartbeat' started out the same way that 'Halfway There' started out, with Jeff playing it acoustic through an amp, I believe. Andrew constructed a loop, we played, we brought in Fred, we had him record in here, and then we set up drums downstairs in the saloon, so we got that great Led Zeppelin sound. And, Jeff did the guitar parts, and then we went to see Doyle play one night here in town at the City Café, Doyle Bramhall II. And, we were just like, we have got to get him to come in and play. And he just played so great on it. I mean, just from top to bottom, he just had this kind of ... I don't know. Almost like he had a vision for it. When you listen to it, there's a lot building thematically. He just keeps taking it up and taking it up and taking it up, which is great for the purpose of the song. It's just fantastic. It's definitely the biggest song that we've ever done, and it's definitely sort of in the feel of, 'Give Me Shelter.' The song was birthed from fear, the fear that everybody was experiencing, and myself included in that, with talking about, 'Oh my gosh, what happens if a crazy person gets his hand on the button?'"
Jeff: "And that's how a lot of songwriting can be, is you just get the ball rolling, and you put down one little image, and then others just start to emerge. And then, you don't really know where it's gonna go, and eventually, you just find the little pieces that collectively paint this entire picture of it. And I think the chorus was actually the difficult part of it, is the how do we sum it all up? So, we played with a lot of different ideas with that. We ended up with one that seemed very powerful."
Track 10: "Grow Up"
Sheryl: "I think there's something so important about trying to find some innocence and looking at life, because people are so cynical. And I think we've gotten into a place now, where we look at everything from the downside. We watch reality TV shows so that we can see the embarrassing moments that make us feel better about our lives. Everything's cynical. It's shocking to me. And I don't want to grow up, if that's what happens to you when you grow up, is that so much you can be caustic about everything. I want to be wide-eyed still. I'm lucky that I have a six-year-old and a nine-year-old and I don't have the luxury of being cynical."
Jeff: "A lot of artists just kind of refuse to grow up in some ways. They're always dreamers. And to me, it's a reflection of being hopeful about things, or trying to make a really ugly situation better. Some of the greatest art has happened in industrial cities where there's not a lot of beauty, so you create your beauty. And I think that spirit, most musicians are always juvenile it seems like, till the end. So, why grow up? We could be responsible, but we can be irresponsible in our spirit."
Track 11: "Woo Woo"
Sheryl: "The lyric is not trying to be judgmental, but my observation of why people are so fixated on their butts. I mean, I've never seen anything like it. It's just shocking that now is the barometer for beauty. I've just felt like the world is not a safe place for a little girls and little boys. It's the new frontier for little kids; that, what is beauty? What boys see when they see a girl's butt being flashed across the internet. That becomes a part of their psyche as to what beauty is, and same with little girls. And so the song is really just a testament to 'What are we doing here? What are we telling our young people? What are telling each other about what beauty is?' And what's important. Like, how many followers you can get if you have the roundest patooty in the land."