Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor
for Radio Free Entertainment
November 18, 2006
In the war drama Home of the Brave, four American soldiers (Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel, Brian Presley, and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson) return home from tours of duty in Iraq and try to assimilate back into normal life with various physical and emotional problems.
Award-winning singer/songwriter Sheryl Crow contributes the Grammy-nominated song "Try Not To Remember" to the film's soundtrack, and in this interview, she talks about the creation of the track and her feelings on the movie.
SHERYL: You guys do this all day long, huh?
MEDIA: Yep! So how are you enjoying film publicity?
It's actually not bad. I'm kind of enjoying it. I mean, if I had to do this every day, would I like it? No. But it's okay.
Is it much different than promoting your music?
Actually, I gotta be honest with you--doing music press is far worse. Because they want to know what every lines means, and so after a while, you just start making stuff up.
Does it make you grow disconnected from your songs?
You know, actually, for me, it is kind of interesting. I mean, I make light of it, but it's kind of interesting in that sometimes when you start talking about the lyric, you start to analyze it. And creativity, to me, is just an amazing subject. Nobody can really define it. So there are things that I'll write that I'll think, "Where did that come from?" And then it kind of reveals itself later on. And sometimes as I talk about stuff, I have little light bulbs go off where I find the meaning in it. [jokes] So it can be kind of revealing, and sometimes you feel like you're sitting with your shrink. But you know, for the most part, it's difficult to tell somebody what a song is about, because you want people to make the song their own.
How did you get involved with writing "Try Not To Remember" for Home of the Brave?
I worked with [director Irwin Winkler] on De-Lovely, which was a wholly enjoyable experience. And I really love the movies he did. And one night, I went to a screening of another movie, and he was there, and he asked me if I would write the end title for Home of the Brave. Screened it the next day, went home that night, and wrote it. And I felt like the movie was such an emotional movie for me that I just wanted to go home "in the moment" and write something for it. And that's how that song came out.
How does the creative process in writing a song for a film soundtrack compare to writing one for your own album?
With a movie, one of the nice things about it is that you have these boundaries that are already set for you, because the story is already told. I'm not pulling from thin air what the song is going to be about. And I think with this film, because, already, the content was so clear and the message that he was trying to impart was so well laid out, I didn't want to reiterate that. You don't want to be literal with movie songs because then it's kind of cliche, and sometimes really corny. What I wanted to do was kind of ease people out of the theater without robbing them of the emotion that they were feeling. Just like when I watched the movie, I wanted to go straight to the piano so I didn't have anything jerk me out of the moment. And thematically, I think what I wanted to find in the movie was, "How do we get here? How do we get to this moment in time?" And it looks a lot like Vietnam to me, where all these people were coming home and they were feeling like the government wasn't with them, and healthcare wasn't helping them out, and they were really just shunned. They were kind of just dropped out of society. So how did we get here again, where this is what the story is? These people are coming home, trying to integrate into society. And that's why "Try Not to Remember" kind of came into my mind. Because I think when we don't remember and we don't visit our past, we just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over.
Were there certain moments in the film that particularly struck you, or was it just the overall story that left an impact?
Mainly the whole thing. But I will tell you one experience that I had...There's a young kid that came back after one of the [concerts]. And he lost both of his arms over there, both of his hands. I mean, the kid was 19, you know? And he had a great attitude and was trying to fit back into society. But his main thing, he was still so trapped in the "look where I am, this has got to stop." You know, this will dictate what the rest of his life will be about. And it will be about the experience of losing his arms. And that really struck me, because that was kind of the story with all these guys, whether it's a physical disability or a mental disability. "Where do I go from here? Who am I now and what's the rest of my life going to be about?"
While you were writing "Try Not To Remember," did you ever focus on the possibility that it could be considered for an Oscar?
No. [laughs] I didn't think about that until we got into the studio and [my colleague] Pam was like, "I smell an Oscar..." And I was like, "Don't..." Stephen [Endelman] is the producer of the song, he's like, "Don't even say that. Don't say that anywhere near us, because we just want it to be good." It would be great if it was nominated, but even if it's not, I still think the film is so compelling. And my worry is that people won't go see it because it is a subject that people right now...They don't want to talk about it because it really is revealing something about us, and our responsibility, and who we are.
What's your take on the way the film depicts the war?
I think it's important. I think that Irwin was good about pointing out the political angles of it--how many sides there are that people are standing on, whether you support the war, whether you support the government, whether you just support the troops but you don't support the war. And I thought it wasn't heavy-handed, and it pointed out all those things, all the while also portraying what was happening with these four people personally--the mental disability, the physical disability, the "I don't know how to fit back in so I'm just going to sign up for another campaign," which we're seeing a lot of. But I think the real aspect is--and we saw it in the election--we are at a point in our history where we are also being called to redefine ourselves. Are we going to be that nation that just keeps preemptively striking? And we're going to find ourself in a series of Vietnam experiences where nobody believes in the government anymore, and we're going to have to figure out a way to remedy that.
And what side would you say you stand on?
Well, I don't believe in war, period. I mean, we've had war for as long as the planet has lived, but I just don't believe that solves any problems. I'm sort of of the George Harrison mindset, where you go within to manifest around you, you know? And I think we're standing on that cusp as a people of either going this way or that way.
How long did it take to finish "Try Not To Remember"? Did you ever hit any kind of writer's block?
No, actually. I got home, and I walked straight to the piano and I ran a tape recorder, and I played the chords, started singing the melody, and then would get little bits of lyrics, and then I went away from the piano, I wrote the lyric, and came back. And it was done in an hour. And that doesn't happen very often. But if you're inspired (and who can define what that is?) and you can get out of your own way, then good stuff will usually surface, you hope.
Ever had a song that's taken...
...two years to write? Yes, I have. And those are not the good songs.
This track has a very epic feel to it, what with the buildup to the chorus, the string section, etc. Where did the inspiration for that style come from?
I think the movie just feels like an epic movie. It feels like it's taking you on this journey and it leaves you just kind of really wide open. And so when I started playing it, I started thinking of that Massive Attack song. And I can't remember the name of it, but Liz Fraser sings. The simplicity of that, but how dramatic that felt. So that's kind of where I went from. And I don't usually write on piano, so that also led to the feel that it has.
How's your new album coming along?
SHERYL: My album is coming good. I mean, it's coming along. I'm not going to say it's good. [laughs] It's coming along. This is the last thing that I'm doing, and then for the next three months, I'm going deep, deep, deep underground. And I'm really looking forward to it, to really just hunkering down.
Is the album country or pop?
You know, rap seems to be the only thing getting played on radio, and I really want to make some money... [laughs] No, I mean, I'm trying to make a really stripped down, old-style country record. I mean, "If It Makes You Happy," to me, is a country song. So somewhere in that world.
Maybe you could do a rap collaboration with "Fiddy"...
You mean with Curtis Jackson? I didn't even know his name was Curtis Jackson, but I love 50 Cent, and I think he's brilliant in the film. But it's funny, it was like, "I kind of didn't know you had a name." I mean, I thought it was 50... [pauses] ...Cent. "Hi, Mr. Cent!" But he's great in the movie. Really just wonderful on film to watch.
You've been through a lot of emotional times in the past year. Do you reflect on those experiences on the upcoming album?
You know, your life always informs your art. For me...I can't speak for every artist, but artists who are true will always draw from their experiences. But I have a wealth of experiences. Not only has it been a very challenging year, and not only have I learned a lot about myself...All the relationships I've been through, they always show up on the records, you know? It won't be just Lance. There are other people--people well-known, people not well-known--that are the characters in the story of my life.
How's your health?
My health is great. I got my six-month about...It's probably been about five weeks ago, and knock on wood, [knocks on the table] I'm going strong and feel good, and I'm probably the healthiest I've been in a long time.
Would you say you were always shooting for "mega-superstardom"?
You know, I have trouble with that whole mega-superstar thing, anyway. I really like my work, I really like what I do, I like what I get to do, and I'm a workhorse. So to me, playing music is my line of work. And while it seems like a great job--and for me, most nights, it is a good job--it's still work, and I take it seriously like work. So I've never really approached it like, "What can I do to get to be bigger and bigger, and how do I get on radio?" I think I've been really tuned in to the movements, to what's going where, and I've been really lucky that radio has embraced my voice. And I also want to keep growing as a musician. I don't want to keep doing the same things, I don't want to become boring, I don't want to bore myself. So I keep doing it. And that's what is compelling about it to me, is the idea that I haven't written my best stuff yet.
Who do you consider your musical influences?
Well, I grew up listening to everything from Ella Fitzgerald to James Taylor to the Rolling Stones. My parents had every record ever known to man. They were musicians, and I was really exposed to everything from classical to jazz to blues to rock and roll to country. And when I got to be a teenager, everything on the radio was what we called "big rock," like Foreigner, Kansas, Boston. All that stuff that I just...[gags] hated. [laughs] I mean, now I appreciate it because there's unbelievable musicianship in it. And you don't hear that kind of musicianship anymore. People can't play. So I gravitated to country and blues during those years. And so I would say my big influences are probably the Rolling Stones, and hopefully Bob Dylan. And I listened to The Band a lot, and I loved southern rock. Lynyrd Skynyrd. [shrugs] Those are my influence. For better or for worse. [laughs]
And what's been influencing you recently?
You know, I've really gravitated to listening to the old country stuff. Like I listen to Carter Family and a lot of really old stuff. And I'm enjoying that. And I listen to a lot of new stuff. I mean, I listen to the Fray's and Beck's new record, and all kinds of new stuff. There's a lot of really good stuff out there. It's not getting played on radio, but there's a lot of really cool stuff. In fact, we had this band on the road with us this summer called Marjorie Fair, who I just loved. Real strong melodies. But just when I'm sitting around, I think because I'm thinking about making a country record, I'm much more in tune with listening to old country, and rhythm and blues, Van Morrison, and even Motown and stuff like that.
Which is easier for you: writing or performing?
Performing's easy. I mean, for me, it's my second skin and I love it, and I have the most wonderful fans, and they really come out. They totally show up on every level. Writing, it's lonely. It's lonely and you have to face yourself. And it's hard work, you know? It's terrifying. And every time I sit down and write a song, I have the feeling of, "Oh my God, I suck. Am I ever going to write a song that's good?" You go through all that. And you have the voices that tell you, "That is the dumbest lyric I've ever written." But you press through. For me, the goal is knowing that I'm going to wind up with something, and it might be good.
What's your favorite place to tour?
Hey, you know, I love touring in America. I do. I love this country and I'm lucky because I've got to see a lot of it. A lot of times, people don't know how other people live, and I get to see it all, and it's great. And I love touring in Europe. It's just more difficult for a lot of reasons. The buses are much more problematic, the roads are more difficult, everybody smokes in the clubs and in the theaters. So you kind of feel gross and stinky all the time. [laughs] But, you know, in general, I like touring. It's fun and it's satisfying.
Do you have a favorite song of your own?
Oh, wow...Ummm...God, that's...I guess I don't, really. I mean, I think right now, at this moment in time, I would say "Wildflower" is probably what encapsulates my life at this moment. But favorite songs...I have songs I like to play, and then other songs...The only song I'll listen to when it comes on the radio is "My Favorite Mistake," and everything else I have to, like, go somewhere else. [laughs] And I don't know why that is. I guess it's just...I don't know. I can't even tell you.
Ever sing along to your own songs?
Like Fraggle Rock kind of thing? [laughs] Not really. No. I mean, sometimes I'll sing to that one. I don't know why that song is just one that doesn't irritate me, but the rest of them are like the annoying kid that's [bugging me], and I'm like [sighs] "Okay, okay, okay..."
Thanks for your time.
[jokingly, in a concert finale sort of way] All right, thanks for coming!