Sheryl Crow: Global Warming
"There are so many facets to my personality that you don't even know!" jokes Sheryl Crow upon revealing her newfound dexterity on the harmonica; it's a skill that receives a worthy showcase on her third album, The Globe Sessions. "People also don't realize that I'm really funny and I'm an excellent bridge player."
But picking up the harmonica from such tutors as the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood during a recent tour isn't the only skill this singer-songwriter developed during the recording of The Globe Sessions. As producer on the disc, Crow incorporated strings, horns, and a variety of other new instruments into her music, tapping such industry old-timers as saxophonist Bobby Keyes. Not content to be known as the girl who just wants to "have some fun," Crow has emerged with a fine new album, which is more personal--and mature--than her previous outings. "I hate that word, 'mature,'" she says, "but I guess I am growing up. I don't set goals for myself too much, but I'm always trying to write that one great song--the one you feel deep in your soul that doesn't require clever production or calculation. It just comes from some deeper place. I haven't written it yet, but I hope that I do." Below is the complete transcript of Crow's recent conversation with LAUNCH executive editor Dave DiMartino.
LAUNCH: Tell me about your experiences making The Globe Sessions. You produced for the first time, and I was curious as to how that affected the record-making process.
CROW: This record actually was a lot harder for me to make. The last one [Sheryl Crow], I kind of didn't know what I was doing. It was like walking into a studio and throwing paint on an empty canvas and peeling stuff off--and I kind of had an idea of what I wanted it to look like and sound like. But for this album, I went in with the preconceived notion of incorporating strings and horns and all these things I wanted to experiment with. And it's almost like opening Pandora's Box in that you don't have any boundaries. So I wasn't really sure which windows to open and which ones to close. The beauty of having a producer is that you have someone who says, "You're finished," and since I'm the producer, I could never quite get to the point where I said, "Okay, I'm done." At times, it felt like it was scrambling out of control. But I learned a lot, and I think I got to a place where I achieved what I originally set out to do.
LAUNCH: Which was?
CROW: Well, this album is more personal than most. It's a little scary. Most of the time I write narratively, and I like to choose a character and tell the story through that person's eyes. On this record, I just couldn't seem to do that. Everything was coming out starting with the word "I." And I just went with it. Now, I realize I'm hanging myself out to be crucified!
LAUNCH: Yeah, it definitely seems as though you're revealing more of your personality than ever before.
CROW: There are so many facets to my personality --you just wouldn't believe it!
LAUNCH: And facets of yourself as a musician. You play harmonica on this album, too. It sounds really good.
CROW: Thanks. I picked up the harmonica because, as a musician, I love learning new instruments. On the road, I was listening to a lot of Little Walter and I was spending a little bit of time with the Rolling Stones and loving watching Mick play. I got inspired by it. I had never really tried it and was getting a lot of encouragement. Ronnie Wood was showing me a few things and it just was fun and I got into sort of trying to emulate some blues players and since I'm not very adept at it, I came up with my own style. But I'm still working on it.
LAUNCH: Can you cite a specific theme or a vibe about this record that sets it apart from your past work?
CROW: I wanted this record to be really warm and I wanted you to be able to walk into it. The last record I didn't want that, I didn't want you to feel comfortable about sitting down and listening to it. I wanted it to have a lot of rough edges. On this record, I wanted it to feel warm and have a lot of different layers. That was how I went about it, but there wasn't any sort of thread or underlying theme in the beginning that tied it all together. Now that I'm starting to talk about it, a theme is sort of making itself known. I'm starting to analyze what the album is...and check with me next year, I'll be able to tell you exactly what that is! Ha ha.
LAUNCH: I notice that you've got some interesting guest musicians on here, as well. How did you go about choosing Bobby Keyes and Wendy Melvoin to work with?
CROW: Well, if you ever hear a Bobby Keyes solo, you are immediately in a Rolling Stones mindset. He can make a track that has nothing to do with the Stones' influences, and once you hear his solo, you are in an immediate mindset. I wanted that kind of sax sound, so I decided to go right to the source. It was really fun to have someone with that kind of history and that kind of energy in the studio. He came in and within an hour he was done, and about seven hours later, we were still sitting around listening to him tell tales of the "Rolling Stones group." That's what he calls them. It was fun to watch him in action. With Wendy on "My Favorite Mistake," I just needed a soul player and someone who could make the guitar sound really greasy. She's great with that. She only played it once, and it just laid there. It just sat. She has really good energy too and that's what I was looking for.
LAUNCH: I'm intrigued by the Eastern sounds you achieved on "Riverwide." There's a certain maturity about that song that I think may surprise people.
CROW: Oh. I hate that word, "mature." Well, I am maturing. I'm growing up. I actually didn't intend for that song to have an Eastern sound. I just had this tuning I was goofing around with and I think sometimes when you tune your guitar in a different way, it lends itself to a new way of looking at your songwriting. I built the song around this melody I was playing in this tuning, and then later on, put the strings on. I had sort of wanted a Bobbie Gentry "Ode To Billy Joe" real dark arrangement, so I called Jimmie Haskell. That was the easiest song on the record; we wrote it in eight or 10 minutes, and recorded it right away. Whenever we were feeling lost, we'd put that on. That song was inspired by a Walt Whitman poem.
LAUNCH: So does that happen to you often? Where a song just comes to you in a few minutes?
CROW: I read an interview once with Beck where he said he didn't believe in the whole theory of a song coming through you as if you were an open vessel. I agree with him to a certain extent, but there are those weird occasions when you're working on something and as soon as you get very frustrated with it and you let it go, something else comes along and it will be done. It will come to you in its fullness. I can't explain those experiences except to say that the subconscious is working itself out, and when you get out of your own way, it allows those things to sort of surface. On the last record it was "Home," and on this record it was"Riverwide," and I think those are the two best songs I've ever written.
LAUNCH: What's up next for you? Is this album leading you in a certain direction?
CROW: I feel myself going in the direction of country music, but not this kind of new country music, but rather really old kind of Louvin Brothers, Hank Snow, Bob Wills: that kind old country. And so I don't really know how this record is going to be a springboard for that, but I have a lot of friends who swear they'll walk into the studio with me to record a country album. So that may be the next thing you hear from me, and then my career may be over!
LAUNCH: You've made three albums now, have had some hits, and garnered a bit of acclaim. How has that success affected the way you make music?
CROW: Well, there are aspects of it that are really great: The fact that I can go in and make a record and not have a lot of people standing over my shoulder to make sure that I'm not just spending all their money. They let me go in and experiment and find my way through the creative process. The success is great in that respect. But you can't let all the periphery things get to you. For the most part, it's cool. I didn't get into making music for the fame aspect. There are people who do desire that, but that's not what I got into it for.
LAUNCH: Let's talk about fame. Do you spend much time reading reviews or other press on yourself?
CROW: There's so much of it you can't control. There is no handbook for how to conduct yourself in the public world. You can't be in the public eye without making mistakes and having some regrets and having people analyze everything you do. I just try to conduct my life with a little levity. Sometimes that's easier than other times, but the best thing for me is to not even subject myself to that. In fact, I feel most people should not subject themselves to anything that's written about anyone. It's just so insipid. It gets so inside of our brain. It's like a drug and pretty soon you begin to crave to know what Gwyneth Paltrow is wearing on a date with Ben Affleck. It's not edifying and it doesn't encourage you to strive for something broader. I choose to keep that at a distance.
LAUNCH: There seems to be a real movement among "women in rock" these days. Call it a trend, if you will, with Lilith Fair, etc. Where do you fit into this picture?
CROW: I think where I fit in is confusing to me. I have been around for a long, long time. I didn't make it 'til I was older. I went through the whole period of when women were not getting signed, particularly if you were writing songs that were lyrically propelled and not dance music. This was at a time when Madonna and Paula Abdul were the norm for female musicians. By the time I made it at 28, I felt like I'd been through the college of hard knocks. But I've been really, really blessed. I got to perform on stage with Bob Dylan and have him treat me as an equal. I've gotten to sing with Mick Jagger and I've just had some really amazing experiences. On occasion, I look out on my audience and I don't know who they are anymore. Are they Bob Dylan's or Eric Clapton's audience? Or the Wallflowers' audience? I just have to remember where the songs come from. They were first written for me, and then they touched some other people. And I just have to assume that those people are there for the same reason I'm there: to get off on the music.
LAUNCH: How do you feel about critics who describe your music as "derivative"?
CROW: I'm really proud of my influences. I think when my first and second records came out, I would hear criticism about my music being derivative or whatever. I love my influences as much as I did when I first heard them. I still refer to them as my reference book, my Bible. The fact that I've gotten to work with some of those people is so special and makes it sweeter to me, and I don't take it for granted. I am still completely overwhelmed in those moments when I'm standing onstage with some of the greats. I'll have an out-of-body experience where I'll look down and go, "What are you doing there?"
LAUNCH: Let's talk about music videos. Do you like them? Hate them?
CROW: The video forum for me has been a source of great consternation because I originally started out as a narrative, lyric writer. I still consider myself to be a storyteller. Once you start projecting a look to a song, giving the character a face, it robs the listener of their ability to adopt that song and make the lyric their own. In the beginning, that was a really hard thing for me. Plus, I really enjoy playing music and it's such a strange medium to lip-sync into a camera when that's not really who you are. Lately, I've gotten more into the process. Now, I'm getting more into it, but it used to just be like a buzzing fly that irritated me.
LAUNCH: What goes on in your life when you're not working?
CROW: My whole life is one big bucket of fun!! Actually, I'm really lucky. The thing for me is that I go in and make records so I can go out and tour. I always loved that Bob Dylan was always taking his new record out on the road and trying to get the best version of it--so he never plays it the same twice, and that's how I approach it. That's really fun for me. The home stuff requires more dedication to me. I feel more comfortable on the road--working. When I get home, I start looking around and seeing everything I've let go, all the loose ends...the deterioration of my relationships...the dust collecting on my furniture. That's where that levity thing comes in.
LAUNCH: Speaking of home, you recently moved from L.A. to New York. Why?
CROW: I needed a change from L.A. I've been there nine years. I've always really liked New York; I have good relationships here. It's a really inspiring place--the whole Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan poetic folk scene. You can still walk through the West Village and feel like you're part of a great scene.
LAUNCH: Do you ever feel that people--your fans, the press--think they know you...but that they're missing something?
CROW: I think the thing that people don't realize about me is that I'm really, really funny and I'm an excellent bridge player. [Laughs] No, I think one of my downfalls is that however I am is however I am. When you see me onstage or in the press, there's not a lot of thought and calculation that goes into it. Some people are really good at maneuvering their careers and images and I''m SO not one of those people. My music and my performance--how I work in the studio and how I write--is just part of me.
LAUNCH: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
CROW:i'm not a person who really sets up goals. The thing that propels me is that I'm always trying to write that great song. I still hear "Yesterday" or "Girl From North Country." Those songs still move me; there's such a timelessness about them. That's what propels me: to write that song that is so deep in the soul that you can hear it over and over again and you can still feel something. I'm always trying to do that, and that doesn't require clever production or great calculation. It comes from a deeper place and that's what you're always trying to get at. And that's why I keep doing what I'm doing. When I reach the point that I write "Yesterday," then I can retire.
LAUNCH: But not before your debut on the silver screen! I understand you're doing a bit of acting as well.
CROW: I'm doing a really small part in an independent movie. It's just for fun. Dwight Yoakam roped and tied me into it and I may just look like that cow with my arms and legs tied up and being dragged from a bumper somewhere. We'll see how it works out.
LAUNCH: If someone were to say, "Sheryl Crow: She's the artist who..." Fill in the blank. What would you like them to say about you?
CROW: I fear that people will say, "Sheryl Crow: She's the girl that wanted to have fun." And since I have yet to write that one song that defines my career, I think that blank is still empty. At some point, I hope it's, "Sheryl Crow: She's the girl that wrote that great song....yet to be determined."