There’s been no shortage of new music from singer-songwriter David Crosby. The two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee has put out four albums in the past five years, an incredible burst of creative productivity that even knowing his ongoing investment in the process of writing songs, is surprising, considering the current climate of the music business.
Crosby’s primary source of revenue these days comes from touring and while he says his albums are still selling respectable numbers, streaming music has taken away a large chunk of his former income.
“The streaming doesn’t pay us. It’s like you did your job for a month and they gave you a nickel. That’s pretty much exactly it. They pay us at a proportion that is like robbery and they’re making billions doing it,” he says during a phone conversation. “Somebody told me that the three record companies are making something like 19 million a day off of streaming. The problem is that they’re not paying us. And if you think it’s bad for me, I can still earn a living as a solo performer with a band out playing live. But kids, young people trying to come up, it’s awful. They can’t make any money off of records, so they can’t get started.”
The lack of what can be measured as a reasonable return has quelled the desire of many of Crosby’s contemporaries to create new music and albums. When looking at the time spent in the studio vs. the time spent on the road lined up against the limited time they have left over to spend with family and loved ones, it’s often the new music that takes a back seat.
His current creative spurt is driven by a number of factors. One, he’s unlocked, quite unexpectedly, a wealth of ongoing collaborations, working with two different solo bands.
“It opens up a ton of possibilities, and it’s really good for me because it makes me work much harder to try and keep up with these guys. It’s absolutely good for me,” he says. “One [band is] acoustic, and one’s electric, but the truth of it is that both of them are situations where I’m writing with unbelievably talented people and that’s really where the rubber meets the road. That’s how it’s actually working and man, it’s fun. Holy shit, is it fun.”
He’ll bring the electric Sky Trails band, named after the 2017 album of the same name, back to The Kent Stage on Tuesday, Aug. 20, for another evening of songs and stories. The group, which features longtime collaborators James Raymond on keyboards and guitarist Jeff Pevar, is rounded out by drummer Steve DiStanislao, bassist Mai Leisz and Michelle Willis on additional keyboards and vocals.
Crosby reports that they’re currently halfway finished with their next album, although he can’t predict when it will be out. “It will come out when we’re done with it,” he says with a laugh. But at the same time, it’s clear that he’s very enthused with what they’re putting down in the studio.
“It’s got probably the happiest song I’ve written in the last 20 years on it,” he says. “It’s called ‘I Think I.’ And if we were still doing singles, this would be a hit single.”
The group has added the song to recent setlists, and Crosby says it’s likely that fans might hear some additional new material from the forthcoming album during the next round of concerts. They’ll regroup after the tour to finish up work on the record.
Crosby celebrates his 78th birthday this month, and one could view his current pace of recording activity as a race against time, but the legendary singer-songwriter offers up a different viewpoint.
“The question is not how much time you have, it’s what are you going to do with it? That’s basically how that one comes down,” he says. “I’m like, 'Okay, however much time I have, there’s one way I can spend it where I can help and where I can do something useful and where I can make things better for somebody else, and that’s by making music.' That’s the one place that I can help. So that’s what I’m doing. I think I’m doing the right thing.”
A new documentary, David Crosby: Remember My Name
, takes stock of the many incredible things that Crosby has done in his career that now spans more than five decades of work. But it also takes a very honest, unflinching look at the collateral damage that he’s done, both to his own health and the friendships of nearly all of his most famous collaborators.
“I think that we were surprised at how deep we went in this one. I don’t think we were expecting [that]. It’s just such a stunning result,” he says. “You know, we started out thinking that we would be truthful, but Cameron [Crowe] is the best interviewer. He’s really good at it. Even though he is my friend, really when he starts making a film, he’s a filmmaker. He and A.J. [Eaton] really intended that I have nowhere to hide and I intended that I have nowhere to hide and I had nowhere to hide and it worked pretty well.”
The film has a local connection too, as Crosby returns to Kent State, revisiting the memories of the events that led Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young to record “Ohio” following the tragic Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. Decades later, watching the moment in the new film, it’s clear that his feelings are still raw, reflecting on the experience.
“It was an awful thing. Those kids were students, not outside agitators. They were students there. They were doing something legal and they have a constitutional right to assemble and protest. They were unarmed,” he says now. “There wasn’t a single gun anywhere. And those guardsmen should not have had live rounds, because there wasn’t any threat to them. There wasn’t any reason for them to have it. And they killed four people and wounded nine, I mean, that’s just...when a country starts shooting its own children, man, you know stuff is screwed up.”
In another moment in the film, Crosby walks by a wall in his office that features photos of his bandmates, both past and present, with many of the friendships now fractured, seemingly beyond repair. He’s said that he didn’t make this film with the idea of making amends and it’s not an attempt to put Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young back together. In conversation with Crosby, it’s clear that he’s very happy with where things are, in terms of the people he’s making music with today. Still, would he like a chance to rebuild those lost friendships?
“You know, distantly, yeah, I suppose. I’m not holding my breath,” he says. “I don’t hate those guys. I don’t have any bad feelings about them at all, really. But I don’t have time to wait around. I’ve got to do this and do it now because now is what I’ve got.”
He punctuates the last part of that statement with a laugh, a moment which is repeated when the new advice column he’s been writing for Rolling Stone
is mentioned. To provide a small amount of backstory, Crosby has been fielding questions, via Twitter, for several years now. If you’ve got a question for him, put it in a tweet and he’ll answer it, bluntly and honestly, no matter what the subject is. Eventually, the brass at Rolling Stone
saw an opportunity.
“When they called me and asked me to do that, I did laugh like a fool. I said, ‘You guys are crazy! Nobody would ask me for advice about anything!’ And they said, 'Yeah, that’s why it’s funny,'” he says. “So far, people think it’s funny, so that’s great. I’m having fun with it.”
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