Twenty-one years separate the release of David Crosby's last solo album, Thousand Roads, and the appearance of his stunning new studio effort, Croz. But the two-time Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee (for The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash) insists that he doesn't spend his time minding the calendar when it comes to making music.
“People tell me that's a long time, and I guess it is," Crosby says, settling back into a comfy couch inside a hotel room in Lowntown Manhattan. "The fact is, I've been pretty busy. CSN has been touring, and a couple of years ago Graham and I made a double album. You know, I just don't make records to make records. I'm guided by the songs – you wait until they come."
Croz was recorded over a two-and-a-half year period at Jackson Browne's Groove Masters Studio in Santa Monica and Crosby's son James Raymond's home facility. Raymond, who co-produced the set and wore other hats during the process, hadn't met his father until 1995 (Crosby and an ex-girlfriend gave him up for adoption in 1962), but the two have formed a remarkably tight personal and professional bond, performing and recording together in a band called CPR, which also includes guitarist Jeff Pevar.
"James is has so much talent," Crosby says, his face radiating parental pride. "He can read music. He can write a chart for a whole orchestra – and has. On this record, he wrote, sang, played, arranged, engineered, mixed and produced. I couldn’t have made the album without him, and it was a total joy.” He chuckles, then adds, "We had a nice routine: I’d go to sleep on the couch bed in the studio. In the morning, James would wake me up, make me an omelet, and we’d go to work. A good omelet, too – gruyere cheese with shallots. He's a foodie, like me."
Croz features stirring contributions from Mark Knopfler and Wynton Marsalis, but the sonic focal point – set against sparse, understated instrumentation and arrangements – is Crosby's remarkably resonant voice. A deeply humanistic record – If She Called is an affecting observation of prostitutes the singer witnessed from afar one night, and Holding On To Nothing is an unflinching personal reflection that recalls the meditative brilliance of his classic Guinnevere – it's Crosby's collection of songs since his 1971 solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name.
"I was a little tickled when somebody put it together," Crosby says with an impish grin. "Croz... If I Could Only Remember My Name... Croz." He lets out a laugh. "I kinda like that."
It’s interesting: You started out when we were in a singles world. Then it moved to an album world, and now we’re back to a singles world.
“Actually, now I think we’re going into totally unchartered waters. We had thought about releasing one, two or three songs initially, and then one a month from there. I think that’s a doable scenario. The problem with that, and the reason why people haven’t done it, is that you only get one chance at the major meeting – you can’t keep going back to the well. That’s why we didn’t do it, but we were seriously thinking about trying.
“And, look, I have no problem breaking the rules. [Laughs] They were sort of made to be broken. But I do think that my new songs work together as a piece. If you listen to the whole record, everything makes sense, each song with the next.”
You’ve recorded some albums during very stressful times. Déjà Vu was made during a lot of turmoil.
“Oh, the worst. Absolutely.”
I get the feeling that you’re in a pretty happy place right now. [Crosby nods.] Is it hard to write when you’re content? Do you feel that conflict makes for great art?
“No. No, I wouldn’t say so. Conflict, in my opinion, doesn’t always generate great art. It can generate art, but in the long run, I’d say it’s a fail point. When we made Déjà Vu, for instance, we weren’t conflicted with each other. I’d just lost my girlfriend [Christine Hinton, who was killed in a car accident]. I was a mess. Sometimes I would come into the studio and sit on the floor and cry. That was a little hard for everybody to deal with – me included.
“The music was the triumph there. It’s what held me together, it held us together, and it gave us what the French call a raison d'être. I needed a reason to stay alive, and that was it – music. When I got done with Déjà Vu, the studio was the only place where I felt comfortable, so I stayed in there. I had lots of songs, and so I made If I Could Only Remember My Name."