The bird is back – interview with singer Sheryl Crow – Interview
Sheryl Crow was given many gifts at birth, but guile wasn’t one of them. On the occasion of her new record – a rueful confessional about recent disappointments and ever-present yearnings – she sat down with Interview and let her heart do the talking
“If you make a record honestly, It is merely a snapshot of who you are while you’re recording it.” So spoke Sheryl Crow to friend and interviewer Elisabeth Shue in these pages seventeen months ago. At the time, Crow was in the midst of what she deemed a breakneck tour for her second release, Sheryl Crow. That album reflected her defiance and reasserted her Independence after the critical scrutiny and subsequent shock that followed the success of her first record, Tuesday Night Music Club.
Now Crow Is back with a third album, The Globe Sessions, that provides a picture of what she felt like when she finally pulled off the road – and perhaps a glimpse of what she wants to be now. Like the last one, the record is self-produced, which may be why the effect is so deeply personal. This time around, the music is less ragged, her voice hints at a deeper maturity, and she’s replaced narratives from the past with her own stories – The Globe Sessions is filled with private fears, questions, and dreams. Is this the definitive Sheryl Crow? No. The thirty-six-year-old freely admits she’s still searching for the place she wants to land. But having taken a long look at where she was, she knows which direction she’s headed in. And Crow will keep redefining herself as she goes.
ELIZABETH WEITZMAN: HOW would you say this album is different from the first two?
SHERYL CROW: I think it’s much more emotional and intimate. It’s the first time I’ve really written about any of my relationships, and because one had just ended it brought a lot of other experiences to the surface. I think the strongest thing that happens in a relationship is you learn more about yourself, and that’s kind of what this record is about.
EW: More than half the songs on this album are about lost or painful love.
SC: Oh, that ever-present theme. [laughs] I had just toured for over four years, and there’s something that happens when you walk into your house and it’s not familiar to you anymore. I felt like I didn’t really have a home or any connections. I had nothing in my life but music, and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. That was a weird place to be in because music’s always been my solace. So I think the emotions on the record stemmed from examining what’s been going on in the last few years, why my relationships have been the way they’ve been, and just a lot of self-scrutiny, as indulgent as that might sound. I’m at a point where I’m looking for some balance.
EW: You talked about wanting a family In the last interview. Has that feeling grown stronger?
SC: I would love to have a family because I love the family I’m from and I’ve shared all my greatest experiences in life with them. I think it’s human nature to want to have your own family.
EW: How much would you be willing to sacrifice?
SC: For so long I had a burning drive to go out and play every day, six nights a week without taking any breaks. Now I’m starting to divide up what’s important and exercise some self-preservation with all of it. So whether I have children or whether I’m in a relationship, I think I’ll probably be slowing down because my priorities are changing.
EW: How are your priorities different from when you started recording?
SC: When I first became successful I got caught up with giving everything a lot of meaning – and that’s dangerous. If you read a magazine and something negative is written about you, you can’t make that the be-all and end-all; you have to remember that not all people feel the same way, and that so much of it is out of your control. There are only a couple of things that I can dictate, and those are the way my albums sound, and my concerts. I no longer feel the need to be at every awards show, to be in every magazine, to do every interview. But when you’re getting started you have a strange sort of panicked feeling: If I don’t do this will people even know I’ve made a record? The whole fame thing simply doesn’t hold as much weight with me now. It’s just a coat of paint that gets chipped away at.
EW: It’s impossible to be famous without havIng people try to take you down.
SC: Mm-hmm. I’ve gone through a plethora of emotions about that. With my first record we toured for so long before finally becoming what looked like an overnight success. Then the backlash started. The climate changed from me being very popular to people being sick of me, and I took it all very personally because I thought, God, you know, I’m a nice girl and I work really hard and how can they say such mean things? But it’s the nature of the beast because we’ve given such importance to fame that it’s become a feeding frenzy: The more people learn about celebrities the more they need to know. It’s like a strange drug.
EW: You’re a solo artist, so you have no one to split the pressures of fame with. Do you often feel alone as a performer – or as a person?
SC: Oh, I think everybody on the planet feels alone, even when they’re in their greatest relationships or surrounded by family. In fact, in many ways, when you’re with someone you care about you feel more alone than if you were by yourself. I think the confusion of being somebody who’s in the public eye is making sure you’re not leading anyone astray. I don’t want to fake my way through anything, and there’s a lot of exposure that goes with trying to be real in what looks like a pretty unrealistic environment.
EW: In our culture you can’t just be an artist without dealing with image. . . .
SC: I disagree. There are celebrities whose image is as important as their music, but then there are people like Bob Dylan, who works hard and goes out and plays because that’s what being an artist is to him, not showing up at the fashion awards. And I aspire to be more like that than like some of the artists who are more fame-oriented.
EW: Tell me about “Mississippi,” the Bob Dylan song on the album.
SC: Dylan recorded it for his last record, but he didn’t like the way it came out. Afterward he thought of me for it, and it was so mind-boggling that he even knows who I am, it was really an honor to get to do it. You can listen to one of his songs and think it’s so simple, you don’t even realize how intricate it actually is – the arc of the melody, the way he uses just two or three chords but everything builds to a great release. Recording that song made me reevaluate songwriting. It encouraged me to be more economical and make the music much more about the content than the dressings.
EW: So do you feel an Imperative to shape your songs rather than just let them happen?
SC: I’d love to say that every song is a gift from God and it’s anointed, but you do work at songwriting. You decide what you have an urgency to say, maybe more out of a selfish need than thinking about who’s going to hear it. I know that the more songs I write the better I’ll become. You’re always working towards writing the most beautiful, simple song – like “Yesterday,” which is memorable the first time you hear it, and it has a specific meaning that’s universal.
“Riverwide” is my favorite song on the new record – it wrote itself from top to bottom in fifteen minutes. It was a strange experience because I don’t know where the lyrics came from and I’m still kind of digesting them; every time I read them or hear them I find new meaning. It’s also a spiritual lyric, and that’s a new thing for me.
Then there’s “Am I Getting Through,” which I sat down and wrote after I’d been at an awards show. I was thinking how strange it is to be somebody young who’s trying to figure out who she is in her own mind, then to be catapulted into the sur-reality of being someone well-known whom people admire and watch and aspire to be like. It’s about feeling like nobody’s really listening to you and they don’t understand who you are. It’s all textbook psychology. [laughs]
EW: Is music the way you usually work things out In your head?
SC: Oh, I don’t know. I’d rather not think my records are therapy sessions, but maybe that’s what the creative process is based on, giving all that stuff that swims around in your subconscious the freedom to surface.
EW: Aside from being much more reflective than your last album, The Globe Sessions has a completely different energy.
SC: For Sheryl Crow I wanted to make an album that wasn’t comfortable to listen to. I didn’t want people to sit down and serve wine and cheese and have it on in the background. I’d just had this huge success and then watched the whole thing fall apart, so by the time I made the record I was this giant raw nerve and everything, including sonic quality, was a reaction to that. It was a listener’s record; you had to hear it straight through. But for this album I wanted the listener to be able to walk into the landscape anywhere. ! wanted it to have more dimensions, to be more embracing.
EW: What were your some of your influences?
SC: Last time I wanted to make a really raw version of the Rolling Stones’ Let It Bleed and to incorporate everything New Orleans has to offer, like Appalachian music and voodoo and certainly Delta-inspired R&B. This time I didn’t go in with a preconceived vision. I let it go the way it was going, and in a weird way I hear more Appalachian influences on this record than on the others.
EW: What else do you hear, now that it’s done?
SC: I can’t really listen to it yet. But I feel like the singing is more based on soul music than before, and the lyrics are definitely more country because, basically, they’re heartfelt songs about being dumped. [laughs] I hope this album relates to people on a deeper level. Whether anybody will rush out to buy it, I don’t know.
EW: Do you care?
SC: Um, yeah, sure I care. As an artist, as somebody who puts their work out there, a part of you wants people to approve of it. That’s the kind of drive performers have, that need to be approved or accepted. And every album reflects that need.
EW: What are you no longer afraid of that you were with your previous albums?
SC: I pretty much have the same fears. There’s nothing that sets me at ease. I still worry that the album will bomb and that no one will ever come see me play again. I also have a great fear of hurting someone with a particular lyric. Every time I put out a song it’s a leap of faith that everyone involved will be all right with it. That’s my psychosis, that I need to be OK with everybody. But I also know that when I go out and play my songs, that will be the respite.
EW: What do you mean?
SC: That’s the heart of the matter. My whole trip is that I make records so I can go out and play music, because I love the communication that goes on when you’re playing in front of people. That’s when the interaction takes place, not when you’re in the safety of the studio. When you go out and play and the song reaches people, everything else just falls away – the magazine articles, the production. It’s that moment that is the reality.
EW: Do you see yourself as a torchbearer? I mean, when “All I Wanna Do” came out there were hardly any women having that kind of success. And now we’re in the middle of a huge female singer-songwriter movement.
SC: I think people are sick of it, frankly. I think eventually it’s going to backfire and start to eat itself. I guess it’s opened opportunities for some strong female artists who might not have been heard before. But making it all about being a woman takes away the power of being a good songwriter. I long to be just a musician again.
EW: Do you ever worry about getting older in an image-oriented industry?
SC: I don’t, because there’s nothing I can do. Time ticks on, doesn’t it? The beauty of being a woman is that there are so many great strengths we’re born with that grow as we age and become wiser. As far as the whole celebrity thing and getting older, there have been plenty of women, like Stevie Nicks and Tina Turner, who have aged gracefully and who inspire me. Patti Smith is as vital as she was in the ’80s and nobody’s judging her on the aging that they see. I just think you redefine yourself as you go. Certainly I’m not in the Fiona Apple/Jewel age group, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still have something to say.
EW: Then you never think about it?
SC: One thing I do think about is that rock ‘n’ roll has always been a very youthful environment – it’s about being rebellious, about us against them – and as I get older I edge into the “them” generation. Will the fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds who are out buying records be interested in one by somebody who’s old enough to be their room? But I do believe your audience can grow with you. I look at Madonna, and she’s older than I am, with young fans who are loyal to her. So there are no set rules, and anyway you never feel your age. You always feel like you’re eighteen.
EW: You seem remarkably calm considering the pressures that must be on you.
SC: Well, you have to live your life without trying to control every aspect. I can fall into that pattern, but maybe my attitude has become more escapist and I don’t worry about the things I used to because so much of it is out of my hands. I’m going to get gray hair and my butt’s gonna sag like everybody else’s. The stuff I care about now is deeper than the whole image thing. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize I focused solely on my career to the detriment of everything else.
EW: So what does scare you?
SC: I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone. That’s the only true fear I have, because what else is there but love? Not to sound completely elementary but it’s what people have written songs about for hundreds of years, and it’s really the only thing that matters. It’s what motivates you, edifies you, encourages you. It’s what brings you the most joy and the most wisdom. So that is what I long for – the consummate love.
EW: Would you call yourself an optimist?
SC: I’ve never in my life been hopeless. And I don’t consider myself to be a cynic. I still can be amazed and shocked and in awe of things and I think that’s a good way to be. When it comes to the core of my being I’m a really hopeful person. I always assume the best is going to happen.
EW: Where do you feel most at peace?
SC: The great nights onstage feel more like home than anywhere else. But then there are other nights where you just can’t get a pace going. You can’t imagine why people are there to see you and you feel like a big fake and you’re just letting people down or you’re only going through the motions, which is worse still. I think you can only be truly comfortable in front of others when you feel comfortable with yourself.
EW: Is that where you feel you are now?
SC: I don’t know. I’m at a different place in my life now, certainly. I think you have days when you’re really at peace and you have days when you’re ready to fly off the handle. At least that’s the way my life is. It maintains a certain amount of unpredictability. It’s good. It keeps things stirred up.
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