Graham Nash, Songs for Survivors
Graham Nash is a founding member of three seminal rock acts The Hollies, Crosby Stills and Nash and Crosby Stills Nash and Young. Concurrently with being a member of these bands Nash made albums with David Crosby as a duo and has also made four solo albums, the latest, Songs for Survivors, was released by Artemis last month. The album is also available on DTS Entertainment in a 5.1 mix.
Simply put, the new album is Nash’s best album overall. It laced with rich melodic songs, intelligent lyrics and colored with a musical sound that adds a country/jazz feel to the normal harmony laden songs. Better still is the fact that fans will now have a chance to hear Nash live in a rare solo tour which began on September 14th. For the tour Nash has put together quite a formidable band. Russ Kunkel (who co-produced the new album) will serve as the tour’s musical director and drummer. Ace studio guitarist Dean Parks and bassist Larry Klein will also be joined by Jeff Pevar on guitar and James Raymond on keyboards.
Prior to the tour we got the chance to catch up with the affable Nash and discuss the new album and up coming tour.
M.S. Firstly, I want to tell you that I think your new album “Songs for Survivors” is the most consistent solo effort to date. Individually you have written better songs but as a collective work I think this is your best album.
G.N. Thank you man I really appreciate that. I really enjoyed making it. I sure did.
M.S. What made you decide to record using a lot of the Nashville players? Was it Russ Kunkel’s idea?
G.N. I wanted to play with people that I hadn’t played with before. There were two things about the album that I wanted to do. I didn’t want to produce, normally as you know because we have talked about this many times before, I am usually one of the main guys behind it all, behind the board and making sure the sound is right, the drums are miked right and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t want to do that anymore. I just wanted to sing and play. That was the first thing. Then I asked Russell Kunkel and his son Nathaniel to put me with a bunch of musicians that I had never played with before. And the reason is, I love the people we have played with before. I love Joe Vitale and I love Gerald Johnson on bass and I love (Mike) Finnegan and they are great for some things but I kind of knew what their approach would have been. I wanted something unexpected so that I could be pushed as well and that is what happened.
M.S. I see from the sleeve notes the album was recorded in a relatively short time frame. So considering these were players that you didn’t really know, was it a difficult process to go through?
G.N. No, it was incredibly easy. I decided to go back to how the Hollies recorded its first records. The Hollies recorded their first album in an afternoon. We did our 45-minute set and we did it twice and we chose the best and the album done. So, I wanted to kind of get back to that. I have always liked recording live as few a takes as possible.
I had about 23 songs. Me, Russell and Nathaniel chose 18 of them. We rehearsed the 18 songs for about four days and then took a couple of days off. We then went into the studio and I said, “Let’s do these six and then let’s do them again.” Then we’d take a break and do the next six. It became a very quick process. The whole thing was done in less than two weeks.
M.S. It’s funny because the album has a very sophisticated feel.
G.N. They were great musicians and they inspired me to do my best. Frankly, Mick, I don’t think my voice has ever been recorded better.
M.S. I was going to get to that in a minute. One of the things that you did even though you say you get it pretty much to a live recording
G.N. Yes, we did.
M.S. And yet on the other hand you have chosen to go hi-tech with the surround sound disc.
G.N. Do you remember when Quad came out?
G.N. It was very promising but it never really was Quad. It was like a double stereo. It was like a fake four source, but I always thought that it was promising because it gave you the ability to put the listener into the seat or standing where I was standing when I recorded the album in the middle of the band. I was mixing the album with Russell and Nathaniel and we were doing a 5.1 mix. The president of DTS Entertainment, who put out all the 5.1s of the movie soundtracks and Queen and all those kind of people, was in town. He came by and he fucking flipped. He just loved it to death and wanted to put it out. I couldn’t go from 5.1 to stereo it just beat me up, having to crush all the sound into two speakers after 5.1 was painful. I couldn’t do it. So in the end I had to do the stereo mix first and then go do the 5.1. It was a very interesting process plus there is room for all the bios on the band members and on me and all the lyrics and how we cut the album. There’s also 60 plus of my pictures.
M.S. Do you think the 5.1 stuff will catch on?
G.N. I think it is undoubted. The kids today don’t want to pay $18 for a CD. That’s why they are downloading and that coupled with people who are putting filler on there. These kids are not dumb. They say why the fuck should I pay for these two songs when I can download them and I understand that, but if there more interesting stuff on there I think 5.1 discs will be a thing of the future. I think you will see increased sales, and in fact, I heard that hardware units of surround sound systems in people’s homes are going at the rate of 20,000 a quarter.
M.S. From a technical point of view did the 5.1 mix impact the way you recorded the album?
G.N. It didn’t impact the recording of the album because when we began recording the album we had no idea that somebody would want to put out a 5.1 mix. We had no idea until this guy came down and said mix this in 5.1, I’ll pay for it. I think the first 5.1 mix we did was “Chelsea Hotel” and he just flipped. So we said, why not!
M.S. I’ve only heard it in the stereo mix and that sounds sonically incredible. You mentioned that you had a lot of songs to begin with are they songs you have had for a long time?
G.N. Yes. One of the songs which didn’t make it on the album, but will probably make it on the next one called “On the Other Side of Town,” it was a song I wrote about my son when he was 1 and he is now 25, so there’s a 24 year old song right there. It stretches all the way to “Come With Me” on this present record which was written three days before the sessions started.
M.S. Do you always live with songs for a long time?
G.N. It’s only because I was forced to. I’m not crazy about making solo records. I like to be a member of a band, but what happens is when you get songs that are finished they nibble at you. They start talking to you “Hey, let me out of here.” So, when you get 18-20 songs doing that it gets to being a little weird.
M.S. Considering that you say you are not crazy about being a solo artist what made you decide to tour. Is it a result of you being pleased with the album?
G.N. Yes, I was so pleased with the album that I thought I need to give it the best shot. I need to go out there and sing these songs for people. I am who I am, regardless of the fact that I am in CSN and CSN&Y. I realize there are a lot of people that like my stuff. The response to this album has been phenomenal. I’m not really worrying about whether it will sell or not. Not one person has said, “Boy this sucks.”
M.S. And they shouldn’t because it really is good.
G.N. That’s very encouraging for me.
M.S. I see you assembled quite an interesting touring band.
G.N. Yes and the thing about that is that they wanted to come and do it. I didn’t have to persuade them by paying them fortunes.
M.S. It looks like you will be playing much smaller gigs
G.N. I want to get smaller. I’m fucking arena’d out Mick.
M.S. It’s much better for the audience as well. I’m sure that there will be a heavy emphasis on the new album but what other stuff will you play?
G.N. Yes, we will play a lot of the new album but I’ll be looking back at my 40 years of recording history and I’m thinking, “Shit, I’ve got a lot of stuff to choose from.”
There’s a reason why people are putting their asses on seats and paying good money, some of it is that they want to hear “Teach Your Children” and “Our House.” I want to do them for the people. I have to do a lot of this new record and I’m going to do stuff that I have rarely done live.
M.S. Have you thought about delving back into some of the Hollies catalog for perhaps songs like “King Midas In Reverse”?
G.N. I have actually told the band to learn “King Midas.”
M.S. With the band you’ve got I would imagine it would great.
G.N. It might very well sound fabulous.
M.S. I was very glad that you did “Military Madness” on the last CSN&Y tour.
G.N. The fucking truth is Mick it is so relevant and that is sick, but it is.
M.S. Is there any possibility that considering you don’t do very many solo tours that you might record some of the shows for a live album?
G.N. I am recording every night. I thoroughly intend to bring out a live record if it turns out as good as I think it is going to be. They are great players.
M.S. Going back to what we broached on early, your voice really does sound better than ever on this album, and there’s a female singer on some of the stuff?
G.N. There is, Sydney Forest. Sydney is a girl! I must tell you that “Pavanne” was the first thing I had her sing on. She’s a friend of Russ Kunkel’s and he says this girl not only has a great voice and by the not only does she look good which she does, but Russell said, “She’ll be able to follow you like you won’t be able to believe.”
M.S. It’s like a shadow.
G.N. I know and people think it is me singing with myself and on a couple of tracks I do sing with myself, but on the majority it is Sydney singing with me and following me perfectly.
M.S. I was impressed especially with the sound on “Pavanne.” It has a chilling effect.
G.N. Considering it is just an acoustic guitar with some kind of electric atmospherics it sounds incredible, and the fact that Dean Parks is coming out live and playing that is going to be fabulous.
M.S. I’m looking forward to the tour. By the way “Lost Another One” is that about any one in particular?
G.N. It started with Orbison dying and then Nilsson, Frank Zappa, John Candy and Michael Hedges, Kurt Cobain and then my friend George (Harrison). It’s just a song about loss of me hating to think what songs were in George’s mind. I know because I’m on to the next bunch of songs so I know what I’ve got in my mind. What kind of songs did George have in his mind when he passed away, songs that we’ll never hear? It was the same with John Lennon. I felt that very deeply with John because I know how much he wrote. How many songs will we never hear that in a way may have changed the world like “Imagine” did?
M.S. When I listen to this album I feel that it has something of a somber feel yet there’s a very positive message behind it.
G.N. I think you are absolutely right Mick. It is a little somber but it is very positive.
M.S. It’s a realistic album. You tell people about things that they all experience.
G.N. Right. I think that is one of the things about being a good writer is that you take a specific incident that happened to you and turn it into words that everybody can go, “I know what he is talking about.”
M.S. In recent years music has progressed in many ways. There are thousands of musicians that can really play great, but I don’t hear that many people that can really write great songs. It’s more of an art that people tend to think.
G.N. I certainly think it is an art. It is not easy to write simple songs. It’s just not, but I seem to have a gift for doing it. Thank god!
M.S. What kind of length show will you be playing?
G.N. I’ll play a couple of hours at least. I’m not taking an opening act and I am not interested in doing “Our House” twice and leaving.
M.S. On a parting note, is there going to be a live CSN&Y live album?
G.N. Well, we recorded all the shows and right now I am listening to CDs that we cut of the rough mixes. I am having Larry Johnson, we videoed every night, put together one show for me from the Tacoma Dome. I’m expecting it within days and I will get copies to Steven and David and Neil and we’ll go from there. If they think the music is good or if they think they look good or whatever we’ll go forward, but it’ll take a little time because getting the decisions out of the four of us is like pulling teeth.