Neil Young And Daniel Lanois: Love And War

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Do you think your creative process has changed much since when you first started out? Working with Daniel Lanois it seems like you have a really good backup support system.

NY: Well, in the old days I had David Briggs and he was great support system, and whatever I did with him and Crazy Horse, I knew it was going to be a certain thing and we were going to be able to go for it, and the Horse was going to do everything they could to provide the beat and there was going to be a process that we go through, and I knew what it was. Briggs and I were completely committed to everything. So really, the process hasn’t changed that much. It’s just that for a while–for fifteen years or so– I didn’t have Briggs. And now that I know Dan, I have someone else who’s committed to the music in the same way that I am, and someone who is not scared to say something to me that other people might not. So he can make a concrete observation something like, ‘You know, the song’s too long. It’s not right. We’re not getting the point. This is the point of the song and this is superfluous.’ I’ll look at that and I’ll go, ‘That’s fine. That’s good.’ That means that I don’t have to worry about that part anymore. Rather than be threatened by what Dan says.  I’m not threatened by anything like that. People may think that I am but I’m not. What I see it as that having Dan do all this means I’m running lean and mean now. I can just focus on the real meat.

So besides his producing talents, is Daniel’s greatest gift being able to tell you the truth?

NY: He has the ability to tell me the truth of how he feels, which is all I ask for. But so many people miss it.

Well, it’s back to the idea of your bigger-than-life persona. People are frightened of you.

NY: Those poor people. They were frightened of me? Oh, my goodness. They’re frightened of something that they think I am. I think that’s in everyone else’s mind. It’s something that I really haven’t been able to figure out. They don’t know me. I don’t think that people really want to believe that I’m accessible. I don’t think they want to believe that they know what they need to know about me.

You’ve been a celebrity for more than 45 years, so people will always react to that, rather than who you really are.

NY: I’m the same as I was, though. I’m exactly the same. It’s just that because I want what I want, and I won’t take anything less, and that is the frightening thing. Yesterday this guy from London said to me, “You’re quite ruthless.” I woke up in the middle of the night because I’ve been listening to this – it’s a bit of a tangent here, but I’ve been listening to this album called Treasure, which I have in the can that was done in 1985. I’ve been listening to it because I plan on releasing it someday, and it’s a great record. But all of the people – the key people – are all gone. I have this history of these people that are playing the greatest music of our lives, playing unbelievably great, and now they’re gone, and I didn’t continue playing with them. At some point I had to say, “I’ll see you guys later. I gotta go do this. I’m gonna go play with Crazy Horse now. I’m gonna do this or I’m gonna do that.” In that way I am ruthless, but I’m ruthless for the music. What is ruth? I don’t know what ruth is. If I don’t have any of it, you know, I’m okay.

It’s well documented that you record during full moons. Do you write around the cycles of the moon as well?

NY: No. I just write whenever I feel like it. Sometimes it’s the right time, sometimes it isn’t. I just do what I feel like doing, so I don’t close any door. I’m just open to things. I don’t close things off, I don’t have a lot of beliefs that stop me from doing things. I’m sure I must have some but I try to be open and follow the muse wherever it goes. And if it’s not around, I don’t push it. There’s no sense in trying to fan a flame if there’s no flame. Sometimes we get what we’re going to get, and then I stop because I know the moment is gone and I don’t try anymore. You’ve got to rest. And you don’t have to go against the grain.

As for the moons, I guess if I track when songs were written, there would be some sort of pattern but I’ve never done that. When I feel like going in and recording the songs, I like to have them prepared. I don’t want to be just writing them right then and there. I have to have them ready – I have to be loaded. And then when the time comes, I’m ready to unload. Then the moment passes, and I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve tried to make records so that I didn’t waste anybody’s time. When we go in the studio [during a full moon] to do it and we’re ready to do it, the moment is there. I know sometimes it seems like, “What are we doing? What did we wait for? Now we’re here and he’s not doing anything and we’ve been here for eighteen hours and nothing’s happened.” But then when it starts happening, we get two or three things.


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