Graham Nash Is in the ‘Now’ With New Album and Tour, but Reflective About David Crosby and CSNY
Whether as singer-songwriter, activist or photographer, Graham Nash has never been one to let moss grow beneath him. Even less so, at 81, it seems, as Nash is mounting his latest tour this week (after releasing “Graham Nash: Live – Songs for Beginners/Wild Tales” in 2022), publishing his intimate photographs from the past and present in books such as “A Life in Focus,” and releasing his first studio LP since 2016’s “This Path Tonight” with the May 19 arrival of “Now,” on BMG.
Though saddened by the sudden passing of his old friend and longtime collaborator David Crosby in January, Nash finds harmony and solace in working with pals such as vocalist Allan Clarke, his co-founding partner in the Hollies 60 years ago (a date marked by Nash’s current tour title, “Sixty Years of Songs and Stories”). Then there are Nash’s strikingly frank new songs on “Now,” some critical of all things MAGA and Trump-ian, some dedicated to love and passion. Nash even manages to pen a track dedicated to the good, the bad and the sad of his relationship with his superstar bandmates in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Nash spoke to Variety from Sellersville, PA, before showtime on the first day of his 2023 tour.
The other day on YouTube’s “Kyle Meredith with…,” you revealed that David Crosby passed away suddenly during a battle with COVID-19. What sort of communication had you had with Crosby toward the close of his life?
We were in touch via email and voice mail, and communicated often. We had set up times to be able to FaceTime each other so that we could see each other when we spoke. I set my FaceTime that day for 2 p.m. my time in Manhattan, which would have been 11 a.m. Crosby’s time. I waited and I waited for his call, and then I found out that he passed away.
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You’ve been frank about this in the past, that there was friction between you and other members of CSNY at one point, but it sounds like you and Crosby grew close again.
Is there something you can say about what reunited you both? You and Crosby had such a lovely musical marriage whether it was the four, the three or the two of you.
It’s all true. I’d like to only think of the good times, now. I’ll remember the great music that we made, the fun times that we had.
Is there a story you can tell, perhaps that you haven’t discussed before, of something to illustrate the warmth of your relationship with Crosby?
We were hiking in Hawaii with our friend and tour manager Mac Holbert, and Mac slipped, fell and shattered his kneecap. I watched David carry Mac for almost a mile to get back to a place where he could be medically treated. I always though that such a moment showed off what a big heart that David had.
Is there any conversation among those who remain of CSNY – you, Stephen Stills, Neil Young – about how you might eulogize David Crosby in any public way?
Right now, Jan D, David’s wife of many many years, is on the program of figuring out a date for a memorial for David. She knows that I am on the road right now and she knows when this tour will finish, so hopefully she’ll choose a date that I’ll be able to attend. It’s all in Jan D’s hands.
Let’s discuss another old friend — your co-founding Hollies bandmate, Allan Clarke. You appear on songs on his upcoming album, such as “I’ll Never Forget,” and he appears on your new album, “Now,” on “Buddy’s Back,” a tribute to the band’s namesake Buddy Holly. Your new tour even harks back to that time 60 years ago when you and Clarke started the Hollies.
We’ve been friends since we were 6 years old. You know, Allan lost his voice and had to leave the Hollies after a time. He got it back, and called me one day recently and said, “I found my voice. I want to do this solo record. Can I send you a couple of tunes, and if you like them, would you consider putting your voice on, and send them back to me?” He did that, I liked them, so I put my voice on them at Todd Caldwell’s studio in Brooklyn – Todd’s been our keyboard player for years. So, we sent them back to Allan, and then he sent us another two. Then another two. I’m actually on 10 tracks on Allan’s new album, and wrote “Buddy’s Back” for us – after all, we were the Hollies – where I’m singing the lead and he joins me on the chorus. On his record, he’s singing the lead, and I’m joining him on the chorus.
When you’re writing a song for another voice or with another voice alongside yours, how does that change the equation? To tailor words and music to another’s voice or style or harmony?
It’s not my favorite thing to do, but the times that I’ve done it, I’ve been pretty successful. There are a couple of songs on “Now” that reflect that. Todd Caldwell co-produced the record with me, and we were probably 90% done when he started playing these changes on piano. “No words, yet. Just changes,” he said. “No, no, no, those are beautiful changes,” I told him. “Let me think on that.” And in an hour-and-a-half, “When It Comes to You” was written.
Considering you have not released an album of new music in seven years, were you not writing a bunch? Were you writing and honing? Or, on a track such as “When It Comes to You,” are you just waiting for inspiration and… pow? Because it sounds as if you are a pretty fast read.
Yeah, I am. What can I say? I’m a writer and I have to feel something very strongly before I start in on a subject.
One song that thrills is the one you wrote to Alan Price from the Animals’ solo soundtrack to the 1973 film “O Lucky Man!” It was an instrumental track that you wrote the lyrics to recently, “In a Dream.” That song from 50 years ago must’ve really stuck with you. Why?
It did. Since the day I first heard it, it lingered in my brain. The song was called “Pastoral,” and I just always loved it. I called Alan, told him I had an idea to add words, and he just asked that I send it to him when I had finished. He loved it, so it’s on the record. It’s a beautiful melody.
On “Now,” there are scathing songs about MAGA and those who choose to follow that agenda. There are eloquent love songs presumably directed to your wife, Amy. There is one song, however, completely written by you – “I Watched It All Come Down” – where you write smartly about “the rock and roll parade” and how you “watched it fall” and have “seen it grow.” We can guess, but talk about who that song embraces.
It was about my emotional feelings toward Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I reached incredible heights musically with them, and the opposite has been true with them, too – saddened that we didn’t make more music. We do, though, know that the music we did make is the most important part of our relationship. So this is about the thrill of having made music with David, Stephen and Neil. I wish it could have continued.
You’ve always been cogent and cutting when criticizing American mores, American politics, American life. Can you say something about your journey in the United States, when you first got comfortable with speaking your mind and taking a stand in your new home?
When I first came to America, I’d already learned to write melodies that you could sing back to me if I played it a couple of times. Hearing and seeing what David, Stephen, Neil and Joni (Mitchell) were writing, I knew I had to make an effort to write better lyrics for the melodies I was creating. Thank God that I do live in America – a very beautiful country with many faults, and so much more going for it. I know that here that I have the right to speak my mind, even if people don’t agree with me.
You mentioned Joni Mitchell, so I’ll ask about your take on how she has flourished musically and personally since her recovery. It is a third or fourth rebirth for her.
First off, I am so pleased that she is alive. We almost lost Joni when she had her brain aneurysm. I have seen remarkable progress in her ability to walk, and to think and to talk. I saw her recently, and asked if she had had any ideas for songs or for paintings, and she looked at me and said, “no.” But then, she added “Not yet.” I loved the “not yet” part. I firmly believe that Joni has finally come to understand, particularly at the Gershwin Prize Awards in Washington, D.C., that she is truly loved by millions of people.
Joni has painting. You have photography, and just released your new volume of photos with “A Life in Focus.” Is there a plan for another book, as you’re always snapping?
There is; I’m working on a new book right now. I’ve been a photographer longer than I’ve been a musician, and, with that, I never have writer’s block – if I’m not making music, I’m taking pictures. I have a lot in my life that I want to do. And in that time between solo albums, I put out 11 CDs when you include my box set, David’s box set, Stephen’s box set and a CSNY box set. I’ve been a busy boy.
You’re no slacker. Can you tell me about getting back on the road and how necessary it is to the vitality of new “Now” music, and vintage material, especially since the tour is dedicated to your 60-year career?
When I finish a new song, I play it for people – first for Amy, for Shane Fontayne, my guitarist, for my friends. Then we’re off and running. It is the duty of all artists to reflect the times in which they live, which is why there is MAGA stuff on “Now,” and songs such as “Stars and Stripes” that discuss what Trump has done to the truth. Here I am – speaking my mind. I’m very hopeful that tomorrow is going to be better than today. I am a positive person, and am trying to be the best husband, father and friend – and musician. I’ll never totally make it, but I’m going to keep doing my best.
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