Neil Young on His Support for Bernie Sanders and Why 'Trump Is Interesting'
Neil Young is coming down to Earth this month -- but as is usual in Young's world, it's not quite as earthbound as you would imagine. More than a mere concert souvenir, Young's new live album, recorded on last year's tour with Promise of the Real, is a sonic collage that weaves traffic sounds and insect and animal noises into the performances to make a statement about our relationship to the planet -- or just to mess with us, especially with high-definition headphones. In either case, it brought Young to New York recently to chat about Earth and a few other topics -- including this year's presidential campaign.
You never have been shy about talking politics. Do you have a horse in the presidential race?
I’m with Bernie [Sanders] all the way. Hillary [Clinton] definitely has experience, but Bernie’s the one I believe. I agree with his message, and my way of thinking is more important to me than whether the media thinks Bernie Sanders has a chance at winning. So many people love him. There’s a lot of people like me who are really concerned about the issues — Bernie’s the guy for that.
We should point out that since you’re a Canadian citizen, you’ll have an easier time getting out of Dodge if it’s Donald Trump.
Well, if it is Trump, I don’t know if there’ll be room at the border. (Laughs.) I don’t think much about what it would be like with Trump. It’s kind of out of my realm. I hesitate to say too much about him. He’s an interesting guy — he has made some totally off-the-wall statements that I don’t agree with. But parts of his personality and his upbringing are like George [W.] Bush, insomuch as you can tell if he really believes what he’s saying.
Speaking of politics, there's been some friction in the world of CSNY the last couple of years, especially between you and (David) Crosby. Where are things at now?
Young: You know, I don't know much about what those guys are doing, other than (Stephen) Stills. Stephen and I are brothers forever. I've seen Graham (Nash); I saw him at my birthday party. It was great to see him. I haven't seen Crosby in a long time, so...there's not much I can tell you there.
Earth [out June 24 on Reprise Records] is a twist on the standard live album, weaving animal and traffic sounds between the performances. What inspired your approach?
Do you remember [the 1992 film] Bram Stoker’s Dracula? Do you remember the bat flying through the old city, and how you had its POV — you really didn’t see the bat itself? Well, that’s what this record is: To fly anywhere on Earth, all you have to do is close your eyes and listen.
Why use animal sounds?
I always wanted to add ambience on live records. So when I started mixing in the audience [audio], I realized we always feel like we have a herd of animals in the audience — the sounds they make, especially when they’re just hooting and hollering. I liked [thinking about] the environments animals come from, so I decided to fade each track from the animals in the arena to the animals outside. It was one of the best times I’ve had in the studio in years.
So what was the process of putting these sonic collages together like? It's almost like its own kind of songwriting in a way.
Well yeah. I mean, it was a record making decision. I said, "We're not gonna have any rules or anything with this. We're just going to abandon them and do whatever comes to mind." So these things would come to mind and I'd say, "OK let's do a breakdown. Let's strip out of the song right here and go somewhere, audibly, into an environment or be somewhere while the beat keeps going and then come back to the song. It took us about four months of work in the studio to put together these songs and do everything and make these transitions. The transitions took a long time. But it was really fun. I had a good time doing it.
One of your passions is audio fidelity, which is why you launched hi-fi music player Pono. Why is it so important right now?
People, especially older people, go, “I wish they’d make music like they used to,” when actually it’s a technical problem. [MP3s] only deliver 5 percent of what people got when music was really rocking.
A version of this article will appear in the June 18 Issue of Billboard.