Best-known for 2007’s “Raising Sand,” the multiplatinum collaboration with Robert Plant that won six Grammy Awards, including album of the year, Alison Krauss is now preparing to release her 14th album, “Paper Airplane,” on April 12 on Rounder Records.
It’s not only her first since her Grammys sweep, but also her first with Union Station — her band of more than 20 years — since 2004’s Grammy-winning “Lonely Runs Both Ways.” Krauss spoke to Billboard about the aftermath of “Raising Sand” and the difficult process of crafting the perfect song.
Billboard: This is your first album with Union Station in years. How did it feel to get back in the studio with your band?
Alison Krauss: It felt like home. Everybody had gone their separate ways. [Guitarist/mandolin player Dan Tyminski] was touring. [Bassist Barry Bales] was touring. [Dobro player Jerry Douglas and banjo player/guitarist Ron Block] were both touring. But we found that everything we did separately found its way in. The more experiences we all have, the wider our options are.
Did you sense a change in the dynamic of the band when you recorded “Paper Airplane”?
Oh, sure. Everybody’s older. I don’t have the amount of fight I used to have. Others have more fight. You don’t play like those guys play without being sensitive, thoughtful. They’ll laugh at this, but they are feeling people. You can’t express yourself like they can without being an emotional person. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Raising Sand” was a groundbreaking release for you. Did the album’s success change how you approached making “Paper Airplane”?
Making a record is always a new experience. They’re never like the last one. Each is like the only one you’ve ever made, and the only one you’re going to make, the first and the last. So I don’t look at the ones in the past or think about the future — we just want each record to represent that moment. The only pressure is to discover and unearth something — you want to make a truthful representation of yourself.
Ignoring where you were coming from to make this album then, what made it special to create?
It was tough when we got back together. We started recording, and I just said, “We don’t have it.” [The album] wasn’t a piece of work yet. We didn’t have any songs by [Union Station songwriter] Robert Lee Castleman, and he’d been our main course for songs for the last 15 years. I called him, and he said, “I’m dry. I go to the places I used to when I was brokenhearted, and I just can’t connect.” So I drove to his house, and he wanted me to tell him what was going on with me. When I walked in, he told me he had a melody. I’d been going through a dark time personally, and we talked about it. He sang the melody; it was just gorgeous. So I cooked a couple grilled cheese sandwiches and we just talked. He called me later that night and told me the title: “Paper Airplane.”
That’s now the album title, and the first song. You ended up picking songs by a number of different songwriters. Is there a theme that ties them all together?
The songs are a trial. [They represent] a trying time that you’re in the middle of. You don’t know how long it’ll be, but you know at some point it has to end. It was hard singing a lot of these songs. But if I’m not truthful, then I’m wasting everybody’s time, and my own. I’ve always been lyrically focused. That’s my head space; that’s what keeps me up at night.
What makes a great lyric to you?
I don’t know until I hear it. I go with something I have to say — I won’t be happy unless I say those words. Then we look back and see how things fit together. Putting together the song, the meaning of the words will change, and it’s not me trying to change them. It’s a very romantic chase.