Neil Young says that his latest archival album, “A Treasure,” will be the first of many similar projects that will use unauthorized video material to enhance and flesh out the music that’s on those releases.
“Anything that anybody puts out there is fair game for me,” Young tells Billboard.com. “I can now use and I will continue to use on all my ‘Archives’ projects from now on any defining performance from any (source) synced up to the sound that I like.”
For the video component of “A Treasure” — which documents his spirited 1984-85 tour in support of his country album, “Old Ways” — Young used material shot by fans that he found on the Internet, syncing up the musical performances he selected from 85 concerts recorded during the tour. Some songs are incomplete and filled out with still photos or the album cover in lieu of live footage; others feature players different than those who are on the audio recording. But Young says he enjoyed the challenge of putting all that together.
“We wanted to bring as much of the experience, from a historic, archival perspective, as possible,” he says. “If I can see a band play a song and it’s not the same version, I will sync it up and make it work so that you get a feeling of what was actually happening during the day when it was done. Now I have all these videos of things I did a long time ago…that I will sync up with my archival studio tracks and take people on a trip back there, where it was happening. There’s something really cool about that.”
“A Treasure” and the tour that it comes from hold a special place in Young’s heart because was playing, he says, with “probably the most accomplished set of musicians that I ever played with, as far as just the expertise and the defining ability each one of them has.” They included legendary fiddler Rufus Thibodeux (who passed away in 2005), pianist Spooner Oldham and longtime Young cohort Ben Keith, who worked with Young in assembling “A Treasure” and even came up with the title (“After we listened to it, he said this is a treasure, Neil,’ ” Young recalls) before passing away in July of 2010. The tour also coincided with the lawsuit filed by Young’s label, Geffen Records, accusing him of making albums that were “not ‘commercial’ and…musically uncharacteristic.” Both it and Young’s countersuit were eventually dropped in 1985, but the litigation clearly fueled Young as he hit the road the previous year.
“We had no support,” Young recalls. “I was being sued by my record company…and I also had been told by (Geffen) that country radio would never play this. So we really started to let out the shaft and just go for it. I was out there doing it myself and playing it for people who were loving it, and we were having a great time living high off the hog and just flying down the road in buses and just never stopped for about a year.”
The experience also included playing new and as-yet unrecorded songs, some of which were written during the tour and five of which — “Amber Jean,” “Let Your Fingers Do the Walking,” “Soul of a Woman,” “Nothing Is Perfect” and “Grey Riders” — appear on “A Treasure.” “The band could learn a song in half an hour, and we could play it that night,” Young recalls. “There’s nothing these guys couldn’t do. This was a band that could play anything and play it right away, so there was no delay. That was perfect for me.”
Young says there are “several” other original, unreleased songs that do not appear on “A Treasure” for space reasons. He says some of those may show up on his third “Archives” release, while he hopes to release “Archives 2” in 2012.
“We’re well into shooting the discs and getting the video ready for it and the interactivity and all of the content,” Young notes. “There’ll be different formats it’ll come out in besides Blu-ray this time that are the same resolution but new formats people haven’t seen before. There’ll be some Internet-based distributions that’ll be interesting.”