In this exclusive interview, Glenn Frey takes Billboard through the making of “Long Road Out of Eden,” the Eagles’ first studio album since 1979. “Eden” is due Oct. 30, exclusively via Wal-Mart stores.
For Billboard’s interview with the Eagles’ Don Henley about the process, click here.
Tell me about the songwriting and recording processes for “Long Road Out of Eden.”
We’ve been working on this album kind of piecemeal up until the last 21 months, but prior to that what was happening on my end was, if I heard a song or I started writing a song that I thought was right for the Eagles, then I would hang onto it and kind of set it aside and say, “I think this could go on our record.” Through the course of the late ’90s and the early part of [this] century, that was what we did.
There were times when we would work for a little while, but we could never really get everybody together to work for any long periods of time, mainly because we all live in different places and we all have families. So, it became a little more difficult to parcel our time to work on the record, but in the last 21 months obviously we found a lot of time. Don [Henley] made a lot of sacrifices by coming to L.A. often to work on the record, coming from Dallas.
Don and I had a couple of very productive songwriting periods over the last couple of years. During those times we wrote “Busy Being Fabulous,” “Fast Company” [and] we had started on “Long Road Out of Eden” way back in 2001. It was such a long song when we cut the track and tried to imagine verses and bridges and instrumental and all of that stuff, and I honestly didn’t know that that song would ever get completed. Then Don just had a burst of inspiration and he told me one day, “I think I’ve got the lyrics for ‘Long Road’.” And I said, “really?” It was a pretty long piece of material to begin with, but he did a great job finishing that song.
Other songs that we wrote together, [such as] “Frail Grasp on the Big Picture” and a couple of other tunes, in some cases we would have a chorus and some chords, and we would cut the track before we would finish the song if we thought we could come out with some good structure, and we just worked on it here and there when we could. As the record really started to take shape and when we finally got ourselves eight to 10 songs that were close to finished, then there was another big rush of material. That seems like it happens almost every time at the end of a record. You start to get your creative juices flowing and other songs show up, other ideas show up.
Don has a studio in Malibu and I have a studio in L.A. I would work on things on my own with other band members at my studio and Don would work on things on his own with other band members at his studio, and then we would MP3 our work back and forth to each other. When it came time to do background vocals, we would do those and it turned out to be a very effective way for us to finish this project.
Obviously you guys still have the chemistry.
Yes, we do. I guess a lot of it was finding and making the time to really hunker down and get this done. Another reason why we ended up doing work in separate studios and e-mailing it back and forth to each other is because, unlike the old days, we have families and commitments with our careers and other interests. You can’t have four guys in the Eagles show up for a trumpet overdub. It just doesn’t make sense to make everybody come down for a day we are doing percussion on a song.
So we get everybody in the studio for tracking most of the time, although on some occasions I’ve just kind of tracked with [co-producer] Scott Crago on drums or Don would track with him and [guitarist/co-producer] Steuart [Smith] and we would build up from there.
What were your goals starting out on this record?
I really had three main objectives for this record. The first objective, which sort of got us over the hump, was to understand we were making a record for our fans and our fans first and foremost love to hear us sing together. I believe with that as the important component, we were able to transcend worrying about whether we needed to make a modern record, a country record, a rock and roll record, a Henley solo album, a Frey solo album. All of that all fell under the umbrella of the Eagles singing and as long as we were singing and we liked the songs, then the material was right for us.
Number two, it was important that we got Henley/Frey material so that everybody, including us, knew that we didn’t just work by ourselves — that there was enough collaboration to create at least half a dozen Henley/Frey songs. So, we accomplished that.
The third objective was to make sure that we had Timothy Schmit and Joe Walsh represented. We worked hard to do that and I’m very happy that we got two songs for Timothy to sing and we got two songs for Joe to sing and were able to use Joe’s guitar talents in the right places and showcase them. So, those were the three objectives I had and I felt by the time we finished the record we had met all those.
Disc 1 kind of re-introduces the band and then Disc 2 has these massive powerhouse cuts that really take you on a journey. When you sit down and hear the whole thing at once, you really get that effect that it’s a cohesive work.
Thank you for being an astute listener. I spent two days sequencing the record, and like you said, I wanted to reintroduce everyone to the Eagles right away. Therefore, we put some of what I would call typical or classic Eagles material right out of the box. And then slowly as the album plays along, we sort of get into some of the meatier lyrics. I felt that was the way we wanted to go. I didn’t think you could come right out and have “Long Road Out of Eden” and “Frail Grasp” be the first songs on the record.
You guys have toured and played a lot in the last 12-13 years. Did that make it easier when it came time to put this thing together?
We’ve been able to keep our band together and our name out there by touring and doing a few shows, sometimes more, sometimes less since the summer of 2001, but it’s not like making a record. Once we rehearse and we know all the Eagles songs and everybody’s parts are worked out, we are pretty much up and running. Although the physical aspect of touring can be a little taxing, it’s not at all like making a record. Making a record is a much more involved, intimate, give-and-take proposition. We knew each other pretty well before 2001, so I can’t say that one has much to do with the other.
Talk about the lead off single, “How Long.”
The story with “How Long” is my kids were watching YouTube one night about seven months ago and they said, “Dad, come here. You’ve got to look at yourself.” [YouTube] took it down shortly after I watched it, but they were streaming this show called “Pop Gala,” a television special we did in 1974 in Holland. I guess we did about eight or nine songs on this show and one of them was “How Long.” My kids were laughing at how long my hair was, and there we were playing this J.D. Souther song. And my wife said, “You should do this song Glenn. This is classic Eagles.” And I said, “You know, you’re right.” I think we learned it but we didn’t record it back in ’74 because J.D. Souther wanted to use it on his first solo album, if I’m not mistaken. So it just sort of sat there, but it was rediscovered and I thought, “I really think we should cut this, this would fit in nicely with some of the other stuff we have on the album.” So we did.
I’ve heard people say if the Eagles were to come out today they would be a country band. I don’t know if I agree with that 100%, but certainly country radio has embraced this single.
I do not pretend to understand all that goes into that kind of thinking. Here is what I know: I never thought we were a country act. If you go back to the days of — and these are mostly songs that I sang — “Lyin’ Eyes,” “Peaceful, Easy Feeling,” maybe even “New Kid in Town,” I think in the ’70s those would not have garnered any significant country airplay.
What I hear now on country radio, and I listen to it off and on, are what I would call pop songs with country lead singers. They become country songs because of the way they are sung. Again, I don’t pretend to know what the format is and what the criteria is for country radio right now. I just know that we have a lot of fans and a lot of credibility in that genre. There is only steel guitar on one song on our [new] record. There is only fiddle on one song and it is kind of a Mexican-sounding song. We are just the Eagles and we make these records and we wrote these songs and we put them out and people are allowed to pick up on what they like or what appeals to them.
Would you care to comment on the Wal-Mart exclusive and the business side of things?
I am in the business of selling records and I want to be in a place where we have the opportunity to sell the most records. It’s also nice that Wal-Mart pays us a very lucrative royalty; a royalty that no record company could come close to matching. But that’s because we are not a loss leader at Wal-Mart. If the Eagles put out a record at Warner or any other major record label, part of the reason they can’t pay up is we’ve got to pay for all of the bad acts they sign and release.
When you play “Long Road Out of Eden,” how do you feel it stands up to your body of work with the Eagles?
I think it’s going to stand up. I think it’s going to be right up there, if you want to know the truth. If you look back on our previous albums of the ’70s, those albums are four or five songs deep, and you can just about name them off of each album. You can name the three smash hit singles and then one or two album cuts that were essential to the record.
This record is like 15 songs deep and the other thing that I am really heartened by is that the quality of the recording is so much better now. I think the production level is far superior.
It seems you guys never took the easy way out. You could have phoned it in, to be quite honest, and this album never shows that.
We always felt that the amount of effort you put into anything would somehow show up in the work and I certainly hope it has.
Click here for Billboard’s interview with the Eagles’ Don Henley about making “Long Road Out of Eden.”
Click here for the Eagles chart history, discography, and more.