“I find myself in between totally in love and totally pissed off,” Graham Nash tells Billboard from his Manhattan apartment as he summarizes Now, his first new studio album in seven years. And you couldn’t ask for a more succinct description of the 13-song set, which is out, well, now on BMG.
One could say that’s the way Nash has been throughout a long career — it’s been 60 years since his first singles with the Hollies back in Britain — and especially since he joined forces with Stephen Stills and David Crosby, and later Neil Young, during the late ’60s. The warm bonhomie of “Our House” and “Teach Your Children” and the spirted adventure of “Marrakesh Express” and “Pre-Road Downs” kept company with the biting commentary of “Chicago,” “Military Madness” and “War Song.” That topical breadth remains a constant factor in Nash’s creativity, even as he professes to be happier than ever with his third wife Amy Grantham, whom he married during 2019.
So it tracks that Now includes several straightforward love songs amidst hard topical jabs such as “Golden Idols” and “Stars and Stripes.” “I’m still here, writing,” says Nash, 81, who co-produced Now with his touring keyboardist Todd Caldwell. “I’m still trying to figure out what the world is about, what the climate change is about, what the political scene is about throughout the world, and the rise of the right wing. I’m just gonna keep doing what I do. I write. I make records. It’s simple.”
On Now’s oldest track, “I Watched It All Come Down,” Nash deals with a particularly complicated part of his life — his occasionally turbulent relationships with Crosby, Stills and Young. Singing over a string quintet arranged by Caldwell, Nash again blends affection and anger, lamenting that “I watched it all come down/To a paper weight at the business end of town/Loaded up and loaded down/It’s a mess, a mess.”
“Basically, it’s about my delight with the music that we made all these years and dissatisfaction because we could’ve done more,” Nash explains. How so? “More songs — more great songs,” he notes. Nash, of course, was famously estranged from Crosby, his closest musical compatriot (they recorded four duo albums) in recent years, at odds over myriad personal and some business issues. As recently as last year Nash declared that “David and I are done, it’s just that simple,” but he says now that the two had begun the process of reconciliation that stopped short of actually speaking with each other before Crosby passed away on Jan. 18 at the age of 81.
“We were getting together toward the end of his life,” Nash says. “We were emailing each other, and he left me a great voicemail about that he wanted to apologize for stuff that he’d said about me and stuff he’d said about Neil and Daryl (Hannah, Young’s wife). And I set up a time we could FaceTime, so we could see each other, for two o’clock my time on the east coast, so it was 11 o’clock his time in California and he never called, and then he was gone.
“It’s all sad, but I choose to only try to remember the good stuff, the good times we had, the good music that we made, ’cause the rest is just sh-tty, silly teenage stuff.” He’ll pay tribute to Crosby with two planned archival releases, one a compilation of others’ songs on which the two of them were guests and the other a recording from a 2011 concert in Padua, Italy that Nash says “knocks me on my ass.”
Now has other vestiges of Nash’s past as well as his present. “Buddy’s Back,” a tribute to Buddy Holly, is a song both Nash and former Hollies mate Allan Clarke recorded for their respective new albums, the same instrumental track but different lead vocals. And for “In a Dream,” Nash sets lyrics to “Pastoral” from former Animals keyboardist Alan Price’s score for the 1973 film O Lucky Man! “There was a beautiful set of (chord) changes there, and I always wondered why he didn’t write beautiful words to it,” Nash says. “I’ve been intrigued with it for years. So I wrote to (Price) and I said, ‘I want to put some lyrics to your music. What do you think?’ He said, ‘Send it to me and let me see,’ so I sent it to him and he sent it back and said, ‘Fine, go right ahead.'”
Nash is in the midst of a year’s worth of touring with Now rolling out, presenting a show he calls Sixty Years of Songs and Stories. He’s spending three nights at City Winery New York leading up to the album’s release (an exhibit of his photography runs at the venue through July 11) and begins west coast dates during June. Europe follows later in the summer and another North American leg is slated for fall. “My set right now is roughly 25 songs, and it’s complicated by the fact that I have 13 more songs because of this album,” Nash notes. “What songs do I leave out if I want to put the new ones in? Do I not sing ‘Teach Your Children’ or ‘Marrakesh’ or ‘Chicago’? But I’m figuring that out, and slowly but surely we’re replacing some of those songs.”
Nash says there were more new songs left from the Now sessions, and he’s continuing to write. He appreciates the heritage he represents, and Nash feels a responsibility to that legacy. “There’s no reason for any of that music to disappear just because the people who made it are dying or don’t play anymore,” he notes.
But mostly, Nash adds, “I just want people to know you can still rock at 81. I’m 81 now, for f–k’s sake! Holy sh-t! And I’m very happy in my life. I’ve been around a long time, as you know. I’ve made some fine music in my life, with my fantastic musical partners. And I feel there’s still more of it coming.”