Intro: My A&M Records rep introduced me to Sheryl Crow just before her ridiculously fast climb into music fame. I remember her describing Sheryl as the “next Bryan Adams.” If she meant the next Canadian guitarist and songwriter to find crazy success, she was certainly right!
George: My guest today is Sheryl Crow, who is currently going to begin a tour with Crowded House in support of her new album, “Tuesday Night Music Club”. Sheryl, you’ve worked as a vocalist and songwriter for many well known artists, do you have any experiences that stick out in your mind as your favorites?
Sheryl: I think the last thing that I did. I took a couple of years off from doing any of that kind of work, because people started to see me as that, and it sort of demeaned my credibility as an artist. Last year, I got called to do the Bob Dylan 30th anniversary, and while I wasn’t doing that kind of work, I just couldn’t pass that up. It was really amazing because I had grown up in a small town around Memphis, very close to Memphis in southern Missouri, and on this particular occasion I got to be in the house band with Booker T and the MG’s, so it was really thrilling. Then along with that, of course, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and these people were on this same gig so for me that was really the highlight of any sort of background work I’ve done.
George: Yeah great, it sounds very exciting.
Sheryl: Yeah it was cool.
George: What did you actually do in this performance?
Sheryl: I was in the house band, so I sang background, and I played keyboard for a Sinead O’ Connor number which never happened.
George: Why did you leave your job as a music teacher? Was it a good experience in your life?
Sheryl: I left it because I really didn’t intend to spend that time being a school teacher. I got my degree to appease my parents who said I would need to have something to fall back on when my dream bottomed out. I was engaged to a guy and I moved to St. Louis to be with him. After a couple of months, I put together a band to do my original material and he said it just wasn’t going to work if I was going to be in a band, so at that point marriage was out of the question, and it was really time to consider pursuing the singing thing. I moved to LA, because it seemed to be less overwhelming than New York, and I didn’t know anybody there so everything was a new experience. I really honestly loved teaching, and I took it very seriously. I still think it’s one of the most honorable and most underpaid, underrated occupations that there is.
George: You are not married now?
George: I’m just getting ready to move out to Columbus, Ohio to be with my fiancé.
Sheryl: Well don’t let her tell you that you can’t be a singer if you want to be a singer George.
George: I will keep that in mind. Getting to your album, do you have any personal favorite cuts from your album?
Sheryl: Well it sort of changes you know, only because I’m playing it every night now and certain songs are more meaningful to me than other ones, but consistently I think “I Shall Believe” seems to hold true. I don’t know, it just depends on what mood I’m in. Recently I’ve gotten really into “No One Said It Would Be Easy” because it’s dark and moody and kind of speaks to me right now.
George: Some people have told me that they go to the mountains with a guitar and write songs, and some write their lyrics, pound those out, and get together with a band and make the music. What is the song writing process like for you?
Sheryl: It varies really. I tend to always have an idea lyrically of what I want to write about and I think I kind of start from there and the music seems to sort of compliment it. It happens both ways, sometimes I’ve actually written a whole song with no lyrics in my head or I think the best songs generally happen simultaneously and on a couple of occasions I’ve had that happen. But I generally write, I think, with it in my head first.
George: Do you do most of the writing yourself?
Sheryl: I generally do. On this record it was really collaborative, but I generally write by myself.
George: The artists in your band during the album, are they touring with you?
Sheryl: No all the guys on the record are artists now with their own careers so their doing their own stuff. Like David and David are making a record now, and Kevin Gilbert from “Toy Matinee” has his own record coming out. The guys from “Wild Train” are all doing their own things, and Bill’s producing somebody else, so everybody seems to be into their own thing right now.
George: So you’re happy with the way the album came out, do you listen to it every night? Some artists will tell me that they can’t listen to what they release.
Sheryl: Well I don’t listen to my album every night, but I perform it every night. It is hard for me to listen to it, only because it is connected to a lot of experience, and I know what went into everything. There are things that you always listen back and think about how I might have done this, or might have done that. But on the whole I’m really happy, because it was important for me to get a collection of performances, as opposed to studio tracks and pretty much that’s what we have. And because of that, I can go out every night and perform it, as opposed to competing with a record.
George: I think it was great that you got to record pretty much record most of the album somewhat live, because some artists tend to get a little annoyed because their album doesn’t really sound like what their song was written to sound like, in the first place. On the CD insert you mention something that I’m going to quote about playing “unused classically trained piano”, “unused untrained guitar” and “unorthodox Hammond”. What exactly does that mean?
Sheryl: Well I have a degree actually in classical piano that I very very rarely use, and in fact I’ve just kind of let it go to shit because it’s like a muscle, if you quit exercising it then it atrophies. And I play minimal amounts of acoustical guitar on the record and a lot of Hammond which is not an instrument that I was that acclimated to. Now I find that it’s the instrument that I probably gravitate to most.
George: One of the most, I would say, lyrically diverse songs on the album is the “Na Na Song”. What is the point, if any, of it?
Sheryl: Well there’s not a point to it really, and I certainly couldn’t look at it and say “this is what I’m saying.” I think it really just speaks to the fact that our attention span has gone to 3 seconds to blips and we need that sort of immediate attention grabber, as well as, the fact that it is very conscious stream of thought and very current events as word oriented. And the song actually we wrote the night Clinton was elected and that sort of created the energy for the song.
George: Did it take long for you to write the songs on the album?
Sheryl: Not really, we wrote all of them, well not all of them, we wrote a lot of them in the studio and them towards the end I brought in a lot of stuff and we worked on stuff I had already written, stuff that I had written during the process of making this record. So I’d say, not counting days we took off, it took at least a couple of months.
George: How would you describe your music and style to someone who is new to your music?
Sheryl: I tend to think it is very Americana. It definitely sounds like it is from the Midwest, which is where I’m from, and it’s a little rough around the edges. You know, it’s like the problem child, you kind of have to wrestle it to the ground.
George: So are you currently are in Los Angeles, is it your “home town” now?
Sheryl: No not really actually. I’ve been home maybe 8 or 10 days in the last 6 months, and my dog lives here with somebody who’s been house-sitting him, so wherever he is that’s home for me.
George: How much time would you say that you devote, during the day, towards playing and writing music?
Sheryl: Well I don’t really write that much anymore and it really depends actually what kind of touring I’m doing, like for instance, the last 3 weeks I’ve been out doing press and all day long it seems like it’s devoted to interviewing and doing retails store visits and radio visits and stuff like that. So I’m always playing and every night, or at least most nights, we’ve been out playing this stuff. And then on those occasions when I’m home or when I have a day off, I do write. I write pretty much all the time and I keep journals and that sort of thing, but I haven’t sat down and written too many songs recently.
George: When you get some spare time, what do you like doing?
Sheryl: Actually, when I do get some spare time, I do like to sit down and write if my head is clear. I’m really yearning for that, right now, which probably means that the next time a get a spance of time I’ll sit down and write a bunch of songs, which I’m really excited about doing. And then I like to read. I particularly like to sleep these days, when I have time off, because I’m getting so little time off.
George: What kind of music did you grow up with?
Sheryl: Well like I said I grew up in a real small rural community and the closest city to me was Memphis. I grew up listening to a lot of early Stax music, or early rock and roll. My parents were musicians, and they were in a Big Band, so they played a lot of that stuff around the house, as well as classical music. I was trained classically so I did listen to quite a bit of that, but I tended to gravitate towards early 70’s and late 60’s bands like the Rolling Stones and bands like that. It was kind of a weird time for me, a weird time musically, when I was growing up in that a lot of the bands were corporate rock bands like Kansas and Boston and I kind of drug out all the old 60’s music and got acclimated to that.
George: Are there any more recent recordings by other artists that you’ve liked?
Sheryl: Yeah, actually I’ve gone out and bought a lot of the new stuff. I’m a big fan of the Counting Crows, and I like that one song by the Crash Test Dummies a lot. I love the new Crowded House record, so I’m thrilled about working with them. There are several records that I think are really brilliant this year.
George: So what’s in store for you in the future? What are your plans after this tour?
Sheryl: I know I’m going to go back over to Europe. We went over at the beginning of the year and the records doing really well out there so we’re going to do some touring over there for a month. I’ll come back this summer and hopefully get on a tour or be headlining on my own tour. We’ll definitely be touring whatever. We will be touring.
George: So it always seems like it’s more and more work.
Sheryl: Yeah, it never ends.
George: So, any kind of overriding message you are trying to say, or do you have anything that you try to say through your music?
Sheryl: I think there’s one thing that seems to be sort of consistent and that’s that most of my characters are really strong characters and even thought they’re misfits that they seem to have some element of hope. For me personally that seems to have been the one thing that has been very integral in everything that I’ve done and that’s having a positive attitude and feeling that the best things are going to work out and I think the when you have that kind of attitude that things come to you.