Neil Young remains to be a hippie at coronary heart: “I feel a lot of hope”

“I think everybody’s scared of the same thing — what’s happening on the planet,” says Neil Young.

(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Instances)

Simply after 11 a.m., the previous man rolls in, a couple of minutes late, and smiles as he asks for a couple of minutes extra — “I’ve got some huevos coming,” he explains. Then he walks to the piano within the nook of the lounge. As quickly as his arms contact the keys, the melody that fills the room is damaged, playful, lovely, unmistakably his, as if he’s signing his identify throughout a blackboard: Neil Young is within the constructing.

That constructing is Shangri-La, Rick Rubin’s studio, excessive on a hill overlooking Zuma Seashore. At this time Neil Young is carrying darkish flannel, darkish grey denims and comfy-jumbo strolling sneakers, a black fedora over lengthy and high-quality grey hair. The pin in his hatband says CANADA. He smells like a man with a part of a joint in his pocket. He’s every week or so shy of 77 and when considered in profile, he appears just like the portrait they’d use in the event that they put Neil Young’s face on the obverse of the loonie. Straight on, he has the identical wild eyes he’s at all times had, the identical mad-bomber smile.

Young hasn’t lived in Malibu since 2018, when he and spouse Daryl Hannah misplaced their home to the Woolsey fireplace. However the place looms giant in his mythology. He frolicked right here within the ’60s, with Buffalo Springfield; he and Loopy Horse recorded the rollicking, transcendent “Zuma” right here in 1975. Again then, Shangri-La was the Band’s studio and clubhouse, and when Young was residing a couple of minutes up the PCH on Sea Degree Drive, he’d drop by typically to hang around and play music. (So far as he can recall, none of it was ever recorded, which can recommend how good a time was had by all.)

Young and Rubin (who purchased Shangri-La in 2011) have been buddies for years, and so they’ve recorded collectively earlier than, however the brand new “World Record” — Young’s forty second studio album, which got here out this week — is the very first Young launch to credit score Rubin as producer. Rubin describes his involvement as a cheerful accident. “I was booked to be on the other side of the planet recording a different project, and the universe created obstacles to keep that from happening,” Rubin mentioned in an e-mail interview. “Neil called just as my travel schedule changed. Divine intervention.”

When the second presents itself, you go together with it; this has at all times been the Approach of Neil, and it nonetheless is. A lot of the songs on “World Record” started as tunes that got here into Young’s head whereas strolling his canines in Colorado final winter. “It was incredible because I was just walking along, not thinking about anything,” Young says. “Every day there’d be a new melody. It was coming out of the air — and that’s unusual.” He captured the earliest demos utilizing the “funky little pixelated camera” in his flip cellphone, then wrote lyrics — quick, in about two days.

By the point he and the members of Loopy Horse — bassist Billy Talbot, drummer Ralph Molina and guitarist Nils Lofgren — convened at Shangri-La, Young had shared his demos with the band in a sequence of FaceTime calls. However he arrived with no preconceived concepts about how the report would sound. “The songs took Neil where they wanted to go, and that’s what you’re hearing,” says Rubin, who notes that whereas recording took about three weeks, many of the takes on the album have been captured in the course of the first week.

As on a lot of Young’s twenty first century albums — from 2015’s agribusiness-bashing “The Monsanto Years” to 2019’s “Colorado” — the dominant topic right here is the setting, whose plight worries Young now greater than ever. However this time round, he’s singing extra about what may be attainable — clear skies, clear water, a world with out conflict. A lifetime in the past, Young’s sneer anticipated punk; pushing 80, he dares to dream of humanity united and nature therapeutic, as if time has robbed him of nothing besides his cynicism.

Rick Rubin and Neil Young sit at an outdoor picnic table.

Rick Rubin, left, and Neil Young at Shangri-La in Could 2022. “Neil called just as my travel schedule changed,” says Rubin. “Divine intervention.”

(Joey Martinez)

You’ve mentioned that this album started with melodies you discovered your self whistling whereas strolling throughout a area. The place have been you strolling?
A every day stroll that I might take, of possibly three to 4 miles, at 8,500 ft or so, within the Rockies, within the snow.

Any specific vacation spot?
We form of had a spot to finish as a result of any individual would meet me there, and there was a tough time that I might most likely arrive, and if I didn’t, they’d come searching for me. We had a plan.

How typically do songs come to you whenever you don’t have an instrument in your hand?
I’ve no methodology. [Laughs.] When it occurs, I cease doing all the things else. No matter’s occurring — if I’ve a melody in my head that received’t go away, I’ll determine a approach to get it down. To me, that’s a present I can’t ignore.

However was it uncommon so that you can abruptly get all these songs directly?
I wasn’t even considering. It simply got here out so naturally. It’s virtually like another person wrote it. Like a ghostwriter did this. And I by no means questioned it.

I had all of the melodies, after which across the full moon of April, in two days, I wrote all of the lyrics. After which by no means modified something. Not a punctuation mark, not a phrase, nothing. That’s very uncommon.

What’s humorous is that despite the fact that you have been doing it on this intentionally unintended approach, there’s a thematic cohesion to those songs. You made a report as soon as known as “Living With War”; this one might be known as “Living With Climate Change. Is that simply what’s in your thoughts as of late?
There’s plenty of that in my head. Lots of people are saying that we’re in the long run instances of our civilization. I undoubtedly really feel it throughout me. The local weather is altering so quick — we don’t even notice how briskly it’s occurring. And I believe that’s the basis of plenty of the anger that we’re feeling. It’s all concern. I don’t suppose we’re actually scared that different individuals are coming in and f— all the things up for white individuals. I believe all people’s terrified of the identical factor — what’s occurring on the planet.

So I really like the concept that all people realizes this and comes collectively. I can [picture] world leaders speaking collectively on the identical stage, telling the world what’s occurring. Everyone, let’s cease competing with one another and simply attempt to save our asses and save the planet.

That’s what’s attention-grabbing about this report. There’s each motive to be cynical and pessimistic about the subject material, however you’re singing about hope.
Oh yeah — I really feel plenty of hope. Issues may flip shortly. [But] we have to step again and love Earth each little approach we will. Electrical vehicles are good, however they’re not the reply. The worst contributor to local weather change is manufacturing unit farms. We now have lots of people, however we don’t want to try this to feed them. We have to try this to make a fortune feeding them.

As a substitute of piling pigs on prime of one another in a steel constructing with followers and antibiotics in order that we will have Oscar Mayer wieners, we have to let the pigs exit, stroll round, make holes within the earth with their ft. So when it rains, there’s little holes and the water goes in. There’s all types of the explanation why that [helps]. After which the pigs s— all over the place. In order that goes into the earth too. Then as a substitute of getting dry mud, you place your hand in it and it’s received worms in it, proper? It’s alive.

We’re simply doing all of it backwards as a result of we thought we may make a fortune. And we did make a fortune. However now we’ve received again funds to make. [Laughs.]

You’re going to be 77 in every week or so. You sound extra like a hippie than you probably did at 22.
I take that as a praise. We simply should do the pure factor. And that’s actually what “World Record” is about. If we go ahead collectively, we could possibly make it. That’s the energy we’ve by no means exercised.

Neil Young in 1967 standing in front of a vintage car amid mountains

Neil Young exterior his house in Malibu on Oct. 30, 1967.

(Getty Pictures)

Whether or not it’s manufacturing unit farming or all of the work you’ve accomplished advocating for high-resolution digital music, it looks like you’re making an attempt to make individuals see the identical fact — that short-term positive aspects have far-reaching penalties. With digital, it was about sacrificing sound high quality to promote extra iPods and iPhones …
There’s 5,000 songs on this system, and so they all sound like s—. Each one in every of them. Since you received possibly lower than 5% of the information that’s required to listen to it. Within the analog era, each a part of the sound was there. That’s what analog is. It’s not divided up into little items. It’s ugly, what digital did. Ugly.

To not get morbid — lengthy could you run — however you’re turning 77. If any of those modifications come to move, do you think about you’ll be right here to see them?
Life is a humorous factor. I can’t inform. I’m glad to be right here right now, and I do know that I’m not as strong as I used to be earlier than in some methods. In different methods I’m extra strong than I used to be. Like, a part of me says I by no means need to tour once more. I simply don’t really feel prefer it proper now. However then again, what if I do really feel prefer it? So I don’t have any concepts on that proper now. But when I was gonna tour, it might solely be in locations that served meals from household farms. I do know that. So I’m working with individuals to attempt to make that occur, but it surely hasn’t occurred but. So I’m not occurring till that occurs. And possibly I received’t need to do it by then. I could also be doing one thing else. I simply wrote one other ebook. I’m modifying it now. It’s known as “Canary.”

Is that this your sci-fi novel?
Yeah. That’s been accomplished for a yr and a half. [Laughs.] It’s so huge. I can’t even describe it.

You’ve put out plenty of beforehand unreleased music over the past decade or so — two Neil Young Archives field units and counting, plus a couple of precise albums that by no means noticed the sunshine of day. In making ready that materials for launch, what have you ever realized about your self, or your course of?
I’m glad that I saved transferring. I couldn’t end some issues as a result of I used to be into one thing else.

Once you’ve put issues apart, is that often the explanation?
It’s often as a result of I used to be distracted by one thing new. However typically I didn’t need to put it out as a result of I used to be feeling it an excessive amount of, and didn’t need that on the market on the time in my life. That was what “Toast” [recorded in 2000 and 2001, unreleased until July of this year] was like. And it’s refined. You’ll be able to hearken to “Toast” and never even actually notice what’s occurring in it. However “Toast” was a really private report for me, and I didn’t put it out for a very long time. There’s a couple of extra like that in [the vaults]. I’ve a terrific factor coming, most likely subsequent yr, known as “Mirrorball Live,” with Pearl Jam. That’s a film and an album. And there’s extra I can’t bear in mind. I’m making the record up now for [Archives] “Volume IV.” “Volume III” is accomplished and in manufacturing.

I used to be suggested to not dwell on it an excessive amount of, however there’s additionally a fiftieth anniversary version of “Harvest” popping out.
Yeah. Fifty years since I made that report.

You as soon as wrote that “Harvest,” and particularly “Heart of Gold,” put you “in the middle of the road.” Do you continue to really feel that approach about it?
Nicely, the success of that report. “Harvest” was a very good report, but it surely wasn’t any higher than most of the different data. Simply one other report. There are different ones which can be way more compelling. But it surely had a second. Everyone was prepared for me to make “Harvest,” and I made “Harvest” after which, wow, look what occurred. Then we moved on. Gotta get away from that. That’s not the place I need to be.

You set collectively “Harvest Time,” the documentary that comes with the brand new “Harvest” reissue. What was it like to look at your 26-year-old self being interviewed whereas making this report? Did you acknowledge that man? His solutions, his ideas?
A few of them. I used to be very younger, simply determining what’s occurring in my life. And I had simply had my thoughts blown. I had simply put out “After the Gold Rush,” and I used to be making “Harvest” and making a movie. So there was quite a bit occurring. But it surely’s simply one other report. Simply one other report.

I believe [the movie] tells a very good story of life on the time. And all people’s in it. Carrie Snodgress, my son Zeke’s mother, is in it. Jack Nitzsche’s there. All of [Young’s “Harvest” band] the Stray Gators — Tim Drummond, Kenny Buttrey, Ben Keith, they’re all there. [“Harvest” producer] Elliot Mazer’s there. These individuals are all gone. Everybody I simply talked about.

How does that really feel, realizing that?
I don’t know. I don’t know what to consider that. It’s gonna occur to all people, finally. I perceive I may flip a nook and one thing may occur to me — however I’m not fascinated by that. I need to benefit from the day and go swimming this afternoon. I fell whereas I used to be strolling about 3 1/2 weeks in the past and damage my knee. And it’s nonetheless mending. So I need to get within the pool, use my knee, get it discovered.

Four men stand in a grassy yard.

Neil Young and Loopy Horse, from left: Nils Lofgren, Ralph Molina, Billy Talbot and Young.

(Joey Martinez)

You gave up smoking pot across the time you wrote your first ebook, “Waging Heavy Peace.”
I did, however then I began smoking it once more. [Laughs.] After which I gave it up once more. I’m a lot clearer once I don’t smoke.

Quitting didn’t appear to have an effect on your productiveness in any respect. Does it have an effect on your artwork?
I don’t suppose so. I get pleasure from the artwork once I’m excessive. And that’s enjoyable. That’s the very best factor. Weed is right here for a motive. It isn’t right here simply because it’s no good! [Laughs.] And it’s in shops now, if that’s proof of something. I hardly go in these shops, ‘cause you have to give them your ID, and I can’t try this. However I can get it. It’s round.

Yeah, I think about it’s been some time because you’ve needed to fear about that.
No, I don’t have bother with that. There’s no downside there. Me and my buddies, we will all get it. I can at all times name Willie. He may need some. [Laughs.] Don’t you’re keen on Willie Nelson? He’s gonna be 90. He’s having his birthday live performance subsequent yr. I’m gonna be at that.

And he’s nonetheless enjoying!
He performs nice. Willie’s like a flower. He’s simply regularly rising and altering.

You pulled your music off Spotify earlier this yr since you felt it was complicit in spreading vaccine misinformation.

Lots of people identified on the time that you just and Joni Mitchell, who additionally pulled her music from Spotify, have been each survivors of polio, a illness that’s been largely eradicated by vaccines. Did that make it a extra private resolution for you?
What bothered me was I heard medical doctors speaking about how individuals have been dying due to misinformation, and that one of many huge sources of it was this one present on Spotify. And I simply awakened and known as Frank [Gironda, Young’s manager] and mentioned, “Frank, take my s— off Spotify.” And all people thought I used to be kidding. However they realized I wasn’t very shortly after that. It didn’t make any distinction to me that half of my revenue from streaming comes from Spotify. Or used to. [Laughs.]

Now it comes from different locations as a result of individuals nonetheless should have the music. Plus all over the place else you go to get it, it sounds higher. Amazon, you may say what you’ll in regards to the individuals working within the [warehouses] and all that stuff. Reality of the matter is, they’re placing high-res digital music on {the marketplace}. That’s good for music. I’m right here for the music.

I suppose it’s at all times about determining the place to attract that line, proper?
Yeah, that’s proper. Or about altering the place it’s.