Composer and performer Neil Young discusses the history of Barn, his latest opus, recorded with his legendary group Crazy Horse. He is also celebrating the 50th anniversary of his masterpiece, Harvest, is preparing a new part of his archive, and much more. Exclusive interview.
November 12, 1945: Birth of Neil Young
In September 1971, Neil Young took Graham Nash for a boat ride on his lake to play him his new album, Harvest. The sound system was somewhat baroque. Young had the left speaker installed on his farm in Northern California, using the nearby barn to house the right speaker. As the record played, his producer, Elliot Mazer, ran to the shore to ask him what it sounded like. And Young delivered this legendary line: “No more barn!” ”, in front of a surprised Graham Nash. We know the result: Harvest, the flagship of the seventies, which pushed the boundaries of the famous ‘canyon folk rock’ and of which we will celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in early 2022. A milestone, as they say. With his now eternal hits ‘Heart of Gold’, ‘Old Man’, ‘The Needle and the Damage Done’, ‘Alabama’ and other ‘Out on the Weekend’, his Stray Gators and his luxurious guests (Crosby, Stills & Nash , Linda Ronstadt or even James Taylor), his lush orchestral arrangements, signed Jack Nitzsche.
Half a century later, Young resumed his search for a new barn. Barn is in fact the title of his latest album with Crazy Horse, released last December, and named after this century-old building they spent nine months restoring in the Rocky Mountains. A documentary of the same name, directed by Young’s wife, actress Daryl Hannah, follows the making of the album. It features Young, guitarist Nils Lofgren, bassist Billy Talbot and drummer Ralph Molina performing the ten songs, accompanied by Young’s dogs – Moon and Mo –, cold beer and the full moon. Young agreed to a Zoom interview from – then his home in the mountains – to talk about the album, but also reveal details about his upcoming releases – from the third installment of his archive (covering the years 1976-1987) to plans around the 50th anniversary of the release of the Harvest Monument. Colorado, the last album you made with Crazy Horse, you recorded in a real studio.
What made you decide to return to a barn this time?
Well, the barn is something we like. This is a beautiful old barn and has recently been restored. It was built around 1850. This was the barn where the stagecoaches stopped and where the horses were cared for and the wheels were cleaned. There were also some strange buildings nearby, where people slept before getting back into their stagecoaches and continuing on their way. So that’s what it was built for, in the 1850s. We restored it with all the original materials. We only had a few sketches and a photo. It started to sink into the ground, the back had collapsed and it was just funky. But we found these beautiful ponderosa pines; it was a beautiful construction, with all those round surfaces. The fact is that the stacked tree trunks create an undulation of curves. There are no squares. Squares are the enemies of sound. They create a standing wave, causing certain frequencies to jump up and others to disappear. So you have to compensate for all of this while recording. We almost didn’t have to do it. Everything sounded very good inside the building.
You’ve been playing in barns ever since Harvest. What is your connection with them?
When I recorded Harvest, I just wanted to play somewhere. They had a barn, it looked cool and I thought it might be cool. We had a pretty cool scene and everything was really cool. And fifty years later we try again. What a story! You recorded the album in June 2021, under the ‘Strawberry Moon’, the first full moon of the summer according to Native Americans.
Why is recording during the full moon so important to you?
I like working this way because it works for me. I don’t know if this is the case for everyone, but it works for me because you can feel the energy as the moon cycles change. This is something that people have been aware of for years and years – and some cultures are even more so. When the new moon comes, you feel different that day, just like when you turn the page. You just feel an energy. And then, maybe a week later, you really start to feel something, and it’s usually very positive and very creative, very good. That’s why we chose the full moon as the main date for the end of the sessions.
You can find this interview with Neil Young in its entirety in Rolling Stone No. 139
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