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Amy Grantham

Q&A: Graham Nash

We spoke with the legendary CSNY founder about music, politics, the end of the band and more ahead of his August 7 Santa Fe show

August 4, 2016, 12:10 pm

Graham Nash invaded young eardrums with The Hollies in the 1960s and continued rocking through the decades with Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) in addition to his solo work. He’s also a highly praised photographer who helped reinvent fine art printing with Nash Editions. His autobiography, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life, hit bookshelves in 2013. Now that a public feud with David Crosby has made future music from CSN highly unlikely, Nash sets out to redefine himself apart from the famous trio. With a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-worthy list of accomplishments behind him, Nash looks forward to what lies ahead.


SFR: Your new album, This Path Tonight, represents a new direction for you in life. Where has the path taken you so far?

GRAHAM NASH: I’m a much happier person. My life has changed completely. I divorced my wife, Susan, after 38 years of marriage. I fell in love with Amy Grantham, who is a brilliant artist from New York City, and she actually photographed the album cover [of This Path Tonight]. My life changed completely and this album is my emotional journey right now.


Did you meet her through your work in the photography world?

No, I didn’t. I met her at the Beacon Theatre in New York City when CSN was playing a show there. She was a guest of my friend, Noel Casler, and he introduced me to Amy. Immediately, from the beginning, we had a very strong attraction for each other.


How is your tour going?

Much better than I expected, actually. I’m playing a solo show, but it’s with my friend, Shane Fontayne. Shane Fontayne is a brilliant guitar player. He played lead guitar with Lone Justice and Sting and Bruce Springsteen. He and I have been having a fabulous time, stripping the songs down to exactly how we wrote them. With This Path Tonight, there are 20 songs that Shane and I wrote together, and that’s what’s going to be the show. It’s a very simple, heartwarming show. In this time of complete madness, between climate change and terrorism and Donald Trump, come and have a couple of hours of peace.


Did you meet Shane when he was playing with CSN?

Yeah, he was the second guitar player, the other guitar player being Stephen [Stills], of course. We’ve been playing music with Shane for about six years now. [David] Crosby and I first found him when he was playing lead guitar with Marc Cohn, who did “Walking in Memphis.” Crosby and I sang on a couple of Marc’s albums, and we were doing a show with him as guest backup singers at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles and Shane was the lead guitar player. Crosby and I loved him from the very beginning and asked him to come and play with us, and then it turned into CSN, and then it turned into him playing with me.


Your tour brings you to Santa Fe on Sunday, Aug 7. Have you been to Santa Fe before?

Yes. I actually love that dry, desert-y kind of feeling. I lived in Hawaii for most of the last 40 years, where it’s incredibly lush and jungle and leafy and stuff, and I come to places like Santa Fe and I go, “Holy shit, this is an entirely different kind of environment.” And I have some good friends in Santa Fe. I have Lisa Law, one of the photographers of Woodstock who’s a good friend, and Joe and Valerie Wilson who are good friends of mine.


Have you checked out some of the photography galleries in Santa Fe?

Not lately. I haven’t been collecting paper images for about 20 years. I’ve been collecting daguerreotypes, which were the very first photographic process that was invented in March of 1839.


Are you still doing photography work yourself?

Oh, yes. I’ve got my camera with me constantly. You never know when Elvis is coming back on the back of an elephant. I’ll be there, though.


Toward the end of your new album, the focus shifts from looking forward to the future to looking back on the past.

Yes, it became obvious to me in writing my autobiography, Wild Tales. After I finished that, I was alone in my house in Los Angeles, and I looked down at the manuscript after having read it, and I said, “Wow. I wish I was him.” Because it sounded unbelievable what I had been through in my life. And it’s not showing any signs of changing or stopping.


Is that reflection on the past a hindrance to moving forward, or is it a matter of knowing where you came from?

I think it’s a bit of both. I realize I’ve told people about my life and now I can live my future life, which I’m doing now. There’s a line in one of the songs on This Path Tonight: “Is my future just my past?” And, “It’s so hard to fight the past.” Everyone’s expecting CSN, or CSNY, they’re expecting that every single time. But they fail to realize that we are three, sometimes four, very individual musicians. And we all have our own opinion and our own ego and our own sense of what we should be doing. And like I’ve said, if CSN and CSNY is over after all these years, then so be it.


You have been referred to as “the sane one” in CSN. Where does that come from?

The truth is, I’ve always wanted the music. When you show me great music, I want more of it. Could anybody write the story of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young? It would be insane to try and write the story of what happened to us. It really, truly would.


Is any of that in your autobiography?

A little of it. And don’t forget that, with an autobiography, by the time the book’s finished you remember other stuff you should have talked about but didn’t have a chance before it was published.


The songs on This Path Tonight are more personal than political, but you wrote a song in response to the death of Michael Brown, which makes it clear that you still write music with a social conscience.

In the deluxe version, when you buy it from iTunes, you get the three extra bonus tracks and some of them are incredibly pointed. It just didn’t fit with the emotional journey that Shane and I planned for the album.


What are those songs about?

There’s the one about Michael Brown, “Watch Out for the Wind,” and a song called “Mississippi Burning” which is about the three college students who were murdered in 1963 in Mississippi for helping black people vote—two white kids from the New York area, and one black kid from Mississippi. Even in their death, they weren’t allowed to be buried together because of the color of their skin.


Has your mind been focused mostly on racial tensions in our country?

My mind tries to embrace everything that’s going on.


How do you feel our current political climate compares to that of the 1960s?

We’ve always been ready to pull the curtain and reveal the wizard, but I’ve never seen it quite so crazy. This looks like a clown car. I mean, it did when there were 17 Republican candidates. I think that the Republican Party has created a monster in Donald Trump and I believe that they cannot control him. I think he’s a very dangerous man.


You supported Bernie Sanders in his bid for the Democratic nomination. Are you disappointed that he didn't win the nomination?

I’m kind of disappointed, but you must understand that what Bernie was bringing to the American people is much bigger than Bernie Sanders. I think that he’s had an incredible influence on the platform of the Democratic Party. He’s brought in really great things, a $15 minimum wage, et cetera, et cetera. And if you read the Republican platform, it pales in comparison to the Democratic platform. In the Republican platform they’ve even got porn as a health hazard to the United States. Now, I’m not a big fan of porn, but, what? In your political platform? My goodness.


Do you have hope for the November election?

I hope that Hillary’s president and I hope that she puts into play a lot of what Bernie Sanders wanted.


In the song, “Golden Days,” you refer to your time with The Hollies in the '60s. What is it about that time that causes you to look back in fondness even decades later?

I think it’s my passion for life and my passion for creation and my passion for music. I’m a very lucky man. I’ve been my own boss since I was 18. I’ve gotten to do what I love all of my life. And please realize, I’m incredibly grateful and I’m very pleased to have been a man that was able to speak his mind. That’s one of the great things about America, of course, is that you do get to speak your mind. No one has to agree, of course, but I get to speak my mind.


You’ve said that you tend to prefer your first recording of a song. Lennon and McCartney used to say that if they couldn’t remember an idea for a song, then it wasn’t good enough to begin with. Has there ever been an idea for a song that you lost because you didn’t record it when you had the chance?

Yes, that was before I got disciplined. I always carry a recorder by my bed or a notepad with a pen that lights so I don’t disturb whoever I’m sleeping with. Yes, there are some songs. I remember writing a song with Stephen Stills and Michael McDonald one night and it was beautiful and no one can remember it.


You worked with Michael McDonald?

I haven’t. He was just at a party one night at Stephen’s house. And of course, we got high, and started writing a song and we got to the end and we were very pleased with ourselves. Does anybody know what it was like, or about or what key it was in? No.


What is the song “Encore” about, and who is the “you” being addressed in the song? Are you talking to yourself?

I’m always talking to myself in every song, no matter who it’s about. And basically, “Encore” is this: Who are you as a person when the lights are out, and when the song is finished and the last show is over? Who are you behind all the fame? Are you a decent person or not?


You have said that you’re your own worst critic. How does that play out for you in your songwriting?

It plays out for me this way: if you hear a song that I’m playing, it’s because I think it’s worth you hearing it. I don’t want to waste your time. Time is the only currency that we have. Even Bill Gates can’t buy a fucking second. We have to get on with our lives and have the best time that we can and I’m fortunate to be able to be doing exactly that.

Graham Nash:
8 pm Sunday Aug 7. $50-$70. 
Lensic Performing Arts Center 
211 W San Francisco St. 

Buy tickets by clicking right here


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