Frederick Breedon, Getty Images People seem to quibble quite a bit about what…
- Posted on Jul 20th 2010 12:00PM by Jessica Robertson
It's been a long (pardon the pun) road for Crow, 48, a former elementary school music teacher turned nine-time Grammy-winner, philanthropist, breast cancer survivor and, most recently, mother. If her last album, 'Detours,' was about literal and metaphorical life travels (particularly through political climates), '100 Miles From Memphis' -- a funk- and R&B-tinged effort -- is, in a sense, about going home. That home for Crow is Kennett, Missouri (which she still pronounces in her slight Southern twang, "Missour-uh"), which lay exactly 100 miles from Memphis. "I've really been sort of gravitating back to music that I grew up listening to, which is a lot of R&B, a lot of Motown, a lot of Stax," Crow explains. "I just kept leaning towards that sound, and the next thing I knew, I'm making this record."
Spinner spoke with Crow about the album, her personal and musical evolutions, and the one thing she says Heaven can't top.
Congratulations on the new album. Talk to me a little bit about the impetus behind '100 Miles From Memphis.'
As a kid the mystique about Memphis was that it was the Big City, with so many great musicians that came out of there -- Beale Street and Elvis Presley's Sun Studios and the huge legacy that went along with the city. If you were ever going, it was a day outing -- to drive to Memphis. It was a fascinating place to go growing up. And as I got older and started playing music, I started really appreciating some of the music I grew up with. I really gravitated back to the music that came out of my little area, and after the 'Detours' record -- I love that record, it still holds up to me and I feel that it's the most realized artistic statement that I've made so far -- on the heels of that, I've really been sort of gravitating back to music that I grew up listening to, which is a lot of R&B, a lot of Motown, a lot of Stax. I just kept leaning towards that sound and the next thing I knew, I'm making this record.
You are also joined by Keith Richards, Justin Timberlake and Citizen Cope. How did the collaboration with Justin Timberlake come about?
The last five records I've made in my own studio. But this record, we've recorded mostly at Henson Studio in Los Angeles, as well as [New York City's] Electric Lady Studios. And the great thing about working in commercial studio spaces is that you have a lot of other artists that are in the studio. You have a built in network of people that you run into in the hallway, and Justin was one of them. I ran into him there with a friend and he said, "Oh, we should write together." He was there working with Jamie Foxx. I just finished 'Sign Your Name,' which we had done in a very Al Green direction. So I said, "Justin, come check this out," and he came in. He said, "You know, I'm from Memphis," which is where Al Green is from. And he said, "Are you going to do the backgrounds on it?" and I said, "I don't know yet." And he said, "I'll do it." So he came in and did it. It was really organic and he's amazingly talented. I think people don't really know the depth of his talent.
It seems that you've written more on the piano this time around – the song 'Stop,' for example. Do you find it more difficult to write on the piano versus the guitar?
Piano is my main instrument. For years, I haven't written on it because it is difficult for me to write because I didn't really want to write really singer-songwriter-y songs. But I wanted to return to keyboards on this album and on this tour. And I've really enjoyed it. It got me closer to what I was trying to achieve on this record.
Tell me about the first single, 'Summer Day.'
I thought I would collaborate on this one with Justin. The track is really uplifting. Our objective was to write something that was wholly positive and about optimism. This what summer is to me, metaphorically, especially that first day of being out of school and the excitement about what's ahead. And particularly this moment in our historical state, with the [BP] oil spill and all the wars and the political fighting, it's nice to have a song that is uplifting and it makes you feel useful and giddy.
'Tuesday Night Music Club' -- your breakthrough debut album -- turned 15 not terribly long ago. What do you remember most about that time?
I remember it being a really interesting time. There was a sense of being super-inspired and also filled with angst. It was kind of a debauched time -- all of us hanging out in the seedy parts of L.A. We were talking about conspiracy theories ... it was a really eclectic time.
Describe the difference between the Sheryl then and the Sheryl of today.
The version of me now is much more fully realized. In fact, I'm older and I have gone through that period of growth. That was what that time was about, defining and redefining. And I had several occasion in my life where my experiences, my life was defined and refined. Back then, there was the idea of getting outside of myself and trying to discover who I was and what I stood for. As I got older ... everything isn't quite as black and white as it was back then. It was a lot more about navigating through the gray areas. I feel like a much freer person, much wiser. I feel like my sense of humor is fully intact, which at this point in life is really important.
You say you feel freer. Does that apply to you musically as well?
I feel a certain liberation to go about my own business when I record because the business itself has become so scattered and so without foundation that in a certain sense allows the freedom. I don't feel the need for competitiveness -- to make something that might be viewed as commercial. Everything is pop- and brand-oriented, and I feel like I'm extremely removed from this because I have that freedom; I can go and make something that I really love.
In the '90s, you interviewed your friend and fellow musician Stevie Nicks for Interview magazine. I'm going to turn some of those questions you asked her around onto you.
Oh, God [laughs].
Did you ever know that you'd be famous?
No. And she and I laughed about that because she always she knew that she would be famous. I was the kid that saw myself as a member of the Rolling Stones. I wanted to be Keith [Richards]. I wanted to be the guy who was, like, the great musician that all the other musicians looked up to. I wanted to be that person. But as I got older, I got a sense that I needed to express myself and it dictated that I wanted to be in the front.
Does it feel full circle for you then to be in the studio and sharing the stage with Keith Richards, among countless other revered musicians?
It's so absolutely crazy to me that I even know him or that he even knows my name, so yes. It's completely surreal. And to be able to call him and ask him to play on a song of mine ... I don't know how Heaven can top that.
What's the best advice that your mother ever gave you?
The best advice my mom gave me is to remember who you are at all times. It's a real challenge for all of us to remember who we are and the essence of who we are and what it is that we believe in, and kind of always be true to that.
Last one: What's your greatest fear?
Oh, wow. I have a fear that the planet that we're leaving to our kids is going to be so damaged by the time our kids grow up, they won't be able to go out and experience a beautiful summer day or be able to get into the ocean and play. They won't understand what it's like to be connected to nature because they can't.
Congratulations on your recent second adoption, speaking of kids. What do you consider to be your biggest strength as a mother?
I guess I want to say, because of what I've gone through in my life, it's my ability to not sweat that little stuff and, hopefully, my ability to be present for them: no calling, no BlackBerry, no e-mailing. When I'm with them, I'm with them.
Has Wyatt developed his own little musical taste?
He loves Lady Gaga. He loves her! When she's on the radio, he's like, "More Gaga! More Gaga!" And I have to say, "No, it doesn't work like that." "Gaga!" And then I say, "What about Sheryl Crow?" [laughs] He listens to all kinds of music all the time.
You've long said there's a goal you have in mind for listeners with each album release. What do you want people to take away from '100 Miles From Memphis'?
I wanted the album to be about vulnerability and desire. And I want people to listen to the album and experience what it's like to be emotional. It would be really good to encourage people to be interested in other people's experiences. I hope that people will, for a moment, experience just that.