Interview: Graham Nash
Having spent much of his life in two of the world’s biggest bands, he’s enjoying some time on his own
Despite being a name that most will know, Graham Nash is still synonymous with the music he has created with his groups The Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young, from time to time). His recent live performances have afforded him the opportunity to strip back some of his best-loved compositions and reclaim them, almost as if they were solo songs.
That same ethos is there on new album, Over The Years, which presents a remastered selection of his work alongside the original demo recordings. Once again, without the lush production and bandmates, it’s another chance to enjoy these tunes in their purest form and reappreciate the man who created them.
We recently caught up with Nash to talk about his upcoming shows, new album and the troubles facing Trump’s America…
With such a large body of work, how do you decide upon your setlist?
“I tend to do it like this… I realise that people spend their very hard-earned money to come and see me and they’re expecting to hear certain things. They’re expecting to hear Our House and Teach Your Children and I know that and so I try and put myself in the same emotional state that I was in when I wrote those songs. That’s how I’m able to sing them night after night and not get totally pissed off. I then have a skeleton for the show, because I know the 10 songs that they definitely want to hear and will be disappointed if they didn’t. I’ve got about 25 songs in my set, so I now have 15 songs to figure out what I would like to play. One of the great things about the small intimate places that I’m playing in is that I get to do what I want to do. I don’t have to ask David or Stephen or Neil anything and it’s very freeing in a way. I’m enjoying these tours tremendously.
“I want my audience to know two things. One, I want to be there for them. It’s not like I’m going through the motions or I’m phoning it in. I want to be there and my audience know it. And the second thing I want is to see them smiling on the way out. That’s when I know that I’ve done my job as a musician.”
Is there a third desire, a little bit of education into songs that they might not know were written by you?
“Absolutely. There’s one line from a song on my new record called Myself At Last, ‘Is my future just my past?’ and what I meant by that is that there are a lot of people who know Graham Nash but there are a lot of people that don’t know me other than as part of CSN or CSNY but I don’t want to be that anymore. I know what we did, I know we were a damn fine rock ‘n’ roll band with some very interesting songs to sing, but that part of my life is over. So I don’t want to be trapped by my past and I’m finding that when I take all the songs down to the very essence of how they were written with either an acoustic guitar or simple piano you know pretty soon whether or not you’ve got a good song or not because the audience will respond and let you know exactly how they feel about it. That’s one of the things I love about these small theatres. I can see their eyes, I can see if I’m getting through.”
How hard is it to strip those tracks back?
“It’s not hard at all because I realised that I’ve written some pretty decent songs in my life. And that’s nice to know.”
Do these shows also give you a chance to fix a song and make them closer to how you perhaps wanted them to be originally?
“I’ll never sing a song that I don’t like, what the fuck is the point of that? I do make it slightly different every night, I change the rhythm and the structure but I know that they want to hear Our House in its purest form. I have a new record that’s about to come out called Over The Years and it has 15 of my most popular songs and 15 of the demos of those songs, so you can hear me do Teach Your Children on an acoustic guitar in 1968 having just heard the record of it that CSN made in 1969.”
Do you enjoy going back and listening to those old songs?
“I don’t think ‘enjoy’ is the right word. I discover little jewels that I had forgotten about that I then want to sing that night and very often we make left turns on our setlist. Quite frankly, the setlist is only a sheet of paper to annoy our crew because we never stick to it. But I’m having a great time on these tours. I feel appreciated, I feel loved, I feel understood. I’m having a good time.”
When writing a song, does it ever come into your head that you might still be singing it five decades later?
“Well now I know that, after all these years, but in the early years you were doing it day-to-day. You count yourself lucky if you were still writing and still creating, I never thought in 1969 that I would still be singing in 2018, I didn’t realise that at all. Don’t forget, you weren’t supposed to trust anybody over 30. But now I’m 76.”
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