Graham Nash has spent decades with his musical partners David Crosby and Stephen Stills. But now he's stepping out on his own with a new album and tour. And he says this record isn't just his best--it's also probably his last.
Graham Nash’s first solo release in 14 years, This Path Tonight, finds the 74-year-old singer meditating on a number of topics, ranging from his time with The Hollies, to the end of his 38-year marriage, to his own mortality. Nash wrote 20 songs for the album in the space of a month. Collaborating with guitarist and producer Shane Fontayne, he recorded the album in eight days.
“The second song, ‘Myself at Last,’ is the very first song that we ever tried,” he says. “That’s the first take of the first song. That’s how this session was going. It was going brilliantly.”
Nash adds that, for him, it was important the players didn’t overthink the music but instead relied on feeling.
“I really like it when they feel it deep inside,” he says. “I’m very much on the same page that Neil Young is. I love Neil’s desire to have early takes as the take. When you’ve sung the song 300 times, you’re not singing it; you’re just mouthing the words, trying to get it right, technically. But I’m all for first takes. If you get the emotional feeling on the first take, why bother doing other takes?”
Listeners will hear familiar hallmarks of Nash’s music, but he also breaks new ground along the way, something he signals in the record’s first cut.
“That’s why we start with, [sings] ‘Where are we going?'” he says.
Throughout, Nash and his band take the listener through a variety of emotional and musical settings, including on the song “Target,” which he says started when Fontayne bought a new instrument. Nash says he was immediately reminded of his old friend Joni Mitchell’s music as they began shaping the song.
“Obviously, when you travel from city to city, you get your favorite places to go to, your museums or your art galleries and stuff. And Shane, because he’s a brilliant musician, always goes to guitar stores. He found this bouzouki kind of strange instrument,” he says. “And the minute that he started to play chords on that I realized that it kind of echoed Joni’s album Blue with her dulcimer work. He started playing the opening bars, and I liked it enough to write lyrics, and we finished the song.”
The album closes with “Encore,” one of many songs on This Path Tonight that finds the singer attempting to answer unanswerable questions.
“It asks a very basic question, which [is], ‘Who are you when the lights are all out? Who are you when the last song is sung? Who are you when the last show has been played? Are you a decent person? Do you want to the universe or do you want to take away? Who are you?’" Nash says. "And I’m talking to myself, of course, but I’m talking to you also. Who are you when you finish your job in the afternoon, and you go home to your family and kids, if you have a family and kids? Who are you?”
Nash says that This Path Tonight will most likely be his final studio album. Knowing that, he says he wanted to go out on a high note, a record that would celebrate the art of the album. He adds that he learned about the craft of making albums by watching two of his peers, Beach Boy Brian Wilson and late Beatles John Lennon.
“I think it was Lennon who said, ‘Why does an album just have to be a collection of A sides and B sides to make money for the record company and the band in a cheap way? Why can’t an album be a journey?’ After that, Brian Wilson heard Rubber Soul and did Pet Sounds and The Beatles heard Pet Sounds and did SGT. Pepper it was obvious that the form of an album had changed dramatically. Now it was possible to create a journey with an album, musically,” he says. “Which is what Shane and I did with This Path Tonight.”
Graham Nash performs Saturday evening at the Stiefel Theatre in Salina.
Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.
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