Far from being crippled, the Crow is back, and she’s sowing the seeds of melodies in her garden of Wildflower.
She’s won nine Grammys, acted on the big screen and has notched up 14 years in the singer-songwriter business, hooking up with Lance Armstrong along the way.
What keeps a star like Sheryl interested and interesting for so long? Maybe the old adage is true after all – age shall not wither…
“I have to ask these young girls, who are doing practically porn videos, iftheir moms don’t care!” wonders Sheryl Crow, who never had to live throughthe Curse of the Female Artist’s Image. “I guess their moms are making abunch of money off it. But it’s definitely not empowering, and that beganwith Madonna.”
The singer-songwriter is surprised at how fast the musicworld has changed since her beginnings in the early ’90s, predicting shortcareers for them. She should know. There are singers who reign above therest for a year, three max. There are those whom we forget as soon as weflip over the tabloid page. Then there are those who leave a lasting imprinton the history of music and go on to inspire a whole new generation ofsongstresses. Chrissie Hynde and Joni Mitchell have a spiritual lil’ sisternamed Sheryl Crow. No point in introducing her anymore (nor her fianc,you-know-who). The nine-time Grammy winner started out as a backing vocalistfor Michael Jackson before going solo and arguably gaining more credibility than her erstwhile employer.
- Sheryl Crow, growing older and broodier.
After releasing a Best Of in 2003 and appearing in the Cole Porter biopic,De-Lovely (“It’s over!” she says of her acting career), Sheryl Crow is backwith a collection of melodies on her latest album Wildflower, influenced byher newfound maturity and Neil Young’s epic album, Harvest.
“I know when itcame out that it signaled the end of the first half of my creative life,”she says of her greatest hits album, “and I just thought that because it wassuccessful, it gave me the opportunity to take a little time and write newsongs that were slightly in a different direction, as opposed to justrewriting the same Soak Up the Sun. There was no pressure to get on theradio.”
With 11 heavily acoustic-drenched, piano-laden tracks, Wildflower is alsothe prospect of what maturity may bring as youth is shed. Not that she looksher fortysomething self or anything. In fact, Sheryl looks a lot better thanher younger peers like “Britney Spears and these very young girls with bigboobs!”
- Sheryl Crow, on her role at a geopolitically uncertain time.
Maybe it’s because when she was starting out, “image was a curse. Itwas the one thing you didn’t want to be concentrating on ‘cos it made youlook like you weren’t credible.” That gave her the “freedom to just writeartistically,” but at one point, she didn’t know what to write aboutany more. Enter some advice from Chrissie Hynde while Sheryl was recordingher C’mon C’mon album.
“I guess I couldn’t figure out any more how to finisha song, and I think part of it was that I was really exhausted and tryinghard to make some sort of artistic statement. I needed to take a break, andshe said, ‘You can stop, you can quit and come back to it, because music isnot your life. It’s something that you do in your life.’”
Enter the BigFour-O and George Bush. “Now that I’ve taken time away and I’m older and theworld is in such a chaotic state, I feel really lucky that I get theopportunity to give voice to some of the confusion.” According to Sheryl,getting older “informs what you’re writing,” even though Soak Up the Sunwas a political song hidden behind some happy-poppy tune.
The record is stripped away from its pop, happy-go-lucky elements and tingedwith strong socio-political content. Oh, and a certain champion bicyclerider. “A couple of major circumstances influenced this record, one ofwhich was meeting Lance and starting a new relationship… compounded withwhat was going on in the world.” Spending a lot of time in Europe withArmstrong also proved to be an eye-opener. “In Europe, you’re getting thenews and you’re getting a pretty good idea of what people in Europe thinkabout the United States.”
America’s Bible Belt has also inspired Crow to askquestions that many would simply answer as an excuse for the quest for blackoil. “Letter To God is influenced by this massive religious movementthat’s going on in the States and how prevalent it’s become in dictating onpolicy. And really, the whole thing is about whose god is the right god…and then, in the middle of that, you have the greed factor with the oil.”
Butthe album is also hopeful enough to allow flowers to still grow. “Thestrongest theme on the record is that no matter how much chaos there is,there’s still beauty that grows, whether it’s life or my little relationshipin the middle of this crazy chaos in the world, or whether it’s a flowergrowing in the crack of a sidewalk, that it is there and you just have to beconscious.”
- Sheryl Crow on Neil Young.
As for her musical influences on Wildflower, Sheryl cites Neil Young‘sopus. “When I’m getting ready top make a record, I gravitate back to thetried-and-true singer-songwriters. He manages to make you feel like he’ssinging to you,” she says of Young. “It’s really about his voice and hiswords and his melodies.” Her influences also range “all the way back to the’60s and even Willie Nelson.”
But it proved to be harder work than sherealised. “A song that sounds simple is just not that easy to write. One ofthe objectives of this record was to try and write melodies that continue toresonate.” And when I tell her she reminds me of JoniMitchell on this record, she is overcome. “Oh God, thank you! She’s royaltyas far as songwriting goes.”
One of the few remaining female rock icons herself, Sheryl is surprised ather status. “I’ve only been making records since 1991, and when you look atthe long-standing careers of people like Joni, it’s not very long. But ifyou look at the careers people are having today, it’s a lot. I’m like themom of all these young chickadees!”