Interview: Graham Nash
Nash Discusses His Latest Live Album, Live Songs For Beginners, Wild Tales
The podcast appeared at The Vinyl District on June 27, 2022.
Sometimes, in order to go forward, you must first take a look at your past. Graham Nash has a rich and undoubtedly storied history behind him and he has recently released a live album titled, Graham Nash: Live which features him performing his first two albums - Songs for Beginners (1971) and Wild Tales (1973) - in their entirety. Mr. Nash will also be performing at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ on July 13th.
Nash, however, has often focused on the future and shows no signs of slowing down. While he’s excited about this new live release, he’s also recently published A Life in Focus: The Photography of Graham Nash which showcases his longtime affair with photography. And, as we learn in this interview, he’s just completed a brand new solo album which is due to be released in early 2023.
But in this chat, Graham and I talk about why he chose to revisit his first two solo albums and the experience of retracing the footsteps he made nearly a half-century ago. Of course, we also discuss the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, making long-term musical relationships work and how you can’t really envision where you’re going, unless you know where you’ve been.
Evan Toth So we're here today to discuss your new album Graham Nash live, but also your upcoming appearance. I'm I'm in New Jersey, you're going to be at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank on July 13. That's very exciting. And the show features you to first solo albums played in their entirety. And what's the thinking of, you know, behind revisiting these two albums, specifically now 50 years later?
Graham Nash Well, this this is a live live album we're talking about. I did four shows where I came out and did songs for beginners from start to finish, and then took an intermission and then did wild tale start to finish. So the show that you're gonna see on the 13th is not that show, I will be playing some of the songs from that live record. Because I haven't, I haven't done some of those songs ever or not in 50 years. So, it was it was a delight. Mainly, at the encouragement of my wife, Amy Grantham, who is a wonderful artist. And she wanted to see that show. "I want to go and see that show, you got to put that together." And so, Shane Fontayne, my guitar player and Todd Caldwell, who lives in Brooklyn here and my keyboard player, put together a band that some of them I'd never met before. And we only rehearsed for a week. And then we did the four shows. And I chose the best performances of the of the songs from those four shows. And that's what the live album is. And apart from two small mistakes that I made myself, one on electric piano, and one on on my harmonica. There are no overdubs on the record at all. It's exactly as it was,
Evan Toth Which I love. I love that about live albums. I don't like when they're tinkered with too much. But Songs for Beginners and Wild Tales, both of which I wish I had cleaner copies. Frankly, my two are a little...
Graham Nash ...they're a little...you have to rebuy them.
Evan Toth Well, I feel like they're both right for a remastered audiophile release. Have you guys talked about that with these two?
Graham Nash Yes, there is one of certainly for Songs for Beginners.
Evan Toth Yeah, Classic Records, I think did it a long time ago. But I think the other one could use it too. But, you know, those were your only two solo albums until you released Earth and Sky in 1980. And you were making music, of course during that time. But, why the long gap between solo albums during those seven years at that time?
Graham Nash I think basically, what happens to me is that I have a bunch of songs, and you know, some of them, the three, or the four of us have this kind of unspoken rule that that we only do a song that that everybody likes, right? We've all got to like the song before we can really put our heart and soul into it. And so I had a bunch of songs. And that time, CSN was still recording and CSNY was still recording. And it was just a long time in between, in between Wild Tales and Earth and Sky. But I just had a bunch of songs that I needed to get out of my system, you know, so I could get on with the new new stuff, clearing my memory getting room for new songs. And that's what happened. And that's why there was such a long gap.
Evan Toth Do you connect with these albums differently playing them in their entirety nowadays? Does it give you a different immersion into the person that you were in the early 1970s? Do you still identify with who that that person was?
Graham Nash I do on some Songs for Beginners, I was in a pretty happy state of mind. And then, you know, Wild Tales, you can tell I was kind of depressed. It's a much darker record.
Evan Toth You look very funky on this album cover for sure. You're not a happy guy over here.
Graham Nash That's right. And that's one of the reasons why Atlantic took a year to put it out. They didn't they didn't want this record.
Evan Toth But it's funny, and I'd heard that, you sort of think of that record, as you know, you were in a kind of a funk at the time. But if you listened to the album and don't know that. I think there's so much vitality in these two albums. And you can really, if you didn't know that, I think you might not catch it. You've got the sort of uplifting Joni, back cover there. But what great albums, both of them really.
Graham Nash I appreciate that. Yeah, I really did enjoy singing. Because, you know, I owe it to my fans to sing every song. You know how many times I've sung "Teach Your Children" and "Our House", right? I want to sing them with the same passion I had when I wrote those songs, because I think my audience deserve it, particularly after this COVID lockdown. You know, a lot of people saved their actual tickets and to me that meant hope. Right? That meant yes, today the concert has been canceled, but I hope it's gonna get better tomorrow. And that's a great attitud e to have. So I owe it to my audience. Two things. One, they need to know that I want to be there. I'm not going to phone it in. I'm not going to have dancing girls, you know, throwing food in slow motion. It's gonna be me and my songs sung the best way I can. Obviously, accompanied by Shane Fontaine on guitar. And Todd Caldwell when on keyboards.
Evan Toth In revisiting these two albums. As I was listening to them in preparation for this interview again, after after a few years, it feels to me like if there were a young songwriter right now, they would saw off their right arm to release two albums like these in this year. You know, what do you think about the fact that after 50 years, the style and the arrangements of these albums have endured so much; you could definitely hear some kind of indie performer indie songwriter coming up with a sound very similar to this.
Graham Nash Absolutely. I often wondered why people really loved some songs in particular, and I realized that it was very simple. It was very direct. It was very human, you know? And I've always tried to, you know, I don't want to waste your time playing in a song that sucks, right? What's the point of that? Right? So time is our only currency. It's the only thing that we really have. I mean, even Bill Gates like I said, in my book, even Zuckerberg can't buy a second time. You know, so time is really important to me. And I don't want to waste any of it. So I don't want to waste it by singing you a song that the sucks. And I don't want to waste my time either.
Evan Toth A common thread of a lot of interviews that I've conducted with bands who have been together for a long time is how they maintain a positive relationship within the group for an extended period of time, much like a marriage. And it's been said that you're often the glue that keeps some of these groups together. What advice would you offer? You know, or maybe you've been in a position to sort of give advice to someone to another long standing group, given your experiences with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, what's the key to band longevity?
Graham Nash I want to get the job done. Right. And I'm English, we survived two world wars within 75 years, from the same enemy. And when you've made through two world wars, give me a real problem. Don't complain that your tea is not hot enough, you know, give me a real problem. And today, I always want you to get the job done. If we're making an album, let's do it the best way we can. If we're singing this particular song, let's put our heart and soul into it. Let's get the job done.
Evan Toth But other people's perceptions are different. You know, they they don't, they may not see it that way. And it may be complicated, but obviously you were a very good diplomat for a long time being able to sort of get people to see that.
Graham Nash Well, I had already been in a hit group for six or seven years before I ever met David and Steven, right. I'd already been through the screaming fans, this fans ripping your shirt off, you know, tightening your tie and pulling it and nearly choking you to death. I'd already been through all that. So it was no big deal for me. Even when Crosby and I played "Guinevere" with one acoustic guitar and two voices to 500,000 people at Woodstock, it was no big deal for me, I'd already been through all that. So it stood me in good stead, you know. And once again, doesn't matter how much we we don't like each other or we stab each other in the back or what however you want to put it. The music is the most important part of our relationship by far.
Evan Toth It's interesting reading your story online, at least which whoever knows what's real online. But when you were in the Hollies, you were the, as you just mentioned, you know, you remember this band, you were the person who wanted to explore new musical horizons, while it seemed the others were more focused on, you know, making pop music and doing what worked for you guys at the time. So you left to start the new group. But take us back to those days. And it interests me how hard it must have been to take that risk of leaving a very successful band with the ambition to create something else successful. And it reminds me of young people now, you know, deciding to leave maybe one job for another but fearing that they won't be as successful in the new endeavor. But do you remember that time of your life that that time, that risk, that feeling?
Graham Nash Of course I do. When David and Stephen and I first sang together in Joni's living room. All those years ago, I realized a couple of things. One that my life had changed completely. And two, I would have to go back to England and leave the Hollies. And people thought I was absolutely crazy. Why are you leaving a bloody hit group will hit records and all those girls and all that money, are you daft? But I'm a musician. I have to follow my heart. And when I heard me and David and Steven, turn our three voices into one and create this harmony sound that neither the Byrds or the Hollies or the Springfield could match. I knew that my life had changed. And I knew that I would have to go back and undo everything. And I did. And I took a giant chance. But I had heard the possibility of what me and David and Steven could do. Because not only did we have an incredible harmony sound, we had the songs and therefore we knew that we were on good firm ground.
Evan Toth You knew you just it was in your gut. You said this is something I can't pass up.
Graham Nash That's right. That's one of the reasons why you and I are talking right now.
Evan Toth That's right. As I said, both of your albums, aside from the fact that they are in lousy condition, they sound really great. But how do you feel about formats nowadays? You know, we talk a lot about records here. Do you have nostalgia about vinyl now? Or have you embraced digital? Do you care? Is it something that you think about?
Graham Nash Well, you have to embrace digital, that's the train I saw coming when I started Nash Editions, my printing company in 1989. I realized what was happening and that we had to either get on the train or get run over by the train. I do prefer vinyl always have done. The new live album is mainly on vinyl. I wanted it that way. And that's why it took about a year to bring out because that you know there's an incredible increase in the demand for vinyl now. And you have to wait even even huge artists, people like Beyonce have to wait to get vinyl so that they can put out their records in the best sounding quality.
Evan Toth And on that front you know another big bit of news for you is that you recently published your collection of photography a life and focus the photography of Graham Nash and I was fascinated to learn about your history with photography and in fact, your involvement in developing methods to more accurately print computer generated art and photography. And today just like with music, like we're talking about, with music, almost all photography is digital. Do you feel a nostalgia for analog with photography? Are there any common threads between music and photography that you think about?
Graham Nash There are certain threads, you know, I can look at a photograph of, say, a beautiful shot of "Yosemite" by Ansel Adams. And when I look into the clouds, I can imagine violas and violins playing. When I look at the dark areas where all the tree roots are, I can imagine bases playing and cellos playing, I can imagine music when I look at a photograph. I don't think any one photograph has ever influenced my music. But I can certainly imagine music when I'm looking at great images. And as you as you say, I started Nash Editions in '89 and that first printer is now in the Smithsonian.
Evan Toth Yeah, that's unbelievable. And I, you know, I'm of a certain age, so I take for granted a lot of photography. And of course, posters and now we have digital billboards and everything nowadays, but I didn't realize how involved you were in that. It kind of blew my mind: oh, the concept that you can create something on a screen and it looks a certain wa, but there was a time when you couldn't quite print that thing. It just lived on a screen.
Graham Nash Right. And I need to get it off the screen to be able to show you. That's how Nash Editions started really. A friend of mine, Charlie Wehrenberg, who was a scientist who lives in San Francisco, said, "hey, have you ever seen this Fuji printing machine?" And so he put me in charge of trying to find this Fuji printing machine and I actually ended up with a man called John John Belloite, who was running that Fuji printer, who then said to me, "you know, this Fuji is not it. The Iris 3047 is the machine you want." And that machine changed my life. When I saw what would that was doing, I realized that it could print photographs absolutely brilliantly. And as I said, that first printing machine is now in the Smithsonian.
Evan Toth As you may know, Judee Sill and her music has recently gained in tremendous popularity. And I'm a big fan of her music and you know you produced what was I guess her most successful single "Jesus Was a Cross Maker". Can you share any memories of working with Judy and what you think about the fact that her music has recently found a new audience?
Graham Nash One of the reasons why Judy's music is being reappreciated now is that she's a damn fine writer. She was always very quiet. She opened up a tour for me and Crosby at one point. So we traveled a lot together. She was very sharp witted, her sense of humor was very dark. She knew that she was a person writing music that was not like anybody else's. And as a matter of fact, after that tour was finished, I gave her my acoustic guitar.
Evan Toth That Martin, is it like for sale or something right now?
Graham Nash Yes, it is. Yeah.
Evan Toth I don't know who who has possession of it right now.
Graham Nash I don't either. But I gave it to Judy, because she was great.
Evan Toth Yeah, she is great. Those records are are fantastic. Well, listen back to the live album, you know, Graham Nash: Live it was recorded prior to the pandemic as as we were talking about before and you know, what was it like sort of finishing that up and then getting that the new album ready, I guess you did it during the pandemic. And now now here we are, but obviously, how disruptive was the pandemic to you personally?
Graham Nash It wasn't disruptive at all. I don't go to parties. I don't go to you know, stadiums where 80,000 people are watching somebody kick a ball around or throw a ball. I'm not one of those people. So it didn't really affect me that much. Fortunately, I like to stay in my apartment. I like to be writing every day. I write. I like to be making photographs and images every day. So it turned out okay for me. When I listened to the four shows, and I chose the best version of each song I realized quite quickly that, boy, this could be a really nice live album, because the band played beautifully. We all sang well together. There are no words on the live album, I welcome everybody and say we're going to do Songs for Beginners and then at the end of Wild Tales, I say good night to everybody. But there's no talking in between. It's just the music exactly in the same order as the records.
Evan Toth And I caught your whiff of the plans. It sounds like you've got a new album in the works.
Graham Nash Yes, I do. It's all finished. It is being mastered as we speak.
Evan Toth So that's exciting. When do we think you will expect that?
Graham Nash I think, you know, because of the live record and the promotion we're putting into that and into the book. I think this record won't come out until maybe early next year. That sounds like a long way off, but it's only six months,
Evan Toth Well, until then I will have to busy myself with with the rest of your catalog here. I have plenty to keep me busy. And Mr. Nash I really appreciate your time today and it's really a pleasure speaking with you and thank you for all the the beautiful music you've made over the years and congrats on this live album and your photography work and congrats on your new album in six months.
Graham Nash Thank you very much, Evan. Peace.