From the opening notes of the yearning "I Know Why," it’s immediately evident that Wildflower – Crow’s first new full-length release in three years – is a dramatic new direction for the nine-time Grammy winner. The Missouri-born singer-songwriter is celebrated as one of our last true rock stars, and there was every reason to believe that her blossoming relationship with one of the world’s greatest athletes would result in more light-hearted, up-tempo hits like "Soak Up the Sun" and "All I Wanna Do." Instead, though, the new album is a collection of intimate, introspective compositions, heavy on string arrangements rather than guitar solos.
Since exploding onto the global pop stage in 1993 with the multi-platinum ‘Tuesday Night Music Club’ album, the one-time music teacher and studio vocalist has continued working at a breakneck pace.
Q: WHAT’S DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS ALBUM SHERYL?
“I wanted to reveal more of myself on this record and I didn’t have any trepidation about doing that. At this point in my life, I really wanted to make a record that wasn’t concerned with having singles; that felt mature and asked the questions that a 40 year old would ask.”
Q: IN YOUR LAST ALBUM, THE MUSIC ENCOUNTERED WAS MORE LIGHT-HEARTED, UPTEMPO HITS LIKE ‘SOAK UP THE SUN’ AND ‘ALL I WANNA DO’ INSTEAD THE NEW ALBUM IS A COLLECTION OF INTIMATE, HEAVY ON STRING ARRANGEMENTS RATHER THAN GUITAR SOLOS. WHAT DO YOU THINK?
“The success of my 2003 ‘Very Best of Sheryl Crow’ album (which included her smash version of Cat Stevens’s ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’) paved the way for ‘Wildflower’. That gave me a great opportunity to step back say, OK, what do I want to do next? ‘The Best of’ was really the end of a chapter in my artistic life, and this is like my first record.”
Q: THE RELEASE OF EACH NEW ALBUM FOR YOU LED IMMEDIATELY TO THE ROAD, HOW ABOUT THE RARE TIME-OFF IN BETWEEN?
“The time- off between the releases of my albums was filled with collaborations with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Kid Rock to Willie Nelson. After an extensive tour that followed the ‘Best of ‘album, I made the decision to pull myself out of the fast lane and regroup. I gave myself the gift of time- off to reflect, to observe life for a little bit, and to get recommitted to the idea of collecting stories and living life before I sat down to write. I packed my bags, some guitars and a tape recorder and went to
Q: HOW DID IT FEEL TO BE AWAY FROM HOME AND WHAT DID THIS EXPERIENCE ADD TO SHERYL CROW?
“Leaving home, being in a place that was unfamiliar, a country where I don’t speak the language, being alone a lot and observing the chaos of the world—all that stuff influenced the record. There’s a song about what’s happening in the religious movements in the world, asking questions about who’s right and who’s wrong. Or I’d watch the news in
Q: When you saw the world in a different way, was that the reason why there was an obvious change in the Lyrics of "Wildflower"?
“From the confessional ‘Lifetimes’ to the challenging ‘Letter to God’ my writing explores brave new territory. My last album, ‘C’mon C’mon’, was a deliberate evocation of classic 60’s and 70’s rock; Wildflower pursues a very different sound, but returns to some of the values that the best music of that era expressed. The title song and ‘Where Has All the Love Gone’ are, for me, the cornerstones of this record. They both speak to the idea that we have power, and we have to find the innocence in ourselves, and the strength to be awake. I think in many ways, there’s been an incredible movement in everything from music to politics.”
Q: WHY DIDN’T YOU PRODUCE THE NEW ALBUM YOURSELF?
“The album was produced by my frequent associates Jeff Shanks and John Trott (I didn’t want to produce myself—it’s too much work!), and it was by far the most pleasant recording experience of my career. ‘C’mon C’mon’ was a difficult record for me to make. I was turning 40, music was changing, it was all Britney and Christina and lots of beats, and I was really struggling with how to stay relevant. So I knew I didn’t want to have that experience again.”
Q: HOW WAS WORKING CLOSELY WITH YOUR PRODUCERS AND STRING ARRANGER DAVID CAMPBELL, DID IT HELP BRING A NEW APPROACH TO THE WILDFLOWER SESSIONS?
“Instead of my usual method of writing in the studio, I arrived with songs more or less complete and ready to go. I went in and recorded three or four songs, and then took a month and didn’t think about it. And then I’d have some more songs and go in and record those. And the next thing I knew, the album was done. Most of my records, it’s been hair-pulling and gnashing of teeth and tears and phone calls to the therapist. This wasn’t even remotely like that—the whole record went smoothly and without conflict.”
Q: WHAT ARE THE INPUTS YOU USED FOR DEVELOPING IDEAS FOR YOUR NEW ALBUM ‘WILDFLOWER’?
“Whenever I begin a new album, I use a handful of albums as a "template" to help define the project. My choices this time around are telling. I looked to Neil Young’s ‘Harvest’ for its sense of intimacy, and to Elton John’s ‘Tumbleweed Connection’, for its "down-hominess". The other classic I referenced was ‘
Q: THERE IS ANOTHER SHADOW PRESENT ON THIS ALBUM, CAN YOU EXPLAIN?
“Of course, there’s another shadow present on this album, and that’s the very famous man in my life, Lance Armstrong. Lance was kind of my sounding- board, and it’s the first time I’ve experienced that in a relationship. It really made it fun to be home just writing songs, it felt extremely organic. ‘Wildflower’ is being released just a few months after Armstrong’s historic seventh consecutive victory in the Tour de France—and the timing is no accident.”
Q: HOW DO YOU COMPROMISE LANCE’S CONTINUOUS
“The record’s been done since February but we sat down and made the decision to put it out in September so that I could be there for the race because I really wanted to be there, it’s the end of a big career for him. I embraced not just a person, but a whole life that for two years was about accomplishing this mission. So I didn’t want to be wishing I was in two places at once while this record was out, because this record means a lot to me.”
Q: THE RELEASE OF ‘WILDFLOWER’ WILL BE FOLLOWED BY A TOUR THAT’S REFLECTIVE OF THE ALBUM’S MOOD. HOW IS THAT GOING TO HAPPEN?
“We’re going to do a handful of dates with the band and a string section. We’ll do the album in its entirety, and then we’ll come back and do the familiar, bigger songs with strings. It’s going to be an evening of music, not a big rock show—more intimate, more theatrical, and for me, a nice departure from going out in a pair of leather jeans to rock the house.”
Q: THE TONE OF ‘WILDFLOWER’ MAY BE BITTER-SWEET, BUT YOUR FEELINGS ABOUT YOUR NEW ALBUM ARE PURE BLISS.
“It’s the only record I’ve ever made where when the album was finished, I didn’t go back and say ‘we need this’ or ‘we need that,’. I stand behind all my work, but my other records I love as red-headed stepchildren—because by the time you’ve finished them, you have so many different relationships to the experience of recording them. But this one, I can just listen to it and feel proud of the leap that I’ve made as a songwriter.”