Interview: Sheryl Crow on Her Collaborative Final Album, ‘Threads’
photo by Dove Shore
Sheryl Crow’s new album is both a culmination and a celebration. Before releasing Threads, Crow indicated that this would be her final LP and, to this end, she enlisted a range of celebrated collaborators to join her on each of the record’s 17 tracks. Those guests include longtime stars such as Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Willie Nelson and Keith Richards, along with more recent additions to the firmament like Lucius, Chris Stapleton, Andra Day and Maren Morris. It’s also worthy of note that Crow is not suggesting that she will give up recording new music altogether; she just no longer expects to present her songs in extended-album form.
Was there a particular moment or a specific song that led you to approach your new album as you did?
It started with Austin City Limits Celebrates 40 Years. I was on that and so was Kris Kristofferson, who’s been a longtime friend and mentor. He’s a huge inspiration to me, as a songwriter, a person and a friend. I went in and did some recordings of his songs for him in Austin—really just for the future of owning his masters. It struck me how important these moments are, where you can share your artistry and your love of making music with those people who have been such huge and important fixtures in your life. So I came back and felt like I wanted more of that, especially as I’m getting older. I’ve been doing this now for nearly 30 years, and I just started calling people and asking them if they would collaborate—if we could create more of these moments. My next call was to Stevie Nicks, and then it just grew and grew. During the course of about three and a half years, off and on, we collected all of these moments and made a record out of them.
While you’ve had a long history with many of the artists on Threads, some of the musicians are relatively recent acquaintances.
My influences have been so important to me—I practically wear them on my sleeve. I rarely take a compliment from anyone without saying, “Well, I listened to a lot of so and so.” I’m proud of my musical references, and since this is what I consider to be my final artistic statement—as a whole statement—there is a lot of history there. But there’s also a lot of looking forward to the fact that there are great, young artists out there who are continuing to make music in the tradition of what I grew up loving and listening to. And, I enjoy going to see them live. I’ve gotten to know a lot of those people in the last five years from the Outlaw tour, as well as from just checking out young artists and developing relationships with them. It’s a natural progression.
Mavis Staples not only appears on Threads, but you also performed at her 80th birthday celebration in Nashville. Can you talk about your connection with her?
To me, she’s much bigger than just music. She’s someone I look at as a testament to the fact that music has mattered historically. It does make a difference, and it can really galvanize people—it can a give voice to not only a generation, but also to each of us singularly. It’s like Carlos Santana says: “You change the molecules.” She’s from that tradition, along with her whole family. It was such a thrill for me to get to meet her a few years ago on the Restore Sanity gig that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert did in D.C. We started up a little friendship, and I asked her if she would sing with me.
Then, of course, there’s Bonnie [Raitt], who’s basically the stepchild of Mavis. She is also like my godmom because I saw her when I was 17, and she was playing a guitar. I hadn’t seen that before, from a woman, really. So I looked at her and I thought, “Wait a minute—that’s what I want to do. I don’t want to be behind a piano. I want to be able to stand up there and play the guitar like a man.”
You’ve been touring with Heart this summer. Ann and Nancy Wilson have inspired generations of musicians in a similar way that you and Bonnie have.
Those two women were huge in my early musical life—Nancy as much as Ann. Nancy was the guitar player in a mostly male band, and her sister, Ann, still sings unbelievably. I’m loving being out there with them and I love the fact that they are inviting females to be on their bill. As much fun as it is for me to open for them, it’s also really fun for me to get to witness some great young artists like Elle King and Lucie Silvas. It’s a cool bill, and the audience is great—they seem to really love and appreciate music and are enjoying themselves. It’s been really inspiring.
You’ve indicated that Threads represents the last time that you will present music in an album format. People tend to receive and engage music in a very different way than they did even a decade ago. Is some of your thought process related to that?
Not some of it—all of it. You spend a lot of time, emotion and money creating a body of work that you hope has a journey through it—a beginning, a middle and an end—and people are not going to hear it that way. In fact, they may only hear one song off of it, if you’re lucky—and it just seems archaic at this point, to me. It would be like me writing a tweet, and then holding on to it until next year, when I have 16 tweets to put out. And, by the time I put it out, it’s not going to matter to anybody anyway; it’s not going to be relevant.
I feel that way because I’ve had the luxury of growing up with albums. I’ve also had the luxury of making albums, and basing a career on not just the pop hits but also the album cuts, so it feels necessary for me to put that away—and to not mourn the loss of that, but to celebrate it with this album.
This article originally appears in the September 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more, subscribe here.