The Acoustic Storm Interviews
Graham Nash first became known for his work with the British band the Hollies. In 1968, he joined forces with Stephen Stills and David Crosby to form CSN.
Nash’s solo career began in 1971 with the release of “Songs for Beginners.” His first album in 16 years, “Songs for Survivors” was came out in 2002.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Why did you name your album “Songs for Survivors?”
NASH: I truly have a right to think I’m a survivor at this point. I mean, my goodness, I cut my first hit record in 1963 for God’s sake. I also think that 9/11 brought everything on the album into focus, even though the album was finished before 9/11. My songwriting about how valuable husbands and wives and children are, and families and friends, is all very relevant and it was all just brought into sharp focus.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What are the main differences between Graham Nash solo albums and tours and CSNY albums and tours?
NASH: The first thing that’s different is that I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do anything. It’s nice not have to get decisions out of three, sometimes four people which can be like pulling teeth. So the amount of control that I have over what I’m doing is better for me as a solo artist. I do enjoy being a member of a band and that’s why I (generally) don’t do solo albums. I only do solo albums when songs are screaming at me to be let out of my mind.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Is music the main reason that CSNY has been able to stay together after all these years?
NASH: It’s the only thing that’s kept us together, and we’re very fortunate about that. We have been through our changes as individuals and as bands. Sometimes it’s been really rough and sometimes it’s been really wonderful, but it’s always been worth it. And no matter what we’ve been going through, the three of us, or the four of us, or any of us individually, we still feel that we’ve been lucky that we’re able to be making music. Especially with CSNY, what did we do, 83 or 84 basketball arenas? The love coming back from our audience to us was just overwhelming. Those two tours were both musically satisfying and economically good, too.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Your harmonies with David Crosby and Stephen Stills are such a vital part of the group’s sound. Why do you think you guys mesh so well, vocally?
NASH: It’s really interesting, because there’s never really been any serious discussion amongst me David and Stephen about what we do with our harmonies. It just seems to be a very natural thing to do, and I think it’s also an unspoken thing, too. It’s not like we actually sit down and plan what we’re going to do. We just do each song the best way we know how. Sometimes it’s me up on top, sometimes it’s David and sometimes it’s Stephen even. We very rarely discuss what it is that we’re going to do before we do it.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Is that part of the magic of it?
NASH: I think so, because even we surprise ourselves. When no one is telling me what to do, I feel free to improvise and in most cases, that’s when the best music comes out.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Let’s talk about a couple of the classic acoustic-rock songs you’ve written with CSNY. “Our House” has a nice warm, cozy, life-giving feel to it.
NASH: Yeah, one day Joni (Mitchell) and I had been for breakfast at a delicatessen in the valley, in Los Angeles. And next door there was an antique store that had this beautiful vase in its window, and Joni was looking at it. She was always very frugal with her money, and doesn’t spend money unwisely, but she really loved this vase and went and bought it. We took it home, and I said ‘you know, while you’re putting flowers in that vase I’ll light a fire.’ I thought, why my God, that’s a completely normal kind of a situation for a couple, and the song just came out of that kind of feeling.
ACOUSTIC STORM: “Teach Your Children” has a life of its own and can relate to the present day. What inspired you to write that song?
NASH: When I was born in 1942, World War II was still going. And I began to realize when I became a young adult that if we don’t teach our kids a better way of relating to their fellow human beings, the very future of humanity on the planet is in jeopardy. Not the planet itself, because quite frankly, the earth and the environment don’t care about human beings. It’s tolerating us, but if every human being disappeared off the face of the earth in an instant, the earth would still keep spinning and the planet would develop new life forms. What can I say more than that?
ACOUSTIC STORM: One of the stand-out tracks on your new album is “Pavanne.”
NASH: That’s a great piece of recording, I think. It’s a Richard and Linda Thompson song about a female assassin. I used to do the song live on stage about 20 years ago and always loved it, and when I was making this record I thought how nice it’d be to do “Pavanne.” So I dug up an old recording of me doing it on stage and had Dean Parks, who is a brilliant guitar player learn the part and extrapolate on that particular acoustic guitar part. I’m very pleased it’s on the record, and it goes over great in concert.
ACOUSTIC STORM: What is it about acoustic music that appeals to you?
NASH: We were one of the very first people way back in ’69 to do fully acoustic and electric sets within the same show. So we’ve always been a supporter. When you get down to it, just with the basic one guitar, one piano and one vocal and an audience, I think that the intimacy comes through more. People feel much more connected to the song because there’s nothing in the way, and I actually enjoy doing that.
ACOUSTIC STORM: So at times you prefer the acoustic setting?
NASH: Absolutely. I mean there’s times to rock and roll, and I love that too. But I think my first love is acoustic music.
ACOUSTIC STORM: You’re a long-time photographer and now run Nash Editions, a company that specializes in digital fine art photography. How did you get into that aspect of visual art?
NASH: I’ve been taking images longer than I’ve been making music. About nine or ten years ago, I needed to prepare a show for a gallery in Tokyo. They wanted 75 images, and that wasn’t a problem, but they wanted images roughly three feet by four feet. Who can do that? Even with a large pro darkroom, that’s difficult to do. I found a printer I knew along with my friend Mac Holbert, that could actually print great images and that’s what we did. We started the world’s first digital fine art press, and we’re still rocking, doing the best work possible.
ACOUSTIC STORM: So you’re something of a cyber-pioneer.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Not to patronize you, but you do seem to be the most diplomatic member of CSNY.
NASH: I’m English.
ACOUSTIC STORM: Maybe that’s helped to keep all the different variations of CSNY together.
NASH: I believe that makes sense. I have tried my best to keep the focus on the music, and not to focus on the stupid things we do as individuals. To me the music is far more important than our own personal relationships. It’s going to outlast us, it will be here hopefully long after we’re all dead, and we hope that our music will continue to speak to people’s hearts and continue to make them feel less lonely and less crazy, even after we’re gone.