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Neil Young's latest album got its name from where it was recorded – in a barn


Songwriter Neil Young is standing in the present while looking both to the past and the future. The past is his massive online archive, chock-full of recordings and unreleased live performances. The future is the new music he's making, like the album he and his longtime collaborators, the band known as Crazy Horse, have just released.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) I'm waiting for the boys to bring the truck in. It should've been here by now.

GONYEA: Its title is "Barn." And we're to take that literally. It was recorded in a 19th century barn high in the Rocky Mountains. Neil Young joins us now to talk about all of this. Neil, welcome.

NEIL YOUNG: Hi. How are you?

GONYEA: Great. Great. So to say you recorded this album in a remote place is very much an understatement. Can you just set the scene for us of this beautiful barn? Maybe even start by taking us up the driveway and then on inside.

YOUNG: Well, the way I get to the barn, I walk for a couple of miles through some aspen forest and then down past an old windmill and a couple of lakes with my two dogs. And then I'm halfway there. And I walk through a great valley with the Rockies behind me. And it's a beautiful old barn. It's restored to exactly the way it was when it was built in, like, 1850, 1860 or something. And it's a historic place with a great vibe and surrounded by Rockies.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: It goes on the riser.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Just on the floor.

GONYEA: We get to go inside thanks to a documentary film that you've also released, a film about the making of the album shot by your wife, the actor-director Daryl Hannah. You get inside. The walls are timber. It's not weatherproof. Sunlight streams through the spaces in the wall. So this is far from a controlled acoustic space.

YOUNG: Well, actually, it's a perfect acoustic space because of the logs. There's no flat surfaces. The barn has a sound. But it's not an echo. It's like you're inside of a - you're being held inside something that is very friendly.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Gonna sing an old song to you right now, one that you heard before.

GONYEA: Your band consists of your longtime musical partners, Crazy Horse. They certainly seem to fit right in here. Their sound is as raw and as unpolished as the barn is. And you're doing all this during the pandemic.

YOUNG: Yeah. And that's - the pandemic really made this a challenge. But it also made it possible. We, of course, had to make sure that everybody was vaccinated and that everybody was clean and didn't have the virus. We just love playing music. And this is a great environment for us.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Looking through a wavy, glass window in this old place by the lake.

GONYEA: OK. Let's talk about some of the songs. Tell us about the album opener, "Song Of The Seasons."

YOUNG: It's just a reflection of the times. It was written up in Canada. I was just thinking about things, you know, looking out the window of the cottage where we lived - a beautiful, wavy glass. It's, like, a hundred and - maybe 150 years old or something - just looking out the window at the lake and the wildlife and everything and reflecting, you know?


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) We're so together in the way that we feel, that we could end up anywhere.

GONYEA: Some of these songs are autobiographical, looking at different phases of your life. Tell us about "Heading West." And I guess west in this case is Winnipeg.

YOUNG: Yeah. Well, you know, I was heading west to with my mom and her little car. And our family had just split up, which was kind of traumatic for everybody. And my mom was going back to her hometown. And I was going with her. My brother was staying with my dad.

GONYEA: And you're, like, 12 years old at this time.

YOUNG: Yeah, 11 or 12, something like that.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) When I was a little boy, pulled my wagon all through the town, went fishing at the mill, run home before the streetlights came on.

YOUNG: And so I'm traveling with my mom in the car, and then we get to Winnipeg - and buys me an electric guitar. My mom was a great supporter of the band. And I used to be able to practice in our living room, and she was always cool about it.


GONYEA: So on the song "Human Race," both frustration and anger come through, I think, more than they do on any other song.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Today, no one cares. Tomorrow...

GONYEA: You and the band sing of children of the fires and floods.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Children of the fires and floods.

GONYEA: I know, over the years, you've written a lot about the state of the planet and man's role in climate change. You've written songs that are warnings and wake-up calls. But this one seems particularly dire.

YOUNG: Well, it's real. We don't have enough reality in what we're hearing about. People are used to getting what they want. You order something, and you get it. They don't want to give up the things that they would have to give up. So people generally just are ignoring climate change.

You know, we say we've got eight or nine years, maybe 10 years before we reach a point where, if we haven't done a lot, it's going to be irreversible damage. That's what that song's about.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Who's gonna save the human race?

YOUNG: I wrote the song on my way to the barn on little pieces of paper walking across the field on the full moon in June. And I got into the barn and showed the band the chord changes. And I just said, we're only doing it once, so make every note count.

GONYEA: It's interesting. It's certainly the darkest moment, I think, both musically and lyrically on the album. But it will be juxtaposed by another song. I'm thinking of "Don't Forget Love."


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Don't forget love.

GONYEA: A song that just includes a simple reminder that almost feels like a prayer.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Don't forget love. Don't forget love. Don't forget love. When you're angry and you're lashing out, don't forget love. You don't know what you're talking about. Don't forget love.

YOUNG: It's intense what we're going through and what we're going to go through. And it's going to get more intense and I think remembering that we're all together and really trying to take care of each other and stop fighting and disagreeing on everything - it's going to - it's a little bit of a rough situation we're in here. But I think love is one of the main things that can - could help us to cope.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) When you got no one you can confide in, don't forget love. In every story, there's a secret hidin'. Don't forget love.

GONYEA: I want to ask you about the Neil Young archives. The pandemic did give you space in your life and your schedule that you had never really had. You weren't on the road for the past couple of years. You were hunkered down, as we all were. But you had time to dive into your old work, old tapes and more. What's that been like?

GONYEA: Well, the archives is, like, an ongoing thing. I've collected my music over the years and kept track of it. Things that were recorded in bootleg fashion and put out years ago, concerts at Carnegie Hall and different places that I played around the planet are all bootlegged and everything. But I recorded everything in very high quality. I use the bootleg covers and stuff.

GONYEA: You're bootlegging the bootleggers.

YOUNG: Yeah. I'm bootlegging the bootleggers. I thought it was pretty funny. But we got better quality than them. So...

GONYEA: I bet (laughter).

YOUNG: ...You know (laughter)?

GONYEA: Does going through your past like this inform your present day and your future work?

YOUNG: I have one rule with the archives. And it's that anything new trumps anything old. In other words, what I'm doing now is more important than what I already did. I got to do the new ones first, so they have the same chance as all those old ones do.


GONYEA: Neil Young and Crazy Horse's latest album, "Barn," is out now. Neil Young, thank you so much for speaking to us today.

YOUNG: Thanks a lot. Take care. Good luck to you.


NEIL YOUNG AND CRAZY HORSE: (Singing) Well, I was walking down the road on step at a time getting home. I was thinking about the love we share, you and me. It's a complicated thing... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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