On her sixth studio album, Detours, Crow applied her songwriting genius to many environmental and societal issues as well as her traditional themes of love and personal struggle—elevating her music to the level of social commentary and community-building—and making it a force for change. Crow has called Detours “the most honest record I’ve ever made. It’s about being forced to wake up.”
Crow was at home on her farm in Tennessee when I had the opportunity to interview her by phone about her music, her concerns about the environment, and how the two have come together in Detours.
Be sure to read all three pages of this wide-ranging interview with Sheryl Crow to learn more about her environmental and political views, what she is doing personally to live and tour green, her struggle with cancer, and how motherhood is changing her life and her music.
Click here to listen to songs from Detours, watch music videos, and get a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the album.
Larry West: You’ve called "Shine Over Babylon" “a desperate cry for understanding” and a “battle song in the face of fear.” Since you also consider "Shine Over Babylon" to be the centerpiece of your Detours album, what message do you want people to hear when they listen to the song?
Sheryl Crow: The song is an apocalyptic diatribe, just like a rant of all the things we are experiencing in the most extreme measure. What I hope, more than anything, is that people will find some kind of hope, and some kind of inspiration, and will feel included in a growing movement.
LW: Do you see the movement growing?
Sheryl Crow: It has been interesting. Laurie David [environmentalist and co-producer of An Inconvenient Truth]and I went out on the Stop Global Warming College Tour back in April , when there was still so much debate as to whether global warming was actually just a cyclical happening or whether this is something we have really caused and that we can expect the worst. Clearly, at that time, it was a heavily weighted political issue.
I think we’re seeing now that the debate is over. People are accepting that the time is now, and that we’ve got to move in an urgent fashion. Although I hate that a movement can be inspired by fear, at least people are talking about it, talking about ways they can incorporate green living into their homes and workplaces. Before, I think there was a feeling of total defeat and denial, and now we’re seeing that we don’t have time to feel defeated. Hopefully that’s going to incite a movement.
But also, I definitely was seeing the beginnings of a very strong movement at the college-campus level. Campuses were competing with each other to see who could be the most carbon neutral and find the most innovative ways to be energy conscious: not driving their cars, and getting energy-efficient light bulbs out to all the dorm rooms; just small things that could absolutely make a difference.
LW: Tell me more about your new album. Do the other songs on Detours also focus on your concerns about the future?
Sheryl Crow: Absolutely. I would say that this record is committed fully to the topic of each song. For me, making Detours was really a very exciting experience. I was working with Bill Bottrell, who produced this record, and who I hadn’t worked with since the Tuesday Night Music Club album.
Both of us have been on our own separate, very intense journeys over the last 13 years, and we came back together to work on this record because we felt we had a strong, creative partnership. And it was such a satisfying and creative experience.
And also, having my three-week-old son in the studio just rendered me completely fearless and unable to edit myself. The lyrics are very honest and forthright, in your face, pointed. They’re strongly geared toward truth.
LW: You adopted your son, Wyatt, in 2007. How has being a mother influenced your thoughts about the state of the environment and the legacy we’re leaving for our children?
Sheryl Crow: It certainly magnifies how I felt before. He’s such a curious little guy. He’s six months old now. We live on a farm. We walk out every morning to the barn and the pastures. He has no fear of putting his hand on the horse’s nose, and he’s on the floor playing with the dogs. I can tell he’s going to be very much at home in nature and with animals.
It just absolutely smashes me that the kind of life, the kind of upbringing I had, he isn’t going to experience. When I was a kid, I could run around the streets all summer. Obviously, the weather systems are so extreme now, it’s going to be a very different world. If the IPCC reports are right, then we’ll see a third of our species, counting man, become extinct, a thing of the past.
It’s very worrisome, but I have to believe that there is hope and that we can incite a sense of urgency in everyone. Our farming community [in Tennessee] is trying to go wind and solar, to remove ourselves completely from the grid. If we’re successful, hopefully we can be an example to other communities of how they can come together, work as a community, and become part of the solution.