Neil Young on His Album ‘Barn,’ His Movie ‘Barn,’ and That One Time He Yelled ‘More Barn!’
76-year-old rocker sits down with Howard to discuss his life and legendary careerDecember 16, 2021
Rock icon Neil Young returned to the Stern Show Wednesday morning to fill Howard in on what may one day go down as history’s second-most talked-about barn birth: the creation of his brand-new album, “Barn.” Neil and his longtime backing band Crazy Horse laid down the tracks in Colorado, recording inside a rebuilt 150-year-old barn owned by Neil’s wife—actress turned activist, artist, and filmmaker Daryl Hannah. Directing the rock doc (also called “Barn”) under the alias of D.H. Lovelife, Hannah gave fans an intimate look at her husband’s recording process as well as a few more personal moments when she catches him crooning about a lack of cold beer and relieving himself outdoors. While some might consider a former horse-and-buggy stable an unusual place for the Godfather of Grunge to record, the 76-year-old audiophile assured Howard the ponderosa pine logs in Daryl’s barn made recording a breeze.
“She just created a place where music comes from,” Neil said. “The barn itself is like a personality. It has a vibe. It’s almost like you’d think the barn is speaking to you through the music.”
Young went on to say plenty of kind things about his wife, complimenting both her acting skills in films like “Blade Runner” and “Roxanne” and her skills behind the camera. “Daryl did a lot of shooting,” he said of her work on “Barn.” “She’s always doing something. She’s never just standing around—although I do remember seeing her standing around once, and it was great.”
Rockin’ in the Post-Pandemic World
Neil has found success with Buffalo Springfield, with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and as a solo artist, releasing nearly 50 combined albums over the last seven decades and cementing his status as one of the prolific artists of all time. Needless to say, even a pandemic couldn’t stop him from writing and recording new music.
When it comes to touring, however, the avid performer has sung a different tune. While many other acts are now back on the road, Neil believed performing in front of the mask-less masses might send the wrong message. “Somebody’s gonna see me playing on TV [and] a bunch of people in the crowd, all standing there without masks on. [They’ll think,] ‘Hey, everything’s cool,’ he told Howard. “No, that’s not it … I don’t care if I’m the only one who doesn’t do it.”
“What do you say to people who don’t get vaccinated?” Howard asked.
“I say ‘Are you vaccinated?’ If they say no, I say, ‘Well, I’ll see ya!’” he responded, explaining everyone in both his band and their barn had been vaccinated.
Neil grew animated several times Wednesday morning as he discussed everything from overcoming COVID-19 to putting the kibosh on climate change. Despite his strong opinions, he insisted he was neither a pessimist nor a curmudgeon. “[This is] an amazing moment in human history,” he said. “If we come together, we can take care of this, and I have confidence that we can.”
“We still have a lot of love in the world, and I’m very into having and sharing that and being with other people,” he continued. “Whether they’re Trumpers or Biden people or whether they got ‘screw you’ written on their car, they have a right to believe what they believe and I’m proud to be with them. I don’t agree with them—that’s a different thing—but the fact that we’re all here is good.”
Breaking up the Bands
While Neil is an accomplished solo artist, he does have a storied history with several iconic rock bands. In each case, a big part of that story is how he and the group eventually parted ways. Disagreements over appearances on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” and at the Monterey Pop Festival led to Neil’s exit from Buffalo Springfield, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act which also featured Young’s future CSNY bandmate Stephen Stills.
“I never even really thought much about anything other than the people that we were writing our songs for and the crowds that we played for live [who came] to see Buffalo Springfield – not a hundred bands, Buffalo Springfield,” he admitted to Howard, explaining why he’d been hesitant early on to play festivals. “I just thought that it would be good if we stayed focused on our message and what our songs were about and [singing] our songs directly to our fans who loved us because of what we did.”
His departure from supergroup Crosby, Still, Nash, & Young was sparked by a similar motive. “I wanted to do this thing that was focused on what the songs were about, and … the people who came to see us, and how we connected with them. To me, that was the holy grail,” the artist noted. “Once we started drifting away from that, I was gone … I just thought if I’m going to be me, I’m going to be me. If this is who I am, I can’t do what I do if I don’t act like I believe.”
In discussing the breakups of bands and marriages, Neil wanted to clarify what that meant exactly. “I didn’t break up with music … I didn’t break up with love,” he said. “I didn’t give up on the love, I didn’t give up on the music. I just wanted it to be nurtured. I wanted to take care of it. If the love was suffering because the situation wasn’t right, I wanted to take the love somewhere else where it would do better.”
Despite leaving CSNY, Neil takes no issue with the fact they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame without him in 1997. “Crosby, Stills, and Nash … they were the core of Crosby, Still, Nash & Young, and I was just kind of like a floating satellite,” he said plainly. “Their vocal sound made it happen. Those guys are all great songwriters. They’re great singers. They’re great players. They played together great … They brought me in for a while, then I went and did something else because I am a soloist. And so, I did this with them, and it was great and then we moved on and everything was good.”
On the other hand, he does take issue with his longtime backing band not being inducted. “What I’d like to know is, where the hell is Crazy Horse?” Young wondered out loud. “That’s rock and roll.”
Growing Up With Polio
Young was afflicted with polio as a young boy, just a few years before Jonas Sulk developed a vaccine. He told Howard his body never fully recovered from the debilitating disease “I don’t have much of an awareness of my left side. It’s there, but it’s not like my right side,” he said, explaining his left eye also “doesn’t see that well.” “It’s a central nervous system thing,” he added.
Despite having already suffered from polio, Neil said he and his schoolmates were excited to finally get vaccinated in the 1950s. “I remember being in line at the school. Everybody went and we all drank the salt vaccine … We were so happy to be able to do it,” he said, adding, “We were so lucky that that guy Sulk came up with this thing. It’s fantastic.”
Though many medical experts compare the COVID-19 vaccines to the one that helped the world beat polio, not everyone in today’s world is champing at the bit to get vaccinated. Young imagined bad leaders were largely to blame, as they’d misled the American public at the start of the outbreak. “They got a bad example right at the top … pretending that it was weak to get the vaccine,” he said.
Young and Old (Black)
It wouldn’t be a Neil Young visit without a little live music, and the rock legend kindly regaled Howard with some of “Break the Chain,” an original tune he had penned but not yet recorded. “I finished it, and I wrote it all down, and then I forgot it,” Young said before playing for Howard.
Neil also showed off several of his (and of Daryl’s) guitars during the interview, including one of his absolute favorites: Old Black.
Howard was intrigued. “Is that typical that you fall in love with your guitar, and you identify it with some sort of name?” he asked.
“I guess. I always called it Old Black. It was old when I got it,” Young said of the jet-black Gibson Les Paul. “Old Black is good to me and I’m good to Old Black. We get along, so we stay together,” he added.
Proclaiming his guest’s fourth album—1972’s “Harvest”—to be one of the greatest of all time, Howard wanted to know about the legend of Neil blasting it for CSNY bandmate Graham Nash while the two sat in a boat in the middle of a lake and listened to it over speakers he’d set up in a nearby barn and a house. “I just wanted to hear a bigger stereo and, you know, I had these big … theater speakers set up in both buildings and wires running from one to the other,” Neil, a famous audiophile, said before explaining his need to yell “More barn!” to some employees. “We were in the rowboat … on a lake that’s in front of my house and, also, the barn is on the other side of the lake by maybe about 150 yards … and we needed more barn.”
When Howard pressed for Nash’s reaction to classic songs like “Old Man,” Neil revealed it likely wasn’t the singer’s first time hearing the album and that the pair had probably listened to the songs after they were tweaked in the studio. “I think it had to be after the overdubs because I wouldn’t be sitting there listening to the whole album in a boat if it wasn’t finished,” he figured. “I can’t waste listens—that’s a wasted listen.”
Perhaps the most shocking revelation was when he heaped praise on former bandmate David Crosby, whom he had famously feuded with in recent years. “Did you hear how great Crosby’s voice was in ‘Alabama’? And [on] that chorus?” Young asked Howard. “It’s amazing.”
Neil Young’s new album and his rock documentary “Barn” are both available now.