Neil Young on Why He Left Spotify, Who Came to His Birthday Party, and How We Can Save the Earth

Godfather of Grunge returns to the Stern Show ahead of his new album, “World Record”

November 17, 2022

Neil Young may record music in stereophonic sound at the maximum possible fidelity, but when it comes to his career the 77-year-old rock legend has a one-track mind. “Maybe I’m like kind of on mono — all I do is music,” Young said Wednesday morning during his Stern Show return. “I understand music, and I love it. It gives to me, and I give to it. It’s been good so far, and I like that.”

Despite having 27 Grammy nominations and being twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Young said he didn’t care much about accolades and awards, Kennedy Center Honors, or even the Presidential Medal of Freedom. He also remains disinterested in rehashing the past and lamenting the dissolution of his trailblazing rock acts, Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. As for the pressures of the music industry and the expectations of others, he refuses to let any of that slow him down.

So, what’s his secret?

“I don’t give a shit — that’s really it,” he insisted, telling Howard he’s happy to ignore critics and doesn’t waste a minute of his time on social media. “It’s not positive. I want to keep going. I don’t want to worry about what other people think.”

“I’ve been lucky in my life to be able to create music — that’s what I like to do — and as long as I hear a song in my head I’ll be able to continue going on,” Neil added. “That’s the only thing I care about outside of my family and my life and the things that I do.”

While speaking of family, Neil revealed his wife — actress and filmmaker Daryl Hannah — recently threw him a “beautiful” 77th birthday party. “It was fantastic,” he told Howard. “Stephen [Stills] was there, Joni [Mitchell] was there, and all my friends, my family, [and] everybody. It was cool.”

In her January documentary “A Band a Brotherhood a Barn,” Hannah – who directs under the moniker dhlovelife — captured Neil and his longtime band Crazy Horse as they recorded their 2021 album “Barn.” The film is up for a Grammy this year, but Young wasn’t sure if he’d attend the ceremony.

“Daryl was nominated because she directed it … so whatever she decides to do … I’ll do whatever,” he said.

That’s not the only documentary Young stars in this year, either. “Harvest Time,” which celebrates the 50th anniversary of his seminal album “Harvest,” takes fans behind the scenes on the recording process of hits like “Heart of Gold” and “The Needle and the Damage Done.” For two tracks off “Harvest,” “A Man Needs a Maid” and “There’s a World,” Young famously sat down at a piano and played with the London Symphony Orchestra. In others, his former bandmates Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and David Crosby lend their vocals.

“They can sing,” Neil told Howard.

His Joe Rogan Experience

Being a popular musician and a man of integrity sometimes means putting principles over profits, which is exactly what happened earlier this year after Neil came to believe Spotify and its high-profile podcast host Joe Rogan were spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines.

“I listened to it, and [doctors] were saying he purposefully is saying this stuff that he knows isn’t true about COVID, and people were dying,” Young recalled, adding, “That just turned me off.”

“I made an instant decision … I said, ‘Just take my music off [Spotify]. We don’t need it. We’ve got all these other places, and it sounds better at the other places,’” he continued. “Why would I want to keep it on Spotify when it sounds like a pixelated movie?”

Before pulling his music, Neil gave Spotify one last opportunity to do the right thing. “I said, ‘You can have that guy, or you can have me … take your choice,’” he recalled, explaining Spotify stuck with Rogan in part because the company assumed Young would simply “roll over” and come crawling back. But Spotify clearly underestimated Neil’s resolve.

“I’m never going back there or anywhere else like it,” he told Howard. “I don’t have to. I don’t want to.”

Neil’s One ‘Woodstock’ Regret

Howard made a point of mentioning that, in addition to being a celebrated singer and songwriter, his guest was also a skilled guitarist. He was particularly struck with Neil’s musicianship on the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young’s treasured cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock.”

“You’re the guy playing that iconic [opening] riff, right?” Howard asked him.

“It was an accident. You can see I started before everybody else,” Young said. “We had a good time. That was a good one.”

While “Woodstock” remains one of CSNY’s most enduring hits, Neil told Howard he did have one regret about how the band recorded the 1970 song. “You ought to have heard [Stephen] Stills’ original vocals. It was amazing,” he said. “We were just hung up on making everything perfect, so we all thought we had to [record] it again, but we didn’t … His overdub vocal is great … but the original vocal was funky like the guitar was funky.

“It was going so fast. We finished the record [and] I didn’t realize [our mistake] until later on when I heard the original vocals again,” he continued. “I thought, ‘Oh, we screwed up. We were trying to be good.’”

“If you try too hard you can lose the essence of music?” Howard wondered.

“You shouldn’t try [at all],” Neil told him, explaining musicians should focus on what “comes naturally” the first time they play a song. “I think you should just let it be. Then you’ve got the essence of what it is. If you’re trying … you’ve lost it already.”

Teach Your Children … About Climate Change

Young, who penned the protest song “Ohio” about the 1970 massacre of four Kent State students, has a decades-long history of activism and civic engagement. But he’s less interested in debating politics than in warding off the existential threat of environmental catastrophe.

“I’m more concerned with climate change. That’s where my head goes to,” Neil said. “Don’t waste your time on [political debates]. We could be talking about something we might be able to do something about. People could work together from around the world to help solve what it is we got going on here.”

He took the media to task for giving more coverage to squabbling pundits than the fate of the planet. “I have a theory that the media not covering climate change is what’s responsible for the uneasiness and the anger in the people,” he said. “The people of the country know, they’ve heard little things here and there: ‘This could be the end times,’ ‘Fifteen or 20 years is all we got,’ ‘Our children’s lives are not gonna be like ours was.’”

“Who cares about [politicians]?” he continued. “What’s really important is what’s going on in the world, and what’s going on on this planet, and what we have to do to save it for our children and for their children.”

Neil and Crazy Horse are trying to do their part as their forthcoming Rick Rubin-produced album “World Record” focuses heavily on the planet and its uncertain future. “The whole thing is a gift. It may be the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said of the effort. “It’s very musical, it’s very light, and it’s very positive.”

Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s new album “World Record” arrives on Friday, Nov. 18. The film “Neil Young: Harvest Time” debuts Dec. 1. In the meanwhile, catch Neil on SiriusXM channel 27.

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