Why Neil Young’s ‘Barn’ Was Like No Other Album for Nils Lofgren: Exclusive Interview
He's read memoirs by bosses Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen and bandmates like Little Stevie Van Zandt. Now Nils Lofgren wants to tell his story, too — but in a different way.
"I could never write a 'book,'" Lofgren tells UCR. "To be a great, great book it would require me to delve into some dark chapters of my life that I don't feel like sharing. All the personal stuff, to me, is not that interesting and on occasion a bit too dark for me to want to share, anyway."
But Lofgren, a solo artist in his own right, has an alternative. "I do have stories, so what I am doing is something where I'll tell a story for 30 minutes and then do a song for you and post those on my website early next year," he explains. "So that's my version of the book, these short stories I'll tell you on video and then sing a song for you. I think that's the way I'll do it. I'm excited about telling some of the stories for people to hear — other than people who have heard them through the years."
Of course, Lofgren has had plenty of musical stories going on during the past couple of years. He released a live project, Weathered, in 2020, as well as a digital collection of bonus tracks from his long solo career. He and the rest of the E Street Band were part of Springsteen's 2020 album Letter To You. Lofgren also rejoined Young's Crazy Horse in 2018, and can be found on that year's Colorado as well as the newly released Barn.
He says Barn was "a real surprise," coming after Young and company had resolved to lay low during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"In April or May," Lofgren recalls, "Neil reached out and said, 'Look, we're not going to be able to play until next summer (2022) at the earliest. It's just weird to not do anything as a band for a year and a half. I have four songs I wrote. Why don't we get together, safely, in the Rockies and just be old friends with instruments on and maybe record a few songs?'
"He had in mind that maybe we'd do that a few times in different locations, every couple of months get together somewhere safely — with testing and masks and all that stuff, vaccinations," Lofgren added, "and maybe after three trips we'd have an album." By the end of the first sessions during June — in a 19th century barn dubbed Studio in the Clouds in Colorado's Rocky Mountains — the group finished 10 songs, while Young's wife Daryl Hannah filmed the proceedings for a documentary that accompanies Barn.
Listen to Neil Young's 'Song of the Seasons'
"As usual, we were recording songs as we were learning them — very rough, raw, seat of your pants, keeping it really fresh," says Lofgren, who played guitar, piano and accordion and sings on Barn. "I've made a lot of records in 53 years — this was the first record I ever made, beginning to end, and I never once put on a set of headphones. We just set up in a barn like a club, with P.A. halfway out in the barn, aimed at us, and we played live from the stage. We never wore headphones, even when we sang together.
"If Neil wanted some harmonies, we'd get around his mic and just do a playback, very quiet through the speakers and get a pitch and just mix our voices around that one mic," Lofgren added, "It was just so earthy and natural and organic and quick and raw. I think there was just a real gratitude and easiness about this, that we were able to do it in a pandemic."
Among the nicest scenes in Hannah's fly-on-the-wall documentary, meanwhile, is a joint birthday party held in the midst of the sessions for Lofgren, Crazy Horse drummer Ralph Molina and Young's current manager Frank Giordana.
"If you're gonna be away from your family and home, there's no better place I could have been than with one of the first musical families I was ever in," says Lofgren, who began working with Young and Crazy Horse as a teenager for 1970's After the Gold Rush album.
"We had three birthdays in a row and it was just a very magical thing," Lofgren said, "and Daryl captured the whole thing in the film beautifully – and I'm thrilled that she made that film because the whole thing was just so magical and such a great gift to have in the middle of everything that's been going on."
Acknowledging that he "hadn't been handling the music isolation of not being on the road well," Lofgren has started "chipping away at another solo record," his first since 2019's Blue With Lou, which featured songs he co-wrote with the late Lou Reed. He's hoping a return to the road will be possible in the near future as well.
Young currently has no plans to tour, but Springsteen has been talking about taking the E Street Band out again as soon as possible. "He'd like to get us out and he's working on it," Lofgren notes, "but with all the COVID problems, they're not ready to sell tickets and hire us yet. Now in Europe there's issues too, even among the highly vaccinated countries. We're hoping, but that's the most we can do right now. Not working has been hard, so I really can't wait to be playing in front of people again, whenever that's possible."
Neil Young Albums Ranked
The Best Crosby Stills Nash and Young Fight Stories