John Kwit – North American Reporter for 4WaySite
August 9, 2014
Questions: John Kwit and Dolf van Stijgeren
Photos: Buzz Person
This exclusive interview of CSN keyboardist and vocalist James Raymond, David Crosby’s biological son, was conducted backstage, prior to their concert on August 19, 2014, at the Aiken Theatre in The Centre, Evansville, Indiana, by John Kwit, North American Reporter of 4WaySite.
An interesting fact about this interview is that it was an impromptu affair. That is, although we (4WaySite founder Dolf Van Stijgeren and John Kwit) had received confirmation of David Crosby’s availability and had put together a list of potential questions for him, we did not receive the same regarding James. So, after the interviewer’s jaw dropped upon learning that James was in the room waiting to be interviewed, some questions intended for David were adapted and many others were made up on the spot as the discussion flowed along. This is about as close as one can get to having James sitting next to you on the couch for an off-the-cuff discussion. We hope our readers enjoy the experience in its raw, virtually unedited state.
We would like to express our special thanks and sincere appreciation to James Raymond, as well as CSN management and tour staff for graciously allowing us to conduct this interview.
4WS: OK. (Deep breath!) Alright, so…I was lucky enough to take in, James, the two solo shows that David (Crosby) had…
JR: Oh cool.
4WS: …in Chicago (City Winery, July 21 & 22)…
JR: Yeah, yeah.
4WS: …and one of the things that amazed me was the band itself. My understanding, I mean you guys weren’t together for a few months because you had the CSN tour going on.
JR: Yeah, we had CSN in between some Crosby (solo tour) dates.
4WS: Right, because of the illness so… [Editor’s note: David’s illness caused a schedule change to the original Chicago show dates].
JR: Yeah, it was a couple of months (off).
4WS: …how in the world, I mean those two (Chicago solo) shows were so tight. How in the world did you get so tight in Chicago? I mean did you practice in Chicago?
JR: Well it’s the same band as this (CSN) band, pretty much, right, and we had the set together. So, this, the musicianship of these guys is such that there was no, (we) didn’t have to get back into any kind of high gear. They were already there, you know.
4WS: Yeah. Was Marcus (Eaton) though, a part of this (the CSN tour)?
JR: No, Marcus was the one element that was not a part of this.
4WS: Right, that was not a part of that…but he was very instrumental in the (Croz) album.
JR: Yes, he knows the album backwards and forwards…
JR: …and the other stuff too.
4WS: Yeah, so did you guys (the solo show band) do some actual practices in Chicago?
JR: No, just sound check.
4WS: Just sound check?
4WS: How long is a sound check?
JR: You know like today, it’ll be probably…well, those were a little extended, so anywhere from a half hour to an hour. I think we were done within an hour.
4WS: OK. Wow! I mean…
JR: Good musicians.
4WS: Great musicians. They were so tight and they did everything so great.
JR: Thank you.
4WS: Yeah, it was a couple of great shows there! Let’s see what else we can ask you about. Oh I guess the Croz album itself: How do you explain the commercial success of this album, which I understand is doing really well?
JR: It’s doing pretty good, yeah! I think, I don’t know, I think people are connecting with it just because there’s good songs, you know. They’re happy to hear some new music from David and we put a lot of time and love into it so I think that, that kind of shows, you know.
4WS: Is there any particular track on the album that you were instrumental in, that you feel is really a great example of your work on the album, a stand-out track?
JR: Well, the last one that I wrote for the record is the leadoff single, the What’s Broken song that Mark Knopfler plays on, and I’m super happy with how that came about. Croz totally got the concept of it and loved the song so he really, you know, delivered a great vocal. Yeah, it just kind of really came together once we got Mark Knopfler on there.
4WS: And my understanding is that this, this album has been kind of discussed/rumored for a couple of years now.
JR: Well we were working on it for a couple of years.
JR: Yeah, we started in 2011 I think, writing. Yeah, so it was, you know we had to work on it in between CSN commitments and other stuff that we had going on. So whenever we had a moment, we got together and would write. Then we started recording whenever we could and we just kind of pieced it together.
4WS: Yeah, it’s a great, great-great solo album.
4WS: I think the best that David has ever done.
4WS: Are there, are there any outtakes that did not (make it), they’re on the cutting room floor, that didn’t make the cut?
JR: There’s, yeah, there’s probably about 3 or…well actually there’s more, there’s probably about 6 songs that did not make the record, in various states. One of them David wrote kind of right after we mastered, you know, the record. And there’s some other ones that were partial, you know. We had musical ideas, not all the lyrics, some that were incomplete. Yeah, there’s a few that didn’t make the cut.
4WS: Is the one you’re speaking about, is it (does it have the lyrics): there’s more than one way?
4WS: Yeah, OK, what’s the title of that one?
JR: I don’t know off-hand.
4WS: No working (title), OK. Alright, so now that you’ve got 6 or 7 songs that are, sort of didn’t make the record, what’s the plans with those?
JR: I don’t know. They could, they could see the light of day on another project, another album down the line. There’s always a bin of stuff, you know, that could see the light of day somewhere down the line.
4WS: Not to put you on the spot, but would that possibly fall into a potential CPR (project) mix?
JR: (emphatically) Probably NOT!
4WS: No? OK. (laughing) Ok. And why is that? That’s sort of a definitive answer!
JR: You’ll have to ask the man (David) on that one. (smiling a mile wide) I’m staying out of that.
4WS: You’re going to stay out of that? OK. I like that answer. (laughing) OK. One of the songs that captured my attention and (4waysite founder) Dolf’s is Morning Falling. It’s got this Middle Eastern/Taliban kind of feel to it. Are you, did you have input into the lyrics on that? How did that song come to, to fruition?
JR: Well, David and I kind of started talking about a story, basically a story surrounding an Afghan family that was, you know, drone bombed basically…
JR: …and how we could convey that in a song. And you know David had, came up with some, some great kind of things that we could hang our hat on, as far as…(A phone call from James’ wife temporarily interrupts the interview)…and a lot of the lyrics. And then I kind of took a pass (at it) so it was a very collaborative kind of Ping-Pong match back and forth with the lyrics and I wrote the music.
4WS: OK. You are a very talented keyboardist.
JR: Well thank you!
4WS: You have put some, I’m not a musician, but you have put some beginnings/preludes on to quite a few of the songs that CSN (performs) and then (songs in) solo shows that David was doing. They’re excellent.
JR: Thank you.
4WS: What’s your, so, do you have formal training as a (musician)…?
JR: I studied classical as a kid up until I was about 16 or 17 and took music through college, part of college anyway. And, so, you know, not a lot of classical training but some early on. And then just a lot of self-taught stuff by ear, you know.
4WS: So were you in a band prior to that day, fateful day, when you met up with David then for the first time? Were you in a band at that point?
JR: Well, a lot of bands, yeah.
4WS: OK. What were some of the bands that you were in and were they all in the California area?
JR: Yes. Well, no that’s not entirely true. Early on it was a lot of, you know, R&B/funk bands where I grew up. And then getting into some jazz groups. And my first, one of my first tours, big gigs, was with a saxophone player named Ronnie Laws (who played with the group Earth, Wind & Fire). So that was kind of like my first major tour, or first major artist that I played with.
JR: From there I worked with people like (singer) Oleta Adams, and a lot of jazz artists like (guitarist and bassist) Phil Upchurch…
JR: …and Take 6. And, I did some work with the Spice Girls. So…
JR: …a lot of different things.
4WS: How many, when you would do your touring, was this on a smaller scale of like local theaters, local clubs? Where were you playing?
JR: Yes, when I was in bands, yeah, it was usually clubs and stuff around Los Angeles.
4WS: So how did it come about that you moved into the family of CSN? How did that work?
JR: Well, I think the first step was CPR. David and I formed CPR with Jeff Pevar. From that point, I had met Graham and Stephen of course but I think the next step was Graham asking me to do his solo tour in the early 2000’s. And then from that point, (the) Crosby/Nash tour was the next step. And then CSN in 2005, I think, was the first tour I did with CSN. So I kind of wiggled my way in.
4WS: I’m glad you did. You bring a great, another component to the group. Were you ever on the, I don’t want to say “short list”, but (for the 2002 tour) when CSN&Y were together, Booker T. (Jones played keyboards)…
JR: (sensing where the question was going and cutting in emphatically) No!
4WS: No? Nothing like that at that point. What if that happened again? Would you like to be on that, in that (CSN&Y) family?
JR: (very seriously & somberly) There’s no chance of that.
4WS: And why is that?
JR: (emphatically) Ask Mr. Young.
4WS: Ask Mr. Young! (laughing) I like that answer too. I don’t know if I can ever do that, but I might! (both of us laughing)
JR: Yeah, I should say, “Never say never, but…”
JR: …But I’m not expecting that to happen, ever happen.
4WS: He…OK. It’s safe maybe to say he (Neil Young) has a specific choice of musicians that he likes to go with.
JR: I think so. (smiles) [Editor’s note: This was before Neil Young’s filing for divorce from Pegi Young was brought to light. It was also before David’s personal negative feelings about the divorce were made public. David’s comments drew the intense ire of Neil Young, who later stated that CSN&Y would never perform together again.]
4WS: Yes, OK. I don’t want to put words in your mouth (laughing), but, OK. What are the chances of you breaking away from David and the band here, and taking some band on tour? I think the last time was a few years ago when you were playing some dates, again in the California area. Have you thought about that, about going out on the road?
JR: Not touring so much. I have two songs out on my own right now, up on iTunes! and Spotify and everything, and that’s more in the kind of electronic, pop/funk kind of area. And that’s more just as a producer, as artist kind of set up. So I’m working on stuff. I’m going to do more of that, just kind of release songs, and write for other people. Touring? No.
4WS: No tours.
JR: No, I get enough touring with this (CSN). When I’m home I want to be in my studio.
4WS: OK. Do you have your own, like a studio in your home where you can do things?
4WS: OK. Have you had any big name musicians come into the home (studio) and help you out with any projects?
4WS: Or I guess I should ask, the Croz album, was any of that done at your home studio?
JR: Oh yeah, all of it. We did some recording at Jackson Browne’s studio in Santa Monica but other than that, everything was, most of everything else was done at my place. And I should mention…
JR: …on this latest thing that I have out, it’s under James John, which is my middle name, my kind of producer/artist name, and the single is called Heaven’s Right Here With You. “Heaven” apostrophe “s”, Right Here With You. So that’s up on iTunes! (and Spotify). It’s a two song EP, like a single and a B-side. The B-side’s called M R I. And that features (CSN guitarist) Shane Fontayne’s son, Shane Barakan, on vocals, who’s an amazing vocalist.
JR: And James Harrah plays guitar on the single and that’s H-a-r-r-a-h, I think, James Harrah. But, yeah, so, that’s under James John and I’m going to be releasing a bunch of stuff under that moniker.
4WS: And why the switch to that?
JR: I just like it. It’s my middle name, you know, it’s kind of separate from my composing and other stuff, so I just decided to do that.
4WS: OK. So, there are a couple of shows listed on David’s website that are going to be occurring in Italy in December. If I had to guess, I’d say you’re probably not going to Italy just for two shows and coming home, so…
JR: I’m not going.
4WS: Oh, you’re not going?
4WS: Oh, OK. Is it strictly solo (shows) or…?
JR: Yeah, I believe it is, yeah.
4WS: Really? And I won’t ask or put you on the spot, but I was going to ask David whether there are more shows.
JR: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.
4WS: (laughing) I will ask!
JR: I don’t know anything about that.
4WS: OK. Out of all the songwriting that you have done now, what’s your favorite song that you’ve written, that you’re most proud of?
JR: Oh…I think probably “Lay Me Down” on the Crosby/Nash record, or the song I wrote for my wife, Stacia, which is “One for Every Moment” on the first CPR album.
4WS: “Lay Me Down,” not only was it the leadoff track to that album, I think it was like the standout track…
JR: Oh, thank you.
4WS: …of the album.
4WS: And whenever I hear that, if my memory, poor memory recalls correctly, that was at the same time that I think it was the (U.S. President George W.) Bush administration was forbidding the photographing of the caskets coming back (from the Iraq war) and whenever, I know that’s probably not, not what you had in mind, but whenever I hear “Lay Me Down” I think of the caskets…
JR: Oh, interesting.
4WS: …I think of, wow, they could have put that, those pictures of the caskets…
4WS: …on the plane and put that (on the cover) as a single, back in the days when they had singles!
JR: Right. Well, that’s what, I think that’s why I’m very proud of that song is that everybody kind of brings their own take to it. It’s kind of a universal lyric. And I’ve just gotten some really wonderful letters and feedback from people saying that it got them through a hard time or they listen to it when they lost somebody or they just listen to it to make them feel good, you know. So, the feedback is why that’s an important song to me…
JR: …because it touched people.
4WS: So when you have some time off on the road do you ever take in any local shows/concerts or…?
JR: Oh yeah, yeah, I, you know, not a lot but I tend to go hear stuff with my wife. We go out and hear, you know, artists that we like.
4WS: Can you give an example of someone that you might have gone out to see?
JR: Well, let’s see, I know coming up we’re going to go see an artist (singer/songwriter) that we both like named Yuna (birth name: Yunalis Mat Zara’ai). She’s, I think she’s of Pacific Island descent, like maybe Malaysian. She’s definitely Islamic but she’s on (singer/songwriter/producer) Pharrell Williams’ label. And she’s just really a striking singer, really a cool artist.
JR: We’re going to see her. What else? I’m trying to find out if I’m going to get to see Wayne Shorter’s quartet at some point. I missed the last time he was in Los Angeles so I’m hoping to catch him play somewhere. And yeah, we just, I don’t go to a lot of big, big shows. I like going to the Greek Theatre to see somebody I like, you know.
4WS: Do you ever, when you’re in Chicago, do you ever stop into the, one of the oldest jazz clubs there, The Green Door? (Editor’s note: It’s actually the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge.)
JR: No. I remember going into The Bulls, a place called The Bulls. [Editor’s note: It was also called The Jazz Bulls and unfortunately it closed in the late 1990’s.] That’s the only one I can remember. But now my daughter’s in school in New York so I’ll be going to visit her a lot and going to Small’s which is a jazz club right in Todd’s (Caldwell) neighborhood, the keyboard player for CSN. We go there and hang a lot. Let’s see, oh, I think I’m going to see Hall and Oates at the Greek.
JR: That should be a good show.
4WS: So with all this modern technology that’s out there now for music and listening to music, do you have a working turntable?
JR: I do not! But I do have vinyl that’s waiting for a good turntable so I’m kind of in the market.
4WS: (laughing) OK.
JR: I’m hoping to get one here soon because it’s definitely, I miss hearing things that way, you know. Apparently, I haven’t heard it yet, but apparently the Croz album sounds really good on vinyl.
4WS: Does it? OK. I’ve still got my CD, CD-version, although I do have a turntable but I didn’t pick it up on vinyl.
JR: Yeah, it’s supposed to be a pretty good experience.
4WS: There’s always that merchandise table (out in venue lobby).
JR: That’s right!
4WS: I can go out there (to get the vinyl version)! When you do your song writing, do you, do you get ideas in the middle of the night where you have a notebook and you start writing down things…
4WS: …or how do things usually work for you? What comes first, the words, the melody?
JR: All different kind of ways. A lot of times from dreams, like a lyric or sometimes a complete melody and lyric. And then the rest of the time is just hard work. (laughs) Just, you know, putting in the time and showing up.
4WS: Alright. Out of your experience now working with Graham, David, CSN, Crosby/Nash, are there any particular live shows that you have done that really stand out as something that was really magical for you?
JR: Oh yeah, a lot of them! One particular (show) I remember was Crosby/Nash at the Palau de…it’s, I’m going to get the name wrong…but it’s the Palau de (la) Musica (Catalana) or something, in Barcelona. It was a beautiful, small theatre. That one stands out. You know playing with CPR in Sicily in some Etruscan ruins in Tower Vina was pretty amazing. A lot of those CPR shows in Europe like the first, the Montreux Jazz Festival (in Switzerland), being a really big one.
4WS: So a lot of the ones in Europe were outdoor venues?
JR: Yeah and then you know CSN at the, at the Royal Albert (Hall) in London.
4WS: On the, like the most recent visit?
JR: Yeah, especially the most recent because Todd and I, we played I think four or five nights, and on Cathedral, Todd and I took turns playing the pipe organ in Royal Albert for the intro…
4WS: Oh, OK.
JR: …to “Cathedral.”
4WS: And that’s Todd Caldwell you’re speaking of?
JR: So that was a lot of fun. You don’t get to do that every day!
4WS: (laughing) So I understand from reading some bits and pieces off of, probably on Dolf’s website, (that) the covers album that CSN was working on, is there rumors/rumblings that that’s going to be re(visited)…
JR: (emphatically) That’s out of my area of expertise.
4WS: Out of your area…OK (laughing).
JR: I know nothing.
4WS: (laughing) So, you weren’t even involved in the initial Rick Rubin (production)?
JR: (Music begins playing in the background) I think I might have to go to sound check.
4WS: Yes, so with that I thank you.
4WS: And if there’s anything that, if you can think of anything that 4WaySite can do for you, let us know.
JR: Cool. Spread the word about my single!
4WS: Will do!