CALABASAS, Calif.—When Neil Young turned his 1959 Lincoln Continental into an electric car, developed a high-tech digital music system and mixed animal sounds into his latest album, he didn’t think it was revolutionary. They were just cool ideas he wanted to try.
“I just consider myself as a person who wants to do things, you know,” Young said from beneath a floppy black hat as he sat in the living room of his manager’s “office house” in the tony hills of Calabasas, California.
As when he wrote the protest song “Ohio” days after the 1970 shooting at Kent State, Young lets inspiration guide him. He trusts the moment so much that he says he never makes a set list before live shows and embarked on his latest album without knowing what it would be.
“Earth,” available June 24, is a collection of 13 live songs interspersed with the sounds of crickets, frogs, crows, bees, and other animals Young recorded in his backyard.
The 70-year-old singer-songwriter said he didn’t set out to make an album about the planet. The theme just emerged as he chose the best performances from his past year on tour.
“Those songs rose to the top,” he said. “They said who they were and we made the record.”
He added the animals’ voices as an experiment.
“The animals give off a great vibe. There’s nothing about them that’s—they’re not lying to you and they’re not selling you something,” he said.
Young has been on the road with Promise of the Real, a band that features Willie Nelson’s sons Lukas Nelson and Micah Nelson on vocals and guitar. Playing with them has energized his performances, Young said, which gave life to the album.
“[They] know over 100 of my songs,” he said. “So I can choose all these songs anywhere at any time. That’s very freeing.”
It also eliminates the need for set lists. They go with the flow.
“Everything’s in real time. The people are there. We’re there. … It’ll be all of us together creating the moment,” he said.
Young will take the same approach at California’s Desert Trip concert festival in the fall, where he shares the bill with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Roger Waters, and the Who.
“The audience is going to be really stoked,” he said. “They’re going to feel real special about being able to see all this at once. … It’s a celebration of music and history.”
Still, he said, “I’m going to play whatever I feel like playing that day.”
He tries to stay open to the whims of creative energy and “not be unavailable because I’ve made my mind up.”
“A made-up mind is like a jail,” he said. “You can’t get out of it.”
So when he got the notion to turn his beloved classic Lincoln into an electric vehicle, he just went for it instead of considering it unnecessary or impossible.
The same passion inspired Young to develop Pono , a high-resolution digital music system that began with a Kickstarter page. Young wanted today’s listeners, many of whom are accustomed to the compressed sounds of MP3s, to experience the full breadth of sound that vinyl record albums bring. So he took his music off iTunes and streaming sites and created a playback system that delivers all the aural intricacies lost in compression.
Even Young’s longtime manager, Elliot Roberts, is still regularly surprised by his client’s endless stream of “against-the-grain” ideas.
“There’s never a day that there’s not something new, whether it’s on Pono, or on his music, or playing live and what we should do, or on LincVolt, his electric car which he is just editing a film about, or the book he’s writing,” Roberts said. “He’s just a creative animal. He just can’t control himself. He just keeps getting ideas.”
“It’s just the way it is,” Young said. “I like to do things where I see a hole and I want to say something.”
From The Associated Press