Nils Lofgren

In conversation with Nils Lofgren
November 2001

Nils Lofgren, an artist who in his 30 or so years as a professional musician has performed with the likes of Neil Young and his Crazyhorse, Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street band, not to mention the countless collaborations, with Ringo Starr and Rod Stewart to name a few. But while this multi-instrumentalist has no doubt lived the high life throughout this time, Nils does appear a very humble man and one who does not forget the people who have supported him throughout this time, his fans. A rock star who has in his time struck a pose for the camera, who hasn’t? Nils earlier this year celebrated his fiftieth year. Following a show on his latest tour, I was allowed a few moments with this legend of American Rock so I asked, “what has turning 50 brought to your song-writing and how has he changed as an artist over this time?”

“The main thing is, I’ve been doing this 33 years professionally and I’ve noticed a kind of peace. I’m grateful that at 50 I’ve enjoyed performing more than I ever have, so I’m just embracing the journey. I’m a little more relaxed about it, an easier flow of everything. I love performing, it’s kind of theraputic, so I’m more at peace, ‘cos what I have to do is make music and share it. I’m doing that without record companies now, I’ve got a web-site. It’s kind of a new adventure, but it’s kind of freeing not to be burdoned by the politics of the music-industry.”

Do you have other people dealing with the business side of things?

“Yeah, I’ve got a great manager, people who can run the web-site. I’m involved with it all, but I can’t physically do all of it. I’m just kind of finding my way to produce music without the record companies. With technology I can make records that I’m proud of, it’s kind of a new business adventure, but it’s all good. If I had a record company and went to them and said ‘I want to put out an hour and a half live bootleg video’, they’d say ‘we can’t sell that, we can’t market that, we can’t get that on MTV. No’! I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Do you think that this is a problem with the ‘music business’ today?

“The music business is very political. Like any business, bureaucracy and politics get in the way constantly. That being said there is fabulous music out there, I can miss all the bad music and we all kind of find it one way or another.”

Is this something you see as a fault with the ‘music business’?

“ I guess it is in some ways, but hey Peter Gabriel, I’m glad he’s got a big record company that’s gonna rush his record out. ‘Cause as soon as it’s available I want to walk into a shop and buy it, it’s going to inspire me and I know that Peter Gabriel is going to be in every record shop in the world. I’d prefer that with my music, because I make it to share, but that’s not happening, so this is an alternative way to make it and share it.”

In those thirty years that you’ve been in music, what have been your most memorable moments?

“Mainly being on stage. Being filmed is great, being watched through the music.”

So you wouldn’t say that, playing solo, playing with Young, playing with Springsteen?

“No, it’s mainly being on stage. Making records is hard work. I try to work live in the studio I as much as possible, this new album, ‘Break’a’way Angel’ has probably 12 of the 14 vocals live. Most of the guitar playing is live acoustics. ‘Stretching Out’ is live. ‘Cos I’ve learnt I don’t have the patience to do things over and over. I know some musicians who love that, they’ll try a guitar part with 12 different amps, on 30 different days, with different guitars and they’re into it, I lose patience. Even if I love the song, I don’t want to work on it for 3 or 4 hours. I can work on a song, but not the part, you know what I mean? Unless it was kind of crap. That’s why I love to play live, that’s what my forte is and what I enjoy most. I mean making records is my job to, but that just takes a little more elbow grease.”

In 1984, you replaced Steven Van Zandt as a member of the E-Street band. He has since gone onto become an actor, performing most recently as a member of the Sopranos ‘family’…..

“And he’s come back into the E-Street band, he was on the last tour. A big homecoming, so we’ve got the whole deal now.”

My question here was have you ever felt the tempted to try your hand at acting?

“No. I mean I fantasised It might be fun to play some nasty character, some sleazy nasty character. If somebody approached me and wanted me to try it, and it was something that made sense, I could give it a whirl, but it’s not something I feel an infinity toward, or particularly a talent for.”

Where do you gain your influence after all these years in the business and how has this changed?

“Anything and everything, I can’t be any more specific than that. Maybe I’m a little more tuned in. I have a little cassette boom box I can leave all over the house. ‘Cos I’m lazy and if I get a riff I just throw it in the boom box, carry on my day and then I come back, take a riff and an idea, put it on the table and it’s just a jig-saw puzzle. I think maybe I’m just a little more in tune. If I hear something, oh I’d better write that down or let it go. I’m just a little more free with my writing process, I don’t hate myself. I write a lot of bad songs, I used not to do that and find I’d not write at all. So now I just write what comes out, I might not like most of it, but if there’s one idea, I think that this one’s worth working a little harder on, I’m just a little more free with the journey I guess.”

You’ve worked with various other artists, which of these did you gain the most from?

“I’ve enjoyed them all, I’ve played with Ringo Starr, Bruce Spingsteen, Neil Young, I get a lot of attention for that, but that’s about 10% of the 33 years I’ve done that. I just like to play and sing and be passionate about it and when the opportunity arises it’s not required that I’m a band leader. I love to sing my own music, but it’s all part of the same journey, it’s nice not to be the boss once in a while.”
Finally, how have you managed to travel so far and still maintain your demanding schedule, when many of your generation hare giving thought of their retirement?
“I think what happens is at some point if you really love to perform, you realise that if you want to perform at the level you’re used to, you can’t behave in the same manner as you did when you were 19. It’s basically more work throughout the day on performance jobs, and you have to accept that or stop it. I joke allot and kinda moan about it, but I’m much more careful about rest, food, exercise. (He points toward the physical type standing with us in the dressing room.) My friend Joey here has been helping me out with stretching, and getting me ready for the shows, and I find that if I don’t do that, you might not notice that much, but it’s the little differences and I notice it. If people feel what you’re doing and if people who know nothing about music can sense that you are into it, and if they sense that, then it’s a better night for all and I’ve just learnt the hard way, you’ve got to spend a little more time preparing.”

Do you think you are ever going to retire?

“Not retire.”

You’re going to continue up until the day you die?

“Playing music, yeah. Music is therapeutic for me and performing, some kind of healing. It’s just the rest of the day that’s the hard work. I don’t need to do it everyday, but it needs to be some part of my diet as a person and as a fashion, for the rest of my life.”

Thank you very much Nils.

“You’re welcome, just let people know about my web-site ok.”

You can also read a live review of Nil Lofgren's performance in Leicestershire 11/2001 here

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