Nils Lofgren chats with Kevin Cooper about celebrating forty eight years on the road, his fondness for The Stables at Milton Keynes, the release of his ten disc box set Face The Music and his forthcoming tour of the UK.
Nils Lofgren is an American rock musician, recording artist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. Along with his work as a solo artist, he has been a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band since 1984.
In August 2014, a box set, Face The Music, was released on the Fantasy label. The career-spanning retrospective contains nine CD’s and a DVD covering his 45 year career.
Having toured the UK earlier this year, he will be back again in October, and in the blistering heat of his home town, Scottsdale, Arizona, Kevin Cooper caught up with him to have a chat.
Mr Lofgren how are you?
I’m good thank you Kevin, how are you today?
I’m very well thank you. Let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me again. Having spoken to you last November prior to your UK tour I have to ask you how it went.
It went very well thank you Kevin. Well enough to warrant another visit this year.
And how is life treating you today?
It’s pretty good. I have been up quite early with my four dogs; I am just trying to keep them quiet (laughter) I have got them fed and I’ve managed to walk them around the yard.
I understand that things are a little uncomfortable for you at the minute?
That’s right Kevin (laughter). We are having a heat wave here at the moment and it has reached 117 degrees over the past few days (laughter). It is vicious hot so we are going to drive a couple of hours north to a beautiful town called Sedona where it is hot but not this bad. It will be great to get away from this heat for a short while. We will read some books for a few days and try to tune out of the rat race. It is in a beautiful setting of red rocks and red dust so I am looking forward to that.
And how are the rehearsals for your forthcoming tour of the UK going?
It’s going well thanks for asking. I’m doing well at the moment memorising lyrics and trying to remember how to play all of my songs (laughter). I have been looking at Face The Music, my ten-disc box set and all of the titles from the past forty-five years, and I am trying to pick some new songs and some different songs and stay on top of what we did and try to be a little bit better this time around. That is the goal every time that you tour; you just want to be as creative and into it as ever.
Do you enjoy your time spent over here in the UK?
Yes Kevin I do and this time I am intending to bring my wife Amy over with me. I will meet her after the shows at the merchandise table. Amy will be selling the T-shirts and CD’s after the shows and I have to tell you that she has designed the tour t-shirts. We are very excited to be coming back to the UK and we have an even longer run this time. This is a very charming tour that we are doing; it’s kind of grass roots and going back to the basics of how I started, which is learning how to play for people and trying to make a special night of it regardless of what the day brings. The whole of the UK is one place where I have continued to come to now for over forty-three years and it really matters that you get to a little town say on a Tuesday night because if you do a great show then the people will remember that and they will come back to see you.
You speak very fondly of the UK, have you ever considered settling over here?
Not really Kevin although I do love being there and I feel very comfortable over there. Actually before my very first professional experience over there on the Tonight’s The Night Tour with Neil Young I went over to London in the late 60’s. Thanks to Neil Young I became friends with (David) Crosby, (Stephen) Stills and (Graham) Nash and Graham Nash was recording in London so I would go and hang out with him quite a bit. I remember walking home after a late night recording session at Graham Nash’s studio; I was just a teenager and felt like a fish out of water but Graham took me under his wing and always kept the door open for me at his recording sessions.
We were walking back to his flat when somebody familiar walked by. We both noted it but didn’t say anything but then fifty feet later Graham just stopped me and tapped me on the shoulder and said did we just walk past Charlie Watts. We both had a laugh and it was funny because even then it was simply two fans passing by one of their heroes and I will always remember that. What you have to remember Kevin, is that London was a fabled mecca for us American musicians because of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones; the British Invasion of the USA together with their American counterparts, Motown and Stax. The entire UK has always been a great place to come and play and we are so excited about being able to come back and play for you.
And once again you are playing The Stables at Milton Keynes on Wednesday 28th October. Do you enjoy playing there?
Yes Kevin we are and it is always a great place to play. I like the new version of it even better than the old one. But it is always good and there is always a great crowd there whenever we play. So we are slowly preparing for a long trip away from home and I am really excited about it.
The Stables were obviously built by musicians for musicians. Is that noticeable to you when you play there?
The original Stables was always kind of fun and challenging because there was more of the audience to your left and right; a kind of profile that was looking at you which was challenging. Music has always made me bop around and flip around a bit so it was kind of nice when I would spin around to my left and I could just stay there and become part of the crowd or vice versa (laughter). But I will say that the new design is still left and right but now the majority of the audience is in front of you, so there is more of a focus out. Having said all of that it is very intimate, the audience are right on top of you, and it is just a great place to play. The audiences have always been great to us whenever we have played there.
Tell me about the show after the show?
Well Kevin the show after the main show usually takes place at the merchandise table and it is always nice as they keep a bar tender on duty so that the people in-line can grab a drink (laughter). I enjoy meeting the fans and I have some time to do that whilst the crew is loading all of the equipment back onto the tour bus. So many people hang around and say hi to you. That is kind of nice.
You mentioned Face The Music your 10-disc box set. Were you happy with how well it was received?
Well Kevin it is quite a novelty item; it is a massive box set and of course in the age of digital music I think that it is kind of nice to have something hard in your hands. The fans have loved it and we have received some great reviews and I am very proud of it. The record company were fabulous; they did let me hand-pick everything that is on there and they let Amy produce the artwork for the packaging. We had great help from many, many talented people and as I said we are very proud of it. A few nights ago we saw a great Jackson Browne show and he too had given me a nice quote to use; it was nice to have some of my old friends plug the project (laughter). It was difficult asking them to do that for me but with such a big project it was required and it was nice to be able to give Jackson a copy.
The box set to me is a really special thing Kevin especially as I haven’t had a record deal in over twenty years now. I just have my website nilslofgren.com which gives me the freedom to do what I like. It was nice to have a great company who wanted to do a thorough box set, who gave me great ideas but always deferred to us in the end.
Do you manage to see much live music?
We are always going out trying to catch some live music and the other night we saw Macy Gray who was just spectacular; her and her band were amazing.
When you arrive in the UK you will be celebrating forty-eight years out on the road. How does that make you feel?
Old (laughter). What better way to start the celebrations than a long, healthy run in a great place with great audiences; it’s going to be fun. I just want to get up in front of them and sing my songs. That is the beauty of a live show Kevin, I have found more gratitude for it as I have gotten older. Certainly after forty-seven years I no longer like leaving my home or my wife or my dogs and even though Amy will be with me this time, we will have a laugh sometimes about how we are homesick for our dogs and our home even though we are together.
Nevertheless it allows me to focus on the show itself; an even deeper focus and more importantly I have found a new level of gratitude for the experience because forty-eight years is quite a bit of time to now not only get to sing and play for people, but to feel like despite all of my injuries and aches and pains I have a shot at singing and playing as well as I ever did. I certainly can’t do a back flip for you off a trampoline and risk my life anymore, but hopefully the playing and the singing will make up for that.
Am I to take it that you have no plans on slowing down?
Not really Kevin (laughter) although I have slowed down in a sense that when I was a kid in my twenties I had no life but the road, to the studio, to the road. There was nothing in-between. So I am spending more time at home than on the road but we have a good life and I have a lot of dogs to feed so I need to work a little bit (laughter) but now I will just do it part-time. I will go away for a week and then I will come home or I will go away for two weeks and then I will come home for three. Sometimes I will go away for a long weekend and then come home for the rest of the month that kind of thing so I am slowing down in a sense and if I can make it work then I would prefer to spend more time at home than being out on the road because pretty much half of my life has been spent out on the road.
Certainly when I was much younger I was on the road pretty much all of the time, so in that sense there is much more of a balance with this great home that Amy has put together for us, so I am grateful for that. But yes, I plan to perform and sing god willing as long as my health permits; potentially for the rest of my life if that is possible, but certainly with more time at home than I had back in my twenties (laughter). I do love it all and there really is no way to go and play eight shows unless you leave home; you can’t play eight shows in the same town. You might be able to get away with two per year but that’s it.
That’s part of the charm; you get to a town that you haven’t played in for years or one that you have never played in and you take a walk around, find a café, get a take-away coffee and just get the flavour of the place. Then you take the time to remind yourself that there are hundreds of people who are going to get a baby sitter or a dog sitter or whatever they have to do, and go through the hassle of getting out to the venue whatever the weather, with high hopes that I will sing and play well and hopefully they can go home with a little inspiration from the music which will linger in their lives a bit. Or at least that is the plan. It really hones your focus to get back to the hotel and plan the set for that night.
It really does give you a deep and meaningful sense of focus for the rest of the day so that when you walk out that night you are kind of at peace and you can shut your mind off and tune into the energy of the audience and what it does to your musical instincts. If you are prepared enough then it usually works out quite well.
So which do you prefer now, the smaller, intimate venues or the large stadiums?
That’s kind of a tricky question Kevin (laughter). I mean I guess that I do enjoy them both. In the smaller venues the people are on top of you so it is easier to get down into the music and get lost in it. In a stadium everyone is so far away and it is kind of a spectacle and for me I have found that I hear the audience and I feel them but I tend to ignore them visually and hook into the band. Obviously when I am on tour with Neil Young, Ringo Starr or Bruce Springsteen I will watch the singer and I will watch the band and I usually give myself about thirty minutes to get down into the music before I start running around. Whereas in the smaller venues no matter where you look there are forty faces staring back at you (laughter).
I really would hate to pick one over the other Kevin if I am honest. But what I will say is that it is more virtual and easy to get down into the music which is my job, and stay there in the smaller venues.
It is forty years ago that you released your self-titled Nils Lofgren album. Could you ever envisage that you would still be going as strong?
No Kevin I would never have been that greedy (laughter). When I first hit the road I was seventeen and I didn’t know anything about the music business. Even my heroes like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles really didn’t think of it as something that they were going to do for ever and all that I was concerned about was the rent for that month (laughter). I never envisaged doing anything else but I never really thought that it would last for fifty years; I never thought that. The fact that I am coming up on forty-eight years is kind of miraculous. It’s funny that I joke a lot with my friends and complain to my wife Amy about the bureaucracy of being an adult these days is rather maddening (laughter).
I still keep focused and try not to lose sight of the fact that I have the type of job that once I actually walk out there to sing I get to turn my phone off, and for a couple of hours I get to tune into a gift that I have which I didn’t ask for; which is the music. I would never have been so greedy at seventeen to have insisted on being this blessed with a career this long. I will be eternally grateful for it Kevin.
I have to ask you will your Live UK CD be ready for sale on the tour?
Yes Kevin we are determined to have the CD ready. We have literally just finished mixing and mastering it and I have to tell you that it sounds fabulous. There are fifteen tracks and Amy has put a great package together. She found some great photos from the tour back in January and so yes, we plan to have it on sale at the shows.
They always say never believe your own publicity. However when someone like Neil Young says that listening to you sing and play has been an inspiration to him for many years, then surely that has got to make you feel good, hasn’t it?
Of course. One of the crazy things about getting the box set released was that if you are going to release a forty-five year retrospective of your work, then it was important to reach out to people for some brief testimonials and there was really no way that anyone could do that except me. So as uncomfortable as it was I reached out to twenty or so friends and I was very touched at just how happy they all were to contribute. It was a beautiful thing Kevin. Look, some people are sometimes harshly critical of something that I do although they may have gone overboard in my eyes, but if there is any constructive criticism in there then I will take it. I am one of those performers who really likes to be engaged and inspired, and so I include a lot of improvisation in the show so that I can challenge myself especially with the guitar playing, I will take a lot of chances, I will meander around looking for something special.
But at the same time I want the audience to feel that it was a very special night and hope that they get a little inspiration from it. So towards accomplishing that is just very important to me and something that I have worked hard towards all of these years. So to have one of my musical heroes, whether that be Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Sting, Elvis Costello or Bruce Springsteen, all of whom I respect so deeply, be prepared to offer me some kind words, then yes it certainly does mean a lot to me Kevin. It is also very gratifying for me of course.
I understand that a certain Mr Gordon Sumner (Sting) had a laugh at your expense recently?
Yes Kevin, that’s right. Sting was hilarious because he is such a musician and the last time that I went to see him he was learning how to play the melodium (laughter) which is a maddening type of small accordion. Sting knows all about my accordion background, so he asked me if I would like to pick it up and try it and I flatly refused because I think that it is such a diabolical, evil instrument (laughter). When you are playing a note outwards with your bellows, and when the bellows end you have to push them back in and the notes change. The damn notes change so I just said that is evil and I am not going to pick it up (laughter).
You have mentioned Mr Springsteen, did you know that it is forty years ago today that he released his Born To Run album?
Oh wow Kevin, that’s amazing. It’s funny that sometime around that release date I bought a ticket and saw The E Street Band perform at The Bottom Line in New York City. It was such a brilliant show and of course I never imagined that ten years later I would be a part of the band. That was such a beautiful thing and I have stumbled into some great surprises, some of which were not of my own making. I have had a beautiful run musically; I have been blessed with a great family, I have been very blessed with some unusual support, and so I am trying to take care of it as best I can. There is no better way for me to show that than to get to a town in the middle of nowhere and to have a few hundred people waiting for me to sing to them and have me do a good job.
And dare I ask, will you be releasing a new studio album shortly?
Not straight away Kevin but I have just started writing again. I got home from the last E Street Band tour which was a twenty-six month run after which I was quite beat up and had a few injuries, muscle tears and things like that. So I have been doing a bit of therapy and also addressing my health. I’m sixty-four now and it’s kind of maddening that you simply can’t bounce back like you did when you were twenty-two (laughter). Nevertheless I have got a handle on everything. I have begun writing again although it is a very slow process. Lots of times I will give myself permission to just write like an amateur and I will write horrible things, stupid country songs that I wouldn’t play for anybody (laughter).
And then eventually I get some of that out of my system and something good starts happening but I do plan on hopefully having an album written by early next year and begin the recording of it although there is no set time in which to get it out. Hopefully if I have my way I will have a bunch of songs that I really like and I will get a record out sometime later next year.
On that note may I thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
You are very welcome Kevin. Thank you for spreading the word on the box set together with the shows coming up. I am looking forward to seeing everyone over there in the UK once again.
I am really looking forward to seeing you at The Stables.
That sounds great Kevin, and I appreciate it. Good to talk to you and all the best.
|Tue 27th||De La Warr Pavilion Bexhill|
|Wed 28th||The Stables Milton Keynes|
|Thu 29th||Cadogan Hall London|
|Fri 30th||The Concert Hall Croyden|
|Sun 1st||Ulster Hall Belfast|
|Mon 2nd||Vicar Street Dublin|
|Wed 4th||The Royal Hall Harrogate|
|Thu 5th||City Hall Sheffield|
|Fri 6th||Venue Cymru Llandudno|
|Sat 7th||Forum Theatre Malvern|
|Mon 9th||Charter Theatre Preston|
|Tue 10th||Waterside Theatre Aylesbury|
|Thu 12th||De Montfort Hall Leicester|
|Fri 13th||Grand Hall Scarborough|
|Sat 14th||Queens Hall Edinburgh|
|Mon 16th||Eden Court Inverness|
|Tue 17th||Music Hall Aberdeen|
|Thu 19th||Playhouse Whitley Bay|
|Fri 20th||Opera House Buxton|
|Sat 21st||Floral Pavilion New Brighton|
|Sun 22nd||Colosseum Watford|