Pegi Young Follows the Music, Does What Feels Right
Senior A&E writer gets the full scoop on Pegi Young's solo career
Pegi Young has played many roles: backup singer (touring with Neil Young’s band since 2000), mother (Pegi and Neil Young have been married for 27 and raised three children), and caring philanthropist (Pegi co-founded the Bridge School in 1985, an institution that supports students with complex communicational and physical needs).
Recently, her musical path has led her to begin her own solo project, Pegi Young and The Survivors, who have most recently been on tour since August this year. I had a chance to sit down and get to know Young before her show tonight at the Jefferson Theater for the Interlocken festival. Tickets are $20 at the door which opens at 7pm.
For those who don’t know, you’ve toured as a backup singer for Neil Young since 2000 and have relatively recently emerged as a solo artist in 2007. What made you decide to begin this phase of your career, and what do you intend to convey with it?
Well, I’ve been composing my own music for years and writing poetry for years and years. And playing, you know, around the house, gigging here and there with my women’s singing group I founded after [performing at] the Academy Awards in the mid-90s. And from there, it was just getting more experience out there on the road with Neil and with so many other great bands. Actually, I think it was Elliot Robert’s [tour manager] idea that I go in the studio and record my own stuff – he knew I wrote, he knew I played a little, he knew I sang and had spirit, I guess. Bridge School was in really good hands so I didn’t have to be involved in day-to-day operations there and my kids were grown to a certain age so I didn’t have to figure out how to juggle that [and my music]. A lot of great female artists have done that but I just could never quite figure out how to do it. It was just a timing thing really. At a certain point it all just came together.
How would you describe your approach to composing music, and how has it changed over the course of your career?
I don’t know that I approach it terribly differently than I did all along…I get inspired by different things and get an idea, a spark, here or there and maybe that one idea links to a random other idea. A lot of the time I’ll just write down snippets of thoughts that come to me and things I see. I’m working on a song now, for instance, and I woke up thinking about it this morning so I spent a couple hours playing around with it. It’s kind of a process that I can’t say has changed a lot. Our band has changed quite a lot over the years, so that’s lead to some changes in sound, you know. Some of the ways the songs are evolving are a result of the collaboration of the band members – I’ll bring in a sketch of a song, a melody to begin with, but it’s really a group effort. We have one song we’ve tried I don’t know how many ways – from Motown to waltz to everything. We’re thinking of putting a reggae spin on it next [laughs].
“Bracing for Impact” incorporates several different sounds, from blues to country and rockabilly, as well as several guest features. Is there any singular mood or message you meant to convey with this record in particular by uniting these influences?
No, there’s certainly not an overall message. The songs, like I said, are a very collaborative process of working with my band really. On “Trouble in a Bottle,” for instance, we brought in a horn section, which was our drummer, Phil Jones’ idea, and once they came in we tried them out on a few other tracks – like “what if we tried a lonely sax on this one?” and so on. It’s not like any of that was planned, it just sort of happens organically.
Many of your albums feature a wide selection of covers, everything from Crazy Horse to Devendra Banhart. What encouraged you to make this choice, and how do you go about choosing which tracks to cover?
Anytime I just take on a cover it’s a song I’ve heard but it’s something that really resonates with me, something I can get inside of and hopefully put my own spin on and try to sing it honestly. I don’t really worry too much about what time period it’s from or if the genre is right or those sort of things. Sometimes, though, you record a number of songs and maybe they don’t all fit. I still have this notion of putting together a record, something that has an overall theme that ties it all together, and a song that is a good song that we already recorded, where the band played great, may not make it on the record because it doesn’t really go with the other songs in my mind.
*Your husband, Neil Young, is featured multiple times on the album. Has his music had an impact on your approach to songwriting or music in general, either from your experience in his band or your relationship with him as a person? *
For sure, all of those things. I’ve been living with Neil for 35 years, I’ve been lucky enough to be in a number of his bands, I’ve listened to him since before we were married so, sure, his music, like a lot of peoples’ music, has informed the way I play. And of course, living with him in such close proximity has an effect. But I write in my own way, of course. I wrote since long before I knew him. We’re on separate tracks that way. He’s got his way and his method and ways and I’ve got mine. Obviously his music is very unique, as you know, and he’s also all over the map – pick a decade, pick a year and it’ll sound different…That’s probably the biggest impact he’s had on me: not being afraid just to follow your music and go with what feels right to you in the moment. I think from an artistic standpoint, being honest and true in your storytelling and your playing is the biggest influence he’s had on me.
How has your experience on the tour been so far? After having so much experience touring, are there any surprises you’ve run into?
Oh every gig is a little different! We’ve been having a great time. We’re looking forward to the time we’re spending in Virginia, looking forward to the next few days. We’ve got a variety of gigs, from the theater in Charlottesville, to the campfire, to the festival. So we’re having fun…we don’t really know quite how any of these things are going to be, but that’s really the fun of it.
Is there anything else you would like to say to Cav Daily readers?
Well, I’d like people to always know that they can check out more about Bridge School at www.bridgeschool.org. It’s just so near and dear to our hearts – we’ve put 27 years of our lives into helping the school, along with all the professional staff and the families and everybody else, and it’s really been a labor of love. It means alot to us.