She’s happiest when she’s playing with her kids, Wyatt and Levi, in the yard. Eleven years of parenting has helped Sheryl Crow to focus on the important things in life.
And though she’s sold more than 50 million albums, earned nine Grammy Awards and played alongside such artists as the Dixie Chicks, the Rolling Stones, Jerry Lee Lewis, Michael Jackson, Prince, Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, B.B. King, Tony Bennett and Sting while also working as a backing vocalist for Tina Turner, and Bob Dylan, nothing’s as much fun as playing with the kids at home.
“We’re lucky to live here,” she says of her home in West Nashville. “We were playing outside yesterday.”
In Sheryl’s case, home is very definitely where the heart is. Her property has a recording studio, saloon and horse stables, providing the privacy and comfort that she craves. The fact that she lives in Nashville also means she avoids the prying eyes that might follow her if home was New York, Los Angeles or London.
“Nashville is music city. We don’t have problems with paparazzi the way some places do.” The message is clear: in Nashville, people look out for each other. They have one another’s backs and don’t let the more salacious elements in.
She moved there 12 years ago, after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She felt like she wanted to be home, having been rootless in Los Angeles for too long. The experience changed her outlook on life and she started to live a more authentic existence, making the most of every moment rather than taking things for granted. “I don’t know what I would have felt like if I had not had the moment of reckoning,” she said. “My life shifted into something that was more authentic in a lot of ways.”
When she moved to Nashville, she adopted her two boys.
Musically, she reconnected with the artists that she has always loved: the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and The Rolling Stones circa Exile and Let It Bleed. The influence of Nashville is writ large in her most recent record, the 2017 hit Be Myself.
“I wasn’t on a record label and had received a lot of encouragement from friends in Nashville so I decided to write with some of these great songwriters and make a record that showed my country influences. I loved the record I made.”
She quickly realised that she didn’t want to spend too much time on the road promoting the record. She’d made it at home and preferred to be back on the ranch than out peddling her wares.
“After I spent quite a lot of time going radio station to radio station, I started feeling like, man, there’s nothing worse spending two or three nights in a row away from my kids.
“Everything revolves around what’s good for them. I quit touring [temporarily] a couple of years ago. But the main thing really is that my work, my so-called inspiration, has been relegated to school hours. I made a record I love between school drop-off and dinnertime. Not many rock stars can say that.”
Little wonder, therefore, that her forthcoming UK tour is just three dates long. It starts in Birmingham on Tuesday and ends a few days later in Nottingham, though she’ll add a festival date at the end of that run, to make a week of it.
It’s not that she can no longer keep the pace at the age of 56; far from it. Sheryl has the energy, fitness levels and physique of a person of 27. It’s just that she’d rather be a mum. The age thing is irrelevant to her, though, at the same time, she doesn’t want to be limited to how she’s supposed to act. “That would be really a bummer for me. It would be sort of untruthful for me to start acting my age, and unfortunately probably is what most people like to see a 56-year-old woman on stage do is act your age. I love my age. I wouldn’t trade it. I don’t love the fact that I’m getting older and my face looks like it belongs on a 55-year-old. But am I gonna do anything about it? No. I just feel like there is a certain youthfulness in having a little bit of grace about embracing all things life and living. So, yeah, I’m probably gonna jump around on stage.
“Getting old is definitely not for sissies, to quote the great Bette Davis. I don’t love getting lines on my face, but I’m not going to get a facelift.”
The shows will be dominated by greatest hits and Sheryl has a rich catalogue from which to choose. She has landed four UK Top 10 hits in the shape of her breakthrough All I Wanna Do as well as If It Makes You Happy, A Change Would Do You Good and My Favourite Mistake. She has also hit the Top 40 with a further 12 singles including Everyday Is A Winding Road and Tomorrow Never Dies.
Be Myself will feature prominently. It’s a record that’s a hymn to the self on which Sheryl embraces her imperfections and gives herself a break, rather than chasing some strange sort of perfection or living up to the standards that society might impose. The title track, Be Myself, has sarcasm and humour. It doesn’t take itself too seriously.
It doesn’t hide its affection for the Rolling Stones and the Beatles and evokes her earlier records, Sheryl Crow (1996) and The Globe Sessions (1998). Sheryl’s had so much fun that she’s already recorded a follow-up, featuring such collaborators, friends, mentors and idols as Willie Nelson, Neil Young and members of the Eagles.
She says: “I’ve been working for over 30 years. Artists who have been around that long become criticised for their later work being kind of soft, or it’s not what it was, or they don’t have anything to say anymore now that they have money. I really, on this record, wanted to feel like I felt on my second and third and fourth records, which was just a feeling of liberation. We were celebrating us coming back together, celebrating this liberation of being older and making music that isn’t trying to be anything other than what it is.”
Her songs are written in a conversational tone, which is perhaps what makes them so relatable to the masses.
Sheryl is a remarkable figure. Her 10 studio albums have helped to establish her as one of the world’s biggest stars. And yet she is also an artist with a strong political conscience. She opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, supports gun control measures – a deeply Liberal and unpopular view in gun-dominated America – she opposed military intervention in Syria and she supports the fight against climate change.
She opposed the election of Donald Trump as US President and was a forthright supporter of Hilary Clinton. And the rise of hate and division around the world is a cause for ongoing concern. From France to Brazil and back again – via Brexit – she’s connected with politics around the world and concerned that dialogue is becoming hate-filled. “We have to figure out a way to get along. At the end of the day, we will care whether the planet can sustain our grandchildren, and we need to figure out a way to have a dialogue that at least has a modicum of decorum.”
Such views made her something of a punch bag for the far right, who’ve lambasted her consistently since the 1990s. The country audience is dominated by those with such views, though Sheryl doesn’t mind that her politics won’t appeal to all.
She finds it liberating being in her mid-50s. She’s going to write what she’s going to write, and the idea that she would get played at pop radio, or even radio in general anymore, is perhaps a little far-fetched, because everything is geared towards young people. So she found it liberating to be able to go in and write a record without any sort of deadline or external interference.
Besides, being more mature than her rivals means she doesn’t have to suffer the scourge of social media in the way that newcomers do. When Sheryl started, her press department was always try to conjure up stories that would make her seem more interesting. She’d had a pretty normal upbringing – a nice, middle-class family, hard working parents who are still married, small town in Missouri. She finds the pressures of social media mind-blowing and is unsure whether she’d have withstood the scrutiny had it been around when she started out. “And not scrutiny of your art, but scrutiny of you the person.
“I’m an older mum. I don’t want to look back on my life and think, ‘God, I wish I would have spent more time being present than communicating with people that weren’t in the room’. I also don’t want to model that for them – model being on my phone while we’re sitting at the dinner table having a conversation. There’s nobody that’s more important than my kids, so why wouldn’t I want to be with them? It’s a real struggle, and I realise that now 85 percent of everyone’s career is social media – likes and dislikes and followers and all that stuff. I didn’t grow up with it, and I refuse to live in it.”
Not that Sheryl wants to be a parent dinosaur. She realises you can no longer subtract technology from relationships anymore. However, she does look at the presence of technology and observe the harm it’s doing to relationships with real concern. “It may connect all of us, but it’s definitely creating a chasm between us. And raising two humans, which is my first and foremost job, I see how, as a parent, you have to figure out some way to navigate their relationship with technology.”
Indeed, the pervasive effects of technology feature on Sheryl’s new album on such songs as Alone In The Dark. “I’m not like other artists, where every time I break up with somebody I write a song about it. I’m careful about protecting whoever I’ve been in a relationship with. But I do find that it’s trickier now because media is everywhere, and [it’s] not just paparazzi outside your door; there’s this ability to broadcast somebody’s secrets or laundry. You’re much more vulnerable. I’m lucky that I’m from a different generation where that doesn’t seem to be a part of my reality, but it must be difficult to be young and navigate life, trying to figure out who you are, while you also have the pressure to brand yourself in a certain way. I’d rather be in the dark. There’s a huge part of me that enjoys not knowing what people say about me.”
In many ways, Sheryl is in the best place she’s been. She’s happily settled with her two boys and loves domestic life. And she’s able to mix that with a creative career that’s built around home-life with her beloved children. Being free of the expectation of others has freed her and allowed her to make the records she loves and live the life that brings greater freedom.
“Writing has become easier,” she explains. “I think a few things in my life have changed, like the ability to get out of my own way. That’s largely just due to getting older and being okay with it. There’s something strangely liberating about knowing you’re not competing with a bunch of 20-year-olds at radio. I can say what I want.”
Sheryl Crow plays Birmingham’s Symphony Hall on June 19.