Sheryl Crow: “Women are taking their power back”

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  • Her new singles Woman in the White House and In The End have brought the singer-songwriter back to our airwaves once again. Sophie Goddard meets Sheryl Crow to hear the inspiration behind them.

    Your latest singles, In the end and Woman in the White House were written eight years ago. Why did you decide to release them now?

    I think it was a B-side to a single [originally]. I mean what does that even mean as we don’t release records any more? But it wasn’t ever really released per se. That was back during the Hilary Clinton moment and you know eight years later we’re still having the same conversation, it’s kind of shocking. I’ve said this numerous times, but I grew up with Margaret Thatcher and actually all the way back to Golda Meir, I’m a real dinosaur. But we’re a forward-thinking country and every time a woman raises her voice it seems like she gets shot down for being a bitch. We’re just not making that final step towards giving a woman her due. We have amazing women in business and we have great women in politics, but even getting women to vote for women has been challenging. So hopefully it’s going to change.

    Talking about ‘political’ issues can be divisive and some artists shy away from that. Have you ever been worried about the impact it could have?

    You know, throughout my career I have been able to write music and count on there being a certain civility to the way we conduct our lives. Now it is definitely more worrisome. You read the kind of hate that comes through social media when you release something, or even when you say anything. I get a lot of, ‘Shut up and sing’ and that kind of thing. Which to me makes it more important than ever to write about this ignorance that we’re being manipulated with. It’s a little bit like we’re a frog in a pot, we don’t even realise that we’re being used to create the divisiveness by leaders and by people who are taking money from large corporations. We’re the recipients of bad behaviour and we just take their lead. So, I’m going to continue writing about what I see. I’m a mum, I’m a single working mum, and I do feel like I have a lot to say that a lot of single mum’s would relate to. And not only that, a lot of parents would relate to, so somebody has to write about it. Every song can’t be about sex.

    I’d love to know what the response has been from your fanbase to records like these. Because presumably it’s your willingness to tackle these kind of subjects that’s exactly why many of them connect with your music in the first place?

    Yeah, I mean there are people that have been with me from the beginning that know that I’m not an artist who just does All I Wanna Do and Soak Up The Sun and songs that sound happy. On my first record there were two songs about being sexually harassed through a period of a year. And on the second record [there was] a song about Walmart selling bullets. I have a history of writing songs that are pretty on-topic for what’s going on, it’s just that those aren’t the songs that have made the radio waves. So people that are real fans, they know I have a big mouth and that I’m going to write about what I see and what I experience. For people who don’t like that and who think that I’m just All I Wanna Do or If It Makes You Happy, I’ve gotten some backlash. I’ve gotten more backlash to Woman In The White House than I have to songs like In The End which I find to be really head-scratching. But I’m not writing songs necessarily to be always entertaining, I’m not a wind-up monkey.

    You touched on it just a second ago, the way we consume music now. Do you create music in the same way that you did back when you were in your early days?

    With my last album Threads, I made the announcement that I was not going to make albums anymore and people were like, ‘Oh my god how can you say that?’. We just don’t listen to albums in full anymore and making an album for me, is a very thoughtful and thought-filled process. There’s a beginning, middle and an end and there’s redemption and all kinds of things that go into making an album and what that album is representing. Now with streaming, people have the capability to make their own playlist or even just have music piped in through somebody else’s playlist, so it’s a little bit futile. It’s given me the impetus to be like, science in a laboratory where I just create something and put it out. And it’s been in that way very liberating. I can write a song like In The End and make a virtual video and put it out and feel the ripple effect or feel the impact of that. As opposed to waiting for a full artistic statement, having men sit around a conference table and decide which song should come out or which ones going to get radio play. There’s none of that anymore.

    That sounds great.

    It is! I mean there’s a part of me that really had to mourn the end of something that, for me, was a vital part of my upbringing, which was music in full form. You know part of the gripping sadness over streaming is that we are really catering to the six-second attention span that our kids are growing up with and they experience unknowingly. This idea that in a song you have to change something every six seconds, or repeat something every six seconds or they’re going to turn the dial? That part of it does make it scientific so in that way I’m a bit of a dinosaur where I’m just like, ‘I’m going to write what I’m going to write and if they turn the dial, what can I do?’.

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    Will you still be making music videos?

    Actually during Covid we have been making a lot of virtual videos where my band will play from home and we recreate songs from live shows, so that they’re different. And that way I can also keep my band working. There is much challenge now in music to keeping great musical people working. Creating virtual videos has been a godsend and doing videos. We’re getting ready to put out a video for In The End and another video and being able to create videos that are not the hundred thousand dollar videos, that’s also been a tool. Everything you put out you can pretty much count on people loving it or absolutely hating it and sending you death threats.

    You’ve had an incredible career in music, but it has also involved some incredibly traumatic experiences, which you’ve bravely spoken about. Do you you feel like the landscape for women in music is shifting now? Is it a more positive, safe space?

    I do. But I guess as an outsider of pop radio and commercial radio and as somebody who’s older and isn’t appealing to the 13-26 demographic…and also as a single mom raising boys, I do see it changing and shifting. Most of the images with women in pop music are as important or even more important than what the message of the song is. A lot of what is happening in pop radio is women taking their sexual power back and that being something emblematic of feminism. I think that, just like with the #MeToo movement there’s been sort of an overcorrection. And now we’re going to have to figure something out. I guess there are going to be people, like we’ve had in the past, like Camille Paglia and people like that, that will analyse how much of us wielding our sexual power and going so deep into that is representing feminism and how much of it is just playing into commercial success. And I guess there is power in that as well, but at the end of the day you have to analyse what we’re wielding. But yes, as far as women being captains of their own ships, I do feel like in certain scenarios we’re seeing a lot more of that, women producing their own music. And we still have a long way to go in getting women producers, women at the head of record labels, women agents, women radio programmers. We’re way behind on that, just like we are in politics.

    I couldn’t believe it when I read that you didn’t see a penny from your first album. That seems like such an alien concept now?

    Yeah, I mean it was a little bit like the dark ages in that the only real female producer that we’d seen at Pop was Susan Rogers who worked with Prince. And I mean how forward-thinking was Prince! Prince had bands filled with female musicians who were bad-ass, you know? And it wasn’t like ‘You played great for a girl’. It was like ‘he’s got the most incredible band’! It’s still somewhat playing catch-up. I mean, I didn’t ask to produce my second record I just did it. And I was lucky that they listened to it and the men in suits thought they could make some money off of it because of some commerciality it had. If I had said, ‘Can I go with Trina Shoemaker, this wonderful female engineer and can I produce’? I’m sure I would have been shot down. But I hope that we’re getting there. I mean certainly there has been a lot of conversation about it, maybe something great will come out of that. But at the end of the day, as long as you have women who are getting played and are top of the charts there is power in that. As they can dictate what they want to do with their own careers, so they’ll call the shots and that’s positive.

    Are there any new female artists in particular you’re excited by?

    I mean I hate to sound cliché but I love Billie Eilish! I love her because I love the fact that she and her brother, almost out of necessity created their own genre of music. And nobody weighed in on that. Now she’s got a lot of young girls who are looking to her and seeing somebody who is a real artist. I love H.E.R because she is unabashedly an artist – she picks up a guitar and she’s like another badass guitar player who just happens to be a girl. We haven’t seen that in a while. We haven’t really fostered that on our award shows, we’ve been much more celebratory of women who dance and who are sexy. It’s great to see a strong female playing a guitar, getting kudos.

    Woman In The White House and In The End are out now.

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