“I think the closest you can get to the flame, the better,” says Graham Nash. The legendary singer/songwriter is talking about the you-are-there-onstage vibe of CSNY 1974, the long-gestating three-CD, one-DVD box set that documents one of the first, largest, and most successful supergroup tours in rock history, headlined by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Never properly captured on record until now, CSNY 1974 (out today on CSNY Recordings/Rhino) boasts incredibly warm mixes done by Nash himself in 192-kHz/24-bit resolution. Said high-res tracks balance the intimacy of one voice, one instrument, and delicately sweet harmonies (as on David Crosby’s indelible Guinevere and Nash’s piano-centric Our House) as well as four perfectly blended voices amidst blazing electric-guitar assaults (as on Neil Young’s blistering On the Beach and Stephen Stills’ masterful Black Queen).
The ever-youthful Nash, 72, met Digital Trends at a midtown New York hotel to talk about mixing CSNY 1974 in 192/24 at Neil Young’s insistence, how things went when he had to tell Stephen Stills one of his songs didn’t make the final cut, and what he’d like to mix next in high-res. “I’m a fan of good music, to this day,” Nash observes. “And even though I’m one of them, I still have the ability to step back and look at what it is that CSNY did. We’re damn good at what we do. People are going to realize that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a very decent rock & roll band.” The proof is in the grooves, virtual or otherwise. Carry on.
Digital Trends: Did you ever think at any point during that massive 1974 tour, “What are we getting ourselves into?”
Nash (instantly): No. We were full of piss and vinegar. We knew what we were doing. I mean we’d already done Woodstock. We’d done it. It wasn’t a big deal to us. The excesses of the tour, the drugs — those were a big deal. And very often, helicopters had to take us into places. People would say (in affronted voice), “Well, helicopters!” But they don’t understand. With 80,000 people coming to see us, it was important that we didn’t get stuck in traffic and miss our own show!
When you first started the CSNY 1974 project, you were working with files in 96/24, and then everything changed.
That’s right. I was working in 96/24 until I got the phone call from Neil.
What did he say to you?
(Affects a nasally tone) “Willie, man, is this being done at the highest res possible?” [Willie is one of Nash’s nicknames; it’s short for his middle name, William.] I said, “No, Neil, we’re doing it in 96/24, because some of the software we were using didn’t accept larger files.” And you know if you double the file size, it takes 10 minutes to download any one song — and there are 40 songs here! But I looked at what Neil wanted to do, and I completely agreed. So I threw out all of the work we’d already done and finished, and started again at 192/24.
Is there anything specifically that you noticed an immediate difference with in 192/24? Something that made you go, “Ok, this does sound different to me.”
It was usually the acoustic stuff [in Set 2]. When we did it at the higher res, it got (pauses) closer, somehow. It’s a very subtle difference. I’m not sure that many people can hear that difference between the formats, but we could. And once Neil played Pono for me and I heard the difference, it was obvious.
“I still have the ability to step back and look at what it is that CSNY did. We’re damn good at what we do.”
That’s right. Most people’s opinions about CSNY as a band is either from 4 Way Street [a live recording culled from shows done in June and July 1970, originally released on LP in 1971 and reissued on CD with additional tracks in 1992], or from this f*cked BBC bootleg of us from Wembley Stadium [September 14, 1974]. I didn’t want our fans to think that’s who we were. I knew that if I did my homework going through all these tapes, and I went deeply enough and I cared enough and I was patient enough, there was a fine album to be made.
And God bless him, that’s exactly what Neil wants. He wants every breath; he wants it the best way it can be. He wants it the closest to when we played it live, and I gotta give it up to him. He’s brilliant at that.
While listening to the acoustic material in Set 2, I especially felt like I was onstage with all of you. There’s a nervousness that’s quite evident in the way David introduces Time After Time, a song he’d never sung onstage before. You can hear how his voice gets stronger once he gets going, and you feel the audience reaction, too. Those are the subtleties we look forward to hearing in high-res.
Excellent. The problem was trying to make all those different places we recorded sound like one place.
How were you able to level-match everything?
We took our time! Stanley [Tajima] Johnston is a brilliant engineer. And that was the thing — I wanted to put you in the f*cking middle to experience a great show from us and not feel like, “Well, the echo changed. The ambience changed.” I don’t want you to think about that. I only want you to think about the show. It wasn’t easy, but that’s exactly what I wanted to do, Mike. I wanted you to feel like you’re sitting there, smashed out of your mind, eating popcorn and listening to a great show.
Well, mission accomplished. I also liked hearing some of the dialog that went on before, during, and between songs, especially in Almost Cut My Hair where David is singing the line, “When I finally get my shit together” and we hear one of you go, “Sing it, David!”
That was me. The thing is, you’ve got to be very thoughtful about putting dialog on a record, because how many times do you want to hear it? How many times before you say, “Aww, f*ck-all, I’m going to the next track”?
I’m ok with it, because that means that it’s very much live. You responded to what David was doing in the moment, and it was a real moment. You didn’t step on a line or mess up a harmony.
Exactly. I’m being moved by him.
I’m probably an even harsher critic because my expectations are so high.
And did it meet your expectations?
Oh, beyond. I zeroed in on the intimacy. Especially in Set 1 during Immigration Man, I can feel your anger when you sing, “There he was, with his immigration face” — it’s so palpable. You were spitting out that line. All I knew was I didn’t want to be whoever you were looking at when you sang it.
“We were full of piss and vinegar. We knew what we were doing. I mean we’d already done Woodstock.”
That is sad, I agree. But that’s what good songs do; they stay relevant for many years after they’re written. Was there a song you had to leave off of the box set because you couldn’t find the “right” version of it?
Carry On. You know, there’s not one vocal overdub on the entire box set, and that’s one of the reasons Carry On is not on there. Here’s what we did. I wanted the best performance of each song. I spent 90 hours trying to put Carry On together. I tried extreme things, like taking the first half of one night and putting it with the second half of another night. But I couldn’t find a Carry On that killed me like every other song did.
And now I’ve gotta tell Stephen, right? I’m dreading this, because it’s a Stephen song, and I love him and respect him dearly. At the same time, we’d set this bar so f*cking high for performances, that it just didn’t make it. And he turned around to me and said, “Hey Willie, I trust you completely. If you say it’s not there, it ain’t there. Don’t worry about it.” That was just such a relief to me, because he was a mensch about it. He wasn’t, “Hey, man, it’s my song. What do you mean it’s not going on there?”
Now that you’ve worked so intensely with 192/24, is that how you’ll mix future projects?
Absolutely. I think it opens your ears. Like I said, there’s a very subtle difference, but it’s a very important difference. You sometimes can’t hear the subtleties and the depth of what’s going on with big guitars, but 192/24 brings you closer. And that’s one of the things about high-res: It makes you more human. But it does amplify the awful stuff too. (laughs) And what’s next? What’s 192 times 2?
That would be 384.
You know, I talked to Neil about that. We did CSNY 1974 in 192/24. He said (affects Neil’s voice again), “Hey, man, you’re lucky I didn’t want to do it in 384.” I said, “WHAT?” (both laugh) Please!
Would you be able to hear a difference between 384 and 192?
Well, we don’t know, because we haven’t heard it yet. But I would. (smiles)
What would you like to do next in 192/24? Is there something you’re allowed to discuss?
(Pauses) The next incredibly large project would be CSNY 1970 at Fillmore East. Not only do we have the audio, but there’s footage of an entire show — and the shit that happened when we weren’t doing the show. But that’s a whole ’nuther thing. It took me four-and-a-half years to get CSNY 1974 together, so can you imagine what it would take to put this thing together?
Ok, so we’ll get to see and hear that in 2018, then. Besides, you’re not going anywhere.
Maybe Martin Scorsese should do it. He’s got time. (chuckles)