Sheryl Crow’s career has so far spanned 10 albums across more than two decades. She discusses how Prince’s death impacted upon her new sound and her advice to the next generation of female pop stars.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year, it’s just shocking,” says Sheryl Crow as she muses over how Prince’s death influenced her songwriting.
He and Crow had recorded and performed together several times, but she says:”I had lost touch with him through the last 10 or 15 years.
“I hadn’t seen him, and you have that moment where you think ‘I wish I’d stayed in touch, I wish I’d been a better friend.'”
Prince was found dead last April at his Paisley Park home after taking an accidental overdose of the painkiller fentanyl.
“When he passed, they started showing all this old footage and I started hearing all that old music again that I’d loved and meant so much to me,” Crow says.
“What it made me do was, while I was in the studio and while I was writing, his passing in some way made me feel like everything outside of love, caring and compassion seemed worthless.
“And this was at time when our US election campaign was going on and it was just so vitriolic, and you see the light go out on this incredible talent, and it did make me feel like I want to make music that matters to me. It brought back the urgency.”
Crow is speaking to the BBC in London ahead of a series of live shows in support of her 10th album Be Myself.
It’s striking during the press interviews she’s doing that there is no big entourage and no PR people in the room. She’s keen to point out she likes to devote her full attention to living in the moment and, crucially, not be on her phone all the time.
“Smartphones are banned in my house!” she laughs. “I know I’m not going to look back on my life with my kids and think ‘I wish I had been on my phone more’,” she says.
The huge technological shift is one of the biggest societal changes there’s been since she first rose to prominence in the pre-smartphone age with her 1994 breakthrough single All I Wanna Do.
“There’s a huge problem and I think it’s really informing civilisation about who we’re becoming. We’re all attached to these gadgets which are supposed to keep us connected, and yet they’re creating a disconnect.”
She admits that while she’s not being entirely serious about banning phones in the family home completely, she has gone through something of a technology detox recently: “I’ve just made a pact with myself and I’m much happier.
“I pick my phone up once a day and check it, but it’s always on silent. If you detox from your phone you’ll realise how much of your day is spent looking to see what you’re missing, and what you’re missing is your life.”
When we meet in London on Thursday morning, news has just broken about the death of Chris Cornell – who Crow knew well when they were on the same record label at the start of their careers.
“I’m just in shock about it, he was so young, and from what I understand really had his life together,” she says as the news comes through.
One of the many things Crow and Cornell had in common was that both did a James Bond theme – Cornell for 2006’s Casino Royale, Crow for 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies.
Reflecting on what her Bond song did for her career, Crow says: “When you’re a musician, there are very few opportunities that get handed to you that give you carte blanche to completely step out of your genre, and reach people that you’d never reach.
“And the James Bond theme historically is one of those where opportunities are getting to be part of a legacy and being associated with a brand, and really creating notoriety across all genres.
“So for me it was a great honour and it happened really early on in my career, and I loved the opportunity to do it, loved working with the people who produce those movies.”
Two decades on, Pierce Brosnan is long gone as Bond and Crow is now on her 10th studio album, Be Myself.
“I think this is the most succinct record I’ve ever made, insofar as the topics, the themes, and also just bringing my full self to the studio,” she says.
“I’ve never been that open and freakishly fast writing a record. I think partially that’s because of my age, and that’s liberating and knowing that there are no parameters on what I was writing. That really created a free atmosphere.
“But also, there’s just an incredible number of things to write about right now, especially in America. If you’re willing to stick your neck out on the chopping block and write about what’s happening, it’s just endless.”
‘Out of my control’
Crow is somebody who has never been scared of getting political – she supported Hillary Clinton last year, and in the early noughties she found herself campaigning against illegal downloading, which was leaving a big financial hole in the music industry.
“There was a point where Napster was happening and people were starting to download music unlawfully where I thought ‘Wow is this the measure of what people feel music is worth? And I started feeling disillusioned about that, and was on Capitol Hill all the time and trying to protect artists’ rights.
“But with the advent of technology, you sort of have to throw your hands in the air and say ‘Okay, it’s the order of chaos and it’s out of my control’, so I’m at a place where I feel like I put a record out, I’m proud of it, but I have no idea how many people own it or have heard it or anything.
“With subscription services, there’s a certain amount of letting go and thinking ‘I’ve made the music, so whatever happens happens.”
Going back and looking at the music videos for some of Crow’s early hits, it’s noticeable she was never an artist who was marketed as a sex symbol.
Little Mix are among the female pop artists to have recently talked about feeling like they have to look a certain way – but it’s something that Crow said she never felt pressured by.
“The female image is sexualised and it’s partially because young girls are growing up with their heroes branding themselves as sexual beings,” she says.
“We all are, but in some ways it undermines your brand. With a lot of young women, they’re mixing up sexuality with power, and I think that portraying yourself with the erotic style of dancing doesn’t necessarily equate to power.
“And if you are trying to portray yourself as a role model, it’s confusing for young girls, and it’s confusing for young boys as well.”
Sheryl Crow’s new album Be Myself is out now.