In the early days of the Moody Blues, lead vocalist and guitarist Justin Hayward remembers, "the other guys would often look to me to start an album, because we were contracted to make a certain number of albums in a certain amount of time." Beginning with 1967's Days of Future Passed, most notably featuring the rapturous "Nights in White Satin," Hayward would ultimately pen many of the legendary British band's most defining classics.
"That was a bit of pressure," Hayward adds, "but only in a nice way. It certainly got things done." He hasn't produced his solo works with the same urgency or consistency—his last one was 1996's The View From the Hill—but he certainly hasn't suffered for inspiration. "I just started to realize, I suppose four or five years ago," he says, "that really I had a lot of material that just wasn’t being recorded and I was worried that this stuff was never going to see the light of day." If anything his latest LP, Spirits of the Western Sky, is among Hayward's most inspired and personal to date. Set for release on February 26 on Eagle Rock Records, the album strikes a reflective, often melancholic tone with such standouts as "Lazy Afternoon" and "Broken Dream," while other songs embrace pop, orchestral, and, on three tracks, even country distinctions. "We recorded more than I needed," says Hayward, "and I left some things off. I don’t know what’ll happen to them, but… We’ll see. I’m very pleased with the way it all came together." When you’re writing a song—or when you’ve written a song—is there something that defines it for you that tells you to keep it for yourself instead of doing it with the group? I think there is. I often write things and then I think it’s too personal for the Moodies. It’s not something that I could share with other guys to say. It’s a very personal album—songs about relationships—and that’s probably why it wasn’t
. But, I have to say, when I write a song everything starts off the same. I don’t think, “Who would record this?” It’s just me as I’ve always done since I was a kid writing a song. It’s as simple as that. I feel a kind of duty to do it, because I can do it. I think that’s probably the motivation behind any writer.
Does songwriting come easy to you now? Or after all these years does it still require a great amount of effort?
It’s maybe five or 10 percent inspiration, which comes early on you have that wonderful moment or that wonderful night where the light shines on you, but inspiration has to find you working. I’ve never been one for sitting in a car or somewhere over dinner and thinking, “That’s a great song,” or something. It has to find me working. So it is that five or 10-percent inspiration and then, after that, it’s just pure graft and putting some days in where you’re really despondent, where you feel you’re actually going backwards. You’re not contributing to that inspiration. You’re detracting from it by just trying too hard. But slowly it comes together. If you put the work in it comes together.
How did you get into writing country songs?
Several years ago I was asked by a songwriter’s association to go to Nashville—I think it involved some kind of award—and be part of the showcase. It was myself and Stevie Winwood and Michael McDonald and then some country people that I didn’t know. The whole community was just so welcoming to me. I met Jimmy Webb that same night; he was on the show. Can you imagine that? They’re all my heroes. I was standing in the wings just in awe of these people. They were so welcoming to me.
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