by Matt Wardlaw
For Moody Blues frontman Justin Hayward, the future has become the present and certainly, many days have passed since he first joined the group nearly a half-century ago.
While the band remains popular on the touring circuit performing dates annually which take them all over the world, it’s been a while since there has been new music from the Moodies — their last album was ‘Strange Times’ in 1999.
Hayward is providing some relief for that drought with the release of his new solo album ‘Spirits Of The Western Sky,’ which finds the veteran singer/songwriter musically in familiar territory and also pushing onward into new horizons with three songs that venture into the country/bluegrass genre.
Hayward spoke with us recently to talk about the new album and also, the possibility of new music from the Moody Blues.
Your solo albums have always sounded just like that. Having heard the ones you’ve done over the years, they’ve always felt more individual than what you were doing with the Moody Blues and a lot of times, a bit more stripped back. For you, where’s the separating line between the two?
You know, I started collecting material only about three or four years ago for this record, but it included stuff that I’d written up to 12 and 13 years ago. And I thought about that, “Now why didn’t I put a couple of these songs towards the Moody Blues things that we’d done,” and I thought, “Well, maybe it’s just too personal. Maybe I’m able to say things from just me, from my own voice, than I would expect a band to share and sentiments.”
I think that’s probably what it is — that’s probably the difference. I think this album is probably more from my heart about relationships and peoples and things like that. And I must say, I did do a few other tracks that I haven’t used that were more social comment
But in the end, I thought I didn’t really have the right to say that kind of stuff or talk about the world. Really, what I have the right to do is to talk about my own relationships and my own feelings and stuff like that. So I suppose it just comes from what you think is right for me to say and what I think is right for the group to say.
Those other tracks that you mentioned that you didn’t use, where is the right place for tracks like that?
I don’t know, because often the demos that I do, I think if there was a Moodies record coming along, I’d have to start from scratch and not use stuff and think, “Oh, I’ve got this track that I’ve already virtually finished, but haven’t mixed or messed around with.” So I don’t know, and at the moment, I think, even the label is kind of liking the bluegrass things that I did
and seeing that as a great direction.
Nashville has been so welcoming to me over the years and it was such a thrill to do those
. But still, the heart of this album is the personal songs that I’ve written and the things that I recorded with Alberto
, my co-producer on this. So it’s a mixture of all of those things.
I know you’ve been working on this record for a few years now. What really was the spark that got you working towards doing another solo record?
I was doing some mastering for Universal for the 5.1 surround sound versions of the early Moodies stuff and I just couldn’t see a Moodies album coming up or looming on the horizon. I think that the Moodies is in such a lovely place where actually, we’re rediscovering the vast catalog that we have and getting to know and reacquainting ourselves with songs that we only ever played for a couple of days.
Like, we do a song in the set now that’s called ‘You and Me.’ I think we must have spent two or three days on it, back when it was recorded in the early ‘70s and then you just forget about these songs, but the fans never forget about them.
So I think the Moodies are rediscovering our own catalog and trying to bring it to the stage and bring it to attention. I thought that the place really for my new songs was in this solo album and Eagle Rock had given me that opportunity, which is really wonderful. I’m very grateful to them. They’re a great company and I’m very pleased that they should take an interest in it.
You mentioned the country material — I listen to this album and I hear it move through some interesting phases and it seems like you did some specific sequencing work in that regard. Am I hearing that right?
Yeah, I did. Because I tried scattering the three bluegrass things through the album and it just didn’t sound right. It sounded like we were all off to Nashville in the car and then we were back in Europe somewhere three minutes later. So I put them together and I think it works best like that. Once you step into Tennessee, you should stay there for a while.
What pushed you towards that Tennessee sound?
Well, I was invited there by a songwriter’s association back in the ‘90s to be part of a small live showcase, only doing three or four songs each. And it was me, Stevie Winwood, who was living there then, Michael McDonald, Jimmy Webb, who I worshipped, you know? I was like, “Bloody hell, it’s Jimmy Webb!” There were all of these people and I realized how welcomed I was there as a songwriter. Not anything else — just as a guy who wrote songs, because that’s what they love. And also, we all know that the most valuable commodity in the pop music world is youth, really.
But in Nashville, it’s not — they look up to you if you’ve had a lot of experience. So I got to know people there and went back and did a few other showcases in just a few clubs and things, with country artists and my stuff seemed to fit into that genre. I kept in touch and then there was an album that came out that was a tribute to the Moodies — it’s called ‘Moody Bluegrass’ and that really kind of turned me on and I got to know the producer who did that and a couple of the musicians. I just thought it was the perfect…it was like playing when I was a kid, where you bring your instruments and it sounds
right in your front room or in what they call a parlor or something.
Bluegrass, I loved the fact that there was real rules about it — there was no drums — you don’t have to worry about drum spill on all of the microphones. There’s no electric bass, you don’t have to fiddle around with Pro Tools or anything and
no electric guitars.
The fact that we could just play, a small group sitting there and looking at each other, doing the vocal as well and at the end of it, they’d say “do you like it?” or “we could do it again if you want to.” You could do three tracks in an afternoon — it was just sensational. I was really drawn to it and I’m sure I’ll do it again.