by Nick DeRiso
Justin Hayward, songwriter and lead singer with the Moody Blues, takes a rare turn away from the band with the release later this month of Spirits of the Western Sky, his first solo effort since 1996′s The View From The Hill. Some 10 years in the making, Spirits (due February 26, 2013 on Eagle Rock) is appropriately cinematic, touching on the Moody Blues’ signature classic rock-meets-classical sound — something Hayward himself had no small part in constructing — even while it takes in fresh new elements from bluegrass to dance music. Hayward joined us to talk about his long journey toward completing Spirits of the Western Sky, in this exclusive new SER Sitdown...
NICK DERISO: Let’s start with the new remix of 1988’s “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere.” What was your initial reaction to hearing one of your more popular songs reassembled in that way?
JUSTIN HAYWARD: It came completely out of the blue. There were a couple of Swedish boys, and their manager sent this stuff through. They were loved the song, and they wanted to do a dance version of the song, but they found that they couldn’t extract what they wanted from the Moody Blues record. Really, they just wanted my voice, a bit of my old DX7 (an 1980s-era Yamaha synthesizer), and some percussion things. So, I listened to it, and I really enjoyed the stuff that they had started to put together. That dance stuff is kind of organic; you can come back the next day, and it would sound a little bit different. They asked me if I could do these pieces, and they sent me some tracks where they wanted things put, and I agreed. I enjoyed it immensely.
NICK DERISO: How did it end up on Spirits of the Western Sky?
JUSTIN HAYWARD: I never thought much more about it, except that I assumed it would be in clubs. But then when we were doing my album, Alberto, my engineer, and I would find that at the end of the night, we would put one of the guys’ new versions of “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere” on — and dance around the studio, and be happy. (Laughs.) It helped release a lot of the tension that we’d built up. We just got to enjoy it. And when we were compiling the album, we both decided that we really wanted to include it. It had become such a part of the album, such a part of our lives when we were making the album, that we wanted to include it.
NICK DERISO: Much of the new album recalls previous triumphs with the Moody Blues but you also, I think very interestingly, explore some bluegrass traditions. Did all of this spring from the recent Moody Bluegrass tribute projects?
JUSTIN HAYWARD: I was fortunate enough, really before Moody Bluegrass, to be accepted in Nashville as a songwriter. I’d been there in the 1980s and ’90s to do some showcase kind of things, so I was familiar with the musicians. A lot of the musicians in Nashville are simply waiting for a songwriter to come along so they can play. So, it was a natural thing for me. Then, I got to know some of those bluegrass musicians through Moody Bluegrass, and I began to realize some thing about the music. There’s no drums, no electric bass or electric guitar, so you’ve got to be able to play in your front room and in your parlor. I loved that, where you could just turn up with a couple of songs and the guys would play it. So, that’s what I did.