Sheryl Crow is speaking to NME down the phone from her Nashville ranch ahead of today’s release (July 31) of a new version of her 2012 B-side ‘Woman In The White House’, on which she sings: “It’s time to clean up Capitol Hill / With a shovel and a pair of high heels / We’ve seen what the good ol’ boys can do / Now it’s our turn to take a shot“.
With the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden expected to select a woman running mate for the November election within the coming week, the release of ‘Woman In The White House’ feels more than timely. “It’s shocking to me that, after 231 years, we’ve never had a woman President,” Crow adds in addressing the song’s straightforward message about the need for progress. “It’s like we’re still in the Dark Ages.”
As well as giving NME her view on the current state of play in US politics, Crow also shares her perspective on the importance of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, explains why she may not make another album and gives us her take on the new wave of country music pop stars.
How has this lockdown period been for you?
“Surreal. My boys [sons Wyatt, 13 and Levi, 10] have grown up on tour buses: our summers have been filled with going from one city to the next, so there’s been some beautiful things about [the lockdown]. We’ve spent our days building a chicken coop and making a garden with my boys, and I’ve gotten into playing tennis and the drums. Musically, technology has not been something I’ve ever loved in art, but it’s been a lifesaver in this time, allowing us to recreate some of what we do on the road virtually.”
Tell us about this new version of ‘Woman In The White House’.
“The song first came out eight years ago, even before Hillary Clinton ran for president. It’s shocking to me that very little has changed. Obviously we’ve had the #MeToo movement, and we’re starting to see some very outspoken women in Congress defend women having a place in politics, but we’re still scratching our way into the forum. Just the fact we haven’t had a woman president is shocking. It says something about how far behind we are in our evolution, and speaks to the fear of men in high places feeling emasculated or threatened. It’s like the Dark Ages. After having Donald Trump and other presidents whose knee-jerk [reaction] is not to negotiate or hear the story, it’s also important for some feminine energy to come in and investigate different ways to lead.”
Do songs like this make any difference?
“I don’t know. There’s so much noise out there, and I don’t know if you can break through that fortress of everybody believing their own opinion is right. We are going through such severe changes that good is going to come out of this — obviously we have people out on the streets protesting, and we haven’t seen that in so long. We started with Trump winning the election and women took to the streets protesting, and now we have people protesting over the racial issue, and I think only good can come from this. I think a lot of what’s revealed by this president unleashing the military to keep American citizens from doing the very thing that our democracy is based on shows us the position we’re in, and hopefully we’ll have the courage to rectify that when we go to vote.”
‘Woman In The White House’ has been released to coincide with Joe Biden announcing his running mate. Who would you like to see him pick?
“There’s always been amazing women out there that are fully capable of leading our country, and in a more mature fashion than we’ve seen in the last few years. Kamala Harris, Susan Rice and Stacey Abrams would all do a wonderful job. I’m just hoping that, at this moment, when a woman comes in that we see her become president eventually. I think our country is ready to see a woman take that office.”
Do you think Biden can beat Trump in November’s election?
“You know, I really fear that he [Trump] will get back in. One of the things he’s brilliant at is creating mistrust in our systems. By talking about how the voting system is unfair and there’s going to be voter fraud if people use paper ballots, he’s already setting up a scenario where he’s able to say the elections are rigged. I also worry about the silent voters – the people that would never admit they are going to vote for Trump.”
You met Trump on the set of the movie Studio 54. How did he come across?
“Well, I think I was around him for maybe five or 10 minutes. He’s clearly a narcissist, but I think he’s not necessarily the problem – he’s an aspect of what’s been building up for a long time. He represents the worst of us. If we’re willing to look at that and say: ‘OK, there are a lot of factors that go into the fact that he’s leading us and we’re allowing it’, then we’ll be willing to make the change to rectify the situation. And if we’re not and are just going to be asleep at the wheel, then I’m worried about what happens in eight years.
“He’s shocking, but I think Trump is the last of the Mohicans. He’s the perfect example of what’s wrong in all of us – whether it be a underlying hatred or women or towards people of colour – and I hope we’re not going to turn a blind eye and instead say this will never again be acceptable.”
The Trump presidency has had the effect of galvanising women. You were writing #MeToo songs before the hashtag even existed. On your debut album, you wrote two songs (‘What I Can Do for You’ and ‘The Na-Na Song’) as a response to a manager’s sexual harassment on your first big tour as a back-up singer. When you went to a lawyer, he told you to “suck it up because the guy could do a lot for me”. Would you have felt empowered enough to ignore his advice now?
“Oh yeah. Absolutely. I think that particular lawyer – who still practices, as is the way up in the business – would not have the idiocy to say what we said to me for fear of losing everything that he worked for. Back then, I wrote about it because I couldn’t not write about it and it got a few mentions in reviews, but it didn’t strike anybody as a big deal – certainly nobody said: ‘This has to change’. And we’re in a moment now, largely due to the courage of the women who stood up against Harvey Weinstein and him exemplifying age-old practices involving power and money, that put into play a mechanism that protects women to at least be able to tell their story and be believed and not discarded.”
Your 2019 Chuck D-featuring track ‘Story Of Everything’ – which addresses racial tensions in America – seems especially timely at the moment. What have you made of the George Floyd protests?
“What’s come from it, and what will hopefully be the lasting outcome, is that not only are we witnessing black and brown people out on the streets, we’re seeing a lot of white people saying: ‘Teach me how I can make this better. Show me how I’m treating people unequally’. People are really wanting and willing to learn and try to be part of the solution. People have looked at themselves and said: ‘It’s not enough to say I’m not racist’, but we have to put into practice things to help change the system. And it’s systemic – there are systemic platforms put into place that fortify the same-old, same-old. It’s been eye-opening: a moment of awakening.”
Is it something you’ve had a chance to talk to Chuck D about?
“Yeah – we’ve had a really good healthy exchange for quite some time. I recently sent him a song called ‘In The End’, which will come out in the next couple of months. It’s about karma, and how those who are sowing fear and uncertainty to increase their ability to control will be due payback. It addresses the lack of compassion that has seeped into our government, business and our attitude towards the environment.
“The Dalai Lama once said that if every decision was made from compassion, the world would be different. You see an absolute absence of compassion with this administration – and with people in general. It’s been a useful tool to keep people down. That said, where the Yin exists so does the Yang, and we’re seeing people rise up in the streets – they’re showing up for perfect strangers and trying to make their lives better.”
You said 2019’s ‘Threads’ would be your final full-length album. Has the pandemic, where people have arguably developed a newfound appreciation for albums, changed that decision at all?
“The importance of albums is not lost on me. I loved making the last one and feel it’s a beautiful homage to the people who have brought me to where I am. But I’m now at a moment where I feel like the amount of money that goes into making a full artistic statement [isn’t worth it] when people, for the most part, make playlists or listen to music through their subscription services; they don’t experience the album the way it’s designed to be listened to.
“But that can be liberating – it’s wonderful to be able to write songs and put them out and not wait for an entire album to be finished, and not to have to take some songs off because they don’t fit the full picture. To write songs that have pertinence and just put them out: for now, that’s what I’m interested in doing. Maybe it’s time for people to compile their own Sheryl Crow albums based on what I put out.”
Some are saying we’re in a new golden era for country music. What do you think of the new generation of acts like Kacey Musgraves, Orville Peck and Margo Price?
“Those artists would be lumped into Americana because country [stations] wouldn’t play them. I think it’s much more palatable family pop. Everything’s a mish-mash now, but I’m thrilled when I hear Margo Price getting played at Lightning 100, or when I hear artists like Kacey who are able to sell records and get played, but are doing something that is traditional.”
‘Woman In The White House’ is available now.