Parting Shots: Alison Krauss
Bluegrass star Alison Krauss cut her first album, Too Late To Cry, at the age of 14. Twenty-six years, 10 albums later and countless collaborations layer, she’s earned 26 Grammy awards for her efforts, placing her third on the all-time Grammy winning list behind George Solti and Quincy Jones. For most of the records, her band Union Station has backed her, though on occasion—like on 2007’s Raising Sand with rock lothario Robert Plant—she’s ventured out on her own. Krauss returns with her longtime group Union Station for Paper Airplane which was released this past April.
Of Paper Airplane’s creation, you’ve said, “Whatever formula we thought there was doesn’t exist.”
It’s a blessing and a curse when you start at the age I did. As you get older, you don’t have a method. A perfect example is when someone asked me, “What are you looking for as far as material?” I said, “I can’t give you anything to go on.” You don’t know till it hits you when you’re older because you’re only following your gut instinct. You stop listening with your head and you start listening with you gut.
You’ve said that the album and title track “represents a trial” or a “trying time that has an end.” How reflective is the album of where you were personally?
It was all pretty true for me and I know that’s true for all of our records. You’re drawn to what speaks to you because you’ve experienced it or you’re going through it. It becomes “I’ve got to sing this” instead of “I enjoy singing this.” I always know we’re on a good path for recording when I feel like I have to sing the songs. This record was really like that—“Paper Airplane” especially.
One of Paper Airplane’s highlights is Richard Thompson’s “Dimming of the Day,” which you had considered doing on Raising Sand but felt that, “I just couldn’t go there at the time.” How so?
The version of the song with Linda [Thompson] singing is just so…intense that I couldn’t imagine doing it. We took a break during this record to get more material together and that one kept coming up. It became something that had to be on there.
You recorded Raising Sand with Robert Plant and then did a significant tour behind it. What did he teach you as performer?
[Laughs.] He was an amazing performer. I think his charisma and ability—his whole thing is so magnificent. What makes a performer so special is transparency and that’s really who [Robert] is. There was nothing I was watching him do that I could emulate except maybe trying to be less guarded.
*Did your work with T Bone Burnett and Robert on Raising Sand impact how you approached Paper Airplane?
From working with T Bone Burnett and Robert, the most tangible thing that I wanted to change— that I could change —was my approach to singing in the studio. With Raising Sand, a number of those were just track vocals—that was a big deal because that was not how I wanted to record. I always thought I could beat my track vocal. I never thought it was impossible to beat one—you could always get it better. I don’t look for the same things to be good as I did before. [Now, I] cut a lot less [takes] and [have more of an interest in] keeping a thread in the vocal. It was just an immature way of looking at recording—I don’t know why it took me so long to get there.
I understand you enjoy rock like AC/DC, Lynyrd Skynrd and Def Leppard.
I love [Bad Company singer] Paul Rodgers, that blue-collar, hard singing. To me, it’s very closely related to bluegrass singing—it’s that melodic, hard singing. And of course AC/DC is all power.
In 1993, you appeared on Phish’s album Hoist, on the song “If I Could.” How did the collaboration come about?
They came to a show in Los Angeles—where we were recording at the time—and asked me if I would do it the next day. And I was like, “I don’t know who they are.” Barry, our bass player said, “Oh, I know who they are.” So I stayed and sang on that. And there was another one that was so funny from that album: “Ode to a Mule” or something?
“Scent of a Mule.”
“Scent of a Mule!” Yessssssssss! I don’t know if they used me on it our not but we tried something on there. [Laughs.]
Is there anything that’s eluded you thus far?
I don’t really have a list like that. I’m so glad we got this last record done—I thought we might not make it. [Laughs.] And now I’m looking forward to the tour—I don’t really look too far ahead.
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