Friday, January 30, 2009

In interview, Robert Plant explains motivation guiding current studio work, and his acceptance of awards

When Robert Plant shared in the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Led Zeppelin in 2005, he ignored the honor.

But it backfired on him, and the award came to him. In a case of "you can run but you can't hide," Recording Academy President Neil Portnow tracked down Plant at the South by Southwest Festival and presented him with the award in person at a very public affair.

This elicited a curt acceptance speech from Plant, who said he could barely remember being in Led Zeppelin because so much time had passed since those days.

Plant has been nominated or awarded in at least one Grammy category in six of the past 15 years. Each time, win or lose, he has consistently snubbed the glitz of Los Angeles and the trappings of celebrity.

But not so this year. In a remarkable turnaround, he is guaranteed to show up at the ceremony two weeks from now.

That's not because he and Alison Krauss stand to rack up as many as five more awards, added to the one they shared for last year's Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals.

The reason Plant is guaranteed to show up is because he and Krauss have been booked to perform.

Pollstar relays a quote from Plant about his break from precedent this year:
"I'm looking forward to being in Los Angeles, but musically -- and spiritually -- I expect we'll be somewhere halfway between the Mississippi Delta and the Clinch Mountains."
Official word of the Plant-Krauss booking was released Thursday, one day after the airing of an interview the two gave from Nashville, where they say they are currently in pre-production for a possible follow-up album to Raising Sand.

Their interview, recorded Tuesday and broadcast the following day on Absolute Radio's "Wednesday Night Live," touches on a number of far-reaching topics, probably none more easily understandable than Plant's mindset in collecting awards.

On the night before they recorded this interview, Plant attended a Grammy party in Nashville and smiled in snapshots with current Lifetime Achievement honoree Brenda Lee, T Bone Burnett and executives of the Recording Academy's Nashville chapter. By now, Plant must be pretty used to hobnobbing at such events. After all, he and Krauss didn't spend last year doing concerts only; they were also going heavy on the award acceptance circuit. After snubbing the Grammys last February despite capturing a win in the Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals category, the duo hit up:
At the same time, Plant was still being honored for his work signing for the single Led Zeppelin reunion concert in December 2007. He was busy touring with Krauss in the United States last June, when Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones turned up in London to accept Mojo magazine's award for Led Zeppelin as the best live act of 2007. Plant did pose in pictures alongside them, however, when the members of Led Zeppelin were named GQ's Men of the Year.

But Plant's most prestigious and noble honor of late is being named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Ben Jones asked if Plant had, for any reason, considered rejecting the honorary title assigned him by the queen of England. Plant answered that, after thinking "long and hard about it," he "reckoned that 42 years of making records" made him worthy of the honor. He has mellowed and has set aside any inclinations toward being anti-establishment or doing the "cool" thing, and just accept it.

Plant's fully elucidated response recalls a quip he made last September, when accepting GQ's top award in London. At that time, Plant said, "The thing is, when the temples get gray, the gongs start coming in thick and fast." Now, he says of his rank in the British Empire:
"It's this time of life that gongs start coming in. They're usually called lifetime achievement awards [laughing]. But, basically, somebody helps you across the street if there's a lot of traffic. ... I said to somebody, 'Well, maybe I should say, "No, I'll wait for the knighthood," for a laugh.'"
Krauss says she and Plant are in "pre-production" for a possible second album together. Plant says that for now, they're at an early stage:
"We got a whole bunch of songs and we're just going, 'Does that work?' and 'Does that work?' So, yeah, we're trying it out again."
They say they're approaching this new project with great caution, just as they had upon their first studio meeting in late 2006, to ensure that everything works to their mutual satisfaction before proceeding. Says Krauss:
"Our attitude when we were recording was, let's go in and see what it's like, and after three days, if something doesn't turn into something, then we'll say it was a nice try. I mean, I think that's what makes it surprising and interesting for Robert and myself, is that we didn't know what it was going to be like either."
Plant adds that he's "incredibly challenged by this." Elsewhere in the interview, he reveals himself as "frightened" of his own "limitations":
"She said to me about an hour ago -- we were sitting, and she said, 'What's the matter with you?' I said, 'I'm frightened by the limitations I've got in this environment.' It's quite spectacular, really."
Plant is also weary of expectations as they can only add pressure. Given the acclaim of Raising Sand by both the media and the public, along with all the awards, Plant admits he is that much more fearful of the sequel's success, saying:
"What are we gonna do? We're not going to have time to do any new stuff before it's too late! ...

"The critical -- the stuff that we've had, the acclaim and, ah -- it really doesn't bode very well for the next record, if we get that far because, I mean, people really took to it.

"But you know what? It was so genuine -- the choice of songs, the production techniques, the engineering, you know, T Bone Burnett's input -- the whole thing was just a dream and done in the shortest space of time, and it was just great, you know. It was really good.

"Of course you don't expect anything because the material isn't kind of mainstream pop, particularly ..."
Plant says he has enjoyed the freedom of employing such a trial period whenever approaching any musical project. He says it's been that way ever since his work that followed Led Zeppelin:
"I think when Led Zeppelin -- when we lost John [Bonham] in 1980, I was desperate to -- not reinstate, but do something for myself, free from the kind of shackles of people's expectations. And from that moment on, along the line ... it's not something that I think about."
He's free to pull that parachute if it's not going well. And when this came up again in the context of an answer to the inevitable Led Zeppelin reunion question, it became clear that Plant would feel this same way if approaching a reformation of his former band.

Ben Jones gave Plant a chance to address his take on why the public appetite for a Led Zeppelin reunion persists even when it is clear there will be no reunion. Plant, in his response, ignored the public perception and gave his own reasoning for not wanting to revive Led Zeppelin again. He said:
"Well, you know, the thing is -- look at it like this. The reason that it stopped was because we were incomplete, and we've been incomplete now for 28 years, and no matter what you do, you have to really guard the discretion of what you've done in the past and make sure you have all the reasons in the right place to be able to do something with absolute and total conviction.

"I mean, if my great award is to do this [sing with Alison Krauss], then I don't want to do anything that -- where I'm -- where we challenge anything we did in the first place by just going back and visiting it without having a new, fresh, make-over start.

"I mean, you only get one shot at these things, and if they're spectacular on day one, if on day 10 they aren't so good, as Alison said when we cut our -- started to make Raising Sand, we gave ourselves a deal about, if we don't get anything going in three days, let's just go out for lunch and say, 'See you later.'

"And I think the thing about it is, really, is that to visit old ground -- it's a very incredibly delicate thing to do, and the disappointment that could be there once you commit to that, and the comparisons to something that was basically fired by youth and a different kind of exuberance to now -- it's very hard to go back and meet that head on and do it justice."
This makes me wonder if Plant joined up with Page and Jones anytime last year to hear the new material Jason Bonham said they were working on and went home dissatisfied. Otherwise, I can't help but think that he didn't give them a chance to see if any further collaboration with them would prove fresh, exuberant, and enacted with "absolute and total conviction."

At any rate, Plant says working with Krauss is the award he's most proud of because:
"It's about being happy, you know. You can have a lot of gold stuff and silver stuff and whatever it is, but you end up putting them out of the way, but the achievement is really to do something I never imagined and to be schooled into getting it right. And we've both taught each other enough about swagger and precision and all that stuff, so this is a great one, really."
And as for what binds everything together that Plant has done professionally? Don't call it a career:
"For me, well, I don't have a career. I just have a bunch of great events in my life and a few dips and troughs, but this is -- I don't think I've ever had a career."


  1. It is very simple, Plant signed on with Rounder Records and he is not in control of his destiny until he fulfills his obligations for Project #2. They will tell him when and where he is going to performs,including award shows, until his obligations are met. He will be good and sick of being an employee of the Nashville machine by the end of the year. Just wait. He will view Page as a Saint by the time the Nashville machine drains him dry. Perceptions will change. His views of his former bandmates will change. Rounder will work him until he drops and he will have an urgent need to be in control again, and as we saw with the O2 Jimmy pretty much lets him do whatever. That is what Plant will need, give him another year in Nashville. Page is probably sitting back laughing at it all.

  2. I'm always glad to read others' takes on the situation, and this anonymous person's is interesting. Imagine that Jimmy Page already has Robert Plant's word that he will be on board for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour in 2010 or whenever is the soonest that is feasible and compatible with a year of promoting Plant/Krauss Project #2! Imagine, further, that part of their deal is Jimmy had to call off his other band with Jones and Bonham in the meantime, and that's the only reason we're told that the Myles Kennedy band never panned out. And Myles doesn't even know it!

    This scenario is imaginable and could be plausible. But for all we know, it is not necessarily factual.

  3. If Robert has any energy left, anything left in the tank, after Rounder works him to death, while they still have him under contract, he may do something with the other three. Robert needs to be careful who he signs dotted lines with in the future. He really, I don't think, understood the "Nashville grind" when he signed with Rounder. Why do you think Ralph Stanley refuses to sign a contract with anyone in Nashville? They would think nothing about sending an 80 year old on a 50-city, 60 night tour. Ralph would already have died if he had fooled with Nashville.

  4. Regarding the commentator's assertion of Plant being in Nashville effectively under lock and key... I just don't believe it. We're not dealing with Led Wallet here, you know? If Plant wasn't into the collaboration with Krauss anymore, he would say "see ya" and move on. If that meant a breach of contract suit, I'm positive that Robert has more than enough money to settle such litigation.

    It's not as if Robert Plant was an 'emerging artist' at the time of signing up with Alison, so I'm sure he had good lawyers looking after his interests that wouldn't have given away the proverbial keys to the store.

    Last - if Plant is concerned about living up to expectations in a proposed Zeppelin tour at 60, then why would such worries fade when he's 62?

  5. While there is no truth whatsoever to Plant being under contract, I am glad it has spurred some further discussion. It's been kinda gloomy... : (

    I mean, Yes, being happy is what it's all about...but was Plant ever really unhappy with Zeppelin ?
    Is that what Robert's been trying to tell us all this time?

    I am always just trying to figure out why he has gone out of his way to diss, distance, ignore, rebel against his association with Zep. And why the change of heart in regards to the mainstream when it comes to RPAK and glamorama ? It's maddening!

    Man, If there was ever a Psychiatrist's doctorate thesis subject matter, man, talk about a case study!!! I'm talking about Plant, not myself BTW! Then again...I'm sure some would find me a cold case.

  6. Ha! Hey cold case, cheer up!

    As someone on Royal Orleans said, hey, at least he didn't bash Zep in this interview, which is true - he just tried to explain some of his reasons (and, fairly transparently, his worries and fears) for not doing a Zeppelin tour. I read his reasons as "well, thank God we finally got it right - but I wouldn't want to have that stress every night." Think about where Plant's ego would have been if we would have had YouTube back in '75 or so with Robert croaking his way through Rock and Roll... they might never have gone out to tour! I think he sees the project with Krauss as a challenge and as a way for him to have a little fun as his career (or 'series of great events', if not a career) winds down, without the pressure of a worldwide audience for every single gig.

    As far as why he accepts all the awards now? Well, I think he's mellowing out in his old age toward that kind of thing. 'They want to give me an award? Well, okay, sure...' As Steve mentioned, he even showed up for some Zep-related awards last year.

    That's my diagnosis ;-)

  7. Pure conjecture IMO from anonymous.

    I think Plant is smart enough to decide what to sign and what not to sign and if he did sign a 2 lp deal then I'm sure he did it willingly and knowing he would be tied in for 2 years. I highly doubt he sat there going "S**t Jimmy I really want to be back with you and Jones and Jason but I signed this really s***ty deal and I'm stuck. Why don't we come up with a huge plan to fool the public like you auditioning singers and me sending out press released and stuff and then when I am out of the deal I can come on board which will be around 2010."

    I can see him changing his mind one day because he has in the past and well quite frankly he's entitled to but anyway...

  8. We can and should discuss what Robert has to say. I will read his interviews, he is interesting, but I also wont consider those interviews the last word on his future plans.

    The hard part is keeping a lid on the enthusiasm we all have for the Robert and the J's to get back together and make music. It may never happen, then again he might announce he is doing it in next interview. Until a contract for them to perform is signed I just can't ride the Robert Roller-Coaster anymore.

    Robert in his latest interview once again defends/explains/expounds-on his current position regarding Zep. *sigh* I believe this is how he feels right now, but he changes his mind more than a runway-super-model changes clothes. I believe nothing he says and I only believe what he does when it happens. The rest is nothing but words. I have learned over the last 25 years not to hang on those words.

    If he wants to do Nashville again, fine, I am sure it will make a lot of people happy. If not, then I will wait to see what he does do even if that has nothing to do with Zep.

  9. I would bet my house that another year will see him so sick of Nashville he will go running back to the UK, and his old friends, so fast it will be superhuman. And Nech, I respect your views but I know for a fact that he did sign contracts for these projects, early on, during his euphoria. He could walk away but it would cost him. Do you honestly think he is worth as much now as he was last year? His portfolio has tanked just like everyone else, he will never starve like us normal people can, but don't tell me he is immune to that "kicked in the gut" feeling we all get when we open our 401K envelopes. Does this mean that he will go back to Zep? I do not know. But I think this Nashville thing will drive him crazy in the end. The continuous pressure to TOUR PROMOTE TOUR PROMOTE, which is the Nashville business model, will have him longing to be a ROCK star again.

  10. Jim you are dead on. No breath holding and watching every move on Plant closer to Zep action. Just wait, it eventually happens. True and tested since 1985...negative interviews, comments and bashings of Zep then he pops up and does something we were all waiting for. Who the hell ever thought in 1988 on the non-stop zep bashing tour that he and Jimmy would ever create music together as they did in 1994. Granted the frequency of activity is something to be desired yet it still keeps the whole thing quite real and alive to me. We are all fighting the clock on this one...but I'm betting 2009-2010 it will happen again.


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