“I think this album is coming out exactly the right time in history,” says Don Henley, about the Eagles’ new CD, Long Road Out of Eden. “We’ve been through what I think is really a bad period in music, going back to the ’90s and up through the turn of the century and even the past four or five years. I think music is starting to get better again now. I think people are starting to come to their senses a little bit in terms of what is good and lasting and what is not.”
Their first new studio album since 1979, Long Road Out of Eden, debuted at No. 1 last month on the country sales chart as well as the all-genre Billboard 200 — a sure sign that music fans are still eager for the band’s new music. In fact, almost 1.5 million copies have been sold in just four weeks.
During a recent interview in Los Angeles, Henley and band members Glenn Frey and Timothy B. Schmit shared their with thoughts CMT Insider.
CMT: Was it difficult to balance between wanting to have your old sound and wanting to sound new — or wanting to kind of push things forward?
Henley: Not really. I think we’re more comfortable making records now. There’s not as much of a hassle. There are disagreements, mind you. We still have our differences. But the process itself is all something we’re very comfortable with. We surrounded ourselves with a really good team of technicians, and we have some really brilliant musicians besides the core members of the band. We have other people who play in our road band, and we utilize them.
We tried to distill what it is we do best, which is singing and songwriting, and I think we did that. We took a few chances. We went out on a limb a couple of times on here, but I think our songwriting has matured a great deal. I think there are more colors and textures on this album than any other album we’ve made previously to this. We worried for a while about how to make a modern-sounding album, and we decided we should just do what we do and just do it really well. It still comes back to the songs and the songwriting. We just wanted to get enough really good songs together, so that’s one reason that it took a while. We were waiting for the right material to come along.
But we didn’t make any sacrifices to try to sound modern or trendy or hip or anything like that. We made a good record. We did a good record, technologically speaking, but we didn’t really try to change who we are or what we do. I think we just went a little bit further. I think we took it another step as far as political commentary and some of the things that we’ve written about in the past. I think we did a better job of it this time in terms of saying what we meant to say and what we wanted to say.
Most of what you you’ve done throughout your career would be called country music today.
Glenn Frey: We have a very strong following in the country music audience, and it’s not because we’re a country band, but I think it’s because we have respect for country music, American music, the popular song. Sometimes we rock a little more than country. What I like to say is we’re kind of country-tinged.
The first country band that I thought we influenced was Alabama. In the ’80s, when Alabama broke through, they had a lot of songs where the choruses were always three-part harmony and there was a whole lot of singing going on. Then, as the ’90s came around, country music became to me a little bit more like pop music. There’s still the traditionalists and still guys that stick to the sawdust, ashtrays, empty beers, broken hearts, trucks, Cadillacs — that sort of country music has always been there. There was also this other evolution where it sounded like pop songs with country lead vocalists. You’d say, “Gosh, that sounds like a Fleetwood Mac track to me except Wynonna is singing.” That’s a part of what country music has been, too. Actually, that’s probably why we fit a little better now … because the songs they play are a little broader. There are horns and [Hammond B-3 organs] beside steel guitars, mandolins, violins and other traditional country instruments.
When people get this record, what do you want to take away from it? How do you want them to feel when they hear it?
Henley: I think we all agree that we want them to listen to the whole thing — top to bottom — a few times because there’s a lot material to absorb. A lot of lyrics, a lot of music on first listening — and you’re not gonna get it all. I think we want them to feel like we never left. That we are still, even at this stage of the game, at the peak of our abilities … that we haven’t lost anything in the process, and simply because it took this long to make a record doesn’t mean that something has been lost. That we’re just as good, if not better. We have the experience of all these years behind us. Even though we’re a youth-oriented culture and everything new is good and everything old is bad, I think there’s a lot of wisdom on this record, frankly. Some sarcasm. Some sentimentality. The album runs the gamut of emotions and subject matter.
Timothy B. Schmit: Obviously we put a lot of hard work into this. We were working right up to the end. We worked late hours to reach our deadline, and obviously we hope that we’ve done our job. I think we have. I think it’s a good album. I think we all think it’s at least as good as past products. And we obviously hope that they appreciate it, and that it’s meaningful to them on whatever level.
It took you all these years to do one, and you still ran up against a deadline. Was there a sense that since it had been so long, you really had to make this good?
Henley: Yeah, and that word “perfectionism” has been used a lot in terms of describing us — me in particular. But that’s not really what we’re after — because there’s no such thing. What we are after is excellence. … I don’t know whether our rock ’n’ roll music is an art, but if it is, it’s also a craft. Songwriting is certainly a craft that we’ve always had a lot of respect for. We are students of all the best songwriters, going back before rock ’n’ roll ever happened. This is not an album we just dashed off to fulfill a contract or to get out of a contract. This very well may be our last album, so we wanted to make it good. We wanted to say we’re still here, we’re still doing it, and if this is our last record, we’ll be glad to quit here. If this is the end of our recording career as a group, then I think we’re all pretty satisfied and pretty proud that this was our last musical statement.
Terry Bumgarner is a producer for CMT Insider.