Neil Young and Jonathan Demme swapped filmmaking anecdotes and praise for each other’s talents Thursday at the first full day of the SXSW Music Festival.
The two collaborated on the docu film “Neil Young: Heart of Gold,” which chronicles a pair of concerts Young gave in Nashville to support the album “Prairie Wind.”
“I was bowled over by ‘Greendale,’ ” Demme said, referring to Young’s story-based theatrical concert and its attendant film. “In the film, the imagination was unlimited. It said to filmmakers, can you do something this original and challenging? So I started harassing him: Don’t you have anything you want filmed?”
The approach for the pic was to show a songwriter in his ideal surroundings and to elicit what Demme termed “a dreamy dimension.”
Young spoke at length about the difficulty of explaining the creative process. “I’m proudest of my work when it comes really free and I don’t edit,” Young said during the hourlong conversation at the Convention Center. “You try too hard, you’re gonna lose. One thing that’s constant is to not let yourself get distracted. No matter what other responsibilities you have, your responsibility is to the muse.”
Well aware of the diversity of his fan base, he suggested fans’ dislike of some of his albums makes the ones they do like that much more special. His key advice to artists was to never think things out too much or try to recapture past glory.
“If you go backwards, it’s death,” Young said, adding he had just broken ties with a concert promoter that wanted to bill a tour as “Neil Young’s Greatest Hits.”
Having worked in acoustic music for his last few albums, Young said he’s has been “waking up and hearing distortion and crunching, hideous noise,” which may mean it’s time to resume working with Crazy Horse. Demme expressed an interest in filming Young with the band.