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The Monday Q&A

The Monday Q&A: Robert Plant

LON703-BRITAIN-H_875201gm-a.jpg Robert Plant performs at the Montreux Jazz festival in 2006. Reuters

The Led Zeppelin singer on his new project, Band of Joy

J.D. Considine

From Monday's Globe and Mail Published on Sunday, Sep. 12, 2010 4:07PM EDT Last updated on Sunday, Sep. 12, 2010 4:09PM EDT

When Robert Plant chose the name Band of Joy for his latest recording project, he wasn't just looking for a catchy name. In the mid-'60s, back before Led Zeppelin was even a flicker in Jimmy Page's eye, Plant and drummer John Bonham played in a Birmingham-based band called the Band of Joy. Even though the group never released any records, its blend of folk, psychedelia and rock oldies was an essential part of the equation in formulating the Led Zeppelin sound. We spoke with Plant by phone from his home in England, about how this new Band updates the original concept.

So how are you?

I'm fine, thanks. I just got out of the car from the Welsh mountains, so I've been driving for about three or four hours. But I'm good. It's a pleasant late-summer afternoon on the Welsh borders.

Actually, did I read that part of your preparation for this was spending time in Wales, or am I just conflating that with Led Zeppelin III?

Well, not particularly. I've always lived very close to the heartland of the great font of British mythology - that is, the Welsh mountains. I go up there as often as I can, to be honest.

But Led Zeppelin III was kind of a runaway job for me. I suggested to Jimmy that we create an environment that would be sending us, at least initially, into much more of an acoustic-orientated writing environment. And after having worked with Alison Kraus [on the album Rising Sand], I decided that I wanted to move back and forwards, rather like Zeppelin III did.

We had the impression back then, in 1970, '71, that if we didn't change and stimulate ourselves, we would be slaves to our own success. I think that's the way I see what I'm doing now.

This album is mostly covers, from an interesting selection of artists: Richard Thompson, Los Lobos, and Low, to name three. How did that come about?

This project has its roots in the residue of English folk that made it across the Atlantic, and the residue of psychedelia that made it into this century. It's basically what you'd hear if you were riding in my car.

What's striking about the playing here is that it's rich and atmospheric, but unlike a lot of the original psychedelia, it's very economical, without a wasted note anywhere.

You're talking about all the things that came very naturally. Buddy Miller's not a guy to waste notes, and Byron House's bass playing is lyrical. There's nothing in there that shouldn't be there, I don't think. It's the kind of collection of instruments and players where there is much interest in filigree and, occasionally, super power. Esther Phillips sang that great song, From a Whisper to a Scream, and I think the dynamics on this collection have got me somewhere into that place, musically.

You're working with some fairly established musicians in this Band of Joy, particularly producer Buddy Miller and singer Patty Griffin. Is this just a one-off, or do you see this as an ongoing band?

I'm just stepping out into this thing, you know? I hope it'll last forever, and maybe it will last forever.

But the great thing about this is that everybody's in transit. Patty's got a great career, and Buddy's working alongside her and with his wife, Julie, and with Emmylou Harris, and now he's got a record coming out with [guitarist] Marc Ribot in February, I think.

And that's the great thing about this clutch of players. This is not some ego-driven culture, which sadly was the first and biggest by-product to any kind of success in earlier times.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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