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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Reveal How Humor Keeps Them Going and If New Music Is On the Way (Billboard)


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Robert Plant & Alison Krauss Reveal How Humor Keeps Them Going and If New Music Is On the Way

The duo are currently on the road for a 37-date summer tour.


“Robert just sent a picture of himself from 1981 in a bar and is wearing the smallest shorts in history. The smallest shorts anyone has ever seen. They don’t even qualify as shorts.”

 This is what Alison Krauss tells me as we chitchat over the phone on a recent Friday morning in May. The short shorts-sporting Robert in question is Robert Plant, who soon dials into this conference call and apologizes profusely for being a few minutes late, then announces that he’s calling from a 14th century castle near the Welsh border “where Richard III planned the demise of his entire family” — a very Robert Plant place to be.

We’re convened to discuss Krauss and Plant’s summer tour, which started on Sunday (June 2) in Tulsa, Okla. and will make its way to another 36 cities in the U.S. and Canada over the next three months. 10 of these dates will be alongside Willie Nelson & Family, Bob Dylan and Celisse on the Outlaw Music Festival tour.

“I think it started off very tentatively,” Plant says of going on the road together over the last few summers. “Myself and Alison were very cagey about the whole idea, having been apart for such a long time, and as it developed, it just felt very natural. And there are places to play, and if you don’t play them, somebody else will.”

This is the third consecutive summer the pair are on the road together, a tradition that began after the 2021 release of their second collaborative album Raise The Roof. The album arrived 14 years after their debut project, Raising Sand, which won album of the year at the 2009 Grammys. Both projects found the duo covering songs by artists as disparate as The Everly Brothers and Calexico, along with a few of their own originals.

Since emerging at the tail end of the CD era, much has been made about the odd couple factor in the pairing of the bluegrass country star and rock’s archetypal golden god. Today on the phone, Krauss says she and Plant are “definitely yin and yang,” a point Plant reiterates when he says working with Krauss has taught him “humility” and the sort of vocal discipline that was not necessarily required when he was ripping the warrior cries on “Immigrant Song.”

There’s magic here too, in both the sort of mystical thing their voices do in tandem and the comedic duo vibe of their rapport that may not necessarily translate to live shows but is clear during our 30 minutes on the phone, during which they make each other laugh hard and often, and not only because a leitmotif of the conversation becomes Plant’s shorts and the lengths he’s worn them at over the years.

“I used to turn up to play and all the people in the club who were real strong, country working men, they all told me to bugger off,” Plant says of a local U.K. venue he often wore very short shorts to in the ’80s, an era in which he says he already felt “washed up.” “They said ‘No, we don’t need your type here’, because obviously I’d been a little bit too successful at some point. So I thought I’d thrill them with my my clothing.” Meanwhile Krauss says if she looked like what Plant looked like in the image he sent her before our call, “I might send some photos of myself around too.” She jokes that while he’s at the castle today, she’ll be at home doing laundry. “Oh, I love you Alison,” he says. “It’s been difficult without you, I must say.”

Below, the two talk about touring, singing and why it isn’t a time to write love songs.

After all this time performing as a duo, are you finding new things your voices can do together, or at this point is it just about maintaining the thing you’ve developed?

Krauss: My brother, who’s out on the road with us, is like, “It’s strange when you guys sing together, it sounds like three [people]. It has its own thing happening.” It does become something else. We’re just so different, and I think the surprise of the two of us singing together in the first place — from the world I come from and the same from Robert — you just would have never put the two together. But it worked.

Plant: It certainly did. All the way down the line [it’s been] a continuation of learning and going back to a technique, which was, many years ago, foreign to me. But since we’ve worked together and gotten into the curves of Alison’s approach to things, I mean, for most guys who have come out of a world of rock… when I was able to get [metaphorical] day release and get away [from rock music], I found a new capacity to think and a new study to make.

How so?

Plant: Allison helped me, because some of the harmonic structure we share is not within the ballpark or the canon of what I’ve been used to. So it’s great to actually go out there and know I’m being watched at various parts of a song to see whether or not I’m going to go to the right note, or to a note that’s in tune, but obviously is not coming from the high altar of A.K.’s. It’s good; it keeps me agile. I mean, maybe when we do stuff like “Battle Of Evermore,” it’s more in the free zone that I came from.

Krauss: And I don’t know if I have a free zone. [laughs]

Plant: Yeah, you do! I’ve heard it, and I’ve got the tapes. I mean, it really is a radically different approach. There’s no room for any other style than the one I signed up to be in in this situation, but I can feel what the permutations of it are. And we’ve got it down. It’s good.

I wonder if that’s part of this enduring appeal of this project for you both — it’s comfortable, but it’s not necessarily predictable, so it stays exciting.

Plant: Yeah, and that’s when the humor comes in. I mean, that’s when I can feel [like] the microscope that could be used [to look] at the surface of Mars is actually turned [to look] at my performance going “Come on, get on with it.”

This is the third summer in a row that you’re on the road together. Do you anticipate introducing any new covers to the setlist?

Krauss: I’m sure there will be something that shows up.

Plant: Yes. I think Alison’s absolutely right.

Would you ever consider writing more music together?

Plant: I mean, there’s a vast array of topics out there for mature lyrics, frighteningly vast. It’s a long, long way from Carl Perkins and Loretta Lynn to where we’re at now lyrically and where we are in our own spaces on this pretty disturbed planet. So how you make a good [song] of that is a tough call, really.

So it sounds like there are things to write about?

Plant: Well look, I mean, I was going to say I’m a European, but we’re not Europeans. We’re at the last clan mass before the new world, really. We have so much turmoil in this country right now. It’s a place that I can’t see myself commenting on, because there’s so many shards of social upheaval and sadness. And so this is just not the time to be writing a love song, I don’t think.

Given that turmoil, I wonder if part of the continuing appeal of this project for audiences is that it gives people comfort to hear you two singing these beautiful, older songs and creating something they can just relax into for a moment.

Krauss: It’s just a very joyful atmosphere, and I want to be in that place.

Plant: Yeah, exactly that.

Krauss: I hope we can bring some folks along with us.

10 of these dates are part of the Outlaw Music Festival tour. What is it like to shift into the atmosphere of that larger musical community while on the road? Is there anyone you’re performing with that you’re particularly eager to be around?

Krauss: I love these Outlaw shows. I’ve done a number of them through the years with Willie… I think it’s going to be an amazing evening with all these guys, but I have to say that of all three of those guys, the guy that can pull off the shorts is Robert.

Plant: Actually, as a matter of fact, here within the shadows of Ludlow Castle, a 14th century masterpiece of Norman architecture, I am actually wearing shorts as I sit here under a London plane tree in the late afternoon. But at the shows, we say, “We’re going on at X time, and then you do what you like after that.”

I should be attached to Dylan’s dark humor and wit and quiet joy in weaving another spell. I mean, I’ve seen him quite a lot over the years, and the great conjecture has always been, “Well, what did you think?” I saw him in Roskilde in Denmark three or four years ago. We were playing one night with [Plant’s Band, The Sensational] Shapeshifters, and he was playing the night before. We met in a rainy parking lot while his bus waited to take him across a big bridge into Germany. It was just a great meeting of confounded men that will not stop. And I loved that. I think that’s just the troubadour. What would you do, after all the magnificences? Can you go back and bounce your grandchildren on the knee? My granddaughter is 29; she’s not going to have that. So I think it’s going to be fantastic. I’m very enthused for it. Who knows how Dylan will present these songs? How long will it take to realize it’s “Masters Of War”?

It sounds like you’ll be in the audience waiting to find out.

Plant: The fact is that between Alison and more recently myself, I’ve dug deep into the old music. The old, old music. Some of it that floated across with the Puritans in the 1600s and sort of remodeled itself into these timeless songs. And I hear a lot of them coming out of the guy from Minnesota. I can also hear them in the folk club in England and some spectacular contemporary English recitations of folk. The topic sometimes are a little… I mean, thank God for Dylan, or I’d have been stuck with some of those 300 year old diatribes.

Has anything stood out to you both recently in terms of new music?

Krauss: I haven’t been listening to anything new. I’ve been in the studio, so you don’t want to put the radio on when you when you get in the car.

Plant: We did both have a sneak preview into T Bone’s [Burnett’s newest album.] He spilled the beans. That was very touching, I thought, and cathartic for him I’m sure.

And now we have coming around the corner from another Paleolithic Era, Dave Gilmour taped himself to the studio. I’m still buying into how people of my generation move through the times and through the fears, because one step the wrong way and we’re all pastiche again. I’m so aware of where I don’t want to be. So I think that will be very interesting. And in Britain, media wise, David Gilmore carries a lot of journalistic clout. And then Tinariwen from Mali… Those are two projects that I’m interested in.

Robert, there’s a new Zeppelin documentary coming out. After all this time, what else is there left to learn about the band?

Plant: [laughs] Oh, you can’t even imagine. Talk about Pan’s Labyrinth. Or, I think Donovan once wrote an album called What’s Bin Did and What’s Bin Hid. Led Zeppelin just marched and sashayed and swam and paddled through more than 10 years of learning the game, and in the end, the game was modified two or three years later by the grand order of how to harness stardom and the showbiz of rock. So I guess, in a very sad, sad way, we must have bowed out just in time.

But it sounds like there’s still, as you’re saying, tales untold and things to learn and that maybe this new documentary will reveal some of that?

Plant: Maybe. I’m not sure. I saw some bits of it a while back. It’s taken from very early on, so it’s pre-shorts.

The pre-shorts and post-shorts eras.

Plant: Yeah. More kilt than shorts, I think.

What have you two learned from each other over this long collaboration?

Plant: Patience and humility I think, for me.

Krauss: Well, you know, I’ve got to lighten up, but I haven’t yet.

Plant: [laughs] You see why it’s so funny! By whatever means these conversations reach the paying audiences who scream for shorts, you can’t actually transmit this rubbish. It’s just too good.


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I'm sort of ambivalent towards their collaborations.  Two remarkable talents and each achieving iconic status in their chosen music fields through sheer talent and hard work.  I have a feeling that their current audience are long-time followers of both and are quite curious as to what they've been able to achieve in the two's collaborations and experience it in live performance. At the same time their audience expects to hear a familiar few of Zeppelin classics done with a twangy, grassy tinge that do not seem like imitations of 1970's bombast. It sort of takes the audience back to what they remember without being nostalgic because it informs them that they (and we) are living in the here and now.


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Robert Plant and Alison Krauss melded their different musical worlds

They join Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan at Outlaw Music Festival on June 21.
By Jon Waterhouse , AJC



The Outlaw Music Festival tour will soon hit the road at full gallop, spotlighting artists who break conventions and shrug off labels. At 91, headliner Willie Nelson can easily croon a standard or duet with Snoop Dogg as he can tell mamas not to let their babies grow up to be cowboys. The incomparable Bob Dylan has been breaking rules since the 1960s. And the once-unlikely pair of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss continue proving a rock god and an angelic, fiddle-playing bluegrass singer are a match made somewhere along heaven’s stairway.

“I don’t know whether we are challenging convention,” Plant said during a recent phone call alongside Krauss. “I mean, we just do what we do. I suppose we are, because we come from different corners of the musical spectrum. But yeah, we’re part of that great movement aren’t we, all of us?”

Together, Plant and Krauss’ own melodic movement kicked off with the phenomenal success of their 2007 album “Raising Sand,” where their contrasting pedigrees and styles meshed magically, resulting in a string of Grammy wins and a shower of critical praise. Their 2021, Grammy-nominated follow-up, “Raise the Roof,” explored the same formula of roots-heavy readings with producer T Bone Burnett at the helm. Although interest in their pairing spans 17 years and is inspiring their second summer trek in a row, it began as an unforeseen experiment.

Plant, the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer best known as Led Zeppelin’s vocalist, and Americana icon Krauss first crossed paths when paired at a Lead Belly tribute in the early aughts. The initial chemistry and mutual adoration for roots music prompted the pair to give recording a shot. And the result exceeded their expectations.

“Well, it was something,” said Krauss. “The whole thing has been a surprise, from just the first idea of going into the studio. We had no expectations at all. And when we first talked about recording together, Robert says, ‘Let’s go in for three days, and if we don’t like it, goodbye for now.’ And it was great.”

That would be an understatement. Plant recalls listening to a recording shortly after their initial session. “I [thought] what is this thing, this amazing shudder of energy and unexpectedness?” he said. “It was magnificent. Yeah, I got out of jail free.”

Their recorded material ranges from Everly Brothers classics to Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans R&B to Doc Watson bluegrass and a variety of points in between. Yet the duo doesn’t simply dust off hidden gems from the record bin. Their thoughtful interpretations honor each composition by creating something refreshingly its own.

“A great song has many lives and survives all kinds of different arrangements,” Krauss said. “And I suppose the approach is you have to forget the original if you’re going to do it at all. You have to be OK with it having another life.”

That new life continues to evolve, she said, from the studio to the stage. While Krauss and Plant may only initially play a song a few times during a recording session, the tunes really come alive once they’re taken out on the road, she said.

The songs “find their home and they have an ability to change [nightly] depending on moods or what the crowd’s doing or what song you just played prior,” said Krauss. “They really develop their own life and those changes that happen night to night are always exciting, especially with this band.”

Yet the duo’s dynamic was something Plant himself was a bit weary of out of the gate. When fronting Led Zeppelin, he rarely sang harmony, and he wasn’t sure he could hold up his end of the bargain. It’s a surprising and vulnerable revelation coming from a legendary rocker whose commanding presence and vocal prowess have been conjuring a “Whole Lotta Love” from audiences for decades.

“It was something I wasn’t used to because I’d never actually been in a collaboration before really on such an intimate level, certainly not vocally,” he said. “I didn’t really have a great deal of self confidence. … I didn’t know whether vocally I could actually get it. And as time went on, I think we both learned that sometimes after a little while you find something that had nothing to do with the original idea, but it’s just really good. It’s something that we cherish quietly without actually talking about.”

On stage, Plant and Krauss let the music do the talking. Their sets typically find them plucking favorites from both “Raising Sand” and “Raise the Roof,” while reimagining Led Zeppelin classics such as “Rock and Roll” and “When the Levee Breaks.” In fact, they’ve been known to push that creativity by weaving a patchwork consisting of Plant’s solo hit “In the Mood,” the English folk song “Matty Groves” and Zeppelin’s traditional arrangement of “Gallows Pole.”

While the idea of revisiting rock standards on stage with their co-creator might be daunting to some, Krauss said she enjoys the ride. “Well, I know that all those tunes as he’s played them through the years have already evolved into another version of themselves,” she said. “And we weren’t trying to copy anything. It very much changes them. … And so I wasn’t too stressed about it. I think if I was trying to emulate something that I’d be in real trouble.”

Plant and Krauss continue putting their stamp on music in front of audiences this summer with their 10 dates on the Outlaw Music Festival tour sandwiched between their own headlining jaunt. And they believe that sharing a bill with their fellow Outlaw luminaries will prove to be inspiring and reinvigorating in the midst of it all.

“If you think about my heritage as a singer through the years,” Plant said, “this is such a great place to be and to precede Bob Dylan, all his magical words and his rough and rowdy ways is just something I’m beside myself with. For me, I’m just part of the audience. I think I’m in a great, blessed position to be alongside my partner here and teaming up with these people who’ve had such remarkable and incredibly impressive periods in our consciousness.”

Once their summer touring wraps, what’s next for Plant and Krauss? Although they recently released their live version of “When the Levee Breaks” as a single, they’re not saying much about the future of their partnership. However, the door seems open for a possible third album, hopefully without the extended break.

“Fourteen years was a while to do the follow up, wasn’t it?” said Plant. “Yeah, great business idea that was. Well, let’s try and make it less than 14 next time.”

The Outlaw Music Festival

Featuring Willie Nelson and Family, Bob Dylan, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Celisse. 5:30 p.m. June 21. $86 and up. Ameris Bank Amphitheatre at Encore Park, 2200 Encore Parkway, Alpharetta. 404-733-5013, 1-800-653-8000, encoreparkamphitheatre.com.



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