At 74, it would seem Neil Diamond has little to prove, musically. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has sold more than 125 million records in his 50-year career. He’s a Kennedy Center honoree. He was an Emmy Award nominee for two primetime specials. He received the Billboard Icon Award in 2011. He won a Grammy and a Golden Globe in 1974 for the film score to “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” (Okay, he also won the Razzie for worst actor in a film 1980’s “The Jazz Singer”). But you get the picture.
NEIL DIAMOND 8 p.m. April 14 United Center, 1901 W. Madison Tickets: $39.50-$120 Visit: ticketmaster.com
The music man, however, has never been one to rest on his laurels. Last October, Diamond released one of his most personal albums to date, the dulcet “Melody Road,” his 32nd studio album, his first disc of all-original material since 2008, and the first for his new label, Capitol Records (Diamond previously spent his entire recording career at Columbia Records). Produced by Blue Note president Don Was and Jacknife Lee, the album is filled with romantic lyrics and lush arrangements — the quintessential Diamond outing.
Diamond has also just embarked on his new world tour, which stops April 14 at the United Center. He recently chatted with members of the press and what follows is an edited transcript of that interview.
Q. Let me ask about “Melody Road.” Why new music now?
A. Well, why new music now? That’s what I do. I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. It’s built into my genetic code at this point. When I finish an album, within a matter of weeks, I start writing again. I can’t help myself. So far, for the last 45 years, each of the writing periods have led to records and each of the records have, more or less, led to some kind of touring activity, although I tour whenever I’m able, it doesn’t necessarily need an album release.
Q. What you think of the finished product?
A. I like it a lot. I think it’s one of my best albums and it just hits the spot for me. We all worked very hard on it. I wanted to show my stuff for my new label, of course, but, basically, it’s the result of just the work that I do and I think it came out very, very good.
Q. This is the first album of new material that you’ve done since “Home Before Dark,” which was very stripped-down and acoustic, whereas “Melody Road” is more of a production. Was that a conscious decision to go from acoustic back to more full-boned?
A. Yes, I think it was a conscious decision. I wanted to fill out the record; I wanted to use other instruments. I thought that Rick [Rubin, the Columbia label producer of “Home Before Dark”] did a wonderful job, and the band that I worked with on the two albums I did with him did a wonderful job. [But] I wanted to hear electric guitars, I wanted to hear horns, and electric instruments, again, to do them in my own way, but to bring them back into my records. That was one of the goals I set out for myself on the “Melody Road” album.
… I’ve been very lucky; I’ve worked with some of the best producers in the world. … It was Don Was’ turn. I worked with him 20, 25 years ago for just a couple of recordings and I liked him. I had him in the back of my mind that, someday, I’m going to work with Don again because he had all those qualities that I want in a producer and to end up with in an album. Jacknife Lee was also the same kind of thing. I picked them and I kind of forced them together into a [record “marriage”] and … it worked beautifully.
Q. Going from Columbia to Capitol, do you feel now, at this point in your career, did you want more freedom for your work? What did Capitol bring to the table that, perhaps, was no longer valid at Columbia for you?
A. There’s no rational answer that I can give you but, maybe, just what I say; you’ll be able to deduce what the rationale is.
I was with Columbia Records for 42 years. When you’re with a label that long, you have to begin to wonder what’s going on outside of that world; what are you missing, what kind of input are you missing, even though you don’t feel it. I never did feel constrained in anyway at Columbia Records, either creatively or personally. … I was always proud to be on Columbia.
… At some point, I felt that I owed it to myself, just to make a change, even if it was only for the sake of change, just to see what I was missing, and Capitol was a natural for me. I’d worked with Steve Barnett [chairman and CEO of Capitol Music] when he was president of Columbia and I knew I could work with him. I knew he was putting together a good, enthusiastic team at Capitol and I knew they had their own outlook and perspective on my work and where they could take it. I made that jump into the unknown and it was very scary because I got all the love that I needed at Columbia. I just was hoping to find something different, something new, something fresh, something that would keep me motivated, even if it was fear. Fear is a great motivation and I was afraid, but I made the change anyway. I haven’t regretted it.
Q. Can you tell us [about] touring now versus 45 years ago:Wildly different?
A. Well, I carry 100 people with me now. I used to go out with just a guitar, and then it grew from there to a three-piece band and then a larger band and a road manager and lighting directors and catering and traveling. It’s not a lot different because it’s all about the show, for me. The audiences have been there, thank God, and they’ve been with me and that is something that trumps anything, any other consideration. I could be carrying 100 people or just going out by myself.
Q. When [“Melody Road”] came out, a lot of reviews said it was such an upbeat and almost a romantic kind of album for you, maybe because married life was agreeing with you? Did that have an influence on how you approached the album? Also, talk a little bit about the journey that got you, musically, to this point because, as you’ve said always, your albums do tell a story.
A. I’m not intentionally writing songs that are romantic or up or enthusiastic, I’m just trying to write down on paper whatever comes out of me. This is what came out of me. I can only look at this, in retrospect, and say, yes, this is telling where my head is at right now. There’s a lot of romance and there’s a lot of enthusiasm and there’s a lot of hope for the future in this album. This is important and there’s no question that my own personal life and my own personal experience is what gives rise to this.
I got married three years ago so a lot of these thoughts and attitudes are on paper and in the records. That’s good; I listen to it and say, yes, this is hopeful. I mean there’s a couple of very introspective songs.
… “Melody Road” is really a place in the mind, especially a songwriter’s, particularly me; I can’t talk about anybody else. It talks about what music is to me and how I find it and how it comes to be. … The songs are pretty positive; the songs are autobiographical. There’s some pain involved in some of these songs, but that’s part of life, too.
To go back to your original question, it’s where I am now and it’s a very hopeful place and I feel very good about that. I hope it reflects itself in the show because that’s the story I want to tell. That life holds all kinds of wonderful, mysterious surprises and where I’m at now is a great surprise for me and I want to reflect that in the shows.
Q. It’s [the 35th anniversary of] “The Jazz Singer,’ this year. Wondering about your 2015 perspective on the album, the film and will you be performing them on this tour?
A. I wasn’t even aware there was an anniversary involved. There are a few songs from “The Jazz Singer” that I will do and must do. After almost 50 years, you have to be selective because I can’t be out there just throwing songs out at people. I want to be selective and I think I’ve chosen songs that I love most and that are, I think, most important in “The Jazz Singer ” era.
… It’s hard to conceive because it seems like just yesterday I was talking to Laurence Olivier on the set [of the film] and trying to pick up as many tips as I could and trying to understand the character and trying to learn from him. Those moments are fresh in my mind. It just tells you that life moves quickly and there are songs to be written. … I’m just taking advantage of every moment that I have to make music. I think that’s my purpose here, to make music and to share my music with people. I’m on a mission to do that.