Having to deal with the deaths of both her parents; Scott Young and Astrid Mead, just three months apart in 2005, Astrid Young faced a severe self-examination about what motivated her to continue to be creative. Now ensconced in the Prince Edward wine region centred around Picton, Ontario, Neil Young’s half-sister needed time to revive that creative spark she thought she had lost.
But now with the release of her latest CD, One Night At Giant Rock, to be followed by a national club tour, Young is about to forge her way back into the spotlight.
“I questioned the reasons why I was doing it in the first place, was I only ever doing it for my parents’ approval? Now that they’re gone, I questioned whether it mattered anymore,” Young explained from her Picton, Ontario homestead. ‘It took so long to crawl back out of that hole”.
Not that her time away from the recording studio was totally barren. An accomplished artist and writer, who penned her own autobiography `”Being Young’”, Young is also a certified sommelier which means she can recommend a good bottle of plonk! “There were just four wineries when I first arrived here, now there’s 34,” says Young who has won awards for here creative wine lists in restaurants and is often called up upon by such noted wine experts like Konrad Ejbich.
Still the recording studio has always been Young’s first love and even though she has been hampered by a degenerative hearing problem she has re-found the creative urge to fashion a new recording
“I had to force myself to start playing and writing again,” explained Young. “When I did, that creativity started to come back – one song at a time. As the concept of the new record developed, I want the direction to be a culmination of everything I had done before.”
Named after a giant boulder located in California’s Mojave Desert, the original intent for Young was to record the album with “a bunch of different producers, a bunch of different musicians and a bunch of different engineers, but those plans went out the window when Young hooked up with Violent Femmes’ drummer Victor Lorenzo.
Understanding that Young’s hearing impairment means she cannot mix her own music, she needed special help and found it with Lorenzo . “I had always been a big Violent Femmes fan and to work with a member of that band on my own record was a special experience,” explained Young. “Working together was magic. It was like every day I experienced a kind of out of body experience. The sessions, went so well that Victor has agreed to tour the record with me.”
A key track on the record is titled “Integratron” and is written about a spherical building positioned near Giant Rock and built in 1959 by George Van Tassell which is said to boast special powers of time, travel and regeneration – powers that have been reflected in Young’s own triumph over her past depression.
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The album itself features a number of plaintive, yet stoic vocal performances by Young on tracks like “Your New Drug”, “Try This” and “Amy’s Song” which is a stunning vocal tribute to a departed friend, Amy Yessian.
Young’s first solo recording since her 2002 `Matinee’ effort, `One Night At Giant Rock’ marks a concerted effort by Young to re-enter the recording industry. “I had spent a long time thinking about who I was and the things I had done in my life and I came to the conclusion that music is the greatest joy in my life. I love to record, I love the entire process of recording, I could live in a recording studio, whether it’s working on my own tracks or producing someone else, it’s just something I want to do,”.
Of course, having such a musical icon as Neil Young as your half brother is both a major advantage or a major disadvantage, depending on how you look at things. In Astrid’s case, ever since Neil bought her an amp when she was fourteen years old, Astrid had wanted to follow her brother’s career path – yet achieve success on her own terms.
“It was a huge detriment to me, being associated with Neil,” explained Astrid. “Initially I came across as a bit of a novelty, I felt that nobody took me seriously.” These circumstances changed when she moved to Los Angeles and quickly fell in with a group of hard rockers called Sacred Child.
Signed to Target Records and distributed by CBS, Young was thrilled that she was able to succeed on her own terms and record with a band who knew nothing about her artistic pedigree. That was until Music Express wrote a feature story about her, outing her real identity. “This record company guy walks into the studio waving the Music Express story and says, ‘why didn’t you tell me you were related to Neil Young’ “My response was to say I was so happy you liked me for me. I didn’t want to capitalize on Neil’s reputation.”
Despite support from Music Express/Kerrang writer Paul Suter who gave Sacred Child a major profile in the British and European metal magazine press, the band’s self-titled 1989 record failed because, according to Young, her label did such a terrible distribution job that none of their fans could find the record to buy it.
Young’s next move was to find work as a back-up singer and she thanks Nicolette Larson for teaching her the ropes on how to succeed at this profession. It was hardly a surprise then that Young would graduate to singing background vocals on brother Neil’s major tours in the early Nineties, also singing on albums such as `Harvest Moon’, `Unplugged’ and `Road Rock Vol.1. But even then, she couldn’t avoid critical digs from certain industry types.
“I think I was singing on the Unplugged Record when some record company type says to me, `So you’re Neil’s sister – well that’s nepotism for you – what an ass!”, fumed Young, “The truth is, if I really sucked, I wouldn’t be there.”
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Young sang vocals on Ben Keith’s album and with Heart’s Nancy Wilson on her solo record before recording two solo albums; the 1995 “Brainflower” and the 2002 ‘Pokalolo Paniolo release under a band name titled iST.
Yet even as she regrouped herself will become a sommelier, Young still performed the occasional acoustic set and she feels her fan base is still intact and hopefully will respond when Astrid hits the stage again this month to promote her new record.
“I don’t have any false expectations,” she announced. “I’ve booked the tour myself, I’m just going to be playing small clubs initially. I’d rather play to a small group of say 100 people than play in a larger club to a half full audience. The reality is that I am 51, I have a lot of things that I could be doing but as far as touring this record, it’s now or never, I do want to get out there and give it one more shot.”
Photo Credit: Grace Williams