In the context of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Graham Nash strikes one as the quiet thinker. The sensitive feeler to Stephen Stills as bold leader; David Crosby as wild card; Neil Young the unpredictable brooder.
Nash, 75, was the skinny English folkie who fell head-over-heels for Joni Mitchell’s mind and beauty (their house was a very, very, very fine house).
More recently, he was a Bernie Sanders supporter who painted “16 paintings out of frustration” after the presidential election.
So perhaps it’s only fitting that Nash’s latest solo album, “This Path Tonight” — his first in 14 years — was wrought of passion, spurred by a divorce after 38 years and finding love again, with artist/photographer Amy Grantham.
We caught up with the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for a wide-ranging interview as he readies to plays three Massachusetts shows this month.
Q. You started out in the Hollies. What made you leave for Crosby, Stills & Nash?
A. A sound. That sound was me, David, and Stephen singing together. I heard that sound, and my life changed instantly. I wasn’t from this country, and I was in a band more popular than the Byrds or Buffalo Springfield. But when you have a moment like that, you follow it.
Q. You were with Joni Mitchell for a few years. How did you meet?
A. She knew Crosby. He had produced her first record. He told me, “If you ever tour in Canada with the Hollies, if you meet Joni Mitchell, introduce yourself and let her know we’re friends.”
One day, the Hollies were in Canada; and after the show, there’s an awkward little party hosted by the promoters, with plastic glasses of cheap wine, and my manager was talking in my ear, and I said, “Will you please shut up, I’m trying to get this beautiful woman’s attention,” and he said, “Well, if you [expletive] listen, I’m trying to tell you that’s Joni Mitchell and she wants to meet you.”
Q. And what was your time with her like?
A. Me thinking I was the luckiest man on earth. Learning how she wrote songs. Where they came from. You gotta understand: The songs we did with the Hollies were cute, catchy, pop. When I came to America, I found my ability to write a melody with important words. That’s what happened with “Our House” and “Teach Your Children.”
Q. I read you were hesitant to add Neil to CSN?
A. Why would I want to [mess] with that sound? Who is this Neil Young? I knew he was a fantastic musician and songwriter; I knew he was important, but I’d never met him. And the musical efforts to produce four-part harmony instead of three part: Why did we want to add this guy? So I went to breakfast with Neil on Bleecker Street, in New York, and after that, I would’ve made him president of the world. He was incredibly dry, incredibly funny, and incredibly confident. He knew exactly what he could bring to CSN. I said, “OK, he’s in.”
‘When historians look back, they’re going to see the Summer of Love was as important as Paris in the ’30s with Gertrude Stein and Picasso.’
Q. Woodstock was CSNY’s second live show. That must’ve been baptism by fire.
A. We were full of piss and vinegar. We knew we could sing and play. We knew we were pretty damn good.
Q. What are your favorite CSNY or CSN songs?
A. The first would be “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and the second, “4 + 20,” which Stephen wrote, and I think it’s an incredibly brilliant song.
Q. Will CSNY ever tour again?
A. I don’t think so.
Q. Does everyone get along now?
A. You’ve got to understand, I love them all dearly. I think they’re brilliant musicians. But right now, I’m not getting along with David and neither is Neil. We’re brothers. We fight.
Q. What were some low points and high points over the years with the band?
A. The low points: seeing David going so deep and dark into drugs. The high points: a million. Flying to Berlin when the wall came down and helping chip it down, for one.
Q. You have an honorary doctorate in fine arts from Lesley University, in Cambridge.
A. I think when you get old like me, they start throwing [expletive] at you. I have my ink-jet prints [his company Nash Editions’s original IRIS 3047 digital printer and Nash’s 1969 portrait of Crosby are in the Smithsonian’s permanent collection]. I paint, sculpt, and I blah blah blah [laughs]. I’m just here trying to have the best time I can.
Q. You got into photography with your father when you were a kid. What will catch your eye for a photo now?
A. I’ll tell you what won’t catch my eye: landscapes, sunsets, cats playing with yarn that will match your wall. I love the surreal moments that make you say, “Holy [expletive].” I don’t use my camera as my memory. So many people today use their cameras as their memory: “Oh, here’s me at Disneyland.” I’d rather experience what I’m doing.
Q. Your father died at 46, after time in jail.
A. Years ago, me and Crosby got a letter from a kid facing 10 years in jail for having two joints. So I wrote “Prison Song” — but the first part is about my father. He bought a camera from a guy at work. The police thought the camera was stolen. My father refused to name the friend, and he ended up in jail. I sang it on a show [in England] and the judge who sentenced my father was on camera.
Q. That’s insane.
A. My life has been insane.
Q. What parts, specifically?
A. Everything about my life. The fact that I became a successful musician. You’ve got to understand: I’m so lucky to be alive at the same time as Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Joni Mitchell. When historians look back, they’re going to see the Summer of Love was as important as Paris in the ’30s with Gertrude Stein and Picasso.
Q. You were a big Bernie supporter. What do you think when you watch the news?
A. It’s terribly disturbing and terribly empowering. They said when [Ronald] Reagan ran, “If he wins, I’m leaving.” You can’t run away. We have to resist.
Q. How do you like touring solo?
A. I’m loving it. I’m getting songs in that I haven’t done in years. I’m getting in brand-new songs I wrote that morning. When you have four strong writers [in CSNY], it’s more of a democratic process.
At Payomet Performing Arts Center, Truro. July 17, 8 p.m. Tickets: www.payomet.org/event/graham-nash
At Old Whaling Church, Edgartown, July 18, 8 p.m. Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com/event/0100529AD47642FE#efeat4212
At Boarding House Park, Lowell. July 21, 7:30 p.m. Tickets: www.lowellsummermusic.org/Interview was edited and condensed. Lauren Daley can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurendaley1.