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Robert Plant’s new album follows the ‘Fire’ of his musical passions

Robert Plant, former chest-baring frontman of Led Zeppelin, has enjoyed a prolific solo career, experimenting with a variety of musical styles and genres. Jeffrey Brown sits down with the rock legend to discuss his inspirations, whether Led Zeppelin will ever reunite and his newest album, “Carry Fire.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now: a rock music legend who’s grown into a successful solo career.

    Jeffrey Brown has the latest from the singer Robert Plant.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    He was the quintessential hard rock front man in what was for a time the biggest hard rock band on the planet, Robert Plant, lead singer of Led Zeppelin, long hair, bare chest, tight pants, howling his way through albums and arenas with guitarist Jimmy Page, who put the band together in 1968, bass player John Paul Jones, and drummer John Bonham.

  • Robert Plant:

    Those bands in those days, you know, barely out of my teens, and the guys I was playing with were the most amazing players.

    And it was all about energy, all about expression, garish sometimes.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

     Yes. Yes.

  • Robert Plant:

    In that environment then, everything was so exaggerated, but it lasted just as long as it lasted. And then it — for me, it just dissolved.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    So, if it was all about energy, then what is it about now?

  • Robert Plant:

    Same thing, but it’s bridled. It’s contained more. It’s a good place to go, and it’s a bit of a surprise.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    At 69, meeting us recently at Nonesuch Records in New York, Plant is a rock icon who’s content with how things have turned out, other than being scored on in foosball.

  • Robert Plant:

    Beaten at soccer by an American, that can’t be right.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Zeppelin disbanded in 1980, and Plant had a first solo hit three years later with “Big Log.”

    But while some rock stars keep playing the same old songs in the same old ways, Plant slowly built a much-admired solo career by experimenting with different sounds and different musicians, most notably his 2007 collaboration with bluegrass country star Alison Krauss.

    “Raising Sand,” an unlikely meld of styles and voices, was a surprise hit, winning five Grammys, including album of the year.

  • Robert Plant:

    The songs were really delicate, but intense, and the whole idea of a room all heading to one point to make — get the most out of a song, to get the most out of every lyric, so that a syllable can hang in midair for a while, and that was a particularly sensual collection of songs and performance.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    His 11th solo effort, “Carry Fire,” is a new album of original songs, back his band of recent years, the Sensational Space Shifter.

    When you put out an album nowadays, what compels it? What does there have to be for you to say, I have got something new?

  • Robert Plant:

    Well, there’s a lot of preparation and there’s a lot of, I guess you would probably call it soul-searching to make sure, with time being so precious, that it’s not a wasted journey.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But what constitutes an unwasted journey for you nowadays?

  • Robert Plant:

     Weaving — the musical weave in the beginning, the groove and the kind of — the essence of the music that surrounds the songs, but just being able to get to a place where the music is paramount, it’s discrete, slightly exotic.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    With the Space Shifters, here on the PBS program “Austin City Limits” last year, Plant has incorporated Zeppelin hits like “Black Dog” in new forms.

    And he continues and expands the Zeppelin blend of blues, English ballads and world music, including on the title track of the new album, which features the Middle Eastern instrument the oud.

    I asked about the sounds and influences.

  • Robert Plant:

     They just come from a fortunate life traveling and keeping good very company. I was always gathering more and more fuel. I was buying cassettes in the marketplaces and listening to variations on themes, and just such an amazing encyclopedia of music I developed slowly.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The question Plant is asked most often is the one he seems least interested in: When will Led Zeppelin get together again?

    The three surviving members last performed together in 2007. But no encores are planned. I asked Plant about the key to the band’s enduring success.

  • Robert Plant:

    I don’t know. We didn’t know.

    It’s — you may think it’s naive, because now so much of entertainment is pretty structured. You know, the game is the game. Here we are.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Yes.

  • Robert Plant:

    We didn’t know what on earth we were doing. We were just doing gigs, and the gigs got bigger, and the crowds got bigger, and we had more fun.

    To be the guy up at the sharp end, what I call it, as a singer, was a bit of a labor, was a bit of a toil.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But was it a performance, or was that you?

  • Robert Plant:

    I think it was me responding to music, just like it is right now.

    I don’t wear a girl’s blouse anymore, but I’m still desperately switched on to the music that surrounds me. So, with Zeppelin, I think I was just playing it out. Interesting to see now. I just wonder how he felt at the end of the night, that guy, when I look at him.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    That guy who was you?

  • Robert Plant:

     Yeah.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Really? You don’t know how he felt?

  • Robert Plant:

    I can’t imagine.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The difference now, Plant says, perspective and the freedom to go wherever his musical passions lead.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Jeffrey Brown in New York.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think it’s all about being good and staying good.

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