The song remains the same, but Robert Plant is always moving forward
With Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant took over the music world, pushing boundaries and helping to introduce genres like metal and prog. In his post-Zeppelin career, he's continued that exploration, going from being the golden god of rock to becoming a nomadic troubadour of new musical worlds. Whether in partnership with Alison Krauss, Band of Joy or the Sensational Space Shifters, he's continued to defy expectations, delivering album after album that explore different styles and genres.
On his most recent album, Carry Fire, his second with the Space Shifters, Plant continues the journey that began when he, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and the late drummer John Bonham changed the course of music history.
"In the last 38 years since John Bonham passed away I've done a hundred different things with a thousand different people," he says. "And every time I've gone on these little adventures, I've tried to make it as bright and sparkly as possible so that everybody is really totally transfixed with what we're trying to do."
His musical meanderings have taken him on paths far away from where Zeppelin began, even if that band's legacy persists.
"You know if I did the same thing all the time I'd be in a band doing really well," he says.
Although for Plant, whether he's performing new material or playing some of his biggest hits from the Zeppelin days, whether he's wailing out to Since I've been Loving You or harmonizing with Chrissie Hynde on the old standard, Bluebirds Over the Mountain, he's still the same singer he always was.
"Take the Rain Song in Zepp. If you think about it, I was 23, I suppose Jimmy was 50," he jokes. "[He was] 27, or whatever it was, and we were working in all sorts of areas and you cut your cloth accordingly. It'd be a pretty dumb move to try and make everything have a big impact riff and that kind of puffy chest job, you've got to get down into really where the emotions take you. And so all the way through Zepp there's been that sort of dynamic contretemps and that carries on all the way through anybody's life if they're singers."
Plant says that a lot of his influences go back to a fateful trip he made to Morocco when he was 22.
"I just melted into the streets. I melted into every doorway that was playing yet another piece of dramatic music, from the music of Cairo, the orchestrated stuff, or from some amazing, it sounded like a bunch of Tuareg [people] building a shed in the back of somewhere, and that was stuff from the High Atlas. … By the time we got to [Zeppelin's seventh album] Presence, I was writing lyrics to things like Achilles Last Stand, praying to get back. … There's a peace in the middle of the marketplace."
He also talks about the effect of punk rock, which is partly credited for ending Zeppelin's decade-long dominance in rock 'n' roll. The group's final albums, In Through the Out Door and Coda, were a reaction to the band's impending end.
"We were absolutely dumbfounded by the idea of British punk having some kind of revelatory gift that put us into the shadows because we had been raised on stuff that was far wilder than, you know, Never Mind the Bollocks," he says. "So that's why we did things like Wearing and Tearing and Ozone Baby, because we knew how to make that shit up, but we were so busy trying to write eight-minute epics about crossing the Atlas Mountains that we forgot all about [it].
In wide-ranging interview, Plant also talks about football anthems, his relationship to Stairway to Heaven ("It's like a relative of mine somewhere by the sea"), Zeppelin's early days ("we would be given the keys to the city of Memphis, Tennessee by the mayor at 7:00 p.m. onstage and under house arrest at 10:00 p.m.) and his late friend and legendary drummer John Bonham ("John's right foot is just the most spectacular right foot in the history of popular music in the last 60 years.")
You can listen to or watch Tom Power's full interview with Plant above.
Interview with Robert Plant produced by Chris Trowbridge.