Legend. Poet. Father: Wanderlust, Clusterf*ck, Austin, Biggest Regret, Expectations, Greatest Struggle, His New Band, What Matters Most, and the Beautiful, Accidental Time of Led Zeppelin.
Interview: Maranda Pleasant
Robert Plant: Maranda!
Maranda Pleasant: Hey!
RP: [laughing] I’m so sorry, my calculations were a bit adrift this morning.
MP: [laughing] I was like, oh shit, I just woke up Robert Plant—not on my top ten list! Sorry for calling you so early. It’s been six months in the making.
RP: Yeah, I remember meeting you near the coffee shop parking lot in Austin.
MP: Yeah, I almost beat on your window and almost jumped in your car.
RP: You’ll have to help me clean it first.
MP: Six months later, we finally have this conversation!
RP: Well, what were you going to talk about before? Really, life is life. You do a lot of different things and you have great adventures but there’s not a lot to talk about unless you’re in the middle of an adventure at the time. Circumspection is not one of my better, favorite conditions, really.
MP: Wonderful. Do you want to jump right in?
RP: Yeah. I’m just watching an absolute identical remake of the very first slave ship that came to Tasmania, pulling out of a harbor and the sails are just unfolding. It’s beautiful.
MP: I’m talking to you while you’re in Tasmania. It’s really great.
RP: It’s an interesting thing, really. When I was a kid, the world was such a big place, and I had no idea that I would be afforded these great moments in between doing what I love to do. I’m able to actually choose places to go which have intrigued me for the last god knows how many years, and Tasmania’s always been one of those places. I see it all and yet I see so little because it’s so fast.
MP: I can imagine. I looked at your tour schedule, and I was like, he’s in these amazing places. But I always wonder how much you can actually absorb.
RP: Well, it’s pretty good. We’ve been here—I think this is about the third or fourth day. We leave for New Zealand tomorrow. You kind of plan out what you want to do, and people are pretty helpful. Also, I’ve had many years to consider what I would like to see about a particular place. I don’t waste any time and I enjoy it. The people here are spectacular people. It has its own tempo and its own rhythm, which is so different than most of the life that I lead. So it’s quite refreshing, stimulating. It’s great. As another sail unfurls on this old ship below me, it’s quite something.
MP: Beautiful. What is it that makes you feel alive?
RP: Well, once you get the groove of your life and you sort out the aspects of your life that you prefer, and you’ve performed all your responsibilities as a father and as a partner. And just discovery and the great adventure of having eyes wide open. There’s so much of this beautiful planet that is still actually spectacular and stimulating. There are so many amazing people that you meet along the way. By using my career as the wind in the sails of my adventures, I could see so many things and so many people that I might have missed had my career gone a different direction.
MP: How is it that you maintain your center in the middle of chaos, in the middle of life moving so quickly?
RP: Well, life isn’t moving quickly—time moves very quickly. But I don’t really have a schedule now that’s very challenging. I make the calls and I call the shots, so I feel reasonably centered. Sometimes I wonder whether or not it’s even necessary to do concerts and stuff. Recently I met some people who help in an archeological project in the South Pacific, between sailing to the Marquesas, which is an island group not too far from Tahiti, and I think, well, wouldn’t that be great? I have such a fascination with history and especially history in my own country.
The idea of actually taking sharp turns left and right has always intrigued me, but I’ve never really been bold enough to do that. As musicians go, I’ve allowed myself to be carried by other people’s enthusiasm into places where I’ve learned a lot. There is no real tumult anymore. What I want to do, I do! I’m pretty fortunate.
MP: Is there anything that you would like to create with your life from this point forward?
RP: Well I’m supporting some people. Experts in medicine, back in the UK. Which is not my creation, but by being attentive and by being supportive, I’m able to help in endeavors which could lead to a lot, as far as bringing health and maintaining health is concerned. I’m more of a supporter. Creating a good home in Austin, as well, one that doesn’t fall down or blow over, that would be good.
MP: [laughing] You spend a lot of time in Austin? My friend said he sees you when he walks his dog. I just moved from Austin a few months ago, are you there pretty frequently?
RP: Austin, it’s a stimulating center. In this conversation, the very first two questions were talking about my kind of wanderlust and my adventures. Some people at my time in life travel forever. I don’t know whether it’s the British or the Australians, whoever it is—you can kind of stagger into some sort of far off bastion in the middle of nowhere and you’ll find someone from Britain or someone from Australia, or maybe an American. So I treat everywhere as being a center from which I can enjoy the surroundings. And so Austin is very stimulating. I’m familiar with a lot of very, charming people who have brought a lot of color to my life and a lot of love.
I come from a very small island which is packed with people. I mean, jam-packed with people. I’ve lived a life which has been pretty much full up with ambition, ideas, stimulus, creativity, some negativity which I try and avoid. Austin is a great sort of stepping off point, if you like. I’m from a temperate climate. We know that right now in the UK it’s freezing cold and it’s the fourth month of year. I passed through the Hawaiian islands recently on the way here, and I began my tour in Singapore. Everything is so different than what I’m used to. Austin is already all those things. And then beyond there it’s something else, too. It’s got a kind of rhythm to it, it’s great. It’s got a lot of musicians. It’s vibrant. It’s somewhere to walk other people’s dogs.
MP: [laughing] What is it that matters most to you right now in your life?
RP: To maintain the connections that I’ve developed as time goes on. It’s funny, you know—time does travel pretty quickly, and I do have good friends, and the further away I go from them in location, it matters that I keep on the same line and the same groove that I had, and preserve that groove with people who I see seldom. Now that I do spend a lot more time away from the UK, it’s important to me that I still feel the beat of the people that have been close to me for a long, long time. It’s also important that I have really strong and beautiful relationship which I wish to preserve. That enables me—or challenges me, ultimately, to get a Texas driving license!
MP: So women can beat on your window.
RP: Well they can’t get very far, because the woman sitting next to me actually forms a very good fist.
MP: Is she a Texas woman?
RP: Well, she thinks she is. I think she comes from colder climes.
MP: Wonderful. What is it in life that you feel you have struggled with the most?
RP: Well, my sort of stability as a character, it’s never been one of my strongest attributes. I’m a bit of a clusterf*ck. I get so many great ideas that I kind of mesmerize people with another plan before the previous plan is hatched out; people run away, pull their hair off, go off in different directions, nodding their heads, and going, “Oh, god.” I am slightly disheveled, I think. I’m really pleased that I am, because otherwise I could be in a really, really dull and boring place now, as a musician at least.
There’s that. And the passing of time, I struggle with that because I love my children very much, and even as they have children, I’ve come to terms with that. Everything changes there. I’m pleased for them, and I have a wonderful time with all my family, which is great.
I’m like one of those firecrackers that goes off in your pocket occasionally. I’m not really struggling with it as much as the people around me. But at least I’m not doing too much damage to anybody or to myself. It’s just the condition I’m aware of.
MP: You just wrote my editor’s letter! [laughing]
RP: Well, you know, the thing is, I get offers. That’s a great title for my piece: “I Get Offers.” There’s so many things that I can do that—should I stop and smell the roses? Or should I do that for the next thousand years? I don’t know.
MP: I love that. What is it that you are most proud of in your life? The one thing that you are most proud of bringing to this planet?
RP: Beautiful children. They are a reflection of the love that you put into them. They have a great resonance and they’re spectacular. All three of them have got a great beat. I wouldn’t say that they understand me but at least they are supportive. There’s a great mutuality and I’m really proud of that. In the middle of everything that I’ve done as a singer or as somebody who’s jumped on top of a few old books and turned ‘em into songs about hobbits f*cking vikings, I think I’ve danced a beautiful dance through it all, without becoming too much of a cliche. I’ve enjoyed the two-step. It’s brought me great gifts. When I sit back there with my driver’s hat on and I look at my passenger, I think, Well, this ain’t so bad.
MP: That’s really beautiful. You sound like a poet. What is your biggest regret in this life?
RP: Well, I can’t say that regret is a term that would be appropriate. Because if you do what you think is right for the benefit of everybody and everything and you make decisions, to go back and regret them afterwards—it’s a futile experience and it’s not worth thinking about. Because life just unfolds. Provided you do your best and you think you’re on the right track, you can only be right or wrong. But to regret it—I don’t think there are any huge errors or misdemeanors. You know, I should have hung out with Elvis a bit more.
MP: There you go!
RP: I can’t regret until the end. And I won’t regret then, either.
MP: “I won’t regret it until the end and I won’t regret it then, either.” That’s beautiful. What is it that you feel makes you feel vulnerable? Men really love this question.
RP: The mirror.
RP: Maybe a calendar, in fact. How ‘bout that? Somebody gives you a diary for the forthcoming year and all the pages are empty, and you go, oh my goodness—that means there’s another year! That means I’m never going to be Captain Cook. There’s so many parts of your life, you know? People say that you don’t get any better after the age of about forty or something like that, as a performer. I find all that to be a misconception. I don’t feel bad about the way I present stuff. The calendar and the mirror—they’re bastards.
MP: Yes. What current projects are you passionate about right now? What are you doing that you’re excited about in your life? You have a big tour coming up in the US in May and June. I know every time must be a little bit different.
RP: I like the idea of actually jumping on a project and going with it without creating a huge fanfare. It’s hellishly optimistic in a way to think that once upon a time in our world, people made records and then they got behind ‘em and they toured. They got the records in every store, you did the whole projection of a career and an image and whatever it was. Whether you were involved or not, it still continued like that. Now the game is turned upon its head. I’ve been fortunate to travel with these guys in certain combinations, into the Sahara, Mali, Timbuktu, Tunisia, Morocco, through most of Latin America. It’s like an undercover operation, and having such an amazing blend and mix of musicians, the combinations are so exciting that I’m really proud of them and the way that they meld, and we discuss and create a kind of spell, a kind of trance.
It’s audacious because a public quite often wants to see the goods the way they’ve always known them and can recognize them. But when you’ve been carrying these things around in your pocket, in a partnership one way or another for forty years, you have to bring them out and air them in the way that makes you really want to put it down, get it out. I use the music almost as a compass in some kind of quasi-romantic way. I try and go to places that I’m intrigued by, and I take this music with me, using my name at the front, but at the same time, I play the part I play but I don’t play the dominant part. We had this amazing sort of crazy concoction, mad shards of music flying off the stage. It’s great and it’s funny and it’s grandiose and it’s pompous and it’s massive attack—and the crowd slowly, slowly wakes from its slumbers and finds that it’s actually not in Vegas.
It’s great. Something really, really exciting and good, and it doesn’t say, this is exactly what you expect it to be—which is kind of challenging and interesting to deliver. Some people say they like it. Some people say, Why didn’t you do the f*cking obvious thing? And you know, they may say that and then they may think afterwards, Well, okay I get it.
MP: I’m just taking you in. I lost my dad early in life and one of the only memories that I have of him is him talking about your band. I was maybe six years old and I was beating on my Muppet drum set, and he said, “Baby, Led Zeppelin will wake up your soul. These people are dialed into whatever channel that is coming down from the Universe.” [laughing] And so that’s one of the things that stayed with me, these last thirty years.
RP: It was a majestic and beautiful and accidental time. It was one of the great accidents of music and yet it was steered by great, great artistry at that time that your dad’s talking about. But today’s a different day, and I’m going to a penal colony, which is probably where I would be now if I was still with those guys. [laughing]
RP: If you just look at a place called Port Arthur in Tasmania, [some] of the most brutal mismanagement of people that the planet’s ever known—so therefore, it’s either there or Tin Pan Alley. So I’m going there today.
MP: Wish I was there. See you on tour.
Photo #2: Greg Delman
Photo #3: Oli Powel