As the voice of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant redefined the scope of rock music.
On "Dreamland," his new solo record out Tuesday, he dusts off old rock songs for a contemporary audience.In a conversation with The Post from his home on the rolling hills on the Welsh border, the 54-year-old singer seemed a total gentleman - hardly what you'd expect from a guy who sowed acres of wild oats in his chaotic younger days in Led Zep.
When asked how he's changed over time, he paused thoughtfully - as if he'd never considered he was a day older than when he first met Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones.
"I've gotten a bit more patient, I suppose," he said.
"I lost a bit of my ego, but those carnivorous days of swallowing cities whole seem to have been replaced with a feeling that I'm doing something that is so wholeheartedly beautiful that I've found nirvana."
For someone who's found bliss, Plant has quite a bit on his plate. He's the subject of a VH1 "Storytellers" documentary airing Sunday at 11 p.m. He appears Thursday on Letterman and has a July 24 solo gig at the Hammerstein Ballroom.
Then he and his new band, Strange Sensation, will open for The Who when the group performs here later this month.
Post: Naming your record "Dreamland" begs the question - do you remember your dreams?
Plant: In my dreams, I go to wonderful places. Often I go to this beautiful city in the desert. Once I was in India and visited a town that I think might be the place I dream about. My dreams are peaceful places - I don't wake up sweating.
Post: Why did you decide to cover old rock songs on "Dreamland"?
Plant: I don't consider these songs old or rock. These are heirlooms. They come from another time - the end of the two-minute pop pastiche. Men like Dion and the Belmonts and Bobby Vee were passing into history, and this whole department of thought-provoking American folk poetry came forth. This was the music that really stirred me when I was a kid.
Post: And now?
Plant: It continues to do so, and I wanted to go back there. I've always taken strength from these songs - both from the beauty of the melodies and the intentions of what the writers were trying to convey.
Post: You called them heirlooms.
Plant: I don't think of them like they're museum pieces, like say a Chuck Berry song. I believe the lyrical content, the poetic endeavor, is as meaningful today as it was when these songs were written.
Post: Tell me about "Morning Dew."
Plant: That was a song that was around when I was a kid. With few words, it expresses the demise of the human race. I can't call it charming, but it is a beautiful, beautiful song.
Post: This song is treated more gently than some of the others on your disc.
Plant: You're right. I hit "Hey Joe" with a hammer, but not "Morning Dew."
Post: Some artists from big-name bands make cover albums as solo projects to distance themselves from their outfit.
Plant: You might think this is a cheap cop-out, but I put a lot of thought into the music. For me, this is a re-initiation and a return to the beauty of the music and the time it was written.
Post: Why do it now?
Plant: I've always been so busy with Zeppelin and with Jimmy, but I thought, "I'm always listening to this stuff. Why not do it myself?" It was a cathartic exercise of getting the music and the feelings out. I wanted to get it off my chest because I've loved it for so long.
Post: Didn't you do that in Led Zeppelin?
Plant: Yeah, we managed it in songs like "You Shook Me," "Whole Lotta Love" "In My Time of Dying," "Nobody's Fault But Mine" - all those songs are leaning back. We did a whole lot of leaning back in those days, my friend.
Post: So what do you say to the skeptics who charge you with taking the easy way out?
Plant: It isn't easy to maintain a career of some distinction and do a Hendrix tune. I gotta live with what I do, and right now, my soul is intact. So is Jimmy's. We do what we want, and we may work together again, but when we do, it has to be real.
Post: Is it real now?
Plant: I'm doing OK. I'm having a good time. I have a good record and a fantastic band, and my voice is in good shape and my tennis is good and I can still see a good-looking girl from 100 yards.
Post: Being on the road, you probably see lots of good-looking girls even closer.
Plant: I can recognize a good overhand top-spin serve, but that doesn't mean I can do it. And the same goes for the girls.
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