On his new album, a legendary storyteller sizes up a life well lived

 At 76, Kris Kristofferson is as focused on his art as he was four decades ago. “For me, the creative part is when I write it and get it on tape,” he says. “After that, I really don’t have anything to do with the business part of it. Let the others do the hard part.” Kristofferson—whose résumé includes Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, actor, army officer, helicopter pilot and Rhodes scholar—has done plenty on his own. His new album Feeling Mortal, his third project with producer Don Was, is the first release on Kristofferson’s own KK Records.

What’s your writing process?

I’ve been writing songs since I was 11, but I was the most undisciplined songwriter I knew. There are other really gifted songwriters who worked all the time. I’ve always been pretty lazy about it for one reason or another. I can’t just sit down and make myself write. I would wait until inspiration hit me, and then I would do it. I could go weeks, months, without writing.

How many songs did you record?

We did about 20 for the new album, and then cut half of them. I don’t really know why we selected the songs that we did. There are some old songs and some new, but the new ones that I wrote are like the ones I’ve been writing all my life. None of my albums have really had a planned theme. They’re just a review of where I was at that point in my life, and what I was thinking about. At this point, you start out with feeling mortal.

How do you and Don work together?

I’ve been working with Don for about 30 years now, and he’s been a perfect working partner. He came into my life back when everything else was falling apart—my record company had gone under, my personal life was a tragedy, I was in the middle of a divorce and taking care of a little kid by myself. He picked me up when I wasn’t too together. Now that my life has turned out to be so good, it’s great that he’s been part of it.

What was the recording process like? 

The recording has always been easy since I’ve been working with Don. He’s got a great way of understanding artists and musicians. We’ve been working together for so long that he knows what I want to do, even if there are things I can’t articulate.

How have you evolved as an artist?

Well, I don’t think I sing or pick any better. I haven’t worried about that. The serious songwriters who I respected always accepted me the way I was. I’ve been blessed to have the creative gifts to have written the songs that I have. I’m still getting song ideas and sort of writing them in my head. But if I never finish another song, I won’t feel like I haven’t done my job. It’s taken me a long time to get over the joy of doing this all the time. I’ve always been grateful for what I do for a living. Most of the time I was probably most caught up in the act of creation and expression. Now I separate myself from it and appreciate what we’ve been through.

Any future goals?

I have to admit, I feel like I don’t need to do anything. I feel like I’ve been given three-quarters of a century, a very full life. I’m at peace with myself, and the world now—I’m really just happy. While I enjoy what I do—going out and singing—and I imagine I’ll keep recording, it wouldn’t bother me if I never made another record.

–Juli Thanki

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