Ex-Zeppelin Pilots Page & Plant Launch New LP

Longtime partners discuss philosophy, influences, latest collaboration.

NEW YORK -- Robert Plant was in a playful mood, despite the fact

that he had been waiting anxiously for his former Led Zeppelin cohort Jimmy

Page in a suite at the Soho Grand Hotel.

The longtime partners in rock were scheduled to be interviewed about their

soon-to-be-released album, Walking Into Clarksdale, and upcoming

spring and summer concert tour, but Page was nowhere to be found. "Where

the 'ell is my partner?" Plant asked, seemingly indignant.

Then, he did an about-face.

"He's probably having a nap," said the tall, blond lead singer, sleek and

stylish in green satin pants, but certainly older than in Zeppelin's '70s

heyday.

Just then, guitar-maestro Page appeared, mumbling something about a call

to nature. His attitude was friendly, but quizzical. This was not how you'd

expect the notoriously drug-mongering and Satan-loving Page to appear:

short-haired, chubby-cheeked, fresh-faced, with sweet, puppy-dog eyes.

Casually dressed in dark duds, he looked at least a decade younger than his

50 or so years.

Perhaps he's been invigorated by recording Walking Into Clarksdale,

which is the first full-length album of new material from the Page & Plant

duo since Led Zeppelin went up in flames in the early '80s. In 1994, the

two musicians released a reunion CD, No Quarter, which includes new songs, as well as remakes of vintage Led Zeppelin material which they refreshed with exotic acoustic instrumentation.

While in Zeppelin, Plant and Page were never into explaining what their often esoteric songs were about, and that hasn't changed. "[Our messages are couched in] abstractions and ambiguities," said Plant, when asked about the new songs, which feature a straight-ahead rock

sound that draws from their classic style but has been sonically retooled for the late '90s. "My favorite songs are the ones that I have to voyage into. It should be a

journey [for the listener]."

Due next month, Walking Into Clarksdale (the title refers to the

Mississippi town of Clarksdale), features mostly straightforward rock,

along the lines of classic Zeppelin. Only the single "Most High" offers

any trace of No Quarter's Eastern influence.

To capture the sound they wanted for their new music, Page & Plant employed

Nirvana producer Steve Albini, who they knew as a "craftsman." Albini

responded to their initial call with reams of paper showing how he wanted

to record them. Albini, who Plant said is "very astute, diligent, and

incredibly quick," also forwarded illustrations with various placements of

microphones to get certain atmospheres.

"We wanted to be a four-piece rock 'n' roll band," Plant said. To that

end, the twosome jettisoned the Egyptian orchestra that accompanied them on

the previous album and its accompanying dates. Page & Plant's upcoming

American tour -- which begins at Pensacola, Fla.'s Civic Center on May 19

and wraps up 26 shows later in New York at Madison Square Garden on

July 16 -- will include bassist Charlie Jones, drummer Michael Lee and

keyboardist/mandolin player Tim Whelan, all of whom play on ...

Clarksdale.

When asked about Indian singer Najma Akhtar, who joined them on the

last project and who was linked romantically to Plant, the singer answered,

"She's gone now."

Page teasingly added, "I'll find another one,

if you like."

As of now, there are no additional vocalists slated for the

tour, which will include the band playing some Zeppelin tunes. And there

are no current plans for small club dates, along the lines of the Rolling Stones'

"Bridges To Babylon" tour.

While they may not adhere to any one musical style, Plant said that their

songwriting process hasn't changed over the years. "I take notes all the

time, like [a reporter] would. Jimmy gets something drifting, and [then], I

open my notebook to see what I've been writing about that suits it."

With regard to musical influences, Page said, "Our roots go back decades,

right from when we first started individually getting into music. All of it

comes out [on our records] in one shape or another."

"You hear so many things," Plant added. "Subconsciously, they drift out.

It's not like listening to Muddy Waters and then playing 'You Shook Me.' We

take in the stimulating music of the time, though there's very little

mainstream pop music we're attracted to."

Besides expressing a fondness for the music of the late East Village

songwriter Jeff Buckley, Page said he admired the work of Sean "Puffy"

Combs, a.k.a. Puff Daddy, with whom he collaborated on a tune for the

soundtrack to the upcoming "Godzilla" film. "I enjoyed that," Page

explained. "In the context of the film, [the track] is brilliant."

And while things have been going relatively smoothly for the legendary duo,

Plant said they were distressed to hear of a story on MTV that mentioned

the blues museum in Clarksdale in reference to the CD's title. "Christ,

it's got nothing to do with the museum at all," Plant scoffed. "If you

listen to the [title] song, you'd [know]. They probably went 'Clarksdale?

Hmm, what's there?' Well, Dunkin' Donuts, too!!"

Though they feel that they got what they wanted in terms of the music on

Walking Into Clarksdale, the two mates were quick to point out that

they are not overly concerned with radio play and attracting new fans.

"These are new times and people want new heroes," Plant noted.

"[But] trends and fashion and the validity of music got nothing to do with

each other."

"We just want people to get the record," Page said.