Unlike many solo efforts from longtime members of a band, Keith Richards’s upcoming Crosseyed Heart — his first non–Rolling Stones album in 23 years — wasn’t intended as a platform for the elegantly grizzled guitarist to do much experimenting. “The most unique thing about it,” Richards, 71, says wryly, “is that there was no deadline for me to make it.”
On the cover of your first solo album, 1988’s Talk Is Cheap, you’re smoking a cigarette and looking defiant. The same goes for 1992’s Main Offender. On the cover of Crosseyed Heart, there’s no cigarette and you’re smiling. What gives?
I didn’t quit smoking, mate. I blame the photographers for those other ones. I’d go through a pack just for them to be able to get the smoke right for the photos. The photographers are a bad influence on me.
You’ve written a few hundred songs and recorded more than 40 albums. Does all that experience make it harder to write a great song rather than just a good one?
Oh, man, isn’t that true for everybody that does anything in the artistic line? I groan about my own writing. There are times when I wonder if what I’ve done is any good. So what I do in that situation, and did a lot on the new album, is throw the song out to the other musicians. You watch their eyes and see what the reaction is. And if it’s not good, you break a string on your guitar and say, “Well, forget that one.”
What itch can you scratch by recording a solo album that you can’t scratch with your regular band?
It’s the challenge. You’re thinking about whether or not you can carry the weight of the project. Are you biting off more than you can chew? And did you want to chew that much in the first place? Wrestling with the different context and doing all the singing is something I enjoy immensely.
Do you ever get tired of the Rolling Stones machine?
Is it possible for you to do anything spontaneous with the band? If I really feel like doing something, then I just do it. But I understand what you mean. I live in Connecticut, and I’ll think, Aw, I’m gonna go into the city, and, before I know it, I have a driver and a bodyguard and I just wanted to go to dinner, you know? It’s the insurance people’s fault. They’re always getting in the way.
Aside from the new album, what do you have coming up that you’re most excited about?
I’m most excited about another new day. That’s a happy thing. I couldn’t always count on another one of those.
*This article appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.