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SXSW Interview: Neil Young

Rocker’s PonoMusic aims for highest quality digital music

By Greg Beets, 8:07PM, Tue. Mar. 11

SXSW Interview: Neil Young
photo by Gary Miller

After writing extensively about his attempts to bring high-quality digital music to the masses in his 2012 autobiography, Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young’s PonoMusic is slowly moving toward fruition. Tuesday’s interview with USA Today’s Mike Snider was part rant and part sales pitch.

Pacing and gesticulating his way across the stage, Young’s passion was palpable. He lamented the collapse of the music industry, blaming it on the low quality of digital music rather than the easy transferability of it.

“Music went to the bottom and all these people lost their jobs,” said Young, likening MP3s to “Xeroxes of the Mona Lisa” and explaining what that means for kids at peak hearing levels. “Inside their souls, they’re not getting what we got.”

Borrowing its moniker from a Hawaiian word meaning righteous, Pono aims to deliver the highest quality digital music to a triangular portable device that comes in black and yellow. After several business and technological missteps, Pono has turned to Kickstarter to generate funds.

“We struck out with the investor capitalists because they couldn’t see the opportunity to own this,” groused Young.

A sales video featuring hosannas ranging from Jack White to James Taylor aside, Pono’s revolutionary qualities still remained to be heard by session’s end. Even so, Young’s premise about Pono’s attempt to marry quality and convenience rang prescient.

“If it doesn’t work for us, it’s going to work for somebody, because the cat’s out of the bag,” he asserted. “Once you hear this, you can’t go back.”

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