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Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson rediscovering his love for rock 'n' roll

Scott Mervis, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Entertainment News

A: Obviously, the upside of that is that now you're in the game. It gave us the freedom to keep the wolves at bay, meaning that punk attitude and our indie sort of attitude didn't bode well with showbiz Hollywood music industry. But because we had that kind of success initially it gave us a little bit more muscle.

Rich and I have always been played off each other, too. It’s as if that's the only thing we had to offer, sometimes, back then. But Rich is like me. We’re stubborn, and it's music and it's our music, so we'll take our lumps with the good and the bad. We both have a sincere love of the mythos of rock ’n’ roll; we both have a sincere perception of how cool it is that we spent our lives making music. And the thing back in the ’80s that made you a weirdo and separated you from all the cool kids was that rock ’n’ roll was an outsider's medium in some ways.

The bad side is that we didn't have the opportunity to learn any of the rules of the game. We were thrust in. And what's the name of the game, man, in music? It’s not about your creative content, it's not about your talent. It’s about selling units, at the time. We were up against the gun, initially, because how are you going to top that? And, by the way, you didn't have time. We weren’t going to sit down with the hottest producer and make some record that didn't sound like us. I think it would have been cool to have one record that did OK, one that did a little better and then the third or fourth kind of breaks you. But you get what you get. The reality is, it’s amazing. We wrote songs in an age where rock ’n’ roll meant something much more important than now and people attached themselves to the music we were making, the live experience, and that's the greatest gift of all time.

Q: You were talking about you and Rich being played off each other. Did you ever talk to the Davies brothers or any other sibling group about that dynamic?

A: The only other sibling groups we had access to were [expletive] Noel and Liam [Gallagher of Oasis]!

Q: Why is the dynamic so much different with brothers in bands? It's usually pretty insane.

A: I think in our case, there’s a lot of money there and whether it’s management or record companies ... divide and conquer. It’s the oldest military tactic. Rich says it in interviews all the time. One of our former members said, “The scariest thing to everyone was when you and Rich got along.” But, also, I don't mean it in a weird way, but rock ’n’ roll was a tough life.

Now, in this age of sensitivity, we’re all super sensitive. We’re all “My heart can break over a matchstick.” That’s why we’re creative, that’s why we found this medium. You're not escaping the pain. And by the way, the depression of realizing that it's only about what you sell and not about what you have to offer as an artist, you have to find your own power — or you just go with it, which is cool, too, man. There’s lots of successful groups and people where that's their path. Our path was a little bit more rocky road, in that way. But, in that first 10 years, there was no time ever to stop and take inventory. You're on the carousel, and you don't want it to stop.

Q: Tour, record, tour, record, then you’re worn out.

A: Yeah, I was a more flamboyant person in my presentation when I started and by the mid-’90s I’m kind of tired of that, so I want it to be about my lyrics and my vocals. But people who need you to be a certain way so they can make money start to tell you you’re an [expletive]. Like every day. It’s almost like being a pro athlete in a way except we don't keep stats.

Q: So, I want to hear about these 20 songs.

 

A: It’s a funny thing. Rich and I, we definitely had our issues. We’ve argued in the studio; we’ve argued backstage. Occasionally, that spilled over onto the stage. We argued at an Italian restaurant in Berlin one time — whatever. But we don’t argue when we’re writing, you know what I mean? I think that’s why we made a lot of records. Anyway, we were sitting around during the pandemic, and Rich just started sending me stuff, and two or three things turned into five or six things. That’s just how we work. He has a little home studio, so he can send me rough sketches. I’m not that technologically advanced. I’m like with a pencil scribbling on an old piece of paper.

Q: What will come of that?

A: I think we want to write more. We’re in no hurry to get to the studio. The tour is our focus. Next year we’re going to be on the road, so we just want to get as many songs as we can, and we’re working with George Drakoulias again, our producer, which has been fantastic. [He’s] one of the real last of the great ears for the essence of these songs, what they can be, how they live. A great song lives outside of the time it’s made. He has great vision that way, and he understands our strong points as writers and our talent as musicians. So, it’s super exciting. I know we’re going to make a record. We could make one tomorrow. Again, our focus this whole time has just been the tour.

Q: You must be able to look at people like Neil Young and the Stones, who are like 75, and think, “Well, there's not that much urgency. We have a lot of time to make an album.”

A: Like I said earlier, we’re wrangling something that was wild and woolly, and we’re focusing on “How do we take all our energy and put it into playing ‘Shake Your Money Maker’ every night — and really crush that?” When we were talking about opening for Aerosmith, they are a great band, no one loves Aerosmith more than me — the early Aerosmith — but they were already drifting into having people write their songs for them. They’re like a pop band, and we come out and we’re definitely more snotty, loud, and no safety nets. And that's what we’re doing this year. There’s no in-ear monitors. We’re moving air with amps. We want that energy. That’s rock ’n’ roll to us, and we’re old school about it. I don't think there’s a lot of bands with that same type of presentation. I hate to say that we're like one of the last ones but what we truly are.

Q: And now you're going to have this audience just starved for something like this right now.

A: We're like one giant gravy ladle of rock ’n’ roll. You can have as much gravy as you want.

Q: Any thoughts about the vaccine passport idea?

A: I would just hope that everyone would. … I get that we live in a time when governments lie to people. But in this case, can we please just get back to life? The reality is, this virus does prey upon a certain demographic of people, so we need to protect our neighbors and friends. I get that if people are going to lie about their taxes, about their age on dating apps or whatever, they're going to lie about this. Again, man, I don't know. I drink French white wine and read Russian literature and listen to jazz records when I'm not doing this. This is for the states and counties and Live Nation to figure out.

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