Rich Robinson, the founding guitarist of the Black Crowes, admits some of the music he's released as a solo artist can challenge his audience.
"To say the least," he says, sitting in an office on Music Row in Nashville, where he recently relocated with his wife and kids.
"Music That Will Lift Me," however, isn't one of those songs. A track off his latest album Flux, released in June, the Beatles-evoking "Music" is entirely accessible, a joyous celebration of the positive effects that music can have. Robinson has released a video for the single, premiering today on Rolling Stone Country.
"Over the years, I tend to make things interesting with different time signatures, tunings, chord structures, and a flow to music that I think is lacking. But with this song, it just kind of came. There are times when that happens," says Robinson, citing examples from the Crowes catalog. "'She Talks to Angels,' I wrote that in five minutes. It was what it was. But 'Remedy' took some time. It was a couple of songs that I had to tear apart and put back together."
In the end, Robinson contends that songwriting and even making an album comes down to being decisive – or else you risk ending up in Chinese Democracy purgatory. "You can get bogged down overthinking everything, but you have to make a decision," he says.
The video for "Music That Will Lift Me" marries Robinson's two passions: music and painting. Last February, the artist hosted a showing at the Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City, which in part inspired director P.R. Brown's vision for the clip.
"I took photos of my artwork and sent them to him and he said, 'I'm going to build you within these paintings,'" Robinson recalls. The effect is psychedelic and nods to the Sixties influences that the singer-guitarist so admires. Whether he was writing for Flux or for the Black Crowes – who disbanded after playing their final show in 2013 – Robinson sought to channel the greats.
"I wanted to write a song as good as 'Brown Sugar' or as good as 'Visions of Johanna.' I wasn't interested in what was popular. It's not like I was like, 'Man, if I could just write a song like Slaughter or whatever that 'Cherry Pie' band was,'" he says of composing the Black Crowes soulful 1990 debut, Shake Your Money Maker. "The way I see it, and the way we saw it growing up, these [iconic Sixties] bands weren't corrupted. You couldn't make a living at that shit the way you can now. They were just doing it, and they wrote the rules. It was a much freer form of expression."
Despite being only 47, Robinson's been around, touring with everyone from Aerosmith to Jimmy Page, who joined the Crowes to play mostly Led Zeppelin songs on a 1999-2000 trek. In March, he appeared on Dave Cobb's Southern Family album, and most recently filled in for guitarist Mick Ralphs on Bad Company's summer trek. Now a Music City resident, he sees normalization and the need to please as the biggest problem facing both the industry and culture at large.
"There's a cool thing when people have positive energy, but it does creep into a false positive, where everybody is positive because they don't want to offend anyone - because maybe they can get something down the road. Nashville seems to suffer from that a lot. And so does L.A.," he says.
Industry politics aside, Robinson says there's no greater threat to music itself than homogenization.
"At some point, we caught this mode where technology can make someone sound like everyone else," he says. "We've taken out the human quality of it. It's crazy to me that we've done that."