Home Music Music News

Chris Robinson Gets Earthy

Black Crowes frontman mellows out on solo debut

Since they announced last winter that the band they founded
together nearly twenty years ago, the Black Crowes, was on
indefinite hiatus, brothers Chris and Rich Robinson have been
working at vastly different projects. Rich has looked backward to
put together the Crowes’ excellent first live set, which captures
better than any of their studio records exactly what made them a
worthwhile outfit in the first place — their infallible instinct
for epic, low-down rock jams — and re-staked the band’s claim to
Zeppelin’s legacy. Chris, meanwhile, broke off in the opposite
direction, and went about clearing himself a fresh piece of land.
He spent the spring and summer bumping around Europe and the U.S.,
doing small scale shows to hone the material on his new debut solo
record, New Earth Mud.

Mud, which Robinson made with his good friend producer
Paul Stacey, is a return to his folksy roots, and could hardly be
more different than his collaborations with his brother. The set’s
best songs, like “Katie Dear” — an ode to his wife, actress Kate
Hudson — are as subtle and sensitive as Crowes songs like “Girl
From a Pawnshop,” Live‘s highlight, are flamboyant and
grandiose.

After so many years of working so closely with a band,
especially one that includes your brother, how comfortable are you
out on your own?

It’s something that couldn’t be cooler — it just feels natural.
The Black Crowes was always a collaboration, of me doing the lyrics
and arranging to Rich’s music. I think I’ve written one complete
song on a Black Crowes record. So this is all my thing, the way I
feel — things I probably brought to the Black Crowes but now are
able to come to the front in the lyrics and just the vibe.

How is that audible?

It’s really soulful and rootsy . . . it’s definitely more
subdued — either funky sounding Neil Young or folksy Steely Dan.
The kind of the stuff I’ve always liked is of course what’s going
to come out of me. And I like always liked all forms of traditional
music: from singer-songwriter stuff to English folk music and
English electric folk music. But I’m playing with guys who are
really immersed in jazz. So I’m bringing rootsy stuff to guys who
have a jazz ear, and that comes out when you go back and forth over
arrangements.

And it’s not like you were working with complete
strangers . . .
My friend Paul Stacey co-produced the
record, and I also wrote a bunch of stuff with him. He’s based in
London, and we recorded in Paris, so that worked out best for the
two of us, too. It’s just me and him working together, and on two
occasions brought other people over from London, including his twin
brother. So I worked with all English guys. We only worked three
and a half weeks when I was there, and we recorded twenty songs —
so it was really quick. Then we went to see Bob Dylan for two
nights at the Zenith [in Paris] and came back and did even more
work because he was so inspiring. He has like 150 albums out. I
have six. Get to work! The time we spent in Paris was just really
nice and really easy.

Apart from the writing you did with Paul, where did most
of the material come from?

None of the material is old. I’ve always written a lot of songs
and just kind of let them go by the wayside. But this group of
songs I really started writing at the end of the Crowes’ last tour,
and I wrote a couple pieces in the studio.

I know your tours for this album have certainly been
different than the Crowes’.

After we finished in Paris, we did a few shows in Europe — Paul
and I just kind of got into a van and got a soundman and took two
acoustic guitars and did a few gigs without really knowing what it
would be like. In certain circles — I guess within folk music —
people kind of know what to expect, but in rock & roll, if it’s
not being used to sell something like an unplugged record, people
don’t know where it’s coming from. It’s just a good way to hear the
songs before I put the band together.

Have you enjoyed that kind of touring, where you can
just kind of play a show and see what happens, as opposed to
working with a full band and having a set list?

I like to go out without a huge plan. And Paul is equally the
same way. I just like each night to take on its own personality,
and you can build from that. But obviously there’s a little bit of
a framework, so it doesn’t totally fall to pieces. But the acoustic
thing was so much fun. I like the idea that if I’m setting off for
something new, that it starts with me and Paul just getting in a
van. We lug our own equipment, and you can get out and see shit.
Low-maintenance touring.

It sounds like you’re having fun, at least.

As proud as I am of what the Black Crowes did, I can’t really
say that it was always fun. And this time it was — it was just
really easy to write these songs, to sing these songs. I couldn’t
be happier with it. I’m anxious for people to hear it, people who
just really like music, to see if it makes them feel the same
things that I feel.

What about people who like the Black
Crowes?

I’m not sure. In a way, that would really be limiting myself,
and I’d almost rather make music that appeals to people who didn’t
like the Black Crowes — again, without compromising the way I feel
about music.

What about the references to your personal life on this
record, and the songs about your wife?

Of course she’s going to be in it. I don’t edit myself. I think
it’s an important thing, especially in this age of megalomania,
when everything’s huge, that I not be afraid of intimacy. To say,
“This is how I feel. This is how a lot of people feel. And it’s not
bad.” I can take my lumps. If other people don’t understand it . .
.

Maybe they’re just jealous.

Whatever. Or they don’t want to hear these things. But I think
that attitude is going to be very passe as we move along.

Have you and Kate ever written together?

We’ve done a couple things together, and those have been very
fun. She plays piano, and guitar, and I think people would be very
surprised with the musical ideas she has. She loves music more than
anything. She just has good musical instincts. And she can really
sing — which pisses me off, to be honest.

What you’ve got there is a backup singer.

Yeah, right. But I do think she’ll probably get into some stuff,
and if she wants my help, it’s always there. Her independence, and
her creative spirit, is one of the things I love so much about her.
Just to be able to sit back and watch that.

It’s interesting how easily people seem to go from music
to movies, but how difficult it is to go the other
way.

I think it’s that personality transfers onto movies. Actors are
great, let’s face it, because they fake things. And that obviously
is a lot harder to do in music.

In This Article: The Black Crowes

Show Comments

Newswire

Powered by
Close comments

Add a comment