“So, is this an interview about the Black Crowes or my wife’s interpretive, progressive dance movement?” Chris Robinson asks laughing as we get set to talk about Lions, the latest album from the Crowes. Apologizing for his joke a moment later, Robinson says, “We’re in West Palm Beach and it’s stormy, so it’s a little bit of cabin fever.”
Recently married to actress Kate Hudson, having just switched to a new label (V2 Records) and having unleashed one of the best albums of the band’s career, Robinson can be forgiven for his giddiness, especially since that glee plays a part in the success of Lions.
Produced by veteran producer/musician Don Was, the album is the loosest of the group’s twelve-year recording career (Robinson attributes that to the “liveness of the recording”). The seamless segues the band produced — such as the one from the ballad “Losin’ My Mind” to the funk of “Ozone Mama” — are the rock & roll equivalent of a perfect DJ mix. While the grooves are free-flowing though, the musicianship remains tight as ever, as evidenced on the hard rock opener “Midnight From the Inside Out” or the sweet accompaniment to Robinson’s tender vocals on the beautiful “Miracle to Me.”
One can expect the merriment to continue on throughout the summer, as the Crowes team up with Oasis and Spacehog for the “Brotherly Love” tour. Robinson — who says of the new material, “We made this record to play most of it every night and we haven’t had a record like that since Southern Harmony” — was thrilled with the response the new songs have gotten at some early Southeastern dates.
You’d probably be a little giddy too if you were Chris Robinson these days. But Robinson focused long enough to talk about Lions, maintaining his love for music and a couple of rock & roll legends named
Jimmy Page and Bob Dylan.
Before hooking up with Oasis you did some shows with Dylan. Have you played with him before?
Yeah, a few times. Whenever Bob is there you have the most amazing afternoons. We played one of the last Laguna Secca days out in California in ’94 or ’95. It was us, Bob and P-Funk, and that was amazing. Actually, when we were writing and recording a bunch of the album in New York, he was rehearsing next to us, so we would stick our heads against the door and listen to what songs they were doing.
What was the recording process of Lions like?
It was just really spontaneous. We took a lot of energy from the freedom that we had doing it that way and the freedom that we had from our situation with the record company. Really, I think it has a lot to do with what’s important to us after twelve years. And the thing that’s important to us is still making the most vibrant music. I think it’s more important now to us than it’s ever been.
Do projects like the one you did with Jimmy Page keep music fresh for you?
Oh, definitely. The Jimmy thing was a huge lift in terms of energy, especially after the whole By Your Side period. By the end we finished that tour opening for Lenny Kravitz and Aerosmith in Europe and it was like, “Good God, man!” Being in this band was important enough to stomach the gig, but being on that tour wasn’t really our scene. We were thinking, “If this is what it takes, maybe we shouldn’t do it.” And then Jimmy calls and says, “Do you want to do some shows?” So it fell into our laps. And we could get away from the whole bad taste in our mouth from the last six months. It wasn’t fun. And every time we get on that stage we should really feel free and like this is the best feeling thing that we’ve ever been a part of. And when it’s not, it’s really unbearable. Especially when you operate solely on that motivation.
You guys have maintained a rock & roll sound in an increasingly un-rock & roll world. Has that been tough to do?
Since the early Nineties it’s been very fashionable to say, “It’s all about the music.” We were watching VH-1 last night and Slaughter, who was on the top forty hair bands, was saying, “It’s all about the music.” We’re like, “It’s a little late.” It starts there. It shouldn’t be propaganda and it’s turned into that. So when you approach your music from a deeper place, and we always have, I think that might be why it sounds different. I think it’s a different area to bring your music from.
It’s not about just playing dress-up and wanting to be famous and wanting to make money. And everybody else says that too. [In a mocking voice] “That’s not what I wanted.” Well, it doesn’t seem like it, because that’s all you act like. We have twelve years of letting our actions speak for themselves. And within that I can’t have any regrets. All of that is included to be able to record in that kind of manner. It has to go back to a deep place so you realize there’s no way to fall in this situation as far as in the studio. There’s nothing to even think about. It’s all just instinctual.
There’s a continuity to the songs, even though many of the tracks are in different styles. Were the songs written together in one burst?
We wrote them in spurts. Some of the stuff we had from after we did the first Jimmy Page shows. Then we went in and did some sessions during that wintertime. They weren’t that productive but we got some of the good angry songs out of that. Then basically Rich and I got together a few other times. A lot of it I have to say we just started writing on the spot and that is a part of it.
Also Don brought a certain energy and enthusiasm that we’ve never had either. It felt good to have somebody who wasn’t trying to corral you or get something from you, someone who was enthused to be working with you and enthused to be a part of your creative process and helping you as opposed to hindering you.
As many places as the record gets to musically I think that’s also a sonic thing. The way it sounds seamless is because Rich [Robinson, guitar] and Steve [Gorman, drums] play a very certain way — that’s their style. This record sounds like the band that I’ve always wanted to be in — since [Rich and I] were like fifteen and seventeen. It just takes a long time to get there.