The dress and speech of Chris Robinson, the 49-year-old co-founder and former frontman of The Black Crowes, reflect a Sixties ethos. His counterculture appearance and manner may be easily had, but Robinson seems authentic: he doesn’t use email, Skype or Facebook, requiring this transatlantic interview to be conducted by telephone.
Yet perhaps the medium was appropriate as Robinson’s greatest commercial high-water mark arrived in the form of the Crowes’ back-to-back, multi-platinum albums Shake Your Monkey Maker (1990) and the sophomore The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion (1992). These two studio undertakings included hits like 'She Talks to Angels' and 'Remedy', songs on which the Georgia-born lead singer’s max-effort vocals welter soulful lyrics. Tours that saw the band sell out amphitheaters and arenas all over the world would follow.
Since the dissolution of the mega-successful Black Crowes (over 30 million albums sold worldwide), in January 2015, Robinson has been indefatigable, fronting several bands, touring, and writing, producing and releasing music for nearly 30 years.
In his latest outfit, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, a psychedelic country-rock quintet, which Robinson referred to as "a little travelling hippie commune and our covered wagon with all the spaceships around", are Neal Casal (formerly of Ryan Adams and The Cardinals, guitar and vocals), Adam MacDougall (keyboard), Tony Leone (drums) and Mark Dutton (bass).
Despite having made three studio albums, an EP and two live collections with the CRB in just over four years, Robinson, a father of two, found time to discuss touring in America and Europe, Barcelona and, perhaps most notably, for the first time he revealed the name of the group’s new record.
The first two CRB studio albums, Big Moon Ritual (June 2012) and The Magic Door (September 2012), were basically live studio cuts and released as tracked, whereas for Phosphorescent Harvest (April 2014), you spent almost a year in the studio. What went into the decision to make a truer studio album?
In that year I had a contractual obligation to finish the last Black Crowes tour, so CRB wasn’t going to be on the road. We had all that time, so someone could go and spend the weekend at Thom’s [Monahan] house, our producer, and overdub and play. Then, we could all listen and make decisions, which is funny because were getting ready for mastering of our latest record.
Do you have a name for the new record?
It’s called Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel.
When will it be released?
It’s going to be a summertime thing—if we can get it together in the next two weeks before the tour, our maiden [European] voyage. It’s funny because I see people on social media saying, “You suck for not coming to Manchester or somewhere.” Hey, man, we don’t really call and book the shows; either people are interested or not. I think we’re lucky just to get over to Europe.
You don’t choose where you’d like to play? Is that just in Europe or America, too?
In Europe, we still hear all the time things like, “You don’t have an album to promote? What’s going on?” In the U.S. it’s completely different; it’s not ruled and dictated by record companies and media. While on the phone with a guy from Sweden, he asked why we play a different set every night. That was surprising to him. I said because we are not on a showbiz trip; we have a lot of different songs. Every night, from point A to point B, we get to tell a story. Here [in America], you would just take that for granted.
The Black Crowes opened for the Grateful Dead in the mid-Nineties. Did you ever meet Jerry Garcia?
No. But CRB is hugely inspired by his music, and by spreading the Johnny Appleseeds of whatever came out of the Pandora’s box of these things that happened right over the hill from where I’m standing, in Marin [County, California], called the Acid Tests, so there—here we are—3000 years later [laughs].
The Black Crowes have played Barcelona before. Do you have any memory of your shows here?
Oh yeah! I remember after we played in Barcelona in '92—'93, maybe. The show was so good that afterwards we got on the roof of our tour buses with acoustic guitars and played a few more songs.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood performs Friday, March 11th at Razzmatazz.