Chris Robinson Talks Brotherhood, Black Crowes & More: 'I'll Let My Music & My Career Speak for Me'
There's new music coming from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood -- albeit later rather than sooner.
"At first we were thinking that before we tour this year we'll make a new record," Robinson tells Billboard, referring to the CRB's fourth studio album and follow-up to 2014's Phosphorescent Harvest. "Then we got to talking and said, 'Let's keep on the road.' First off, it's fertile ground for us, musically. And secondly, it's really the only tool we have so people see this band. I don't care about social media or the corporate record business. We're the kind of band that needs to stay on the road and build it gig by gig."
Nevertheless, Robinson and company are sitting on top of plenty of new material, including four songs the group has been previewing at shows and another seven or eight he figures are ready to take into the studio. Most fit the expansive, improvisational approach Robinson calls "the CRB sort of folky, cosmic cowboy boots...stoned music for stoned people," but there's also "another whole sort of mound of material that's kind of different, darker, more groove-oriented." Touring is likely to generate some more ideas as well, particularly during the CRB's lengthy jams.
"Oh, yeah, we'll play things that'll be like, 'Ooh, that just dropped out of the cosmos into our lap. That could be a song,'" Robinson notes. "There's so many fertile ideas, and the cool thing about this group is it only takes three notes or a bass line or something for everyone to start doodling or painting and tapping our weird college of influences into it. It manifests itself. And, really, what else are you looking for except to be with a group of people that can manifest something out of nothing. That's sonic alchemy. We can do that in little, focused sessions and we can do that in a more celebratory, communal situation, like a concert. I think that's what it's always been about for me."
For now, Robinson is happy keeping any recording plan loose, figuring it will get worked out once the CRB is in the studio later this year or early next. And he anticipates that there will be more input this time from band members after he and guitarist Neal Casal spearheaded most of the material on the group's first three albums. "We spend a lot of time at sound check and in the dressing room, on the bus, working on things," Robinson says. "On days off, my room at the hotel turns into little jamathons, and everyone's getting more and more involved with what they do. Everyone's ideas are on the table and there's a lot of talented people around this band, so you never know. I have a really solid concept, but if I get too focused on that in an occult science way we'll end up having a f---in' bluegrass record. So I don't want to overconceptualize what's going on."
And Robinson is open to doing something other than a traditional album, if the spirit moves him. "I'm not really tied down to, 'Oh, we have to have 10 songs on a record,' or eight or five or whatever," he says. "I don't care if we have two songs. I think there's a lot of other musical stuff that would be interesting to have, so we'll see."
Robinson is also anticipating a third "Betty's Blend" live album collaboration with longtime Grateful Dead cohort Betty Cantor-Jackson, though no concrete plans have been made for that. The Black Crowes, however, remain in deep hibernation for the time being after brother and guitarist Rich Robinson's scathing public statement earlier this year and declaration that the band is over.
"It seems like a distant garden party that started off nice and went on too long," Chris Robinson says. "Everyone's allowed to believe what they think happened and be angry and vengeful and whatever. I'm a grown man. I'm responsible for one thing in my life, and that's my perception of things, and I can take it. Please -- someone trying to debase me as a bread-head [i.e. money grabber] 25 years into my career? OK, if that's what you think happened, that's cool, and everyone can call me whatever they want. I'll let my music and my career speak for me, man."