After the Black Crowes wrapped a North American tour in late October 2001, the group’s frontman Chris Robinson drove back to his Malibu, Calif., home facing myriad uncertainties.
Although it wouldn’t be publicly announced until several months later, he knew the Crowes would be going on a long hiatus, perhaps never to reform. He also knew he needed an outlet for the new music bubbling inside of him. Within weeks, and without the assistance of his bandmates (including his guitarist brother, Rich), he was demoing the material that would eventually comprise “New Earth Mud” — which serves as Robinson’s solo debut for Redline Entertainment.
“I was on the beach, and I realized I had no band, no manager, no record deal; nothing except these ideas and these songs that were laid out in front of me,” Robinson says. “That was the most exciting thing in the world. It was solely put in my lap. I really had an opportunity to say, ‘This is how I feel.'”
By the end of 2001, Robinson had aligned with manager Kelly Curtis (Pearl Jam) and written more than a dozen songs, including collaborations with Crowes keyboardist Eddie Harsch and the band’s former guitarist, Marc Ford. “We hadn’t spoken in a long time, but we still had so many mutual friends,” Robinson says of Ford, who co-wrote “Sunday Sound.” “It was nice to be able to strike up another musical dialogue with him away from the Crowes.”
Robinson teamed with U.K. producer/multi-instrumentalist Paul Stacey in the spring to record the 12-track set in Paris. As opposed to the Crowes’ often rough-and-tumble sessions, Robinson embraced spontaneity, citing such songs as “Could You Really Love Me” and “Safe in the Arms of Love,” which were still being tweaked in the studio right before they were put to tape.
“Although Rich and I could be very spontaneous and work, it was always filled with a lot of drama,” Robinson says with a laugh. “I don’t think it benefits anyone to start to get precious over little things. It is about those moments when it’s happening and when you’re focused and everyone is trying to do the best for that piece of music.”
Robinson’s trademark soul-dipped vocals power “New Earth Mud” (issued Oct. 29), which largely eschews the Crowes’ more hard-rock leanings in favor of slow-building ballads (“Untangle My Mind,” “She’s on Her Way”), unabashed love songs (“Katie Dear,” written for his wife, actress Kate Hudson), and happy-go-lucky funk (“Ride”). Stacey chipped in on guitar, bass, and organ, while his brother, Jeremy, played drums. Minuteman principal Matt Jones played the bulk of the keyboards.
Both Stacey brothers are backing Robinson on his maiden electric tour, which wraps Dec. 18 in Burlington, Vt. Earlier this year, the artist opted to play his first solo shows acoustically, supported only by Paul Stacey. That pairing is chronicled on a limited-edition, vinyl-only live album Redline will issue Dec. 17.
Initial pressings of “New Earth Mud” — which debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart — included a DVD featuring studio footage shot by Darren Ankenman in Paris and four songs from the live vinyl release. A stand-alone DVD will be released in the first quarter of 2003.
In keeping with Crowes tradition, fans are permitted to record and trade Robinson’s live shows, while online, the newearthmud.com site includes such features as streaming clips from the album, plus unreleased live songs and behind-the-scenes photos.
Robinson beams at the seemingly limitless prospects ahead of him. “If I wrote 15 new songs and wanted to go play them, we could book dates and just go play to the people who want to see it,” he says. “It’s great to do things because they’re special to me, not because they’re a commodity for someone else. I’m not interested in competing with what I’ve done. This is all about where I can go.”
Excerpted from the Dec. 7, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.
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