Chris Robinson’s New Creative Groove

It’s been a couple of years since Chris Robinson put his longtime role as singer of The Black Crowes to bed once and for all. Yet that hasn’t stopped him from a productive new chapter fronting the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (the CRB).

The group, performing Nov. 2 at The Space at Westbury, released two studio albums, an EP and a live album in the last 15 months. It’s a band Robinson said currently finds itself in a solid creative groove.

“We’re here for one reason and that’s to make music,” Robinson said during a day off in Oxford, Mississippi. “We don’t have the problems of ego and money and success and things right now that get in the way. The best part of that is we recognize that more than anyone. None of us got into this life with the idea to win a fucking talent contest.”

Material from 2017’s Barefoot In The Head meshes well into the group’s shows each night, an adventurous three-hour performance Robinson, guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall and drummer Tony Leone sink their collective teeth into.

“It’s super to have this new batch of songs sort of interjected into our repertoire,” Robinson said. “It’s sort of given us a whole new bunch of new vistas and caverns to explore.”

In a wide-ranging chat, Robinson looked at the creative process behind Barefoot In The Head, how the CRB compares to the Black Crowes and a New York City show seared into his memory.

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Was there a moment you felt the album was coming together or was it more of a case of hit the ground running in the studio? 
We didn’t even have any songs finished and I was like let’s just bring our acoustic guitars and we’ll do our own version of like The Basement Tapes (Bob Dylan’s and The Band’s seminal album). But when we got in there, I would play someone a verse and chorus and then they would put something on it. What we thought was going to be sort of loose—it’s still very loose—but the songs just kind of completed themselves in front of us in real time.

How did “She Shares My Blanket” come together? 
That’s truly my favorite song on the record. I had the verse part and the story part and then I had the scene where they entered the cabin. As I was teaching it to everyone, Adam just threw together that beautiful middle section. Again by the time I showed everyone what I had to the time we recorded the song, was probably only about two or three hours.

Do you have a hard time letting go of a song as far as knowing when it’s done and not tweaking it? 
I do a lot more tweaking; I do a lot more changing. But I would say that George Drakoulias, who signed the Black Crowes in 1989 and produced our first two records, one thing he taught me early in my career was self-editing. When it’s right, it’s right, but if ever there’s the slightest or littlest nagging feeling then something else is there.

There seems to be more harmony in this group than what you had with the Black Crowes. Is that the case? 
With the Black Crowes, it’s not like your first wife, but it’s like marrying your fucking middle-school girlfriend. Like after a while we just have nothing in common. We started this on a whim and we all got in a van and we did nine weeks of residencies in California. The first two years of this band we set up our own gear every night, me included. We knew the music was special. Neal and I knew that our singing is special for us.

Are you still doing the (Sirius XM radio program) Gurus Galore? What’s that been like for you?
It’s great. I have all sorts of weird people stop and talk to me about some weird, strange, obscure psychedelic record they never heard of. I mean Jesus fucking Christ, we’ve heard “Radar Love” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” enough, no offense. It’s a show about stuff that you’re really not going to hear.

Sixteen years ago, the Black Crowes played the first of three nights at the Beacon Theatre and it was just after 9/11. Any recollection of that show? 
It was just so emotional. Just all the hallways and backstage were full of first responders. I was living in New York; the Black Crowes were in a really dark horrible time and then this happened to add to our personal misery. The world was crying.

It just reaffirms my belief that music is the only thing that works when you’re happy, the highest of highs or the lowest of lows. It comes without any rules, it comes without any dogma, without any hate except this timeless human compassion.