It’s always a letdown when a band with good music, splinters and falls apart. Such is the case with the Black Crowes. After releasing their under appreciated LIONS release in 200 they did a tour with Oasis dubbed the “Brotherly Love Tour”, which would prove to be the the final tour as a band for the Black Crowes.
The Black Crowes were founded and led by the Robinson brothers – Rich on guitar and Chris on vocals. The two were labeled dysfunctional, as they could never see eye to eye with each other. However, it seemed the music was the glue that kept them together. They reintroduced that blues based rock n roll/jam band swagger to a mainstream audience with their 1990 debut SHAKE YOUR MONEY MAKER. They were one of the few bands that fell into that category that would maintain a high profile in the 90’s. They toured relentlessly and managed to release 6 studio releases over the 11 years they were together. After the band went their separate ways, both brothers started working on other projects. Chris was the first to release an album as a solo artist titled NEW EARTH MUD and Rich formed another band – Hookah Brown. Hookah Brown didn’t work out for Rich and, after being in a band environment for so many years, Rich thought it would be best to try things as a solo artist. Which brings us to today. Rich hunkered down in his home studio and started working on his current debut solo release PAPER. PAPER is musically diverse – songs that range from rocking out to mellow and everything that falls in between appears on the release. He really left no stone unturned. What really stands out though is that Rich really captured a groovy, kind of psychedelic sound on PAPER.
“If you listen to the last Black Crowes record LIONS, you can really hear that the Crowes were really into a context of writing songs that worked well with Chris’ voice – more of a classic rock type sound. I kind of wanted to convert away from that shound with doing my own thing. I was getting way into the first Pink Floyd record, the Beach Boys – stuff like that. I was able to bring that music into the context of the music I was writing for myself on PAPER. I still have my guitar sound that I’ve had for years. But, now I’m able to do those kind of songs that work well for me and my voice.” Rich states.
For the first time in his career, Rich also handles the vocal duties on PAPER. Rich made the transition from playing and writing music to also singing music rather easily. “A lot of the songs I put together were for the Hookah Brown project. The singer in that band pretty much had a voice that was just like my brothers voice – more of a classic rock voice. I had to re-adapt those Hookah Brown songs and rearrange them to the melodies of my voice. It wasn’t that far of a stretch since I wrote the songs and lyrics from Hookah Brown anyways. The first songs I started writing for my voice on PAPER were “Leave it Alone” and “Forgiven Song”. Those two songs I really used as a stepping stone to get to the rest of the songs.” Says Rich.
In today’s music world, digital technology plays a major role in music and the advent of Protools has dramatically changed the way music is recorded. Rich decided to do things the old fashioned way and record PAPER in analog. Which is a time consuming way to record, but the final product comes out with a sound that is far superior to digital recording. I asked Rich why he chose this method of recording and he replied “It just sounds so much better and there’s something distracting about having a computer screen in front of your face in the studio. Everyone’s so consumed with looking at sound wav’s, rather than listening to those same sound wav’s. I understand the practical purpose of Protools. But you lose a lot I think when you choose to record digitally. Analog is basically a performance rather than a cut and past project like Protools. You actually have to play the song and know it inside and out to put it down on tape. I’ve heard some recordings that just sound so ridiculous because everything is so perfect in the song. With analog, you may hear those little flaws and it makes it so unique. For example, when you listen to old Led Zeppelin songs and you hear that squeaky kick drum – you know that is John Bohham playing. I wanted to capture that type of sound on PAPER.”
PAPER consists of 14 songs. The first two songs “Yesterday I Saw You” and “Enemy” are mid tempo songs with some grooving riffs that grab your attention and really set the tone for the record. Stylistic changes come and go throughout. Acoustic based songs like “When you Will” and “Falling Away” will put you in a relaxed state of mind. There’s even a few piano based songs like “Baby” and “Oh No” that make for a good listen, with “Oh No” being a really catchy song with it’s vocal and musical hooks. “Leave it Alone” and “Forgiven Song” really have that 60’s sounding vibe to them. PAPER is a great release that blends all kinds of different song tempos and arrangements. It’s mixed well and the flow makes it a record that is enjoyable from beginning to end. Rich recorded the majority of the record all by himself. I asked Rich what that was like. He replied “It was pretty easy. On two of the Black Crowes records, Steve Gorman and myself cut all of the tracks ourselves. So, I was sort of used to it. I played everything other than drums on PAPER. I can play the drums in the demo stage, but not in the final track stage. So, I had a guy named Joe Magistro play drums for me. I was hoping he could make the tour, but he won’t be able to be with us because he got signed to a major records deal. I’m happy for him for that. He’s really talented. It was a cool process and we ended up with 22 songs. I would like to re-issue PAPER as a double vinyl release and add the songs that didn’t make it onto the cd release. There were some great songs that couldn’t make it on due to space reasons. A few other players that contributed were a guy named Eddie Hawrsch (he played some keyboards) and my son, Taylor. He contributed some percussion. Other than that though I did the guitar, bass, and also some keyboards and percussion as well.”
Since I had Rich on the phone I figured I would ask him the status of the Black Crowes. I’ve heard they are broken up and I’ve also heard that they are on hiatus. Rich responded “Well, I think broken up came from Chris’ mouth. Hiatus also came from Chris’ mouth. When we split, he sort of started talking about it and would say hiatus. Then he started saying broken up and that he had previously said hiatus because that was a nice way of saying broken up because family was involved, etc. Lately, he’s been saying hiatus again. I don’t know – maybe he’s trying to send me some sort of message.” I was a little surprised that these two brothers really don’t get along – even though they no longer are playing together. I asked Rich what the problem is and Rich said “I don’t know anything about the status of the Crowes. I’m putting out PAPER on my own Keyhole Records and I’m just going to see what happens with it. I talk to Chris every once in awhile and it usually revolves around a special occasion – like to call and wish him a happy birthday for example. But to put it simple, it’s just a very weird situation between us.”
The rest of the interview was just a plug for Rich’s upcoming show at the Agora in Cleveland, Ohio
For more information on Rich Robinson and PAPER log onto http://www.richrobinson.net/ You can also pick up the live cd – LIVE AT THE KNITTING FACTORY at his website. The KNITTING FACTORY cd contains both released and unreleased songs from PAPER. Follow the link provided to purchase this cd.
For Black Crowes information log onto www.blackcrowes.com