How the Black Crowes Have ‘Rekindled the Fire': Exclusive Interview
The Black Crowes have spent 2022 getting back to what first helped launch their career.
They recently released 1972, a six-track EP featuring covers of songs released during that watershed year in music. Chris Robinson called it a "love letter" to the music that they grew up on. Then there was the extension of their Shake Your Money Maker Tour, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Black Crowes' 1990 debut LP. A new round of summer shows is slated to launch on June 9.
They've stopped and started thanks to the ongoing pandemic, but revisiting Shake Your Money Maker on stage in front of a live audience for the last two years has been a cathartic experience in many ways.
"It rekindled the fire I had for rock 'n' roll," Chris recently told UCR, noting he and brother and bandmate Rich Robinson have had their share of ups and downs like most rock bands do. It hasn't always been easy. "But none of it could ever outweigh the love and the magic of music and to be able to have the opportunity to get on stage and make people happy. ... Especially with Rich and I being on the same page, being in a place where we can communicate – being in a place where we, not to sound too cliche, but have an eye on the prize. It makes it even sweeter, you know?"
Rich says being "able to focus on Shake Your Money Maker, to be able to sort of present in the way that we wanted to present – it was just a really cool thing."
The Black Crowes went through a dramatic split in 2014 over alleged discrepancies regarding ownership percentages of the band. There seemed little hope of reconciliation. "I don't have a brother anymore," Rich said in 2018, noting that he had not spoken to Chris in several years. "And I think that is what it is."
Except it wasn't. The Robinsons announced in late 2019 that they had resolved their differences and were planning to hit the road again soon. Drummer Steve Gorman recently sued over unpaid royalties and was not included in this reunion. (Neither Robinson brother has commented on the suit.) So it was, in essence, a return to where the Black Crowes began as teenagers back in Atlanta: just the two of them churning out music in the studio.
Watch the Black Crowes Perform 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone'
Fans might assume the situation was a bit awkward — tense even. Rich says this wasn't the case when they started work on 1972. They were even joined once more by Sven Pipien, the Crowes' on-again-off-again bassist since 1997. "It's natural," Rich says. "I kind of have that thing where time doesn't necessarily pass. It's just like, 'Oh, there you are.'"
That sense of ease is also translating to the new original music the Robinsons are writing now. They live on opposite coasts and aren't often in the same writing room together, but they're still able to bounce ideas back and forth. Rich often comes up with a riff or melody; Chris then considers it lyrically.
"Rich will play me something, and it'll get the wheels turning," Chris says, "it could be the smallest little thing about something he plays that would dictate, you know, varying shades of melancholy – or anger, or sensuality, or whatever it is."
The brothers credit at least part of their creative ease to having a reliable team working around them. "When you're starting, you're lucky to have anyone believe in you, no matter what their motivation is," Chris says. "It's hard to understand what altruism is as a youth, and I think now we understand. ... We need people around who really make us better and nurture us. We don't need coddling and shit. We've been doing this a long time, but people that understand the dynamic, understand the differences, understand what makes us tick."
One of those people is another figure from the Black Crowes' early days: George Drakoulias signed the band to Def American in 1989 and served as producer on Shake Your Money Maker. As Chris and Rich wrote material for the album, Drakoulias consistently told them: "Pretty good – keep going." They're presently working with Drakoulias on new music, and have tentative plans to get into the studio again at the beginning of next year.
All of it underscores how the Black Crowes are getting back to what they do best: making music together, in the studio and onstage.
"No matter what Rich and I have been through, even at the times where we couldn't fucking stand each other and we didn't want to be on stage — the funny thing is, when it was time to make a record or when we're working on songs, I don't really remember Rich and I arguing too much or getting bent out of shape," Chris says. "Of course, like anything else, we probably had our moments in the studio, but overall, you know, that's the inception of this whole idea: Let's be in a band."