Celebrated for creating and single-handedly keeping rough 'n' tumble rock music alive with The Black Crowes, singer Chris Robinson has begun a new chapter without his bluesy, black bird buddies. Robinson recently released New Earth Mud, a laid-back, evocative piece that burns with his trademark, soulful wail, while showcasing slightly deeper lyrical introspection and earthier grooves than the Crowes' rockin' mayhem. You know how every Crowes album had at least one mellow-down-easy tune? Well, this album is full of 'em.
I gave Robinson a jingle up in his Chicago hotel room. He was as cool as I'd hoped he'd be, thoroughly answering all my questions with candor and humor, even over-asked queries, like this one....
City: I'm gonna start off with a question you're probably sick of hearing. Are The Crowes finished?
Robinson: I'd say yes, for more practical purposes. I haven't really spoken to anyone. I think it's just one of those things, you know? There's some times that I probably wish it had ended better. Part of growing up is realizing that when you're kids, you think you can change things --- with people, not with bigger concepts.
City: But it ended on such a high note, with that double live album [The Black Crowes Live]. It's not like you guys petered out and got embarrassing.
Robinson: If anything, we circumvented that by doing it now. I've had a lot of people go, "Well, were you afraid to leave the Crowes, something so successful, and start all over?" And I was like, "Well, the fear decision would have been to stay in the Crowes, to keep doing something that wasn't making me as happy as it used to."
City: But there can't be any Black Crowes without your voice. Other than your brother's guitar playing, you were the focal point.
Robinson: Yeah, but I think on my part, I always tried to shift the focus, even during our very early commercial success, to being a band. Someone the other day had Rolling Stone, and I was like, "I don't remember the last time a whole band was on the cover."
City: Now it's some chick's belly button.
Robinson: Yeah, or some boy-band shit with the shirt off
City: So, between Shake Your Money Maker and New Earth Mud, what's happened? Is this a change or was it always brewing?
Robinson: I think it's always been there. For my first solo record, I wanted to make a really understated statement. I didn't really feel like I wanted to go and have any big guitars. I really wanted it to feel intimate. I wanted it to feel real grassroots, and that's how I've started this thing with the acoustic tour. I'm just not interested in any of the accoutrement of the music business.
City: Do you think people just wanted more of the same?
Robinson: I think that people in my position, usually the first thing they do is go out and compete with what they were. To me, it's always about what I am and where I'm going, as opposed to what I've done.
City: Have you met any resistance?
Robinson: I don't think so. Obviously, the record companies want to do what's easiest. We live in an age where a little bit of vision is rare. People want to make it easy for themselves across the board. That's why record sales are down and play lists are stale. That's why, on video outlets like VH-1 and MTV, there's no music. Who wants to watch Tommy Lee redecorate someone's house? There's a lot of great music happening right now and none of it is being represented in the popular outlets.
City: Through the Crowes, and now solo, you've sustained classic rock. How come it isn't more popular?
Robinson: I think two things. Number one, I think it's easier for these corporate entities to keep signing bands and keep churning out the same half-assed crap from all these one-word bands. I not talking about The White Stripes or The Strokes; if anything, I appreciate what they're trying to do. Now, where they go from here, will be the litmus test.
I think, on the other hand, you've got really corporate bands, so busy trying to please, calling themselves alt-rock or metal or whatever, and they're doing Pepsi commercials. When everything is validated by its commercial success, then there's no content.
When you talk about the things I aspire to, my ambitions lie in selling millions of records. I want to be successful, but what I think separates me is my desire for my independence.
I read an article in Mojo recently where Carlos Santana said, "You just can't make a record and tell them to deal with it." And I'm like, "Maybe you can't, because look at your last two records. Granted, you sold billions of records, but you lost the respect of anyone who ever really loved what you did."
So, now you have all these kinda fair-weather fans. If you need to go get some teenage girl who's made one album to validate your 20-, 30-year career, man, that's sad. I'm not taking anything away from these kids who are starting off, it's just sad that's the way we live. You can't water down soul, but you can fool people where unreal things seem real for a while. That's why these bands come and go so quickly.
Kids don't go to concerts any more, and to be honest, I don't see why they would. I mean, if a DJ can hold your attention --- that and bad drugs. That's coming from me, someone who, in my day, was very drug-oriented. Man, if ecstasy makes techno music sound good, I want nothing to do with it. That'd be like taking acid and wanting to be a Republican. I don't get it. It doesn't compute
City: Did the New Earth Mud band exist already?
Robinson: Paul [Stacey, New Earth Mud guitarist and producer] and I had been discussing it for a couple of years, and we just kinda got this group together. It's a lucky thing for me, where I've met these people over the years. I know how talented they are, and everyone can bring something unique to the table. We have such a good vibe. We rehearsed last November in Malibu and it just clicked. I couldn't have been happier.
City: The Rochester show is going to be a full electric show?
Robinson: Yeah, this is the full electric band. The big blues, country, psychedelic, jazz-odyssey machine that we have going on. We play a little over three hours.
City: How much effect has marriage had on your image or perspective? You know, the cult of celebrity?
Robinson: To me, celebrity is about as uninteresting as anything. What's interesting to me is the work. The same thing goes for my wife [actress Kate Hudson]. For us, it's just a byproduct of something we love to do. My wife is incredibly talented and a special, special person, so she's going to garner that attention. But the most interesting thing about her professional life is her work.
You know, it's funny, 'cause it gets back to these bands: "You make a lot of money and you'll be famous and your life will change." Well, that comes and goes like the wind.