Rich Robinson’s third solo album, The Ceaseless Sight (The End Records, June 2014), marks the latest in his sure-footed shift from guitarist, songwriter, and Black Crowes co-founder to a frontman of notable talent and maturity. Immediately evident on the album’s opener “I Know You,” The Ceaseless Sight is a culmination of Robinson’s journey and talent thus far, showcased from the album’s start to its finish. As Robinson drove through the Sedona desert, he told me about the album’s creation, his fondness for Nick Drake’s music, and leaving old grudges on the side of the road.
I found The Ceaseless Sight to be a great album, both as a solo work and as a follow-up to 2011’s Through A Crooked Sun. Tell me a little about the album as an artistic evolution.
I’ve always found it interesting to just break it all down. A chord can turn into a verse then into a whole record, a greater piece of work. I really find that whole approach lends itself to this record. This record is one of a long string of my work and everything that you add to your work shapes and changes and shifts it but it keeps evolving and keeps moving. That’s what I really appreciate about it.
Every record I’ve been fortunate enough to make has gone in a direction I’ve wanted it to go even with the Crowes from Shake Your Money Maker to Southern Harmony, we made the records we wanted to make. We didn’t remake Shake Your Money Maker. We kept growing as musicians and as songwriters and I kept changing how I wrote songs and was able to change how I wrote songs.
It was never a forced thing. To me, forcing something would have been trying to recreate something, so we were always fortunate to just be able to make the music that we wanted to make. That’s how I’ve always gone about it and as that has compiled over the years and mapped and shifted, this is just a continuation of that. Making records and whatever goes, no matter how different it is, even if I did a record just with didgeridoos it would still add to the overall work and morph into this thing and, in a way, something I’ve always intended it to be.
You mentioned that you changed the way that you write songs. What types of changes did you make while writing for the album?
Well, I mean, starting out when we’re kids we wear our influences on our sleeves and I didn’t have much experience to draw from at my age when I was 17 or 18 years old. It was just, “Oh man, I love the Stones and that’s just what I love and this is their sound and this is their aesthetic or whatever.” That’s kind of what it was but 22 months on tour and 350 shows on Shake Your Money Maker really brought a tremendous amount of experience to draw from, all stuff about success and the shift and how I saw the world when I left as a 19-year-old.
That’s kind of how it was. To me, that’s just how music happens. Just strumming a guitar at any moment, or the chords, or whatever it might be, a song comes from it. So when I write, especially for my solo stuff, I’ll write the music in its entirety and I’ll record it and then the whole time I’ll be thinking of melodic ideas or maybe even a concept for a song, whether it’s a phrase or whatever, then the song is overdubbed and I come up with the lyrics. I just let it go wherever it takes me, and that’s kind of how I’ve always done it.
Tell me more about your influences. There’s a point in “I Have A Feeling” where I hear your Nick Drake influence in the vocals. I’d like to talk about him for a minute.
I mean, music is a language so the influences you hear over your lifetime are influences in language. I got Time Of No Reply as my first record by Nick and started listening to it instantly. The first minute I heard those songs—the first one I think I heard was “Fly”—I immediately jumped into “Voice From The Mountain” and “Black Eyed Dog” and just the way that record sounded was something that just hit me and got me into open tuning and looking at how I construct songs and go about those things. It’s always been really close to me.
Oh yes. His music is so haunting and beautiful. Such a tragic story.
Yeah, he’s an unbelievable talent. There are a lot of people out there that really love what he did and listen to him now and stuff like that and that’s great. It’s just a bummer that they didn’t hear it when he was alive.
I’ve read that your music is influenced now by more political and spiritual agendas.
Yeah, the past is the past and for a long time I kind of held onto it but I’ve gotten to a point that I realize it’s always there and there’s no reason to hold onto it. It took me a long time to figure that out. When my dad passed away last September—he and I were really close—and just kind of dealing with all of that and all that was leading up to that, his battling cancer for years, I kind of tried to deal with it as much as I could and tried to make sense of it. So going through all of that obviously helped me reflect on things and got me to a place where I could let those other things in my life.
Rich Robinson will be playing at World Café Live on June 3, City Winery on June 4, Webster Hall on June 5 and Mexicali Live on Aug. 15. His new album, The Ceaseless Sight, will be released June 3. For more information, go to richrobinson.net.