For nearly 30 years, Chris Robinson has made albums and toured the globe, reaching the top of the rock ‘n’ roll mountain exclusively on his own terms. But at the moment, he’s having cell phone reception issues, and with good reason: he’s at the beach, killing time before soundcheck with his group — the Chris Robinson Brotherhood — while on tour in southern California. When my first attempt at reaching Chris goes to voicemail, I receive a call from him five minutes later.
“Sorry about that, man!” says an energetic Robinson. “We’re down in Orange County, so we just ran to the beach for a minute to put our feet in the water before soundcheck.” Then, with a laugh, he adds, “And — we were parallel parking, and I didn’t wanna mess up!”
By his own admission, Chris has been busy these days. Earlier this month, the CRB laid down the basic tracks for their forthcoming sixth full-length album at the band’s studio in northern California — a place Chris affectionately refers to as “Unicorn, California.” This past spring, Robinson toured with As the Crow Flies, a group of friends and former Black Crowes bandmates, and dusted off his former group’s catalog for the first time in a very long time. This week, Robinson and Co. stumble eastward for the third summer in a row, bringing their psychedelic cheer to the Stone Pony on July 26.
As he makes his way up the beach, Chris and I chat about a wide range of topics, and he even indulges me in a little Black Crowes folklore.
Chris, I know the CRB has a big summer tour which kicked off this week, and I know you guys played the High Sierra festival last night — how did the show go?
Fantastic, man. You know, High Sierra is just like a little slice of hippie heaven on Earth, every summer up there in Quincy. And it’s one of the most beautiful, special places in California — which is a special, beautiful place, in the broader scope. But, it’s just one of those events…the vibes are so deep, and everyone is so friendly.
It sounds like a good time.
Yeah, and you know — the first time we played there a few years ago, we did the late-night set, and like, yesterday we closed out the whole festival. So, it’s going really well in that way, too. It just feels like family.
Good, man — that’s really cool. You guys were just in the studio recently, too. I saw a lot of updates on the CRB Instagram account.
Yeah, we just finished tracking our new record out in Unicorn, California, in our favorite studio!
(Laughs) Do you have a title yet, or a release date?
Uh, we’re still kind of formulating all that. We just did all the basic tracks. We did, like, 11 new songs in, I think, only about 12 days, and I think nine of them will be on the record. Super-cool stuff, really happy, really up-tempo. It’s the first time we’ve ever made a record in the summertime up there.
Yeah, we’re always there in the dead of winter, and it’s raining and freezing and, like, there’s mudslides and coyotes roaming the property. So, I think the vibes are a little different. The last few records have had a lot of acoustic elements, and this time I really wanted this band to be really electric, and I definitely think we captured that. I think it’s like a rock ‘n’ roll record in a way, but it maintains our super-sorta Cali vibe.
That’s cool, man. You also recently wrapped up some dates with As the Crow Flies. How did it feel revisiting that period of your work, and did the gigs go as well as you hoped they would?
Yeah, totally — and then some. I mean, those are my friends, and everyone was there to just make a joyous sound, and Marcus (King, guitarist) is such a special musician and such a special person, so we had a fantastic time. And I think, as well, it probably energized me in a way — in terms of the material for this new CRB record, just in terms of a higher energy level and quicker tempos, and just thinking about all of this music.
I think the last two records we probably weren’t too concerned with how the majority of those songs would fit into our repertoire. So, this time, it’s completely opposite. Every one of these songs could be injected into what we’re doing as a whole, or by pieces. It’s kind of a cool place to be.
Nice. I’d like to ask you about your writing process — do you still write every day, and is the morning time still your preferred time to create?
I mean, it seems like this last year has been pretty hectic. But, yeah — especially if I’m focusing on writing — I will wake myself up at the crack of dawn to do it, you know? Just because it’s fresh.
I know you’re an avid reader, too. What are you reading now?
Oh, my word, uh…God, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t been reading that much, but I was reading Eliphas Levi’s The History of Magic — this pretty cool Victorian script about the history of magic through the ages, and these sorts of metaphysical topics. That’s been taking up my interest lately.
Yeah, it’s really good. And, I just got a book that I wanna read on tour about the history of psychedelic music in Turkey in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Damn, that sounds pretty deep.
Yeah, yeah…I love those records, so…I don’t know that much about the scene or the bands, except for a few records and comps that I like, so that should be rad.
You mentioned Philip K. Dick in a recent interview with Relix, and that caught my eye because I’m a fan of his work, also. Do you think because you immerse yourself in so much literature and poetry that, at least thematically or technically, what you read somehow finds a way into your own lyrics?
Oh, of course, man. I mean, to be interested in language, and to have other people’s manipulation of language move you, and make you have an emotional connection, is powerful. No matter what age you live in. To me, it will never cease to inspire and fulfill. It’s about, hopefully, that your mind is active and alive in your interests — mine just happen to be really varied.
You’ve also been very open about your love of Bob Dylan. As a lyricist, would you consider his work to be the gold-standard?
I mean, in terms of songwriting, yeah. There are other people, but you still have the pinnacle. He’s had so many phases and done so many different things, but that’s the true nature of the poet. He’s one that I still look at as opening doors to a lot of other things — you know, like, “Oh, you like Bob Dylan? Then you may like (Federico Garcia) Lorca’s poems. Or, if you like that, maybe you would like Robert Altman’s early ‘70s movies.” I think with the things that you like, it’s about recognition. If something comes along, don’t miss it. Don’t be stale or stagnant, because it may be the littlest thing between a day that has some joy and hope, and one that’s bleak or the same.
It changes your perspective, and I think — ultimately — Bob Dylan still does that to me. But, you could read Milton, or Walt Whitman, or whatever. You know…you could still read Jack Kerouac. It’s all still there for you, and it’s coupled with music. The ‘50s stuff is to the beat of jazz, and ‘60s literature is to folk music, and rock ‘n’ roll, and psychedelic stuff. So, here we are in the future where — if you just remove yourself from the promotion machine, and everyone just trying to buy and sell and consume — it’s beautiful. Everything is beautiful.
Chris, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. I honestly can’t begin to express my gratitude. But, I do have one last question for you, and it’s a little bit of a curveball — are you ready?
[Laughs] Alright, man.
Ok, this one is for all the heads out there: What are the chances that a film the Black Crowes made entitled A Night in the Life of a Corkscrew will ever see the light of day?
I know, I know…I mean, I could never say never, because hopefully there’s still long ways to go on the planet. But I do think I would be horrified of what’s going on in that movie. Or, maybe not — you never know. It could be super-interesting. Or hilarious, at the least. One of these days, you never know!
Thanks, Chris. Talk to you soon.
Yeah, thanks for your time, man. Take care!
Catch the Chris Robinson Brother hood performing live at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park on Thursday, July 26.