Chris Robinson Talks "Big Moon Ritual", The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Books, and Looks Back on The Black Crowes' "Amorica"
Mon, 09 Jul 2012 11:15:05
"In a few hours, we'll be out in a beautiful state park somewhere with 20,000 hippies running around so it'll be cool," laughs Chris Robinson with a big smile.
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood has been trekking around the United States on support of their incredible debut album, Big Moon Ritual. On the record, Robinson and co. strike a psychedelic balance between lush jamming and bluesy rocking. The result is a real trip down the rabbit hole complete with some of Robinson's most poetic lyrics and truly impressive musicianship. It's a fascinating, fiery, and formidable introduction to the group and one of the year's most mind-blowing records.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Chris Robinson opens up about Big Moon Ritual, looks back on Amorica, and so much more.
What's your take on Big Moon Ritual as a whole? Did you approach it with one vision?
For us, I think our mission statement is we're the farm-to-table psychedelic band. What are we trying to do? Are we trying to have a hit record? Are we trying to be on the radio? I don't think that's anything in our collective consciousness. We wanted to make something that's a piece. It's not a concept album, but it's very conceptual sonically. It's the first half of the trip [Laughs]. This group isn't the type of band that's going to make a concise four-minute song record. That's not where we started, and it's not what we wanted to explore. We wanted to explore something more expressive that contains great dynamics and nuance. Within that, I guess we don't think we can reel it in under five or six minutes [Laughs]. Our shortest song is six minutes. In this day and age, the music business is talent shows featuring people who have fucking incredibly white teeth telling other people who desperately want to be famous they're good or bad. Let people be interested in that, while the rest of us live on the outskirts of town in artist communes doing things everyone else only dreams about. The wild frontier is in the nether regions. That's where we find ourselves and where our inspiration and drive come from. If you put on Saucer Full Of Secrets by Pink Floyd, I don't think you skip from track to track. I'm not comparing. If you put on Europe '72 by The Grateful Dead, I think you put on Side 1 and you're not fully satisfied until you've listened to the whole thing. We know our audience, and they know us. We know what's expected. Sometimes, a song may be long but it'll feel like it went along in the same time as a Beatles song. Or, a song by The Beatles might be three minutes, but it'll seem like they put enough shit in there for a 12 minute song. It's an abstract concept to say the least.
Is it important for you to paint pictures with the songs?
Of course, not only do I think there should be an image attached to the poetics, but it should come out as a feeling. You can attach yourself to the moments of joy, reflection, and sorrow. I write how I feel. Personally, I've always felt like writing lyrics is the thing that got me into music and has kept me here. In this group especially, I've found a great freedom. It's where melody, arrangement, and sonic texture coalesce. That's where you put it all together. If we're in Irving Plaza in New York City and somebody can feel the wind of a semi hauling hay down a California highway brushing their face during the show, we did our job! Here's another example. You and your friends are the only people camping on a mountainside under the stars with a head full of a psychedelic wonderment, and you feel connected to the entire universe, one another, and the planet. If you can get that feeling out of a recording session, there are only a few words to say and they are, "Far out, man" [Laughs].
What's the story behind "100 Days of Rain"?
It's a song about time. It's a song about travel. It's a bittersweet life to find freedom in music and your song and have the chance to live your life not being influenced by the fear, ignorance, hatred, and consumerism that drives the rest of the place. You're a musician. You've stepped outside of the mainstream culture in the way you live. Gratuitous bohemia, if you will…but the reality is, no matter how secure or in love you are, it's a storm. The song is a metaphor for a storm. I'm a musician, a songwriter, and an artist. Ultimately, I'm also a husband and a father to two children. Luckily for them, when dad's home I'm home. There's a struggle there though because I miss them as much as they miss me. As the song says, "I've been through this storm before. Blow a kiss and wave goodbye to me and soon I'll be standing by the door". It's about cycles, love, and the poetry of perpetual motion [Laughs].
Where did "Reflections on a Broken Mirror" come from?
Inevitably, everything I search for as a writer and as a human being still has an element of freedom in it. I had that problem in The Black Crowes as a young man, making these corporations millions of dollars in our most commercial times. It's still a struggle sometimes. Some people only have their eyes on the dollar signs, while some of us have our heads certainly stuck in the stars [Laughs]. It's funny with time, fortitude, and a certain level of success, you find it starts to work for you. The people who live in that world know they're not going to get anything out of me, and I don't need them. For people who want to be famous and make a lot of money, it's probably a hard time in the music business. The only way you're getting on a major label is if you sign your life away and you let all of these people tell you what you're going to be and what you're going to look like. That's always been the case, but I think it's more evident now. If you're one of the fringe elements living outside that, it's amazing. Our idea for this was, "Let's have a local L.A. band, just play in California, see where the music takes us, and have a good time". 13,500 miles and 46 gigs later, we're a solid band that said, "Okay, now we're going to go hit America". California exists on its own, metaphysically and physically. Now, we've got our first album and another one ready to come out in September. We did everything solely through word of mouth. We feel we're already successful because we're free to be as cosmic, freaky, soulful, and interesting as we want to be. We don't owe anyone anything.
Do you read a lot?
I've been an obsessive literary fiend for as long as I can remember. My entire life has been moving from one place to another. The biggest pain in the ass is the records and books I bring. I've been doing that since I moved out of the house at 18-years-old. I read a lot. It's anything from Philip K. Dick and H.P. Lovecraft to Michael Moorcock and Charles Dickens to William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. I also read Japanese folk tales and a lot of mythology. I read so much it's on the point of driving everyone insane in my life [Laughs]. As a dad, it's hard to find time to read.
If you were to compare Big Moon Ritual to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?
Maybe it would be Kenneth Anger's Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome mixed with The Grapes of Wrath…
What do you think of first when you look back on Amorica now?
You have to remember Amorica was a record created at the height of the grunge thing. Not just the big grunge bands, every fucking band sounded like Pearl Jam and Nirvana. Then, there we are holed up in a studio in Hollywood tripping our brains out and wearing makeup. I feel like The Black Crowes were more like Hawkwind or something at that time. It's a very angry record. In 1995, L.A. was still sweeping up after the riots and the earthquake. The real music coming out of Seattle was all very heroin, depressed. There wasn't a lot of dreaming. I think part of Amorica from the cover to the music was about the sweet bliss of oblivion. We were still in our twenties. We didn't like the scene that was going on. It was another rock on our pile to build our own island. I'm very proud of that record. Sonically, it's a very impressive album. Some of the songs are really good. It was a totally different time in everybody's life. It feels, sounds, tastes, and smells how we were living at that time. I think that's probably why people still like that record.
Have you heard Big Moon Ritual?