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  • Interview: The Black Crowes

    Mon, 26 Jul 2010 07:04:16

    Interview: The Black Crowes - The Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman speaks to ARTISTdirect.com editor and <i>Dolor</i> author Rick Florino in this exclusive interview about <i>Croweology</i>, a cinematic look back at <i>amorica.</i> and so much more...

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    The Black Crowes have always thought outside the box.

    Since they dropped Shake Your Moneymaker back in 1990, the band has transformed classic elements of rock 'n' roll into a fresh, fiery and incomparable sound. Now, they've transformed and rearranged 20 years-worth of material on Croweology. Of course all of the Crowes' trademarks remain in tact, but Croweology sees the band pushing boundaries even more by rearranging staple songs acoustically and injecting all sorts of instrumental intricacies. It's a testament to how powerful these songs are. Not only do they hold up after all these years, they still surprise…

    Croweology hits on August 3, 2010, and the band has a big U.S. tour planned to follow. In order to delve deeper into Croweology, Black Crowes drummer Steve Gorman sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino for an exclusive interview about re-approaching these songs, a cinematic look back at amorica. and so much more.

    Do you view Croweology as stripping the songs down or essentially taking them back to their roots?

    It's not really stripping the songs down because we went a little nuts on some of them. The idea certainly was to go back in with fresh ears. It was everything from deciding to do the songs acoustically to having a couple guys play on them who didn't play on the original versions. We took songs that we've played literally a thousand times, stuck headphones on and tried to find new inspiration. If the idea was "Let's strip them down," it quickly gave way to a lot of other things that were just as important to us.

    You really opened the songs up and took them in different directions.

    I think so. That's what we were trying to do. We've never been the master-planners. We go with what feels right at the time. With every record, I always say the same thing, and this one is as clear of an example as any. If before we started recording you asked, "What's this record going to be like?" You would've gotten six different answers. Then if you asked that a few weeks later, the answers would be totally different. We always have a starting point. We never think about where we're going to take it; we just follow it. Once we find some momentum, we stick with it. We don't force it; we just know it'll come. Not to get too ethereal, but that's how we work best. The more material we plan and plot out, the less we get done.

    Did you get to add anything into these songs that you didn't the first time around?

    I'm sure there's a long list of those. You rarely get a chance to go re-do something like this. When these songs were recorded the first time, they were brand new songs. They hadn't been played a thousand times, and usually they hadn't ever been played in front of an audience. We just made the best songs we could at the time. What was fascinating to me was I heard a lot of things that everybody was doing in these takes like a tiny turnaround, something Rich does or a fill that we don't necessarily play every night, but we'll throw them in there. When I heard them in the studio, it was real obvious. I'd be like, "Oh, they always wished that was in there!" There are a lot of those little moments. Our songs evolve over time. Even if we stick to the same arrangement live, we don't stick to the script. We've never been that kind of band. Obviously, there's a ton of different things vocally. Chris expresses the lyrics very differently on Croweology.

    Has your approach changed? There's certainly more experience behind it, but do you feel like the creative process has changed?

    Yeah, maybe not in a lot of conscious ways…I think our first album is a great rock 'n' roll record. We just didn't know what we were getting into, and we threw everything we had at it. Shake Your Moneymaker worked. We had a lot of ideas, but we didn't have a lot of confidence in those ideas. We just had a lot of hopes. You can go really far with that if it clicks. Luckily for us, it did. After we toured for two years and played 350 shows, we didn't have the same hopes; we had some realizations. There was a lot more information and experience to base our confidence on—not just arrogance, attitude and a "Let's make this happen" mentality. We were like, "Hey, we're doing this! This is cool, let's keep moving forward." As players and people, we changed so much in those first couple years—not to mention twenty years later. If we were recording "Jealous Again" for Croweology, I wasn't thinking back to, "Where was I in 1989?" That's like saying, "How was your senior prom?" I don't really need to go back and relive that [Laughs]. I'm so far down the road past it thankfully. If I could dial right back into myself back in 1989, I would've wasted twenty years.

    How'd you choose the songs for Croweology?

    Chris, Rich and I each wrote a list of about 20-25 songs. We wanted about 20 songs on the record. We compared lists, and right away there were about 12 or 13 songs that were on all three lists. We agreed on those. Then we looked at the songs that were on two out of the three lists, and that was another six or seven. Then there were a few wild cards that other guys said. In a matter of a couple conversations, we factored in about twenty-six songs to tackle. Within that, there were ideas that would pop up in the studio. We're a very patient group of impatient people [Laughs]. Individually, we want to get our thoughts out and we're impatient with each other. As far as the band is working, if we pick up on a vibe, we jump on it and stay there as long as it takes. If we feel a vibe isn't developing, we don't hold on to it for a couple days. If it doesn't start clicking pretty soon, we move on. This is not in linear communicative terms. We're not speaking these ideas. It's a total vibe you feel.

    It really gives the songs new life.

    I'm a fan of music, and I know how much certain albums mean to me. If someone's going to do new versions, as a fan I'll say, "They're perfect as they are. Don't mess with them." You've got to remind yourself that you're not messing with originals, you just giving a different take them. When we were making the record, we thought the songs felt really fresh. All I could ask for is that people get that. If it comes across, that makes me really happy.

    If you were to look back at amorica. and compare it to a movie or a combination of movies, what would you compare it to?

    [Laughs] Oh man, this is supposed to be on the written part of the test, isn't it? [Laughs] Let's see. That's a really interesting question. Do you have an answer?

    I'd say Midnight Cowboy or something from the '70s.

    I could certainly see that! I haven't sat and listened to that record from start-to-finish in a long time. Since you said it, I'm seeing the tracklisting and thinking about those songs. I couldn't certainly see a movie like that where there are some unexpected twists and it's pretty heavy. It's not a nice happy little farce. That's for sure. Maybe a Sam Peckinpah film mixed in with some early John Cusack light comedy [Laughs]. The good thing about being in the band is you don't have to think about things like that. That's someone else's job. It'd be The Wild Bunch mixed with The Sure Thing, how's that?

    That works! Do you feel like "She Talks to Angels" resonates now more than ever?

    That song has more gravitas now that we're a bunch of scraggly old men. Lyrically, it's probably easier to take from a guy in his '40s than a 21-year-old kid [Laughs].

    —Rick Florino

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    Tags: The Black Crowes, Sam Peckinpah, John Cusack, The Sure Thing

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