Workingman's Hallelujahs And Bohemian Hymns: A tale of The Black Crowes today
By Dennis Cook
Record company suits have been trying to tell The Black Crowes what to do since they emerged in 1990. They tried to tell them to make more records exactly like their debut Shake Your Moneymaker. They tried to tell them to bring in professional songwriters to help them craft radio hits. They tried to tell them to conform, to play the game like the rest of the monkeys in the rock industry's decaying zoo. 18 years on, they keep on keepin' on in their own sweet & sour way, releasing Warpaint, their seventh studio album, on their own label and moving further & further away from the codified standards of their profession by the day. At the bottom it all lays the music and an almost vulgar sense of independence and need to be truthful to larger muses than record executives and passing musical trends.
"I'd like to think there's s some level of self-indulgence. If there's any power in success it should be that. It shouldn't be all the cliché things. It should be this," says lead singer-songwriter Chris Robinson. "This has always been a group that's run on its visceral connection to wherever it's going. The hiatus years were fruitful for me - creatively, philosophically and metaphysically. Putting the band back together had a certain level of excitement, but even there it was also an exercise in patience. Everyone's older, everyone's trying to find their place again and see what it feels like. Some people couldn't find their place over the last three years because they never gave up on what happened before. Most people have a hard time accepting responsibility for what they're doing, whether it's a band, a business, a family, a divorce or whatever. People want to blame those around them. You have to stop and remember that no matter what I'm half involved in any relationship, and I'm only responsible for my perception of said relationship. One of the reasons this music sounds the way it does is the result of that patience paying off. We did truly wait until there was something really to get into. And then you have to allow things to show themselves, and I think we really did."
Recorded at Allaire Studios in
"In The Black Crowes sense, that's what I saw happen on
that mountain near
Read the advance press for Warpaint and more often than not you'll find a litany of clichés that have followed the Crowes around for decades: an overt focus on their personal foibles and line-up changes, the brotherly sparring of The Kinks or Oasis, a slavish devotion to the Stones, Faces, et al. It's a gross disservice to a band that's put in close to two decades in an industry that generally produces acts that don't make it past their third album or have any idea what to do with themselves on a stage. In a culture obsessed with slapping neat labels on things The Black Crowes are delightfully messy. That's not to say what they do is a muddle, far from it, but they revel in smoothing contradictions, streamlining the strange and the commonplace into something that resonates on myriad levels. For the many critics that view them through the lens of their cocky, youthful debut, there are whole lifetimes that have been lived in their music since then, and these backwards looking commentators are really the ones caught in the past.
Listen closely to their seven studio releases, not to mention the millions of miles of live tape, and you'll hear a band actively engaged with sound, stirringly aware of both the past and the present. The music of The Black Crowes echoes in much ballyhooed contemporaries like My Morning Jacket, The Flaming Lips, Kings of Leon and countless others. For a group supposedly mired in Stones riffs and classic soul motifs there's an awful lot of genre defying nuances. They grab hunks of bohemian gospel, dirt road blues, freshly harvested psychedelia, uncut funk and tear-in-your-beer country, yet rarely in a way that feels derivative. This ain't no smartass, post-modern exercise. Their influences, which they regularly and openly acknowledge and celebrate, have settled into their musculature. The Crowes live and breath this music in a way that resurrects the spirit and integrity of Hank Williams, Sly Stone, Muddy Waters, Otis Redding and other inarguable greats. And they keep an ear bent towards modern gems like Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Gary Louris (whose new solo record was produced by Chris) and others who make music from a place of passion that bypasses the usual drives towards celebrity, wealth and other worthless status markers. For whatever one thinks of a particular tune or album, there's never a moment's doubt that these boys mean it down to their bones.
"We're filters. We take all this outside stimuli into our brains, process it and it comes out in multiple ways. We're musicians so it happens that way for us," says guitarist-singer-songwriter Rich Robinson. "I think [Warpaint] is the culmination of everything we've done, but I think all the records are. To me, there are sins in every record but it was the path we took. Speculation on what we could have done or should have done seems pretty useless. Everyone was pretty happy with the records when we made them. We gave 'em all a shot. Some are more popular than others but so what?"
In ways it's comforting, both personally and artistically, to see the Crowes a bit more settled than in the crazy days behind them. There's still plenty of sparks but they don't derail things the way they have in the past, where passion and strong headedness sometimes beat down their better angels.
"We believed and we
weren't kidding around. When I look back
over the band, we made mistakes but we obviously weren't afraid to screw
up. As long as you're learning from the
mistakes that's fine. That's life. When
you have a dream and it comes true, it's great but it's different than you
imagined. I thought when we got a record deal our lives would be magic (laughs). We were adamant about not looking green
because we were so green! We didn't know
how rock radio worked. Rock radio
couldn't play us enough in the early '90s," says drummer Steve
"It was years before I looked back on the first two records,
especially the first one, and realized that it's not the norm for our career to
have big singles. You go out the first
time and start hitting home runs you think, 'Hey, this is easy!' But, you realize you weren't actually playing
As one of the new tunes emphatically announces, the Crowes are ready to move it on down the line. While it would be easy to stay mired in the personnel shakeups and mad drama of days past – and Lord knows there's many who insist on making that the focus with this band – there's palpable joy and purpose to what they're doing right here, right now. On "Movin' On Down The Line," Chris declares, "Starting to feel the shine/ Starting to let go/ Now that we know/ It's time to move it on down the line." Just a few minutes with everyone in this band will tell you he's speaking for the lot of them.
"That's so true. We arrived (at this session) to find that everyone had the exact same mindset of 'I'm here, I'm part of this band, and I'm gonna be the best part of this band I can be.' We all felt like brothers making this album," says Pipien. "Luther and Adam almost seamlessly fit into this mold, which is not an easy mold to fit into. It all came crashing together on that mountain at Allaire and we've been on fire ever since."
"The first song we
cut was 'Move It On Down The Line,' and it was like,
'Wow.' We woke up the next morning and
wondered, 'Was that as good as we thought?'
Two days into this record, and I didn't even want to say it aloud but I
was thinking, 'This is great!' We've
come at records from all these different angles and you can do all the work you
want ahead of time, be on the same page, and still not have it click. Everything lined up for a few weeks in the
As instantly appealing as songs like "Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" or "Evergreen" are, Warpaint isn't a record that opens up immediately. There's a subtle sway to the 11 tracks that demand listeners simmer in their pot for a spell before the true flavor of the thing is revealed.
"That's sort of what we've always done, layers you can keep listening & listening to and keep discovering new things. All my favorite records are that way," Rich says. "The thing that you love about Led Zeppelin's IV or Exile On Main Street or any number of Beatles albums is you can put your own context into it, and it breeds creative thinking on your part about how these people made this music. That generates energy in your brain, and it generates creativity and a connection to this music that you individually have."
The Crowes have always made music for ramblers and silk tongued gamblers but they've rarely packed the bindle more fully than Warpaint, which points to a brighter future for the band than many might have predicted after their travails and rocky relationship with radio and the recording industry. Put bluntly, this latest chapter suggests these boys have gotten their shit together in perhaps an unprecedented way. Chris, often the summarizing voice for the sextet, sings on "Whoa Mule":
Sometimes a road
"I'm never for lack of a line or a word or an idea. I just like it that way. But, I don't think I've had an easier – well, easy isn't the right word – but I've never been in a place where the music flowed so freely for me before. And the more you see, the more feel. And the more you live, the more you lose, and the more you love (pauses). It's all part of the machinery," says Chris.
"Part of it is - and
maybe one of the big themes of the record - is the line in 'Whoa Mule' that
goes, 'We're dirty but we're dreaming.'
That line is making a statement about how clean cut everything is,"
continues Chris. "In an age in
The intentions behind music matter and if one hopes their song will extend into days ahead instead of evaporating almost instantly there has to be some foundational integrity, an inherent belief that what you're doing has some measure of import, which imparts density and life to the music. The Crowes possess this depth and longevity in spades.
"The music itself will tell you the difference. Music is just as much a part of life as bread & wine. The one example I often think of is Bach," observes Pipien. "He had pieces commissioned by the church or court, which are much different than the ones he did from pure inspiration. Those are the great ones and the commissioned ones are often just crap. Still perfection because he's such a master but there's a lack of spirit, something a little bloodless."
For a rock band to even mention Bach may seem heretical to some given the general sense that rock 'n' roll is an intrinsically lesser art form than classical music. But, the ability for just six guys to put across something with even part of the same gravitas and pathos using electricity, amplification and forthright execution is a powerful thing and part of the reason rock like the Crowes endures.
"It's rhythm based, which is an older form of music than melodic based music, going back to the Neolithic times and beyond, whereas melody, harmony and polyphony came much later," says Pipien. "So, rock 'n' roll has a much older origin, a more primitive base, but melody and harmony as rock developed encompasses all music, be it classical European music or Indian Sufi music. Everything has been sort of incorporated as the world grows smaller. That's why rock 'n' roll has grown to encompass all music. It's not really a proper assessment to call rock 'n' roll base, though it has those aspects. It tickles the hip as well as the brain."
"Music has been with us since the dawn of humanity. It's the reason for our consciousness, as it exists," adds Rich. "Music and language coincided and helped our brains evolve. Proto-humans, Neanderthal and earlier used music. Religions are based on music. It moves people but it's intangible. You can't touch it, you can't smell it, you can't see it but you hear it and it goes directly into your brain and effects your emotions, as much or more than anything can. We've gone so far into this realm of commerce and distraction nowadays that a sincere moment is almost unrecognizable by many people."
Warpaint and recent live performances by the band are suffused with sincerity. That's not to say they've lost their sass or black wit but it's their heart nowadays that beats most strongly below the rhythm and rhyme.
"This (new) record reeks of the authenticity of our kind of rock 'n' roll. We didn't look around and try to incorporate anything. We'll still be dubbed retro even 20 years later, as if music journalists weren't around in the '80s when bands were doing the same fucking shit they're doing now. The funny part of that is, typically, it just has nothing to do with our aesthetics," Chris says. "There's pain on one bank and pleasure on the other, and you're going to bump into both of them if you stay in the flow. But, you're gonna be stuck if you get caught on one or the other. There's an arc of maturity, in terms of personal growth, with this band. No matter how paranoid or dark I can get, I've always had to have a light at the end of the tunnel. I've always loved the juxtaposition of light and dark. Things like that have always interested me, and I guess are part of our style."
In the live experience, if everyone is pitching in – the band is doing what they're supposed to do and the audience is engaged and enthusiastic – there's something that happens that's akin to what many folks find in churches or temples. This vibe is part & parcel of what makes The Black Crowes tick, and is a massive part of why their hardcore fans love them as they do.
"You find a purity of spirit there that hasn't been as
discredited as some other avenues. I
remember being a kid in several cathedrals in
"Chris would probably be more likely to think of it as conducting the experience but for me it's always been channeling," continues Pipien. "There's this spirit world we channel. I've always thought of music in this timeless sense and we tap into that. I can't say that with the best stuff I've ever done that I can't truly say that I did it, I wrote it or I created it. I just channeled it. In some ways it already exists and it's for us to pluck it out of those spheres."
While a little highfalutin for some, this level of purpose and belief is precisely what differentiates the Crowes from the rest of the flock. While not alone in rock's general wasteland, they shine as a beacon within a genre often dark as a blackbird at .
"The whole move for me (joining the Crowes) I felt was
potentially an important thing for rock 'n' roll, not just for me or my band or
their band. It feels like we have the
potential to do something that rock 'n' roll needs," says
"I'm excited to see how it all builds. We did the record so quickly, and I love it. I love all the other records but this one really sounds like a band that's comfortable with what they do. There were no click tracks, no tricks. It was live and everything moves around and breathes like songs from a band like this are supposed to," comments MacDougall.
"Obviously in this day and age, things don't happen like they used to, where you first encountered a record through headphones or between two speakers, looking at the vinyl sleeve. Those days are gone. I was talking to Luther when we were up on the mountain, and we both wanted to just put down one great rock record for posterity's sake and see what happens," says Pipien. "It's been the most fulfilling thing to be in this situation and have things develop even further than I could have imagined. The way (Warpaint) came together made everyone feel like they're exactly where they're supposed to be."
"I know that Shake Your Moneymaker was a record that when it ended people said, 'What the hell was that? I don't know. Start it again!' That's what you want. When you sit down with Warpaint there's nothing to skip over. If something feels like it's going out, it comes right back to where you want it. I don't think you'll know where you're going but it always feels natural," says Gorman, who's proud of the band's ability to set its own course these days. "That's the ultimate lesson of this album for The Black Crowes, if I can make such a ludicrous statement. Great artists are above the normal pressures of this industry. They figure out what the best vehicle for getting the music and keep on it. If a guy from a label or radio people love it, that's a bonus, the icing. It's not the goal. The cake is what we're doing together when there's no one else around."
Without putting too fine a point on it, Warpaint is a defining moment for The Black Crowes. It's a statement of purpose with a rollicking soundtrack, a philosophy built from the music up. Take it or leave it, this is who they are and this road they're moving forward on.
"I think any creative endeavor should challenge the listener or the viewer or the reader to look at things from a different standpoint. But, the creative culture in this country – like we've been saying for years – is a service industry that we've allowed because everyone wants to succeed," says Rich. "The mold for success has been laid in every artistic field, and because people see gold before they see their work it's really weird. They're like politicians. They don't want to say anything or offend anyone. This is a creative endeavor and audiences should either love it or hate it but they should have some reaction to it."
"I wanted to make sure it was organic, and that we'd be going with more takes with everyone playing (at once). What you're hearing are actual performances from everybody on the day we recorded," offers Paul Stacey. "When I listen to records today I don't really believe them. It's like magazines that tell you about celebrities where everything's airbrushed and made up. For this kind of rock 'n' roll, especially with The Black Crowes, what you hear should be what they are. Forget label worries and making singles for radio, I just wanted them to sound like The Black Crowes breathing and having fun and enjoying the way they play."
"At the end of the first year of us getting back
together, when we first came to
"We've only ever been interested in making a sound, in making our statement. That's just the truth of the matter," concludes Chris. "A lot of '80s bands were amazing, R.E.M. and U2, at finding a great place between art and commerce. One of these days, I hope our albums are somehow inspirational to young bands. Not just because they sound cool or they're fun to get high to but because they hear the cultural politics, too. This is OUR band. And the point of it, especially with record companies, is they're over there. It's us versus them. That's the business part of it. It seems like the more purity you try to keep in your art, the more they want to destroy you (laughs). And I'm not even paranoid! I don't think what we're doing is that important, in the least, but I do think we're the Cool Hand Luke of rock 'n' roll (laughs)."
BC Chris Q and A
As it's getting closer to Warpaint being out in the world are you getting excited about people hearing it?
Chris Robinson: Totally. This was the first Black Crowes record in a long time I was super excited to play for my friends. So, if that's the litmus test, then, of course.
There's a sense of excitement about this record, and the band in general, coming from you guys right now. You can hear it the minute you put this record on.
Chris Robinson: I think this is one record where everyone unanimously feels the power of the music, and it's different because the songs haven't been around for a couple years. This is the first record kind of like Southern Harmony, in the sense that all the music was created and recorded in a short period of time, and it retains that kind of energy.
The longer I listen to Warpaint, the happier I am that you didn't include "Cold Boy Smile," "Magic Rooster Blues" or any of the other stuff that'd surfaced on the Brothers of a Feather tour and recent Crowes runs. There's something really cool about encountering a record where you know absolutely nothing going in.
To me, that's always been where I'm most excited and enthusiastic. So, I think that's part of what the energy is in there.
Every time I listen to it a different tune stands out as my favorite. This morning it was "We Who See The Deep."
As a kid, that's how my favorite records felt. I was talking the other day about how bands these days make records that are too long. It's hard enough to get ten good songs, so why are we listening to 15? It's because someone at a record company says you need more stuff. Maybe you should put out 10 good songs and if you come up with more later put out an EP.
Do you think some of the other stuff you recorded for the new album will surface eventually?
There's only three other songs. We only recorded 14 songs. We definitely like those tunes. One of them is a cover of a Joe South tune, "Hole In Your Soul" from the album Games People Play, which is a really good record.
His albums are pop but there's so much going on, so many layers. When you say pop it's sometimes feels like a dirty word to some folks.
It is now. It's become something so contrived and manipulated and weird. There's some people, I guess, that are making interesting pop music, but no one's played them for me (laughs). These days, pop is anything. It's Justin Timberlake or these chicks or whatever, but it used to be that Colin Blunstone (The Zombies) was a great pop artist.
The sense that I get listening to Warpaint, and talking to Rich, too, is this is definitely a new chapter in the Crowes story, that some sort of quantum shift has happened. I may be wrong but…
…no, no, I agree. My point about it would be is this has always been a group that's run on its visceral connection to wherever it's going. The hiatus years were fruitful for me - creatively, philosophically and metaphysically. So, I could come back with that kind of stuff. And putting the band back together had a certain level of excitement, but even there it was also an exercise in patience. Everyone's older, everyone's trying to find their place again and see what it feels like. Some people couldn't find their place over the last three years because they never gave up on what happened before. Most people have a hard time accepting responsibility for what they're doing, whether it's a band, a business, a family, a divorce or whatever. People want to blame those around them. You have to stop and remember that no matter what I'm half involved in any relationship, and I'm only responsible for my perception of said relationship. One of the reasons this music sounds the way it does is the result of that patience paying off. We did truly wait until there was something really to get into. And then you have to allow things to show themselves, and I think we really did.
Patience is a great word for it. People forget the craftsmanship of writing songs. These new cuts feel like you got the tools out and made sure they were well built before putting them out there.
That's still my process. Whenever we're not in the same place, Rich sends me pieces of music and I listen to them. I work in the morning now. I could make reference tapes on my little digital recorder but I don't do that. I just sit and let the songs come. I'm never for lack of a line or a word or an idea. I just like it that way. But, I don't think I've had an easier – well, easy isn't the right word – but I've never been in a place where the music flowed so freely for me before.
That's being engaged with the world. You're going to be playing with language, playing with ways to describe the world if you're actively engaged with it.
And the more you see, the more feel. And the more you live, the more you lose, and the more you love (pauses). It's all part of the machinery.
There's so much life in these songs. I've even got choked
up over a few of them. "
That's a little bit of
our interest in country music and folk-rock.
There's a lot of Gram (Parsons) in that song. The best thing about doing what I get to do
is I can write about a street I remember when I was 20 years old and living in
You're not writing autobiography.
No, no, but it feels like my story, even when it's abstract. But, it could be anybody's story.
You're trying to create a space that's both personal and universal and able to touch people.
Part of it is - and maybe
one of the big themes of the record - is the line in "Whoa Mule" that
goes, "We're dirty but we're dreaming." That line is making a statement about how
clean cut everything is. In an age in
You couldn't find more hippie ideals than the MC5, and that's not a calm group of individuals.
Just buy Guitar Army and look at the picture of hippies with bass guitars and machine guns. Now, they would probably just throw you in jail for that kind of imagery. We live in a place where no one cares about rock 'n' roll, no one cares about revolution, no one cares about their personal freedoms. Well, they do but I'm making a cultural generalization, in terms of what we're getting from the media, from radio stations.
I don't think you're completely off base because people have bought into the idea of giving up freedoms for the sake of safety.
How dangerous can our enemy be when everybody has access to the Olive Garden every night? Go ahead, eat some shitty corporate poison food!
Have you worked up how your going to play the new songs live?
Rich and I played a couple of them for a little thing we did now that we have our own record company. It's the best. I think that's the best idea ever. We've been through a bunch of phases in the music industry, and now that it's an abandoned amusement park, a weird sci-fi movie, we decided to just do it ourselves. I feel that's the ultimate squatter's rights take on the music business.
It's the perfect end of the road for a band like the Black Crowes.
And it's kinda fun. The worst part of being in the music business is dealing with people that don't care or don't have any inclination to get know you or care about you and the trip you're on, except for how popular it is. They could care less what a band sounds like. They could care less what stuff you're going through that makes your sound. We live in an age of music where people rarely talk about how a band sounds. Even in our most commercial period, no one heard the Black Crowes' records and said, "Oh yeah, we'll do that."
I do think you have your acolytes but I don't think their primary aim is getting on radio.
Yeah, but for a time (we were on radio), and still you turn on football and hear "Hard To Handle."
Is that kind of haunting sometimes to encounter something you did almost 20 years ago?
To me, it's funny, and at
the end of the day I'm always happy that somebody somewhere, somehow is going
to get into Otis (
Amen. That's always seemed one of the points of cover tunes in the Crowes, to point an arrow at the artists you're covering.
And to have everyone know where are heads are at when we're not in front of you making music. I've always been obsessed with that. Even the music we play before our concerts is always chosen for a reason.
It sets a mood. There's continuity between the things you cover or lift up and the things you do in the Crowes. Creating that space where things are overlapping has a weird, cool synergy.
Oh yeah, and it all fits into a weird tapestry somehow.
That sense of interwoven ideas plays into Warpaint on subliminal levels.
I was totally into it the second we got up there (Allaire Studios near Woodstock, New York).
We've talked about Allaire before but there's a strong focusing factor to the place because it's very isolated and you can't do anything but make music.
To me, it's everything, like that big arched room, like "We're in the temple, man. This is a holy place for us, so we should make some holy music."
You guys have that sort of respect for the process. You're laying something in concrete. It's a kind of heavy responsibility to make rock 'n' roll for people if you take it seriously.
How horrible would it be for the real hardcore people who've been on this trip with us if you didn't hear anything from us for a while and the new Black Crowes record came out and we all had short haircuts like Bon Jovi? Or we'd hired Pharrell to do a fucking track? It'd be so sad, wouldn't it?
It'd rip our hearts out.
It'd rip mine out! What's really funny is at the end of the first year of us getting back together, when we first came to L.A. to play those five nights at the Henry Fonda, we'd been doing great business and everyone was happy. So, the record companies started sniffing around like fuckin' swine on truffles," recalls Chris. "It's hilarious because the stuff that starts coming back is like, 'The band is great. Chris' voice is so powerful. It'd be great to get them in the room with some writers (laughs).' Seriously. How about this, 'We don’t want ya. We don't need ya. We appreciate the opportunity but we're not gonna take it. Goodnight.' That's being humble and sincere, too."
Talk about people missing the boat on what the Crowes are all about.
Yeah, but that's been the main theme of where we've been for many years with people. It's not easy for them. We never made it super super easy in that way.
I don't think this band has ever been interested in making product.
We've only ever been interested in making a sound, in making our statement. That's just the truth of the matter. A lot of '80s bands were amazing, R.E.M. and U2, at finding a great place between art and commerce. One of these days, I hope our albums are somehow inspirational to young bands. Not just because they sound cool or they're fun to get high to, but because they hear the cultural politics, too. This is OUR band. You hear all these kids say, "This is our band." You know what? If this is your band then even your manager has to be part of it. And no one could be tighter than Pete Angelus and the Black Crowes. It's been 19 years this year. And the point of it, especially with record companies, is they're over there. It's us versus them. That's the business part of it. It seems like the more purity you try to keep in your art, the more they want to destroy you (laughs). And I'm not even paranoid! I don't think what we're doing is that important, in the least, but I do think we're the Cool Hand Luke of rock 'n' roll (laughs).
I think integrity is unnerving to the industry, as it exists now.
You know why? People, in any corporate setting, are used to the game and the dance and the hierarchy. My small forays into Taoist philosophy tell me that hierarchies don't mean anything to the natural order of things. I'm gonna judge you on what you're putting out and who you are. People look up to people with money, but acquiring money is hardly that interesting.
It's nice to have it but it matters even more how you got it.
In the true realms of bohemia, I like having champagne at The Ritz in Paris but I also like having a keg party in my friend's front yard in Topanga. You know what I mean? There's pain on one bank and pleasure on the other, and you're going to bump into both of them if you stay in the flow. But, you're gonna be stuck if you get caught on one or the other.
We get taught very young that it's wonderful to be complacent, to get comfortable and stay in that one rut.
There's a certain sense of entitlement that's funny. As a typically middle-class kid born in the mid-sixties, I don't understand that sense of entitlement. We work. In a Wal-Mart world, I like having our little mom-and-pop hardware store.
There's something to be said for handcrafting things.
This (new) record reeks of the authenticity of our kind of rock 'n' roll. We didn't look around and try to incorporate anything. We'll still be dubbed retro even 20 years later, as if music journalists weren't around in the '80s when bands were doing the same fucking shit they're doing now. The funny part of that is, typically, it just has nothing to do with our aesthetics.
Rock builds on itself. Sounding a bit like what's come before is natural.
Every other art form has, even when it deconstructs itself. All major movements in painting reference something that came before. Poetry is the same thing. It's always building on top of each other, using that core of other stuff.
The retro tag has never fit the Black Crowes. Anyone who writes that can't have really listened to Amorica.
Especially that record, out of all of them. At the time it came out it was height of the grunge trip but because we had long hair and bellbottoms and we didn't kiss anyone's ass, they wouldn't play us.
It's still such a strange, dark, very modern sounding record.
Even "Downtown Money Waster" isn't as rootsy sounding as "God's Got It" or "Walk Believer Walk," which is just a ferocious blues. In the 19 years since Shake Your Moneymaker we've never played a blues like that on a record. But, it's also not the real blues because we're a rock band. And that's why it rocks (laughs).
For me, rock 'n' roll is the most encompassing way to say this music draws from anything – folk, jazz, blues, whatever.
That's the point of it. It's even got one-up on jazz in that way. If you're playing jazz you gotta play jazz…
…if you're playing country you play country. Certain standards have to be adhered to, but with rock the lines are happily blurred.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on December 18, 2007.
BC Rich Q and A
I have the advantage of having spent quite a bit of time with Warpaint, and it's to the album's credit that it rewards that kind of deep attention. I don't think it opens up immediately.
Rich Robinson: I don't think any of our records do.
Isn't that the key to a great album, though? The first time you put on Music From Big Pink it's not going to unlock for you.
Rich Robinson: That's sort of what we've always done, layers you can keep listening & listening to and keep discovering new things. All my favorite records are that way.
There's a high level of interaction on Warpaint. It really sounds like the Black Crowes whole band playing on this record. When you go back to it, do you hear different nuances?
Yeah, but it's harder for me. In a weird way, I can remember us being in the studio and it brings me back to that. There's a lot of visual comparisons I can make while I'm listening.
Did you do any filming in the studio this time?
My friend filmed a lot while we were there, recording and outside, so it's really cool.
Do you plan to use it later on a DVD or something?
A lot of people are really into that stuff. I'm ambivalent. There's a part of me that says, "Don't be such a fan boy! Listen to the music and leave them some privacy."
It started about 10-12 years ago, but the whole backstage access thing evolved in everything, from TV shows like Behind The Music to everything. In a sense, it's very informative but it's taken away a lot of the magic. The thing that you love about Led Zeppelin IV or Exile On Main Street or any number of Beatles albums is you can put your own context into it, and it breeds creative thinking on your part about how these people made this music. That generates energy in your brain, and it generates creativity and a connection to this music that you individually have.
Nobody is sitting there explaining the imagery and what was happening in the studio that day. You get parts of the mythology but it's not undressed for you. There's something to be said for not stripping away every veil.
That's what we do nowadays, and that's why there's no heroes, in a sense.
It's frustrating because rock 'n' roll is one of the few places you could have that if we didn't pry so much. We've debunked so much already – religion, politics, sex – that having something left to believe would be nice.
One thing I wanted to ask you about was putting out the new record on your own label.
We had always talked about doing this. It was always the best looking option on the
table. Labels came out and talked to us
but at the end of the day it's just assholes standing on a sinking ship telling
Chris and I, "Maybe if we got some writers in for you." There's a reason you're standing on the
Titanic. You created this, now you deal
with it. It's funny how people hold onto
their wrong beliefs the worse it gets.
It's like the Bush administration saying, "As long as we stay in
It's an inability to own up to the need for change, perhaps radical change. This industry has made bad decision after bad decision.
Oh man, tell me about it.
Where do you think Warpaint fits into the Crowes' discography?
I think it's the culmination of everything we've done, but I think all the records are. To me, there are sins in every record but it was the path we took. Speculation on what we could have done or should have done seems pretty useless. Everyone was pretty happy with the records when we made them. We gave 'em all a shot. Some are more popular than others but so what?
There's a tendency with musicians to have a revisionist history of their catalog based on how records were received. I never got the sense the Crowes had any trepidation about putting out any of your records.
Not at all.
I'm the first one to admit it took me a long time to get into Lions but ultimately I found a lot to dig on that album.
It's different. We took a chance. It was different sonically; we made it on tape and Pro-Tools. Everything was split so everything was recorded on both so we could see if there was a difference in sound. Back then, tape sounded better so that's what we used. We used a lot of effects and different things to try and grow. The songs are really cool. A lot of people didn’t care for By Your Side because they considered it a simplistic rock record.
I think there's some of the strongest songs in your catalog on that album. I'm a big fan of "Welcome to the Goodtimes," which is a great homage to The Band.
I think that was the best song on the record, by far. The problem is you work with different people and it doesn't come out sounding the way you wanted it to. That record sounds overproduced and over-compressed but you try different things. Some people said Lions sounded too modern.
It all ends up working if you really listen to the music.
When people started saying Amorica and Three Snakes sounded like The Faces and the Stones, I thought they were fucking nuts. Either they haven't listened to these albums or they've never heard the Stones or The Faces.
How do you think you've evolved as a guitarist in the past few years? I personally hear a lot of growth in your overall vocabulary on the instrument.
With two guitar players, the roles are what they are. With the Crowes, I'm playing the song, the bit of the song that's a rhythm part, and whoever is stage right is playing leads. That's sort of how it's worked. But now, having been on stage as the only guitar player (on his solo release, Paper) has brought a different perspective to the whole thing. It's a cool thing to go down that road and then apply that to what I'm doing now. I've never been the type to sit in a room and go over scales and rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. I just don't do that. I believe in things happening naturally, and they'll happen when they happen for a reason. So, over time, I've picked up different things and grown my knowledge of the guitar. I'm not conscious enough of myself to put into words how I've played differently.
I've just picked up a greater sense of confidence in your playing since you came back from the hiatus. There's more depth and substance.
Could be but we all went through a lot of shit.
A lot of people discount that. It's not just the amount of shows or hours of practice but the whole life you bring to the music.
We're filters. We take all this outside stimuli into our brains, process it and it comes out in multiple ways. We're musicians so it happens that way for us.
One person I never see referenced when critics talk about your guitar playing is Stephen Stills, who was one of the first touchstones I picked up on.
Oh man, I love Stephen
Stills. I love everything he's done,
After the last few years of touring, hitting the festival circuit and changing up the setlist most nights, there's now a hippie association with the Black Crowes. Some of this comes from Chris' connection with Phil Lesh and that scene but there's more to it.
We played with the Dead on the Amorica tour, and there's Further Festival. And Chris has obviously loved the Grateful Dead for years. One thing about the jam scene fans, or whatever you want to call them, is they're music fans. Jamming and spontaneous creation does take a specific audience to take it and like it. Nowadays, a lot of people just want you to shut up, play their favorite song and go away. Those people would be content to see us every four or five years, have us play our hits and then go on about their business. That's fine but it would drive us crazy to sit there and play the same set every night. Even as early as the first tour for Shake Your Moneymaker, we instantly started jamming. There's us opening for ZZ Top and throwing out Sly and the Family Stone's "I Want To Take You Higher" and then going into (Bukka White's) "Shake 'Em On Down" (laughs). Taking songs and expanding them, we've always done that. Zeppelin did that. The Stones used to do that. That's what bands that love to play do. Bruce Springsteen used to play songs for fucking 20 minutes. What happens is everything these days has to be divided and subdivided and labeled. So, if you jam you have to be part of a jam band or hippie band. But, that's not true because we're a rock band. We just want people to come who like what we do and have respect for music and will go on this sort of musical journey with us every night.
If you're really willing to participate as an audience then you're going to travel, at least a little.
I think any creative endeavor should challenge the listener or the viewer or the reader to look at things from a different standpoint. But, the creative culture in this country – like we've been saying for years – is a service industry that we've allowed because everyone wants to succeed. The mold for success has been laid in every artistic field, and because people see gold before they see their work it's really weird. They're like politicians. They don't want to say anything or offend anyone. This is a creative endeavor and audiences should either love it or hate it but they should have some reaction to it.
For many, it's just something else to consume. It's a disservice to music in the archetypal sense. You're playing with something deep and powerful and you're treating it like a hamburger.
Exactly! Music has been with us since the dawn of humanity. It's the reason for our consciousness, as it exists. Music and language coincided and helped our brains evolve. Proto-humans, Neanderthal and earlier used music. Religions are based on music. It moves people but it's intangible. You can't touch it, you can't smell it, you can't see it but you hear it and it goes directly into your brain and effects your emotions, as much or more than anything can. We've gone so far into this realm of commerce & distraction nowadays that a sincere moment is almost unrecognizable by many people.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on December 28, 2007.
BC Steve Q and A
Warpaint kicks off with an inimitable Steve Gorman drum roll.
Steve Gorman: The first song we cut was "Move It On Down The Line," and it was like, "Wow." We woke up the next morning and wondered, "Was that as good as we thought?" Then, the next thing we cut was "Walk Believer Walk," which, in my mind, I heard opening the record. For as many songs as we've done, we'd never had a straight blues like this.
It is mean, true blues.
Steve Gorman: We were about midway through when we cut "Daughters of the Revolution," and by the time we had finished all the tracks I was totally hearing that one as the opener. That one gets me going every time. "Walk Believer Walk" is like a body shot but you get a couple good jabs in first with "Daughters."
This is like the construction of a good setlist in the way the album unfolds. The pacing and sequencing of this record is a big part of its ultimate power.
I feel it has such a strong sense of cohesion and a good flow. Every song takes you where you want it to take you.
And each track sets you up for the next one, carrying you forward throughout. I've always thought of the Black Crowes as an album band.
It was years before I
looked back on the first two records, especially the first one, and realized
that it's not the norm for our career to have big singles. You go out the first time and start hitting
home runs you think, "Hey, this is easy!" But, you realize you weren't actually playing
You hit the real difference by Amorica, which didn't play to contemporary radio at all. It's completely its own animal.
It's weird to look at that time. The second record doesn't seem as long ago to me as Amorica. I come across YouTube clips of that era and I look at that band in 1995 with a certain level of detachment. There were other bands like us but they weren't on TV! Those were heady times.
As a long time fan, it's comforting, both personally and artistically, to see the Crowes a bit more settled than those crazy days.
We believed and we weren't kidding around. When I look back over the band, we made mistakes but we obviously weren't afraid to screw up. As long as you're learning from the mistakes that's fine. That's life. When you have a dream and it comes true, it's great but it's different than you imagined. I thought when we got a record deal our lives would be magic (laughs). We were adamant about not looking green because we were so green! We didn't know how rock radio worked. Rock radio couldn't play us enough in the early '90s.
You were laboring under the misapprehension that talent and quality were what ruled the airwaves.
Exactly! And I'm the worst because my dad actually ran a radio station at one point, so I should have known better.
Warpaint seems like you went in to make the best music you could for the sake of it and nothing else.
I was two days into this
record and I didn't even want to say it aloud but I was thinking, "This is
great!" We've come at records from
all these different angles and you can do all the work you want ahead of time,
be on the same page, and still not have it click. There was such a lack of expectation this
time, and everything lined up for a few weeks in the mountains in
Allaire Studios is a character in this story, too.
Absolutely. My favorite Black Crowes stuff is when we go somewhere, plug in and let 'er rip. A lot of people say that but it's harder to do than you think it is. Magic doesn't happen when you're wondering if it's happening. It's only when you look back and see it. For a couple of weeks it just flowed, and in no small part due to Paul Stacey. I could spend six hours talking about my admiration for that guy. He's a fan of the band and he's an insider. He has a very strong sense of when we're at our best, and he never lost sight of that, even in the middle of it. He stayed focused on our strengths, what is our natural wheelhouse and how to just stay in there. It's great to make a record where you say there are no parameters, but the real trick is defining your parameters and making something great within them. The thing I love about this record is when the songs went from a skeletal state to being fully fleshed out there was a sense in the room, every time, of, "That's all it needs. We're already there. We don't need to add another part." The songs just seemed to be there.
I think this idea of boundaries you set for yourself – not a record company or mainstream radio or anybody else – is profound. You set your North, your South, the whole geography that you work best in.
That's the ultimate lesson of this album for the Black Crowes, if I can make such a ludicrous statement. Great artists are above the normal pressures of this industry. They figure out what the best vehicle for getting the music and keep on it. If a guy from a label or radio people love it, that's a bonus, the icing. It's not the goal. The cake is what we're doing together when there's no one else around.
It's sort of a cliché but having new blood in a band is powerful. It's abundantly clear Luther and Adam are natural born Crowes.
It's pretty great when something new comes along and it works. I feel we'll be in good standing when fans hear this lineup, those guys contributed hugely to this record
Adam really settles into the musculature of this music, which is what the Black Crowes keyboardist has to do.
He's a wonderful musician. He sees the whole thing. He did organ on "Move It On Down The Line" initially, and then he did a track sitting at the grand piano. All the piano you hear on that song, and there's a lot of it, is one pass, his first take. Paul said, "Do you want to throw some piano on this while it's fresh?" Adam clearly had all these ideas floating around his head. There's a lot of space in the piano parts where he's dropping in these bombs. Watching him do that, the first night in, everyone stared and said, "Oh my god!" I was done from that moment on, not that I had any real doubts about him. I just knew that guy had the keyboards handled from then on.
One of the great strengths of this band is the slow
burners, and this album has several great ones, namely "
By the way, I take full credit for the mid-tempo slow burners working (laughs). I was listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin then, and you put on "The Ocean" and you want to run laps but the beat is way back. The sense of swing in everything Bonham plays is just how I thought you were supposed to do it. Ringo (Starr) swings like no one else, too. My whole drumming world is those two guys.
I think Warpaint is one of the hookiest records you guys have ever put out.
That goes back to saying there's enough here after a take or two, which was a big thing for Paul, who didn't want a lot of overdubs. Every time you add another layer you're pushing something else aside, whether you mean to or not. Listen to "Evergreen" and there's so much dynamics in everyone's playing. What could you do to that song? You can nitpick but there's so much air and life in a track when you hit it. This album is as strong, in that regard, as Southern Harmony.
It's such a cohesive album. I find myself hitting repeat each time it ends.
That's the record's job. I know that Shake Your Moneymaker was a record that when it ended people said, "What the hell was that? I don't know. Start it again!" That's what you want. When you sit down with Warpaint there's nothing to skip over. If something feels like it's going out, it comes right back to where you want it. I don't think you'll know where you're going but it always feels natural.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on January 4, 2008
BC Sven Q and A
I've been a fan of your playing in this band since day one. I think you're style makes you the right guy for the Black Crowes.
I kinda feel the same way (laughs). I'm not a flash player or showoff or bass virtuoso but I always felt very comfortable with the Brothers music, since we were kids, really. I was going to be in their band originally but I was in another band (Mary My Hope) that sort of took off so I went that route. It's been the most fulfilling thing to be in this situation and have things develop even further than I could have imagined. The way (Warpaint) came together made everyone feel like they're exactly where they're supposed to be.
That was my feeling, too, even as I listened to Warpaint for the first time.
Even the band itself was surprised at how well it came together. Even with all the problems that might have clouded the situation, the essence of the band was intact. Once we were at Allaire in the studio and we started messing around, all pre-production and whatever concepts we had going in went out the window. This new band emerged on its own in that control room. That first week at Allaire was truly one of the most magical experiences of my life.
The listener really picks up on the organic feel of six guys gelling and really putting their backs into the material.
Absolutely. I'm pretty damn proud of it.
You should be. There's such a sense of life on this record.
There is, and I think it's some of the best work Steve and I have ever done, recording or playing (live). We just locked in, and it felt very natural. I think that comes across when you hear it.
You two swing pretty hard. A big part of what you feel, not so much hear, on a Crowes song comes from the bottom up.
I've always approached my bass playing in this band with that in mind - bring the song out not me, bring the rhythm section to where it should be so it has that thunderous bottom so Chris can be the singer he can be, so Rich can shine as the guitarist that he is. I think we accomplished that this time around. If people give it a chance, somewhere along the line you're going to get hooked by this record.
Sadly, some people bring in a lot of preconceptions to Warpaint before they've even heard it.
Obviously in this day and age, things don't happen like they used to, where you first encountered a record through headphones or between two speakers, looking at the vinyl sleeve. Those days are gone. I was talking to Luther when we were up on the mountain, and we both wanted to just put down one great rock record for posterity's sake and see what happens.
You need to have belief in rock 'n' roll for it to have any real power.
I've often felt that this band is carrying that flag but I really haven't felt it firmly grasped in my hand like I did that first week at Allaire. Whatever happens happens but this is for real.
I'm keen to hear this album played live. Something else happens when you mix songs with an audience. Some new enzyme gets into them.
I'm very excited about the same thing. I can't imagine it not being a great thing.
What's it like playing with Steve?
When we're on the same page it's the easiest thing in the world. If I have self-confidence, I say that we're playing together. If I don't have self-confidence, I say that Steve's making me look great (laughs). He's so on top of what I want to do and where I want to go. We both seem to have the same sense of what's important for a song. He's not the biggest flash player either but his pocket is deeper & wider than any other pocket I've ever played in. In one line, he makes it easy. I've never played with another drummer that makes it easier than Steve Gorman.
One of my favorite parts of the Crowes – and I'm glad this is part of Warpaint - is that midtempo, slow ballad stuff. You can't hide playing this kind of material. You have to have a good singer, good players, a good handle on sustaining a mood, because when you slow down any flaws show up right away.
That's so true. We arrived (at this session) to find that everyone had the exact same mindset of "I'm here, I'm part of this band, and I'm gonna be the best part of this band I can be." We all felt like brothers making this album. Luther and Adam almost seamlessly fit into this mold, which is not an easy mold to fit into. It all came crashing together on that mountain at Allaire and we've been on fire ever since.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on January 2, 2008.
BC Adam Q and A
I was so knocked out by your playing on Warpaint.
This record was amazing to make. It happened so quickly. So few bands these days just go in and record
music like this. It was crazy for me
because I'd just gotten involved. I flew
out and played with them in
That's not a lot of lag time!
I got up there and hadn't any of the material and had to figure out all the relationships and dynamics. I had one great moment with Rich. He doesn't jump around like his brother does but if he likes something he'll give the nod. So, one night in between songs, he leaned in and said, "Hey man, I'm really glad you're here," and then walked off. It's great to be in this sort of band situation. We still jam. A song can go from seven minutes to 20 minutes depending on what happens.
A lot of times when you hear the word "jam" there's a kind of aimlessness to it, and what the Crowes do with the idea of "jam" still has a lot of muscle and a fair amount of weight.
We're not a jam band but we do take liberties. I've played with a lot of people who try to make it seem like they're taking liberties but it's really the same thing every night.
What's kept me as a fan of their music through all their changes has been a sense that they're always actively engaging their catalog. Sure they've played "Hard To Handle" many times before but they're still present in the song each night. At least from my place in the audience they seem to throw themselves into it with conviction at all times. Have you felt that?
Totally, and there's so many songs, and they change their setlist up drastically every night. For me, in the beginning, it was scary because I'd see a setlist and I wouldn't know at least five of the songs! You do your homework, stay in hotel rooms and walk around with my iPod on all day. I got it, and now it's great. Every night is different.
There's something to the thoughtful juxtaposition of songs, though that has to be daunting for you given the size of the catalog and explosion of cover tunes in recent years.
I didn't even get a rehearsal. We did the record and they said, "You have about a week before the tour starts. Here's the six records of the back catalog and here's a bunch of cover tunes to learn. Do what you can. See you on August 3rd (laughs)."
I sense the songs on Warpaint are really going to take off when the band takes them into the live setting.
I'm excited to see how it all builds. We did the record so quickly, and I love it. I love all the other records but this one really sounds like a band that's comfortable with what they do. Rich and Steve have this bond. In the studio, Rich would play a riff and Steve would come in and it was perfect. I'll I had to do was fill around it. There were no click tracks, no tricks. It was live and everything moves around and breathes like songs from a band like this are supposed to.
This one really bears up well to scrutiny. There's a lot of continuity with the past but it's brand new songs.
We've touched these songs a little bit at soundcheck. Rich will play a riff, as if to say, "Hey, remember this?"
Tell me a little bit about your background.
My first touring gig as a teen was with Patti Rothberg, and I was a drummer for a long time. I did the session guy thing for a while between touring gigs.
How did you hook up with the Black Crowes?
There's this Wednesday
night jam session that happens up in
My sense is they were looking for something new in the keyboard department.
There's a lot of keys, and as far as I could tell they were looking for someone who could play and bring something to the table aside from just playing the original parts. I learned everything I had to learn but I also reminded myself that I have a voice to get out there, too. There's certain parts you have to play, and that's totally fine because I love those parts. But, there's really a lot of space for me, probably more than any other gig I've done. I've been able to experiment and not have someone shoot me a dirty look.
The last thing Paul Stacey said to me when we spoke was he wanted to make a record where he could say to people, "Stick this in your pipe and smoke it!" There's no history to these songs so hopefully fans will come in with an open mind.
I think it helped having new blood in the studio. The room we were in had no control room, so we were all in there. We had Chris kind of baffled off in the corner but that was it. The whole band just steps up and delivers. Until recently, I was just trying to keep up (laughs). Not to be super positive all the time but how lucky am I to play with these guys?
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on January 8, 2008
BC Luther Q and A
These guys are a rare animal in the world of rock 'n' roll, especially these days.
Yeah, man. I grew up as a fan and have always loved their music. In the studio, working on the record, it feels like rock 'n' roll with the way they work – in one big room, playing together, working the songs up, everybody striving to make something happen. That's part of what's so alluring about it, just good old-fashioned rock.
I think you're so identified with the blues after the Allstars that this will open up folks to the other facets of your playing. They've always been there but this puts you in a situation that's a bit to the left of where you've been.
(Laughs) Guitar-wise, Rich and I see eye-to-eye in a lot of ways. He uses a lot of open tunings, which I grew up using, and we have a lot of the same reference points. I've searched for the right second guitar partner, and I'm really excited about the possibilities of working together. I'm a really reactionary player. The way I play is I just listen real intently, and not concentrate on what I'm doing so much as what everybody else is doing. I'm really excited to play with such a big band with such interesting music.
You're used to that holy trinity in
(Laughs) You know it all comes down to making the singer sound good. I know in the past with someone like John Hiatt or Mavis Staples (pauses). Let me put it this way, accompanying a great singer is a joy. You can jam and play and do your best but unless there's a really great vocalist involved I think the emotional intensity of a show or a song can only go so far. And we have a really kick-ass singer that just drives it home!
There's a lot of power in him, and I've often thought of him as the exclamation point on all the Crowes' sentences.
That's nice! He's not just a great singer; he's also a great frontman. That's rare.
I've wondered if it's ever distracting to be onstage with someone with that much charisma.
I noticed something cool. I've sat in with them a few times, and I've played one whole show with them so far, Telluride Blues & Brews. It was my first time, no rehearsal. But, if you watch his dancing he'll lead you through the arrangement. And Rich is always listening, and I try to listen, too. That's why I'm excited about the more exploratory jams. I'm just looking forward to the interaction in this band.
They're always finding new pockets and corridors in these songs. I've watched them soundcheck a few times and it's wild. They'll be playing with a cool instrumental thing and there's no way to know where they'll slot it in during the actual show. Then, later that night during "Soul Singing" it reemerges and you just stare and go, "How the hell did we end up here?"
Yeah! I love that. You kind of have to step up to the plate, once in a while, close your eyes and just say something.
What do you think creates your chemistry with Rich beyond the open tunings?
I think it's just a mindset. I read this Keith Richards interview a long time ago, where he discussed what he looks for in a second guitar player. He said any musician has to be sympathetic, and that really struck me. I've kept that idea close. You have to be sympathetic to the rest of the band.
Listening to Warpaint, I hear a different tone in the interplay. A lot of times in the past the guitar conversation has been built on friction, the sparring of the two guitar players, but now I sense a greater continuity between the two guitar voices in this band.
Adam, the new keyboard player, is right up the same alley. We'd be playing in the studio and I'm trying to work off the music, accentuate the riffs, but also stay out of Chris' way while filling in the holes. Adam was doing the same thing, and somehow we didn't end up stepping on each other. You have this whole conversation going on, and when it clicks and nobody's talking on top of each other, it's exciting.
I'm impressed with their ability to get so many voices going at once and not have it be just a muddle. By the way, I'm really knocked out by Adam's playing, too.
He's really creative. It's that Nicky Hopkins role. You gotta have that badass piano in there. Players like this are rare.
Warpaint is all the strengths and pretty much none of their weaknesses. It's a neat thing after waiting seven years for a new album.
With the whole band, everybody is really looking forward to the future and seeing where it'll take us. The whole move for me (joining the Crowes) I felt was potentially an important thing for rock 'n' roll, not just for me or my band or their band. It feels like we have the potential to do something that rock 'n' roll needs. It's a spirit that you conjure up.
It's one thing to sit-in or record with these guys but you made the decision to be a full member of this band. Were at all you nervous about that?
Definitely, and definitely with my family and our family business it was a lot to sort through but it was seductive & appealing to me from the jump. So, I knew I had to make it work.
As a musician, I'd imagine you're searching for a sympathetic vibration with your mates, and there's such a good rhythm section in this band to vibe on.
Steve is so fucking cool. He grew up with the guys, and he seems like the third brother. He's as good as they come, and he just plays so hip. Sven is so musical. We really hit it off doing those Circle Sound shows. He cares about it so much, and wants it to be right and beautiful and musical. I can relate to that. He's been a big help to me.
I love watching Sven onstage. He throws his whole body into it.
He really means it. They all do. If the bass player has a good feel it translates to the whole audience. I think (John) Medeski said this but if the bass doesn't have that feel the audience knows it. It affects everybody in the room because the bass is so powerful.
Steve just hits harder than any drummer I know.
(Laughs) He rocks! Rich told me that he and Steve grew up together and learned to play together. They have that unspoken, telepathic brother bond. His riffs aren't your normal stuff. I've been studying the repertoire and some of his riffs are complicated, but he makes them feel so casual. In any great band, the drummer's personality and style is one of the strongest things that draw you in.
They're such a vocal heavy band. How are you hoping to integrate into that?
Do you mean as far as me singing?
Well, I'm hoping to do as little of that as possible (laughs). They haven't asked me to do anything. I grew up trying to sing along with the Black Crowes but I could never do it! Hopefully I'll just stay on the strings (laughs)!
That'll keep you busy enough. Is it at all intimidating to try and learn such a huge catalog?
I've seen Jimmy Herring's (Widespread) Panic book, and that helped me in a way. With so many songs, I grew up with them and know them by heart. I have them internalized from growing up loving them. I think Rich and I have the potential to get into some pretty good action on these guitars.
Warpaint really feels like a band record, where everyone is pitching in at every turn.
I've loved all their records but this one does feel like a classic. It's a very mature, rootsy kind of statement. Rich and Chris have such a good writing collaboration going. I write songs with (the North Mississippi Allstars), so I know how it goes. Chris and Rich are a classic pair. Rich writes some badass riffs.
"Goodbye Daughters of the Revolution" has such an amazing opening. I can't believe you really love rock 'n' roll if you don't love that song.
(Laughs) That was the perfect example of hitting the note. We were working on arrangements, going back-and-forth, and then we took a break. As we were strapping it back on, Rich gave me some advice about my part that changed the direction. Then, that take it just clicked – a moment in a room trying to make something happen and it happened. That's what it's all about in the studio. We were all in the same room. I had my amp in a fireplace about five feet from the drums (laughs). I was like, 'Damn man, I can't mess up.' But that's how real classic rock is made.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on December 28th,2007.
BC Paul Q and A
What were some of the thoughts or intentions you went into this album with?
Paul Stacey: I wanted to make sure it was organic, and that we'd be going with more takes with everyone playing (at once). I think the Black Crowes have always done that but these days there's lots of overdubs and fancy plug-ins that let you airbrush mistakes. We only did nominal fixes, like you used to be able to do on analog tape, on the odd note but only the tiniest amount of editing.
Given the high polish and computerized pitch control of most rock albums these days it's refreshing to hear a band actually playing on a studio release.
Paul Stacey: What you're hearing are actual performances from everybody on the day we recorded. When I listen to records today I don't really believe them. It's like magazines that tell you about celebrities where everything's airbrushed and made up. For this kind of rock 'n' roll, especially with the Black Crowes, what you hear should be what they are. Forget label worries and making singles for radio, I just wanted them to sound like the Black Crowes breathing and having fun and enjoying the way they play.
Did playing live with them help you when it came time to produce them?
We can't go back and do Southern Harmony but we talked about how that album sounds very natural and how the band sounds like they're enjoying themselves. I felt like after everything they'd been through it was important to come back to that feeling. The main reason I agreed to tour with them was to see how they worked together. Being on tour you really get to know people and earn their trust. They understood I wasn't there to change what they do. I just wanted to capture them at their best. They're all world-class players but to get 15-percent more from everybody takes a certain level of trust. When we got down to it they all gave that extra bit.
The minute I heard Warpaint I was struck by what a good match Luther and Adam are with this band.
As soon as I heard them all play together, I said, "This fits." I do get bored with people saying "organic" or "natural" but with the Black Crowes it needs to be. You don't need to add any icing to what they are.
There's an intrinsically primal thing about them that can't be easy to capture in the studio.
If you apply what is now normal recording techniques, which is basically to smash everything together so it's very in-your-face, you then have to mix the dynamics in with faders to make it sound like it's lifting up or exploding. But with this band you don't need to do that because they have their own internal dynamic. You have to keep everything as open as possibly to capture their real dynamics. That's what you're hearing on the record.
We were very lucky to find this room at Allaire Studios. We used The Neve Room, and it's not too splattery or echoey. It's open but not too reverby so you don't have to damp things down too much. It was kind of like everyone playing in a circle together. That place helped the atmosphere and general vibe of the record.
It's amazing how the actual physical space a record comes to life in carries over onto the tape.
The room that we recorded in the desk is in the room with the band. It's called a Studio With No Walls. The only way you can find out what you've recorded is to listen after you've recorded it. In a funny way, it's kind of how the band is. Instead of being overly anal about a guitar or drum sound, we just had to get the mics up, make sure they were at the right level and then press record. I would wander around the room and make faces at people during a take. They were playing to me and whoever else was in the room. I'd be standing up, smiling at them, as if to say, "Come on, let's have it!" Everybody could see each other and was communicating. That's the spirit that was captured.
Interview conducted by Dennis Cook on January 8, 2008.