After the Black Crowes decided to take another hiatus last year, frontman Chris Robinson and keyboardist Adam MacDougall began working on a new project. But instead of heading straight to the studio, they assembled a band and toured the country testing out some new songs. Chris Robinson Brotherhood just released their first album, Big Moon Ritual, a collection of '60s- and '70s-inspired psych-rock that channels the Rolling Stones, the Byrds, and Gram Parsons.
You traveled 13,000 miles with these guys while road-testing the band. Who was in charge of picking the music you listened to, and what album or albums were in heavy rotation?
It was just us in the van. We had no entourage. We are the farm-to-table, psychedelic, American rock group. I took over the DJing, and I was in the navigator seat. That being said, we're all obsessive music fans. We listen to different things — from Invitation to Openness by Les McCann to the Byrds' Dr. Byrds and Mr. Hyde. We'll get down on some Can and some Stanley Brothers. Charley Pride live — that is a big one. Eric Dolphy records, John Abercrombie records. Hank Williams.
The Black Crowes are often compared to the Faces, but your taste in music runs the gamut — from the Dream Syndicate to Dylan. Do you get frustrated by the way that critics describe your music?
I thought about this the other day. People are so impressed with themselves for the most transparent comparison. Oh yeah, Faces. OK. I'm proud of you. Your knowledge is from these lofty heights. I still get the Faces' comparisons. With this record, people are like, "The '70s." To me, I always thought, "What is Green Day?" They look like late-'70s or early-'80s hardcore. Are they anachronistic? What is a band like Nickelback? If that's what today is, I would gladly be considered some archaic dinosaur.
The ending of the new album's first single, "Rosalee," is super-trippy. Were any drugs consumed during the recording process for that track, or was the performance all-natural?
Well, some drugs are all-natural anyway. If you can find your way, there are plant technologies that will give you great results. For us, it's about the culture of what we're trying to make and who we're talking to. People who can get into a trip like that, for us, we find it easy to communicate and get into those spaces. We take those moments of nebulous inspiration and then you find yourself there.
I know you're not a fan of American Idol. Do you watch any music-related music reality shows?
No. I don't watch any TV like that. What's the interest in that? Happy clean people who want to be liked and be popular? That has nothing to do with the way I've become an artist for the last 20 years. It was never a popularity contest. It was never, "Like me! Look at my smile!" Yeah, you had your teeth whitened. I don't care what you have to say.
You've got two nights scheduled here. How will the set lists vary?
I have no idea. We ended our tour last year with four nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. This year, we even added a night. We get to rehearsal tomorrow, and we have some new songs we started to work up. We're always adding a few choice covers here and there, and maybe we'll pick a few older songs from the New Earth Mud record that we haven't gotten to. By the time we get to Cleveland, we'll have two nights of music for everyone to get down to at the cosmic sock-hop.
Any plans for what you'll do here in your free time?
Yeah. I've been coming to Cleveland for 20 years. There's a really good used record store down the street from the venue [Blue Arrow]. I definitely plan to be there. That's one of my favorite stores in the Midwest. Just stuff like that. I've never been interested in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but to see [Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John] Cipollina's rig would be fucking cool. That's something I can get into. I need to go to take a gander at that.
Do you know anyone who works there who can show you around?
No. Knowing us, we would just go and pay for our ticket and see what we want to see, and then no one will have to ask us something like if we like Billy Joel and we can split.