Chris Robinson has seen the sights, so to speak, when it comes to rock stardom. But at age 50, he has largely discarded any sense of celebrity status he embraced during the 1990s as frontman for The Black Crowes.
Today, Robinson is chieftain of his own ’hood — the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, to be exact — a quintet that borrows from the Crowes’ rock, soul and blues heritage, but with a love of looser grooves and instrumentation that have been championed by the jam-band set. More importantly, his band is an in-house project: a self-produced, self-managed unit that pens its own tunes and runs its own record label. That might seem that the law of diminishing returns is in play when compared to the popularity and prosperity the Crowes achieved more than two decades ago. For Robinson, though, the band’s more modest means suit him just fine.
If you had told me that I would be making more music at this time in my life, I never would have believed it.
“The reality is that this, in a weird way, is how it works, in our humble estimation,” he said. “You know, it’s funny as time and circumstance and things trade places. I just turned 50 years old. I’ve been doing this for a good stretch of time. Not as long as some but longer than others. But I’m closer to the authenticity that I was searching for as a younger artist. That, to me, is motivated by the work itself.
“We live in interesting times, full of troubles and full of joys. I see where my watermark is by writing songs. We have the vehicle to express ourselves but have been not been successful enough to have made any recordings that made other people money. That always gets other people in on things. Once something has some monetary worth to a system or an organization or a corporation, if you will, then that becomes something you have to sort of, in a sense, prostrate yourself in front of the next time you do what you do. We just invented a little place and started something where we have the freedom to still make recordings. What a unique concept in 2017, you know?”
In recent years, that freedom has made the Chris Robinson Brotherhood a remarkably prolific troupe. After personnel changes that brought in drummer Tony Leone (of the Americana troupe Ollabelle) to join Robinson and guitarist Neal Casal (from Ryan Adams’ Cardinals band), the CRB released two 2016 recordings: the eight-song album “Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel” and the five-song EP “If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now.” The band recently completed another new album, its first with bassist Jeff Hill.
“Our songs are just the stories by the campfire of our playing, so that part of it is really fulfilling. If we didn’t have anything interesting to say, then all this would be a moot point. But the reality is we’re inventing our culture on the run. It’s taken about five or six years of constant touring to have our own culture, to have our own vibe. The new people come and they’re there, and the people who have been with us for the last five or six years contribute to that vibe. There’s an energy to our shows that’s nice. People go there to feel that and to be part of that. We’re getting to see that kind of community grow.”
I’m closer to the authenticity that I was searching for as a younger artist.
Robinson doesn’t underestimate the importance, though, of the band spirit in the current lineup of the CRB. Robinson said the unit’s strength and focus has helped bolster a love of music making that continues to grow bolder.
“In finishing up this last recording, Neal and I were like, ‘That’s not bad — 23 brand-new compositions in about 13 months that we have proudly put our moniker on and will march out into the hinterlands and play to our hearts’ content.’
“If you had told me that I would be making more music at this time in my life, I never would have believed it. But when you love music and you make music, if that’s what you really want to do, you will find a way to do it. Whether that comes with sacrifice or other people thinking that you’re crazy or saying that’s not what you should be doing or how you could be making everyone more money if you did this, or you could be more popular if you did that, … all those things can’t mean anything when it comes to following the muse.”