Gary James' Interview With
Solo Artist and Founding Member Of Black Crowes
On June 24th, 2016 Eagle Rock Entertainment will release the new CD "Flux" from Black Crowes founding member Rich Robinson. Eagle Rock has previously released expanded and re-imagined versions of Rich's solo albums including "Paper", "Llama Blues", "Through A Crooked Sun" and "Woodstock Sessions", which was released on both CD and colored vinyl, and Record Store Day exclusives of "Got To Get Better In A Little While" on 10" vinyl and "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" on 7" vinyl. Rich's artwork was recently displayed at both Morrison Hotel Gallery in New York City and True North Gallery in Canada. In May and June of this year (2016) Rich will serve as special guest guitarist for Bad Company. Rich and Bad Company lead singer Paul Rodgers met and collaborated on a tribute to Jimmy Page. Rodgers was so impressed that he invited Rich to be a part of the Bad Company tour. After the stint with Bad Company, Rich will embark on an extensive U.S. solo tour.
Q - Rich, what's different on "Flux" is that you can actually hear the words the singer, you, are singing.
A - Yeah.
Q - That's not always the case with so much of the music being produced today. I have no idea what these singers are singing.
A - Yeah, exactly. Kind of weird, right?
Q - It is strange. I take it you never slur your words.
A - I try never to slur my words.
Q - Not that there's anything wrong with it. Mick Jagger has done alright, but it just seems to be more of the norm these days.
A - Yeah, definitely.
Q - How much is riding on the success of "Flux"? If it does well, they'll probably come back and say "Let's have another CD." If it doesn't do well, will they say "Not so fast"?
A - Well, I don't really know. I'm not really looking at it like that. I'm looking at it like I'm making my music. I don't really judge things like that.
Q - But, have the record company people said anything like that to you?
A - Well, they've never said anything like that to me. We're really just focused on releasing this record.
Q - Will you be promoting "Flux" when you're on tour with Bad Company?
A - Well, I'm not promoting "Flux" by doing that. I'm promoting "Flux" by doing my own tour directly after that. The Bad Company tour and the Joe Walsh tour is just the filling in for Mick Ralphs because he wasn't able to do this tour. I met Paul last Fall (2015) and he was really cool and he asked me to kind of fill in. I was like, "Okay, great. Yeah." In the minute this thing finishes on July 3rd in Nashville, I start rehearsal on July 14th and then go on tour immediately after.
Q - Were your solo albums released on vinyl?
A - Not "Paper", not the first one. But the other two were. "Through A Crooked Sun" and "The Ceaseless Sight", but "Paper" was never released on vinyl. I re-mixed the whole thing. It was ruined in Hurricane Sandy, all my gear, my tapes and everything were stored in a storage facility in Weehawken, New Jersey and so when Hurricane Sandy came in it destroyed everything, including those tapes. A friend of mine restored them and pulled as much information as he could off of them. So, when he restored them they showed up and didn't have vocals on them and so I had to re-sing it. So, I re-sang the whole record and re-mixed it and re-mastered it and we added three new songs that weren't on the record. So, that was a cool thing. So, those came out in February (2016) and so did "Mama Blues", which is an EP that I made that came out on vinyl and then in April (2016) "Through A Crooked Sun" and "Woodstock Sessions" came out.
Q - How much demand is there for vinyl? Was that your idea to put them out as an LP?
A - Yeah. To me, from what I understand vinyl had it's biggest year last year (2015) since 1994. More and more people are buying vinyl 'cause I think they realize what they're hearing and what they're dealing with isn't really what they want anymore, being sold things not unlike a mop. Just some sort of weird, crappy product. It's not doing it for people anymore. I think they're looking for a greater, more authentic experience. By listening to music via an analog signal, listening to it on vinyl, it's far more rewarding. There's a process to it and there's something cooler about it.
Q - How do you prevent your equipment from getting ruined again in the future? It has to be expensive to replace.
A - Well, you find a storage place that's on higher ground. You can't really prevent it. No one really thought that would happen, but it did. You try to find a storage space where it's not gonna happen. But, at the end of the day it's just stuff. It's just wood and circuits really. Ultimately people have insurance and they get reimbursed as much or as little as insurance companies are willing to pay and that's just how it is. It's just life and it goes on. Music really comes from me, not from a guitar or an amp. Really what the sound is is how I play it or how this other guy plays it or how Keith Richards plays it or Jimmy page. How musicians play is really what makes the sound. By letting go and seeing that it's cool to not let it affect you or drag you down. It is what it is. You move on. You get some stuff.
Q - "Flux" means change, doesn't it?
A - Yes. Absolutely.
Q - Or a fluid change.
A - Yeah, it's more like a fluid change into another chamber or however you want to look at it. So, absolutely. It's all part of my experience. This record represents where I go next. To me, I've always believed in letting things happen naturally. That's what I've always focused on.
Q - Gene Simmons recently said that Rock is dead and Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers basically said the same thing a few days ago. Do you agree with that?
A - I believe Gene Simmons is one of the reasons why Rock 'n' Roll is dead, because all he cares about is money. Everything they do is basically whoring out music. It's cool to make money. It's cool to be successful. One hopes that they can be. That's why everyone gets into this, to be able to play in front of people and have people like what they do. That's why people make music, because you want other people to experience this and connect. It's great to be successful, but there's also a purity in the sense that you can create music for the sake of you own expression and for the sake of just making the music you choose to make and basically being authentic about the whole thing. If that is your ultimate goal, chances are people will really dig it and be into it. People like Gene Simmons are in directly one hundred per cent for money. So, what that guy says about Rock 'n' Roll really means nothing to me. I don't know what Flea said and I don't know what he's thinking. I think a lot of people feel pretty disenchanted with the music industry because a lot of fans who were there when music started, when this Rock 'n' Roll thing started, are moving on. They're older. It's harder to go out there. These people that have been in charge now for twenty years, basically bankers, have ruined it. When I say bankers I mean any corporate person who gets involved and only cares about making money. These people have really ruined the music industry. They've ruined the film industry. They've ruined a lot these industries because all they care about is money. They don't care about allowing the artist to create. They don't realize or have contempt for the people that create the music or the art of the film that supports them. So, the world in a sense is topsy-turvy that way, in this creative world. So, right now I think there's a lot of despair in the sense of people and how they perceive Rock 'n' Roll music fits in today. But I think it's a bigger, broader problem. People in general don't have respect for music, but I feel it's backlash because these record companies have really had contempt for the fan and the artist. So, when you're fed the most basic vapid music that you can get and that's written by a committee of ten people who sit around and try to write little words or phrases that make people want to buy your record, that mean nothing. At the end of the day, that's what the problem is. But, I think there's an underlying bubbling wave of people that are starting to get back into it and starting to check their intention. Starting to really like look and saying maybe this would sell but I don't really need to do that because it's more important to me to create something that's a little more pure than that. Once that happens and starts kicking in I think all those people will go away and the music industry will be saved and Rock 'n' Roll music, which is a much broader term than people try to use it for, will come back.
Q - Your brother Chris told The Daily Telegraph back in 2010 that he finds it embarrassing that adults are like, "Taylor Swift is very talented." "She's not. She might be cute, but she's horrible." He goes on to say "They (meaning today's singers) have stylists who dress them, they make records with producers who play a chord into a computer and it all comes out the same." Can a producer really do that?
A - Well, I don't think it was necessarily meant to be taken literally, but what is true is that, yes committees write songs. They get together a lot of people. They sit around, and like I said, one guy writes a word here and another guy writes this and another girl writes this and this, is what it is. Ultimately that suffers because music is supposed to be an artist's expression. It's your expression. It can be a band or a solo artist or it could be two guys in a band or the whole band, whatever it is, however that works it's supposed to be your expression based on what you see in the world based on what you listen to based on the ideas that you have about these things. But what happened is, because like I said, bankers and corporate people get involved and they want to make money and they have to report to their shareholders, everyone sells out a bit of that. Then it just becomes what can sell, what's the best way to sell it and it's really cynical. You take an artist and you put them here and you have fifteen to twenty people write their songs and they have a producer. Basically what producers do and computers do is they can be a great tool if you know what you're doing. You can use these things as a convenience. Certain things on Pro Tools you can record for hours or with tape you gotta change the tape. There's certain elements that are good from both. It's not all bad, but on the flip side is how people use that tool is really the majority of popular music today is to take all this humanity out of it. So, they'll take any flaw, if a chorus speeds up or a verse slows down or whatever it is, take that out because that's not perfect. If someone hits a bad note, take it out. They do this. They do like market research. Will this be permitted? It's far more popular than that one so let's do this. It's a really cynical way to create. It really sort of goes against the humanistic element of music that I personally love and that most bands I grew up listening to had. The human quality of it, the differences, if someone sings a little flat, the drummer plays behind the beat a little bit, if the guitar player is leading in the forefront, if the bass player is playing these specific lines, everyone has their uniqueness. When all of these things play their unique part in this band or in this song then that song becomes unique to that band. That's what I love. That's what I've always been into. I love the fact that John Lennon can't sing like fuckin' Josh Grobin.
Q - My criticism of shows like American Idol or The Voice or The X Factor is telling contestants you have to have this perfect five octave voice range when most Pop / Rock singers don't even come close. And some can't even sing at all.
A - Yeah. And then it just turns into this slick shitiness that I've never cared to listen to.
Q - Who are these singers that have committees writing songs for them? Is it Britney Spears? Jennifer Lopez? Beyonce?
A - Absolutely Beyonce. All of them. That's just the way it's done now. People just come in and do that. Look man, that's their life. That's what it is. There's a greater problem in the world and it's beyond music or the creative thing, it's that we're not taking humanity into consideration. We're not taking people into consideration. That's where the issue lies. I think what Chris was talking about is something he felt passionate about and it is what it is.