Former Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson had, not secretly, been in a problematic relationship with the band that made him famous for some time. In the final couple of years leading up to the group’s disbanding, he began collecting some songs and formulating ideas for what his next steps in the musical world might bring.
He thought back to the very beginning, on what shaped his love for music and performing from the start. It all went back to his time as a purely local musician, playing for the love of music alone.
“My infinite wisdom came up with, in a sense, walking away from everything that has made me successful in music,” Robinson said. “The second part of that idea as I looked around — because I had attempted said exodus in an early project that didn’t work — was like, ‘How do I make this work without being too simple about it?’”
What he landed on was putting together a California-based band, a collection of local musicians who could easily practice together and perform throughout the area, from a logistical standpoint.
“I get together a group of guys,” Robinson said. “We all live in the same town. We can rehearse here, and we can get it together. Then my idea was for all of us to jump in a van, just us, and do nine weeks of residencies and work out this new batch of tunes I was working on and see if we become a band.”
That nine weeks saw almost 14,000 miles bouncing from city to city in California, the band rapidly making a name for itself. But what the group was unwilling to do was follow any sort of conventional path on its journey to playing the music the members truly felt and believed in. Ditching the traditional path of making a demo to striking a record deal and going on tour has opened their door to creative freedom.
“A real working rock band lives tour to tour,” Robinson said. “Part of the freedom (is) from not having some business jerk from some label come in and say, ‘Hey, I don’t like that bridge.’ It’s like, ‘Who asked you? I don’t like your shoes. You still picked them out and bought them.’ If you’re going to have investors, you have to listen to them. Our only investment is our love of music.”
That freedom really shines in The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s fourth and latest studio album, Barefoot In the Head, a record that was almost completely written and recorded in just two weeks.
“In the Barefoot record, the main difference would be that no one had heard any of the compositions before we got there,” Robinson said. “I had a couple of pieces and we had jammed the first chorus at sound check. But we truly wrote, arranged and recorded 11 new songs in 14 days, and that includes a song that wasn’t on the record. I think the idea of being in the present helps this band on our level communicate.”
Robinson acknowledged the world as increasingly materialistic and precarious. As such, what holds the band and its music together, and potentially even humanity itself, is the group’s ability to do just that — live in the present, with something that means more than typical societal expectations.
“Timothy Leary was an egomaniac even after 10,000 acid trips, but what he said in a cliche time bubble is, ‘Tune in, turn on and drop out,’” Robinson said. “Well, you can do that now without having to leave everything behind and move to a hippie commune in Colorado. ... You can turn off your TV, and you can at least try to recognize the corporate trance machine of status and wealth. You can remove yourself from the fear-driven propaganda. You can do that with the food you eat and the music and the corporations.
“I’m no prophet and I’m no weather man, but I’m imagining when times become more anxiety-filled and you feel the fear and hatred tangibly, you’re going to want to really have a good relationship with something soulful, or something more meaningful.”
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood
The Intersection, 133 Grandville Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Nov. 12, 7 p.m. $20 adv / $25 dos
sectionlive.com, (616) 451-8232