Rich Robinson on his new album, how it differs from the Black Crowes and being a frontman

As guitarist for the Black Crowes, Rich Robinson has played his share of big venues, but on tour in support of his brand new solo album, Through a Crooked Sun, he's playing more intimate venues, like the Soiled Dove Underground, where he'll appear tonight after an in-store at Twist & Shout at 6 p.m. We caught up with Robinson recently and talked to him about making the album in Woodstock, how the music differs from his first solo album and the music of the Crowes, and being a frontman.

Westword: How's the tour been going so far?

Rich Robinson: It's been going great. The fans have been great. It's been really fun. The band's been getting better every night. Joe and I have played for, like, seven years, off and on. And our keyboard player is just really cool, and he played on the record, so he was right there with us. So it's just been going great.

Who's playing with you on this tour?

Joe Magistro, Steve Molitz, who plays with a band called Particle and played with Phil Lesh for years, and this guy named Brian Allen on bass.

What was it about those guys that made you want to go with in particular?

Well, Joe, he played on my first solo record, and he's just great. Just really talented, and he's a good friend. So that was easy. As far as keyboard players, actually, my agent was like, "Oh, I know this guy named Steve Molitz who's great." I called him, and he's such a cool dude. He came up, played on demos I did for the record, and we just thought he was so cool, and everything he played was great. So we were like, "Damn, we're there."

It sounds like making the new album in Woodstock was a pretty cool experience. Pretty relaxed kind of vibe.

Yeah. Definitely. We made the last four records up there. The Crowes did Warpaint, Cabin Fever and some demos up there, and I went up there as well for this record. I really like it up there. It's a peaceful place.

How do think working up there affected the overall vibe of the record?

To me, it just flowed really well. It's such a cool setting. Everyone was so cool, and it kind of just added to the whole album. It's a place that's very conducive to being creative and kind of touching in on something.

How did making Through a Crooked Sun compare to making Paper?

With Paper, the band had just split up, and I had just put together another band, and it didn't work out. And I had written all these songs for Chris [Robinson] or another singer. So, I'm not the type to just quite so I just said, "Fuck it. I'll do it." I'd never sung lead before or anything, and I'd never written lyrics and had only sung backup. So Paper was more like a learning process for me.

It was definitely coming from more of a frantic place. It was like, "This is what I do. I have to do this" kind of thing. But I also learned an incredible amount by doing it. I learned about writing for my voice, what keys worked for me, these kind of things. I couldn't have gotten to this place if I hadn't done that. So, for that reason, I think it was great. But I feel like this record flowed a lot more. I was a lot more comfortable with everything I was doing.

I was reading about how you were calling the new album kind of an optimistic record.

Yeah. You go through things and you come out the other side. For me, these songs are about coming through into a more positive space, instead of just harping on negative things. People tend to get what they get out of records, but that's my frame of mind and kind of where it came from. It's more from a step forward instead of looking back. These are the places I was, and here's where I am.

Going through some of that stuff, like with your brother, has that made you stronger as a person and a musician as well?

Yeah, I think so. Anything that doesn't kill you makes you stronger, the age-old adage. I think that going trough all that, if you can learn from it and it can help, than good for you. That's what we're here for.

You've got some great players on the new record, like Larry Campbell and Warren Haynes, John Medeski and Karl Berger, who played with Ornette Coleman. That's a pretty cool vibe interlude on "I Don't Hear the Sound of You."

That was really cool playing with him. He really was one of the best. He's just a lovely guy, but still such a vibrant musician and still so cool and really masterful at what he does.

How is it being the frontman now and handling singing duties?

I think the last time it was a little harder. But this time, I feel more at ease. Again, I just feel more at ease. I'm happy to be playing these songs. I'm happy to be playing with these musicians. There's no baggage involved. Everyone's just in a really positive mood. We're kind of moving forward, so, in that sense, it's really kind of cool.

Being up there, it's not like I'm front of 2,000 or 3,000 people a night. For that purpose, it's kind of cool and intimate, and I get to see people that I've seen at the Crowes' shows for years, but in a far smaller venue. But they're incredibly supportive, everyone that shows up. It's really cool to see that. It really is a true gift. It's cool to be that close to people that you kind of know through these years but that you never really got a chance to talk to or whatever.

Do you like playing to smaller, more intimate venues?

It's cool because it's me. It's just me going out there. Instead of the Crowes, it's different. It's fun. It's not a whole thing. It's just us playing and that's a really cool place to be.

Is your writing process any different than, say, writing for the Crowes?

I still write the same way. I have these ideas and just kind of turn them into songs. That's kind of how it's always been. I think the shift is kind of like understanding where my voice is going to fit against all that, and to be able to do that, is a really good place to be.

For people who haven't heard your solo material, how would you say it's different from the Crowes stuff?

It has more of what I call early '60s British pop sensibilities on some of the choruses. It's definitely like a different thing. You listen to it and it sounds like me, but it's still different. I think there's a lot on the record that kind of runs the gamut. There's a lot of influences that I draw from. So I don't know. I don't know how I could wrap it up. I really like and the people that come to the shows really like it so I'm really happy with hit.

Were there any particular influences that might have seeped into some of the songs?

I'd say from Tim Hardin and J.J. Cale kind of vibe on a song called "Falling Again." There's some more Pink Floyd-type stuff on a couple of songs. It's definitely kind of different.

Do you find it cool exploring a different side of things?

Yeah. The Crowes are the Crowes, and that's what they are. To kind of get out of that and be able to go to certain places is really cool.

The Crowes are on hiatus for now and there aren't any plans to do anything in the near future, right?

We just have a plan to have no plan.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon