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flag US - Georgia - Full Moon 58 - 07/05/01

The Black Crowes
The "most Rock'n'Roll" Rock'n'Roll band speaks

This year saw the release of the sixth studio album by The Black Crowes, Lions, an album that received really mixed reviews. While some reviewers didn't get the idea of a band just doing what they want, others called it a return to form of a band that had to struggle quite a bit in the mid-90s, after getting into trouble with their then record label, declining commercial success and band members leaving.

Lions is kinda split in two parts; an more experimental first half, and a "back to the roots" second half, which includes songs like the current single Soul Singing, definitely one of the band's best ever songs. It's no Shake Your Money Maker and no Southern Harmony... either, but still a damn fine record.

Besides, even if you don't dig their albums, The Crowes are still one of the hottest live bands around, and they prove that right now, touring Europe with Neil Young. We met the band a couple of months ago in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Lu.Ka.: What's it like to be in The Black Crowes in early 2001?
Rich: "It's WAY different than being in The Black Crowes in the year 2000... I mean that last year really.... (laughs)"
Steve (also laughing): "It's the same thing it's always been for us, I guess, in most ways..."
Rich: "It's been better this year, I think, because we always have been on labels where we've been at odds with the people for some reason and granted we've been on a lot of labels, because we were always on American, but we would switch from Warner Brothers to Geffen to Columbia... Being in business with people or a partnership or whatever you want to call it, you have to have a lot of trust and it's hard to really gain that if you're leaving every two years and also when you don't believe in the people you're working with. The president of our label was a complete and total talentless asshole. His name's Rick Rubin. We didn't like him, we didn't like his views on music, we just couldn't stand him. So the great thing about these last couple of years is that we're free from that and we are working now with people - including V2 and Don Was... and Jimmy [Page], too! - who are more interested in sort of taking what we do and giving us freedom to do what we do, because for the last ten years we had to fight for what we do. And we've never given in and said: 'Okay, we do whatever.' We've always made our records, but it's always been a fight."
Steve: "We spend about eleven years just focussing on being our own band, which is an odd thing these days. I think most artists are just happy to let the record companies dictate to them what they should do to be successful. For us from day one the goal was never to do that. To us, being successful is just being ourselves. If we're allowed to be ourselves, THAT is the success. That's what's hard to accomplish in the music world - to have your own vision and to create that. That's been such a struggle, so now having people come to us and say: 'We liked what you've done and we'd like you to continue to do it, let us know when you're finished' that's actually a big difference in being in The Black Crowes. The energy that we have expanded over ten years time, fighting people that are supposed to be on our side, but really aren't, that's gone now. The inner circle vibe has always been the same though."
Rich: "There's this weird dynamic. If you make people a ton of money, they want it all the time. So we made this one record and it was huge. We made another one that was huge, but the people [we've been working with] got into this mindset that we'd have to do that every time and if you don't listen to them and don't make them as much money, they get pissed! (Rich and Steve both laugh out loud). Especially in the situation that we were, where Rick Rubin built this huge label around us... they went out and signed a hundred bands, made tens of millions of dollars and rented out the top floor of this Burbank building, spend all this cash, really tried to build this big label and they did it based on us and that put pressure on us in a weird way and we never allowed it - we turned our back and said: 'Hey, fuck you! We make records and our first two sold well but these are the records we make and these are what we stand by'. We wanted to play this music even though they told us people wanted to hear Shake Your Moneymaker and Southern Harmony. I'm incapable - and I think Chris is too - of sitting down and writing a song that will appeal to people. I don't know, I couldn't guess what millions of people are gonna like. I can only write music coming from how I see things. It's the only way I know how to do it."

Lu.Ka.: I believe this is the first record in a while that you recorded in one go?
Rich: "No?"

Lu.Ka.: I thought there were sessions for this album called Tall... [and Rich didn't let me finish my sentence: And Three Snakes And One Charm used some outtakes from earlier sessions and even By Your Side was recorded in two different sessions]
Rich: "... that was only on one record, that was Amorica. Yeah, we made two records, the first one wasn't that good so we made another one and it was better."

Lu.Ka.: How do you feel when you enter the studio with 20 or so songs. Is it difficult to break it down to ten or twelve for the LP in the end?
Steve: "When you start you never know what's going to happen. Don Was was talking about this before this record: The day it starts he's always nervous, because he doesn't know what this is going to be and we're like that, too. We don't go into the studio with a mapped out plan of songs. As we record the songs, some are favorites for the day, but once the whole body of work has been recorded, there's never a fight about what goes on the album and what goes off. It pretty much falls into place. If there's a twelve song record, there's at least ten songs that we all agree on out of the twenty that are there."
Rich: "Some of the songs we don't even record because it's just not working. The record takes shape while you're making it. Then it because really apparent as to what's gonna fit and just because we cut a song doesn't mean it wasn't any good, it just doesn't fit with the directions were gonna go. Most of the new album was actually done in pre-production, what we would've called demos. We went into rehearsal, to start pre-production and just started working on songs. I bought a studio this year and I bought ProTools last year and we have it in the studio and we recorded everything and it was great. That was all the performances we used. About 85% of the record were done at this rehearsal studio called Montana in New York. Then we moved to the studio to start recording, Lay It All On Me, and Ozone Mama, were written at Theater 99 and we recorded Midnight From The Inside Out, Miracle To Me and the seguing into Cosmic Friend there, but most of the record was done at the rehearsal space and it was really cool."

Lu.Ka.: What was working with Don Was like? Was it like you expected it to be?
Rich: "It was different from what I expected, because when you work with somebody like Don you hear fifty different stories, some record companies were like: 'You're never gonna work with that guy' and that only made us wanna work with him more."
Steve: "Don isn't your standard producer. He doesn't look at the clock, he doesn't check the budget. What's happening today is very much in the moment of all times."
Rich: "He really is a band's producer, because he's a musician himself and he comes from that place. Some of the producers we've worked with... it's self-preservation. It's like: 'If I appease this record company then the next time they have a record they'll give it to me.' A lot of producers are really looking after themselves. Don wasn't like that at all and that's one of the things that's been great about him."

Lu.Ka.: I expected the record to sound a bit more polished, like the stuff Don was done with Iggy Pop or The Rolling Stones...
Rich: "That's what's so cool. He worked with everybody from Iggy Pop and the Stones... he did a record with Medeski, Martin And Wood, a small band in America,... to the B-52s. He's done a ridiculous amount of records, he even did Bette Midler's record. He just choses what he likes to work on and that's a great way to be."
Steve [note that this contradicts Rich earlier statement on "lost albums"]: "We did some demos in 1997 that we never released. It's funny it was the same kinda thing: We went into the studio to do some demos for three days and it turned out to be a whole record and we thought it was really good. That was the moment that American Recordings went out of business and then we ended up being signed to Columbia. At the time we had nothing to do with these tapes, there was no way to put them out and Chris ran into Don and actually gave him a copy of the tape. We looked at the recordings as demos and Don said: 'That's the record, that's perfect, you can just play like a live band in the studio'. That just stayed in our heads for like four years: 'There's one guy who dug it'. And these people are becoming few and further between."
Rich: "When he first heard the songs just on acoustic guitars, he said like: 'Man, this is really cool, sort of sophisticated stuff' and we said: 'Yeah, this is what we do' and we went back and listened to all of our records and he got where we where going and really understood it and liked the fact that we have changed and progressed. Most producers want to put their stamp on a record and I just thought it was the coolest thing that Don just heard these demos in 1997 - a lot of the songs wound up on By Your Side - and he said: 'I'd love to work with you guys, but I don't need to do anything to this record, I go in and TRY to make records sound like this. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. So we'd talked to Don and then this other guy came in and he wanted to change everything (laughs)."

Lu.Ka.: You also lost a bass player since your last studio album came out...
Rich: "It was right before the Jimmy tour. You know what, he freaked out on speed and we don't need it. We fired Marc Ford from Three Snakes... because of drugs and when this guy joined we said: 'Look, we lost Marc Ford who we all love and we do not want to be in this situation again'. Contrary to popular belief we do not like losing members. I'd be thrilled if everyone who was in this band in 1990 would still be here today. Anyway, he was so whacked out on speed that apparently he had a conversation with John Lennon!"
Steve: "It was good stuff!"
Rich (laughing): "It was funny! We got tons of laughs out of it! He blew off a gig, he showed up thirty minutes after we were supposed to play. We've played over a thousand shows and we've never been late. That's one thing we take seriously. When it's time to go play, we play and we do it to the best of our ability. And he put us into a situation that was completely bullshit. We just wanted to talk to him and ask him what's gonna on, because this was not acceptable and that's when he freaked out and said that he and John Lennon are gonna hang out and that John knew our names apparently....(turns to Steve): What was it? He knows your name?!"
Steve: "He's close to me, and knows a lot about me."
Rich: "Yeah, apparently John's knows a lot about Steve..."
Steve: "Well, it's better than the guy in BowWowWow knowing a lot about me (laughs)."
Rich: "So we fired him and hired a guy temporarily for the Jimmy tour, because it was sort of a last minute thing, while we searched for a real sort of bass player."
Steve: "Actually we ended up finding a guy just before we made the record, but he had committed to another tour and so Rich had to play most of the bass on the album. We've recorded in all sorts of set-ups before, so it wasn't an issue to not have a bass player. It wasn't a concern at all. Now for the tour we obviously have a guy."
Rich: "Steve and I, we are the rhythm section anyway, Three Snakes... we cut with Steve and I in a room together the whole time - live."

Lu.Ka.: It's like the Rolling Stones situation where there's just the rhythm section and the lead singers left from the original line-up....
Steve: "Yeah, expect that they are billionaires, that's one difference!"

Lu.Ka.: You may be as well by the time you're 60!"
Steve: "You got a stock tip for me that I'm not aware of? Otherwise I don't think that's gonna happen! (laughs)."

Lu.Ka.: Talking of older guys, you toured extensively last year with Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin playing everything from Zeppelin tunes to Crowes songs...
Rich: "The Jimmy thing was great, I think. It was really fun for us, just to get out of being in The Black Crowes for a year, y'know. And we got to play Zeppelin songs and hang out and just sort of do this thing that was purely meant for fun. That's all it was at the end of the day. People tried to read into it, say shit, but it's like, man, we just did it for fun. Who wouldn't? It was shitloads of fun! When his back got hurt, it was like: 'Okay, we're cool, we just go make a record!' It sucked that he hurt his back, but we still have other shit to do! And we had the freedom to do it and that's what really helped."

Lu.Ka.: There will be more touring with idols of yours this summer....
Rich: "Yeah, we got some offers to tour this summer. AC/DC was one of them, Neil Young the other. Neil Young fitted better with our schedule, but I mean, NEIL! YOUNG! We would've changed our schedule to play with him, but it was perfect timing. AC/DC would've been nice, too, we love those guys."
Steve: "I mean, NEIL YOUNG! This guy is amazing! If you can do anything to associate yourself with one of your heroes, you tend to think that's a good idea. And to have him call us and ask: 'Do you want to play shows with me?' It's an honor! My favorite thing in the world is our own tours, I prefer to play for two hours a night than one hour, but at the same time it's the experience... When we are as old as the Rolling stones and look back, I'm gonna be able to say that I spend a summer with Neil Young, I don't care what the logistics of it are."

Lu.Ka.: So it doesn't it make a difference to be the support act?
Steve: "All these things go out the window when you play with Neil Young or the Stones. We're a very humble band as musicians. There are plenty of people we would never play with, it doesn't matter how popular they are. We chose shows that we will enjoy. You can say it as a joke, but it's true: I'd even say yes if Neil Young called me and said: 'Would you wash my car?'"

If you liked this interview, please also check out the GÄSTELISTE online zine.

Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

Copyright © 2001 David Bluhm e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Black Crowes article/review: Before the Frost....

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