The Black Crowes Offer Advice for New Bands Who Don’t Want to Conform
The Black Crowes' 30th anniversary Shake Your Money Maker Tour kicked off earlier this week on July 20 in Nashville, Tenn., and the show saw brothers Chris and Rich Robinson share a stage with bassist Sven Pipien for the first time since their disbandment in 2015.
After a feud that lasted several years between the brothers, they came together in the fall of 2019 and announced their reunion on the Howard Stern Show, which was followed by a couple of sold-out performances in New York and Los Angeles.
Several months later, the Robinson duo embarked on their acoustic Brothers of a Feather tour, and one of the March 2020 shows has been turned into a concert film presented by the Coda Collection. Fans of the Black Crowes can stream the film, as well as two other sets — "Live at Landgraaf 1993" and 1996's "Amsterdam Sessions" — at this location.
Just ahead of their first 2021 show, we caught up with the singer and the guitarist to discuss what fans can expect from the band on this tour, why they decided to bring Pipien back into the fold and what advice they have for young rock 'n' roll bands who are afraid to divert from the mainstream.
Why did you guys decide to embark on the Brothers of a Feather tour after announcing the reunion of the Black Crowes in 2019?
Chris: I mean, technically it was a promotional sort of tour, like a second-tier sort of thing after we played the electric shows in New York and L.A. We made the announcement that we were back together on Howard Stern. I think it just kind of all fits together in a sort of random way. And [we did it] to connect with our fans in a real intimate way.
Do you think you'd do a tour like that again once the anniversary run is over?
Rich: Yeah, of course.
Chris: Yeah, I mean I think it's a cool presentation for us to play those songs stripped-down, and [it's] very different from what the Black Crowes sound like. You get to really hear, in a sense, where those songs originate from. That's Rich and I in a room writing those songs. It's probably closer to that than what you hear after we've been working on a record with the whole band. The dynamic is different, it's more intimate. I imagine we'll do a bunch more of that, I would hope.
Rich: We're headlining the Newport Folk Festival this summer as Brothers of a Feather.
When you guys announced your reunion, you both agreed that you didn't want anyone from the past participating in the tour. How did you end up changing your minds and recruiting Sven [Pipien] for it?
Rich: Well, 18 months of COVID, I think a lot of people dealt with that in different ways. And I think that some of the guys in the band decided to look at their lives and maybe change what they were doing. And it left an opening. Everyone went through something, and at the end of it, Sven really came to Chris and I's mind. It's something that we thought we were ready for. We spoke to Sven, Sven had gone through some good stuff and we were all in a good place, and thought, "This could be really cool."
Chris: I think the other reality is, is he was the only person that was ever on the table to begin with.
Chris: When we put the band back together initially for the first couple of shows, we were like, if there's gonna be anyone from the old times, it was gonna be Sven. We've been in each others' lives and friends and in a musical sense since 1985. At the time when we were making those decisions, we were like, "Let's just do all new." But Sven was the only person that was even thought of.
And do you think that having a fresher lineup this time around is gonna change the dynamic of the band going forward?
Chris: It already has, it's completely different. The Black Crowes were always... we're not ever exactly what you think it is on the surface, or from far away. "Okay, here's the project, you guys are gonna go play Shake Your Money Maker." I mean, we never did that 30 years ago, we never thought about it, and the years went by.
So for us, it's a very new idea to focus on this presentation of these songs in the album format, to strip away the expansiveness of our sound in terms of the jamming and the covers. We've done everything you can do as a band except celebrate our most commercial record. And I think having this band and putting these people together, it just adds to that. It's like, how do you bring something that's exciting to that? To make it a focused, rock 'n' roll show, which seems like something we haven't done in a long time.
When we were doing Shake Your Money Maker, by the time that was over, we were already onto the next thing. We looked different, our aesthetic was completely different. So having this band and these people in this scenario is like... I don't know, we're weird too, man. We let it all happen as opposed to trying to overthink it.
Which songs from Shake Your Money Maker are your favorite to play live, and which that you haven't played in a really long time are you most looking forward to tackling on this tour?
Chris: For me, it's "Struttin' Blues," it's like my favorite song now. And it's hilarious because we didn't play it for 30 years. But you know what, I still love to play — we're really lucky to have written a song like "She Talks to Angels." For us, it's a song we wrote a long time ago, but for other people, that's a song that's in their lives in the best of their times, and sometimes in the darker periods of their lives. They can resonate with them like music does for us, different songs and stuff.
But I think ultimately, "Hard to Handle" is another one, because, what a gift that Otis Redding wrote that song. I wanted to do that song, I brought it to the band in the summer of '89, and George Drakoulias had a great vision for what that song could be. We're not an R&B band, we weren't not a soul band — we're a rock 'n' roll band. And he turned that great R&B soul song into a rock 'n' roll song. I'm glad to have that as one of our calling cards around the world.
And it's Otis Redding, the greatest R&B singer of all time. So Otis' family has benefited greatly from the success of that record, which makes me very happy, that that comes full-circle back to his family, and the artist he was and the hard work he did, and as a musician in the world has had a great influence.
As the tour is advertised, it says "Shake Your Money Maker and All of the Hits." Are you gonna be doing the album first and then doing the other songs after?
Chris: Yeah, we play Shake Your Money Maker in its entirety and its sequence, the way it is, and then we play the singles, but also the songs we feel that that people expect us to play.
Aside from playing the album in its entirety, can we expect anything else new from you guys during this tour?
Chris: I don't think they've ever gotten that before, so that's it! We never did it the day that record came out. We were playing new songs and different songs, so for us this is completely new territory for us.
What's also really cool is that Dirty Honey are opening for you — they're big fans of you — but just like when you came out with Shake Your Money Maker, they're making classic-sounding rock 'n' roll in a time where that isn't exactly the mainstream. What advice do you have for young bands who are struggling to maintain their identity, because it might not be what's popular?
Chris: I've said it to every band that I've ever met after the success of our first record, and you see it. Today, I wouldn't understand why anyone would ever, ever do anything they don't believe in and love. You see record companies ruin bands, ruin their careers — managers and people telling them what to do and what to sound like, and "You have to look like this." Following trends — none of the bands that we love ever did that. None of the art that influences and inspires us, or at least for me.
And I think the reason that Dirty Honey are doing well is exactly what you said — they're not a producer-driven, auto-tuned, nightmare of just sappy, middle-of-the-road shit. They have a passion for rock 'n' roll, they have a vision for what makes them happy. Play what makes you happy, play what you love, and I think you'll get much further than being a part of some sort of system or equation or the machine, or whatever. And they're great proof of that in this day and age.
I know you guys have talked about new music a bit, are you able to share any updates about where that's at?
Chris: We're still writing, but the world went on pause for 19, 18 months. We're just focused on this, we want to celebrate this record, we want to celebrate our contributions to rock 'n' roll, and that's what this is about. We have plenty of time to get to all this new stuff, it's not going anywhere. We're only gonna add to the pile.
How do you feel when you look back and realize Shake Your Money Maker came out 30 years ago?
Chris: I mean it's fantastic... It would be hard to subtract from our experience and see it any other way because it's such an integral part of what we are and who we are.
To see the Black Crowes celebrate the 30th anniversary of 'Shake Your Money Maker' on tour, see their list of scheduled dates on their website.