By James Wood
Rich Robinson’s new album, Flux—which will be available June 24—showcases an eclectic range of tempos, tones and tunings, all delivered with the same swagger Robinson first made famous with his brother, Chris Robinson, in the Black Crowes.
The album, which features the monster skills of Matt Slocum (keys), Marco Benevento (keys), Danny Mitchell (keys), Zak Gabbard (bass) and Joe Magistro (drums), not to mention vocalists John Hogg and Danielia Cotton, is—simply put—a powerful collection of music.
From standout tracks “Music That Will Lift Me” and “Eclipse the Night” to the groove-laden “The Upstairs Land,” Flux ebbs and flows through different moods, in the end delivering a solid listener experience.
In addition to his new album, Robinson his the road as Bad Company’s guitarist for their current U.S. tour, which he’ll follow up with a tour of his own in support of Flux.
I recently spoke with Robinson about Flux, Bad Company, gear and more.
How would you describe Flux in terms of its sound—and maybe how it relates to your previous albums?
I think everyone builds their own relationship to music. That’s what’s so cool about it. For me, this is a natural progression and another step in the journey of where I’ve been and what I’ve done since I was 19 and Shake Your Money Maker came out.
Flux was recorded at Applehead Studios in New York. You’ve mentioned that you love recording there. What makes the place so special?
The studio and people up there are just great. I really like being up in Woodstock, and I spent a lot of time going there when I was living in New York. There’s just something about being there that I really can’t describe. Whenever I’m there, I always tap into something special.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
The music is what elicits the lyrics. It’s how I do it now and how I did it with the [Black] Crowes. With the Crowes, after the music was written, I’d give it to Chris and he’d listen and come up with lyrics. For me, it’s about fitting a melody to what the song is based on and how it makes me feel. I’ll listen to what the music is saying and usually something will come. I like using the energy of the studio to create. With this record in particular, I went in with a bunch of parts. I also like the time limit and sense of urgency to it. You have to get in there and make decisions quickly.
Let’s discuss a few songs from Flux. What can you tell me about “The Upstairs Land”?
A lot of times in the studio there’s a process you follow. Sometimes, something can be cool and then when you flesh it out, you’re not really feeling it. Then it will suddenly take a left turn and become your favorite thing on the record. There’s no rhyme or reason to it. Zak Gabbard came in and played bass on that song, which was really cool.
“Music That Will Lift Me”?
That was a song I had that had been bugging me for a while. To me, it’s a microcosm of the overall record. In my opinion, we’ve really neglected music as we’ve moved forward into the 21st century and the smart-phone era. We’re bombarded by music everywhere we go, but people don’t really pay attention. Historically, music is something that goes hand and hand with life and love. There’s something that should be honored about that.
“Eclipse the Night”?
I’ve always been a huge Sly and the Family Stone fan. There was a song on the last record [The Ceaseless Night] called “Inside,” and this is the sister to that song. It has that same sort of jubilant side to it.
Will you be touring to support the new album?
Yes. As soon as this tour with Bad Company ends I’ll start rehearsals with my band. We’ll be going out in the States in July.
What’s it been like touring with Paul Rodgers and Bad Company?
It’s such a cool thing. With the Crowes, we were fortunate to play with a lot of our favorite musicians, like Jimmy Page, the Stones and Neil Young. We also toured with Bob Dylan and the Grateful Dead before Jerry [Garcia] passed. Paul’s voice is as good as it ever was and for me, it’s just so cool to be up there.
How did your relationship with Paul begin?
It was pretty natural the way it happened. I met Paul last fall when we were honoring Jimmy Page in Seattle. There were a bunch of bands playing Led Zeppelin songs, and Paul was there because he was with Jimmy in the Firm. Paul asked me if I wanted to come up and play on some of the songs with him. We had fun and wound up saying goodbye. Then when Mick [Ralphs] wasn’t able to do this tour, they called me up.
Did you always know music was going to be your calling?
I didn’t really know what I was going to do when I was 15, but that was when I started playing guitar. One thing I started doing immediately, though, was writing songs, because I’ve always felt the song was the gift. Looking back now, things happened pretty quickly. By the time I was 19, we were already making Shake Your Money Maker. I never knew that I’d still be doing this 27 years later, but I’m happy about it.
What’s your current setup like?
It’s constantly changing. Right now, I’m playing my old Marshall Silver Jubilee and my Reason amps. They’re a small company who’ve made a few amps for me. For club dates, I’ll usually use smaller amps like a VOX AC30 and a Reason.
What are some of your best memories with the Black Crowes?
That’s a huge swab in my creative career. My brother and I were in it since we were kids, and I’m proud of it. But it is cool to be able to say we played with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Stones. Then having Jimmy Page in our band for a year and playing Led Zeppelin songs. Doing all of those types of things—each one is a great thing in itself.
Having said that, what excites you about this next phase of your career?
I’m looking forward to getting out and playing the new music and having people hear it. It’s always cool to watch the process go from nothing to a record to a tour. Then the record becomes the stepping stone to the rest of it. As these songs tour and grow, they’ll continue to shift and change. It’s amazing how they mature; not unlike children. How they can become something else in the long term is what really fascinates me.
For more about Robinson and his projects, visit richrobinson.net
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.