In 2011, after more than 20 years
of intense gigging and recording, Chris
Robinson set off to shape something new, a fresh rock mythology, a
breathing kaleidoscopic thing stuffed with chooglin' soul, bedrock boogie and
shuffling wisdom birthed in intimate clubs and amongst the tall trees of the
Golden State and eventually taken nationwide as the Chris Robinson Brotherhood evolved.
What began as an experiment without expectations turned into a 118-show
journey for Robinson (lead vocals,
guitar), Neal Casal (guitar, vocals), Adam MacDougall (keys,
vocals), George Sluppick (drums) and Mark Dutton (bass, vocals)
that surprised these seasoned pros as music of unshakeable solidity and
exuberant reach poured out of them, a New Cosmic California sound with tendrils
reaching to the original Fillmore West, Topanga Canyon and outwards towards far
horizons that finds its fruition on the CRB's studio debut Big Moon Ritual (arriving
in June), to be followed by companion album The Magic Door
"People were surprised to see a
van roll up and just the band and our tour manager roll out," says Robinson.
"I'm lugging around this hippy-fied custom Twin Reverb amp at gigs and loading
out at the end of the night. Some people
asked, "Why are you doing this?' Because
you build a temple brick by brick."
"This music is unashamedly what
we're into," says Robinson, who cites Neu!, Melanie, Flatt & Scruggs, Mel
Tillis and Morton Subotnick as regulars in their van listening. "It's not a psych band because you have a
Prince Valiant haircut and wear Beatle boots.
It's psych because that's where our heads are. We want to make music that blossoms. We want to make music that sounds cosmic."
For a full year, the CRB road
tested their ideas, and in the process turned into an empathetic, limber
congregation of talents, something different than any of their previous work
with the likes of Phil Lesh & Friends, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals and
JJ Grey & Mofro. By the time of their
sold-out four-night run at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall last
December, the Brotherhood were fully switched-on. This is the band that entered Sunset Sound in
Los Angeles in January 2012, setting up shop in Studio B and coming out the
other side of a six-day session with 27 different songs with 97 takes, most of
it captured straight off-the-floor with only minor enhancements after the fact.
"Part of the master plan was not
to do anything besides touring the wheels off the thing for the first go-around,
and it worked for us and allowed us to figure out who we were," says
Robinson. "One of the best things about
the lack of a proper music business is if you have an idea, you can do
something. If everybody is on the same
page, and it's not about the dough on the table, and it's really about
something you believe in, then you can get there."
The fruits of this hard-charging January
session are heard on kindred albums Big Moon Ritual and The
Magic Door, with each song cycle spotlighting seven tunes, including a
cover of Hank Ballard's "Let's Go Let's Go Let's Go"--to be included on The
Magic Door--already a CRB setlist staple.
"It's about being boutique," says
Robinson. "If before you wanted to have a million people hear what you do, now
we're making music the right way for the right people. When we got to these cool
sonic spaces we took advantage of them.
It was totally the most radical recording session I've ever done,
especially in terms of aesthetics."
Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Devendra Banhart, Papercuts) produced the
record. "Thom and I have wanted to work together
for a long time," says Robinson. "We talked about it at a show in Los Angeles
and I told him as we stood behind George's drums, "This is it (gesturing at stage gear). We're not bringing anything else with us into
the studio. This is what brought us here
this year, so this is exactly what this is gonna be. We didn't even change strings from the last
Cali run [laughs]."
The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is
also a torchbearer for rock's 1950's roots, tapping the catalogs of greats like
the Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley for their ever-changing cover tune
selections-and this band does have a way of truly inhabiting the work of
"Remember, when they shot that
satellite into space a few years ago, Chuck Berry's music was on there," says
Robinson. "My thing is bringing in the
lost language of rock n' roll. I find
myself listening to tons of fifties rock music and the songs are just so
great! Still, we maintain our zero
gravity sound even in these tunes, and when we get into it really good, we
consider it a classic California space boogie."
"We really feel these records set
the stage for another full year, where we'll see how far we can go with it,"
says Robinson. "We already feel
successful because we have the freedom to do what we want. And it's always cosmic. The times demand it."