Adam and Eve may have been duped into eating the forbidden fruit, but Chris Robinson walked right up to the tree of good and evil, plucked the apple from its branches and ate it as he walked out the gates of paradise into a mortal life.
He didn’t think twice because he was never that interested in paradise to begin with. From his early days roaming the streets of Atlanta as a kid, Robinson came to music looking for nothing more than a gateway to reality and since then, that’s been the only goal worth shooting for.
“Music is a conduit to be in the present,” he says. “There’s a spiritual element when people are sharing emotional content, a dynamic that occurs when everything — the electricity, the energy — flows in the right direction at the right time. It’s magic.”
In the pursuit of such “sonic enchantments,” Robinson left his post at the helm of The Black Crowes, leaving the glamour of rock stardom as well, to get back to the life of a humble, hardworking musician. Since 2011, he’s been playing with The Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB), a band he says reminds him why he started playing music in the first place.
Now 50 years old, Robinson has created his own family of misfits in CRB: guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall and drummer Tony Leone. The crew boasts varied career paths, each spending years touring, recording and playing around the world, honing their skills into expert mastery of their craft.
Self-managed and self-produced, the band has total control over their creative process and output, and they’re prone to retreating to a recording studio in the mountains outside of Stinson Beach, California, for weeks at a time, leading to prolific periods of creation. Their time in the private studio is a microcosm for CRB — without anybody to set the rules, there are no rules — an experience Robinson describes as total freedom.
Big Moon Ritual, the band’s debut album recorded in Los Angeles in 2012, set a firm baseline for the band’s identity — a psychedelic rock band with characteristic long, complex songs that give way to jammy interludes bolstered by collaborative spirit and sturdy lyrics.
In the summer of 2015, the music underwent a transformation. As Robinson moved north to Marin, California, the Nor Cal rock ‘n’ roll vibe (perhaps best expressed by the Grateful Dead) infiltrated the hard rock foundation of CRB and cracked it open, making room for a modern hippie vibe. CRB’s newest album, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, and its companion EP, If You Lived Here,You’d Be Home By Now, are decidedly more spacious and patient than the band’s previous releases.
Anyway You Love achieves an emotional depth not yet heard in the music of the Brotherhood. The tempos are still upbeat, but they’re more complicated, tethered by lyrical stories of tragic heroes, angry tales of the workingman and reflective autobiographies. Robinson’s first love is for writing, and on this set of songs, it shows.
“I wanted to express a little bit more of a melancholy mood on some of these songs,” Robinson says. “The tougher stuff is not to be whitewashed. It’s indicative of our age as musicians, but also of the broader climate of the country — culturally, consciously and subconsciously.
“No matter who, no matter when or where or how, we all experience the same range of joy and ecstasy, pain and degradation,” he continues. “No one is immune to the harsh reality that life brings us sometimes, no matter who you are. I want there to be great imagination in the lyrics, but it’s important they are also real.”
He writes his songs like theatrical scenes that unfold with the magic of cinema, not just telling a story, but also trying to give the audience the opportunity to have an experience of their own. It’s as if The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is inviting you into their world, saying, “pick an apple from the tree, fall with us and enjoy the ride.”
“I mean, music is just that,” Robinson says. “Either you are on the side of the river watching it float by or you are in [it] swimming around and letting it take you where it takes you. That’s beautiful — beautiful. That is magic.”
He pauses and laughs. “I’m guess I’ve been lucky,” he continues. “I’ve always had art. I’ve always had literature. I’ve always had music. I’ve always had writing. I’ve always had strange, mad people in my life.”
On the Bill: The Chris Robinson Brotherhood. 8 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, Ogden Theatre, 935 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-832-1874.