The former Black Crowes guitarist talks about his band, The Magpie Salute, and the release of their latest album, High Water I
ANTIHERO: You’ve got a brand-new Magpie Salute album out. A new album, but not exactly a new band.
Rich Robinson: Not quite a new band, but kind of. I mean, I guess bands take a while to kind of become a band anyway, you know what I mean? But yeah. You know like last year, the way I looked at it when you do it more of the way you, we weren’t planning on being a band. We went out and had fun and sort of celebrated the music that we had played in the past. But as we got out there and realized how much fun we were having and how great the band was, that’s when we decided to really make an album and basically step into our own skin. That’s what this record is.
ANTIHERO: What about the songs themselves? Are they all naturally, organically created as new songs in the studio, or are some of them may be a few songs that you had lying around that you’d maybe written over the years?
Rich Robinson: Some of the songs had been around for a little while. I brought, I just said to me, John, and Marc, you know, we went into the studio and wrote a bunch of stuff and my thought was like, let’s just throw everything on the table. It doesn’t matter how old or new. Let’s just see what happens. We threw everything on the table and just kind of picked through it and whittled it down and that’s when we went in and made the record, or both records, actually.
ANTIHERO: What about the creative process itself? I guess it’s easier when you know the other musicians already and you have previously worked with them both live and in a recording studio.
Rich Robinson: Well, I mean yeah. John and I had written songs before in Hookah Brown. And I really was a big fan of Marc’s solo work and his approach to songwriting, which is different from mine and John’s is different from mine. So, I thought the three of us together really had something special.
ANTIHERO: What about the whole creative songwriting process? Do you find that’s something that becomes a little easier or indeed more difficult as you get older?
Rich Robinson: I find it, you know, it’s just a flow. When I play, sometimes I’ll record some stuff. It’ll be cool, and I just have pieces to whole songs, some pieces here and there that I just like, and I keep, and when it comes time to writing we’ll throw ’em on, kinda put it out there and see what happens. As far as writing with John and Marc, look, whatever serves the song and whatever serves the band is what became key. If there was a song that I didn’t think I could add anything to, I thought it was great, I didn’t and the same goes for Marc and John. We’re all there to serve the sort of greater good of the band and the song and the record. So that’s ultimately how we view it.
ANTIHERO: Does it become though more difficult when you’re also producing? Is it kind of difficult to separate the musician/producer roles? Or is that something that you just got used to?
Rich Robinson: No, I didn’t find that. Everyone has their own opinion, and I welcome suggestions, those kinds of things and it was really cool. And everyone really trusted me on the sort of vision I had. But if someone was “hey, let’s try this”, we would try it. And if it worked, everyone knew it. And if it didn’t work, everyone knew it, and we moved on. There was no, really, the catch comes with ego, and everyone in this band has buried their ego or never really had one anyway. So, I think that’s a really cool way to look at it. And just to be able, a good song is a good song, and a good performance is a good performance, and that’s really what we needed. That’s what we were looking for and looking at.
ANTIHERO: Of course, you only released The Ceaseless Sight back in 2014. I just wondered, did you actually miss working in a band format rather than as a solo artist?
Rich Robinson: I mean, look. When I would tour as a solo artist, I toured with my band, and it had that element to me. But just forming a band is mighty. The cool thing about this is there was no master plan, there was no, the only thing it was is, I was touring, supporting my last record, Flux, and the show came up, and I invited Marc and Ed, and when they showed up it just felt great. It felt special.
And so, we decided to, let’s put a show up for sale. Let’s put three more up for sale. Oh, let’s do a tour. Oh yeah, remember last summer when we played those shows together and recorded them, let’s put that out, just see what happens. And that’s really how it was. There was no forethought of I miss being in a band or this or this. It was literally just like, hey man, sounds really cool, I really like these guys, we sound great together, let’s do this. And we keep it positive and that’s really, all of those elements combine is what really has brought us here to this point.
ANTIHERO: Do you find it personally frustrating that no matter what you create musically, people always only want to talk about one band, they don’t really seem to grow and evolve with you? Musically?
Rich Robinson: You know, look, because The Black Crowes were a very successful band, and, it was the first context in which someone got to know me, within. And then, to have that strong connection with me and Marc Ford and Sven, and at first Eddie Harsch. All of those connections to that band. It’s hard to ignore. Let’s just put it that way. And I understand that, and I’m proud of that band. I wrote those songs with my brother, and we toured around the world, and we had an impact on a lot of people’s lives. And so, I can understand that.
I, just right now, everyone in this band is really excited about this music. And if this new thing reaches success, and reaches a lot of people, and becomes known, then people will start talking to me about this. But I’m sure Dave Grohl, after years of putting out Foo Fighters records, now can exist on the Foo Fighters. But early on, I’m sure everyone always asked him about Nirvana. I mean, of course, that’s the way it’s going to be.
But now he’s having his own time and his own success, and his own songs, and that’s a really cool thing. But I am here to talk about this new band, and this new band is what really excites me right now and moving forward.
ANTIHERO: What about a touring schedule? I understand that you have played in the States with the Magpie Salute, quite a few dates. What about the touring schedule, are there plans for you to bring the band to the UK and Europe a little bit more? Over the forthcoming year?
Rich Robinson: So, we just got back from Europe and the UK, so we just did five acoustic trios, and we ended in London at this four hundred seat club, and it was really nice just to be there and do some promotion and put our foot down. But we’re coming over in November-December to do a full month-long tour of Europe and the UK.
ANTIHERO: What about the setlist then, obviously, for those shows, it’s going to primarily feature, are you going to play all the new album?
Rich Robinson: Yeah, we hope to play, every night we’re playing a vast majority of the new record.
ANTIHERO: Yeah, because I understand that the last time on the shows that you did quite an extensive, let’s say, songbook, from all of your careers that you touched into?
Rich Robinson: Yeah, absolutely. We did solo songs, we did Crowes songs, we did covers, and all sorts of things. And last year was more of like a review. It was like, we were out there celebrating the music we had done in the past.
But now that we are here, and we’re really focused and really loving this record and the direction that we’re going in now, plus we have a new record, another record coming out early 2019, which is a companion to High Water I, …High Water II. And we’re looking at it as a whole piece. Pretty soon we may start playing some of those songs, so yeah, we’re really excited about this. But we still do covers, and we still do a bunch of stuff.
ANTIHERO: And you also have the experience of playing with, outside The Magpie Salute briefly. You also have the experience of playing with Bad Company. How was that?
Rich Robinson: Yeah, I just filled in for a leg, like four weeks. It was great. Paul was great, Simon was great. It was really cool to play with those guys, and Free was one of my all-time favorite bands. So to get to play with half of Free was really cool. And in America, Bad Company was really big, and I remember hearing all those songs on the radio. So, it was fun, it was just literally, just something to me that was, I didn’t have to, it wasn’t my band, I didn’t have to, all I really had to do was show up and play these songs. And they’re good songs, and it was cool to play, and Paul sounded great, Simon sounded great, everyone in the band was great. So, it was just fun, really. It was a good departure for something for me to do.
ANTIHERO: Just a couple then to wrap up. Can you recall the very first song you figured out how to play on the guitar?
Rich Robinson: Yeah, it was a Dylan song, a song called “Oxford Town”. I learned it…my dad had the record. So, I learned it off the record.
ANTIHERO: What in your life would you be most proud of?
Rich Robinson: My kids.
ANTIHERO: Who would you personally like to sit down and interview? Obviously, you’ve worked with greats, like, you mentioned there Paul Rodgers, worked with Jimmy Page. Would there be anybody that would be somebody, be a personal inspiration or hero to you, maybe not even a musician, who you would like to sit down and interview yourself?
Rich Robinson: Yeah, I mean, there’s a ton of people. I was fortunate enough to meet and, but I’m not on an interview level, because I’m friends with him, this sort of author and historian, his name was Howard Zinn. And he wrote this book, A People’s History of the United States of America. That was a really far out book. He wanted to write about American history told by, not the kings and queens and presidents and CEOs, the people who won conflicts which is really writing the history. But told from the people. Told from common people and how these sorts of actions affected them and their lives. And he was really a man that I was really lucky to be able to meet him.
ANTIHERO: That’s great, thank you very much. Hopefully, your UK dates at the end of the year will include maybe something in Manchester, and I’ll hopefully get along for that.
Rich Robinson: Excellent man, thank you.
ANTIHERO: Thank you very much. Great to talk to you today, thank you.