Blues rock legends The Black Crowes have been an influential force in alternative music ever since the release of their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker, almost twenty years ago. With a new album out, our own Dan Clarke sat down to talk with drummer and founding member Steve Gorman, and found out that he’s really just in it for the music.
Music Feeds: What’s been happening?
Steve Gorman: The record just came out today. We’re out touring, we started the tour a week ago and we’ll be out for the next four months here in the States. We’re just very focused on getting this thing off the ground.
MF: So you must have been playing some tracks off the new album in the past week. Can you gauge the reaction to the new songs at your live shows?
SG: We know when our new song doesn’t go over and these have been going great. We recorded this album in front of an audience, the new album was recorded live. It’s a good way to do it because we got a pretty good indication as we were making it of what was working and what wasn’t.
MF: Was it Chris’ idea to do it in front of a live audience?
SG: Yeah I was. His original idea was to do it with a dozen or twenty, thirty people in the room, you know and be in a conventional studio. Just if we had like twenty fans who were able to just watch us do what we’re doing. It would give everyone a little adrenaline. So we were thinking about how to make that happen or what kind of studio we could find that would work. Then Chris went up to one of Levon Helms show which he has in a big barn which is a studio also. They had two hundred people in there and Chris right away said ‘This is it, this is the place’. It just worked out wonderfully. We went in there saying ‘well this is an experiment, we’re not exactly sure what we’re going for or what we’re going to get out of this.’ When it was all said and done we got a pretty good record out of it.
MF: Now, the Black Crowes have such a long and rich history, going through quite a few different members over the years. Are the three of you the driving force behind the band? Do you consider yourselves essential?
SG: I would say that we’re definitely essential and right now, with the way the band is operating, I’d say we’re all essential. The band right now is as tight cohesive and focused as it’s been at any point. There’s six of us and I don’t wanna jinx anything, but at this stage it would be nothing short of devastating if anything happened to this line-up.
MF: Over the 20 years of the band what has been the most memorable occasion?
SG: Every time we just get a record out I’m happy, so glad it worked out because so many things can get in the way. But the tour with Jimmy Page, I’ll always hang my hat on that one, cos I got to be a musician and a fan at the same time. We’d had a nice friendship with him for years up to that point and he’d actually sat in with us at Black Crowes gigs a time or two, so we’d already played with him and, you know, we’re very comfortable and friendly. But then for that to happen the way it did – it all started from one night. He asked us to play with him for an hour in London, and that rolled into a tour and then a live record and then another tour. It worked out the way those things are supposed to work out which is like ‘it’s just a good idea, it’s just for fun, oh by the way it’s great too’. I’ll never get over the thrill of seeing him look at me and go ‘go ahead, count it in’. This dude is Zeppelin.
MF: Do you think the sound of the Black Crowes has progressed from album to album?
SG: Every record we do is just where our heads are at at the time. We’ve never seen it as a commercial enterprise. I’d love for every record to sell a tonne of copies, that’d be cool, but when we get in the studio those concerns are just left outside. The new record is a rock n roll record. We look at rock n roll as something from the 50s rather than something from the 70s, or the 80s or the 90s. We still put on Chuck Berry records in the dressing room. You take country music and you add blues music to it, you got some rock n roll music. And you gotta have both, then add a little folk then a touch of some sort of jazz, then some bluegrass and some Appalachian music and soul music.. All those elements are throughout all of our albums. The songs that are picked to be singles on the radio might not reflect all our influences but if you go through the album you’ll hear those elements all through every one of them,. This album has more of the folk and country songs, songs that aren’t an amalgamation, you know they’re just straight up country songs or folk songs.
MF: How has the music industry changed? Does the new state of the industry, with online downloads etc, affect you guys?
SG: We’ve never thought about anything like that. Our first record sold millions of copies but we made that record with just us and the producer in the room. Then it got out and got huge and people from the company suddenly called us and remembered our names and wanna tell us what to do. We were able to look at them and say ‘piss off. We did it ourselves and we’ll continue to do it ourselves’. We came out running in that direction cos nobody else was there except us to begin with. It’s not like we were angry, more confused. Why are you telling us what to do now? We just did it! You just made money because of what we did when you didn’t know who we were so get the fuck out of the room. So our second record, we tracked that entire record in less than a week. The record company thought we were crazy and we were like ‘whatever, get away from us’. This band is like our gang so we weren’t about to let other people tell us what to do.
MF: You say your second was done in a week and the new album was recorded in five nights, do you think the deadlines are helpful?
SG: We didn’t really make those deadlines, that’s just how it happened. We’ve made albums that we spent weeks and weeks on and they turned out pretty good too. I think we’re the kind of band that can work very quickly. We don’t need to play a song twenty times to get the right take. We’ve never done a record where you get the drum take then the bass take then the guitar… We get a take for everybody then maybe do some fixes later. We try to record as live as possible and this album is entirely live.
MF: Do you guys record to analog or digital?
SG: We did Warpaint on tape but this album is all digital. We had to work with what we had at the studio, which was all digital. But it still comes across though, Paul Stacey our producer also mixed the record, he’s an insanely talented man. He lost none of the ambience and warmth in the room that night.
MF: And the million dollar question: will you be heading to Australia any time soon?
SG: Some time in 2010 we’ll be down there for sure.
The Black Crowes will release their new studio CD, Before the Frost… via the band’s own Silver Arrow label and Megaforce Records/Stomp Entertainment on September 4th 2009.
A second album, titled …Until the Freeze, will be given away for free exclusively through a unique download code included in Before the Frost… CD as a thank you to their fans for two decades of support.