When I spoke with guitarist Neal Casal back in 2015 about his work with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood (CRB), there was a clear and present professional admiration he had for the band and its founder. As he describes it, CRB is a brotherhood in one of the truest forms.
“I think we all feel that way,” Robinson affirms over the phone last week, almost three years later to the day. “One of the cool things about [CRB] is, between all of us, we’ve got a lot of stuff going on—a lot of sessions, a lot of touring—and this was before we were even doing [CRB]. . . . The other lucky thing is we haven’t really hit a level of commercial success, or generating the kind of income that creates egos.”
CRB debuted their union in early 2011 and from the onset Robinson—known of The Black Crows fame—had at least one thing in mind: Start on the road and go from there. In a year they released “Big Moon Ritual” (June 2012) and “The Magic Door” (September 2012), but they played roughly 120 shows before recording one note in a studio.
“In a sense, to have the added freedom of not having ‘hit records,’ we don’t have something to live up to; we don’t have to make a quota for the record company to have a Christmas bonus,” he muses. “What we’re really trying to achieve is soulful, dynamic, and something we feel is beautiful. Freedom, really.”
While CRB has a live album—a continuation of their “Betty’s Blends” series—slated for a September release, their next studio record isn’t expected until next winter. They finished tracking the album just before the leg of their summer tour started. “For a band that’s not in the music business, we put out a lot of records,” Robinson quips.
While each member has his own history and collection of bands they’ve been a part of at one point or another, Robinson knows commercial success very well. He also understands commercial success doesn’t always equal fulfillment.
“The Black Crowes was something that happened in another time—of course we were working hard, but it was almost something that happened to us in a system that was there,” Robinson offers. “I think CRB is something completely different, in terms of it’s something we made. It’s more DIY in a way and just a more roots level.”
In almost a decade, Robinson and company have never tightened the reins or mapped out a course for their music. They let the notes fall where they may, so to speak. “That’s part of what makes it easier for us,” Robinson adds. “There’s no real rules or dogma attached.”
He boasts an air of positivity as he talks about CRB, the music and the nature of both. They seem to bring him to his center.
“Some people take yoga and I have a band,” he says. “Music has always been that for me. . . . We live in a time with great trouble and anxiety. Our leaders are full of fear and hatred; they want to bring us down to their lesser vibrations. As an artist, I’m searching for a higher vibration and more progressive state to live, learn and love. That’s something new and different and ever-changing.”
Though there is a continuation of some rootsy elements they have been bringing to Wilmington in recent years, local fans will hear new beats during the weekend’s GLA show. While the last few records have been more collaborative amongst the players, the forthcoming studio album includes songs solely written by Robinson. It’s the first summertime record they’ve cut, as opposed to the “moody winter” recordings of the past. It shows, too.
“In a lot of ways, it’s more uptempo and I think the songs are … I don’t know if ‘happy’ is the word, but definitely a lighter mood,” he describes. “I wanted a record that didn’t have any acoustic instruments, more uptempo, some songs we could really add to the repertoire of our touring, wherein we could interject these songs into the show.”
True to CRB form, already they have been playing four of nine new songs on the road. From “Servants of the Sun,” they’ve introduced tracks like “Venus in Chrome” and a love song called “The Chauffeur’s Daughter.”
“I think these are in the canon for CRB,” he says. “I think we’re a little too rock ‘n’ roll for the jam-band scene, and we jam too much for the average rock ‘n’ roller. I would hope there’s a little more progressive influence to some of the sounds here; I wanted this be more ‘live’ sounding and less layered.”
If CRB has been consistent on anything, it is the fact that change is the only constant. “It is the eternal nature of everything,” Robinson notes. “I find the constant of living my life as an artist and person is always [in the music], and when, where and how is always changing.”