Last year, Rich Robinson made it official: The Black Crowes, which he and his brother Chris had founded some 25 years earlier, were calling it quits. What was left unsaid was that he had already invested considerable time laying the groundwork for his own career. In fact, he’d been issuing his own projects for more than a decade. Collectively and individually, they tell a story that is quite different from that of the Crowes. Free and on his own, Robinson would create without restraint, explore without fear, discover and nurture considerable talents as a songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist.
Which takes us to the next milestone — Robinson’s signing in November to Eagle Rock Entertainment. With his next release just around the corner, the label will set the stage by working with Robinson to present, expanded editions of his solo catalog, Far beyond simple reissues, Robinson has reimagined these releases—remixing, resequencing, penning essays and adding previously unreleased music for each album. For hardcore fans and vinyl aficionados, this is reason to celebrate. For Robinson himself, it’s much more than that.
“It’s a great fit to be with Eagle Rock,” he affirms, speaking amidst unpacked boxes at his brand new home. “It gives me the opportunity to represent my solo catalog like I have never been able to do before. Eagle Rock and I have worked together previously. They’d released some Crowes stuff over the years — live videos and DVDs. They always did well. Everyone at the label seemed really into what we were doing. So it was a no-brainer when this opportunity came up.”
Opportunity, they say, is the promise that remains after good things end. “When the Crowes finished, it opened the door for me to focus on what I want to do,” he says. “It was like, ‘I have to do this … next year.’ But now I can focus 100 percent of my time on my own music.”
The first fruit of his partnership with Eagle Rock was a limited-edition 7” single, a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’” released on Nov. 27, Black Friday Record Store Day, backed with the previously unreleased “Words of the Chosen.”
“I’ve always liked the Velvet Underground,” he explains. “And this is one of my favorite songs. I did it with the Crowes as well; it turned out great so I decided to go with — especially because it was cool for Record Store Day.”
But there’s much more to come in the next few months — a parade of Robinson’s previous solo albums, reissued on both CD and colored vinyl. Each is essential listening on its own, a snapshot of a young artist at key moments in his emergence as an artist. Heard in sequence, they become more like a film or a novel, charting his evolution over time.
For the record, there’s more involved in this project than just dusting off the masters and revving up the pressing plant. Bonus tracks have been tracked down and added. And, in the case of one album, a lot of lost material had to be recreated.
“In 2012, Hurricane Sandy wiped out most of my gear,” Robinson remembers. “I’d been storing it in New Jersey, and all of it wound up under water. I was able to save the basic tracks of Paper, but with no vocals. So I re-sang the whole album. It was actually great to get back into that record and understand it more. It inspired me to remix it all; to me, now it’s night and day.”
“The process was quite different when Robinson cut Paper, so to speak. “I’d never sung before. I’d never been in my own creative world. It was a huge learning process to write lyrics for the first time, figure out how things were going to work on my own.
“So when I released Through a Crooked Sun in 2011, I was a lot more confident,” he continues. “I knew what I wanted and where my voice would fit. I had a great studio. I was working with great people. I’m so grateful for Paper because it taught me so much. But Crooked Sun was a huge step up.”
In early 2013, while working on his next solo album, The Ceaseless Sight, Robinson decided to put together what he calls “my lo-fi EP of blues songs. I called it Llama Blues because these two llamas lived on 12 acres around the studio where we recorded in Woodstock. We just went into a tiny room, set up one RCA ribbon mic from the Fifties and recorded. I also made this instrumental EP while I was there, called The Dirigible Utopia.” Material from these projects is lined up and ready to roll, leading to his brand new and currently untitled project in May.
“For The Ceaseless Sight I had basic forms but not a lot of form songs,” Robinson notes. “I just used the excitement of the studio. Well, this new record is even more extreme. I went in with barely a part and created all of these songs. There’s a lot of dark-to-light, moving away from certain things and hitting a flow. It’s hard to describe. It still has rock ’n’ roll elements, but I went to some sonic places I hadn’t gone to before. It’s unlike any record I’ve ever made.”
Stepping back to that broader perspective, Robinson concludes that while he’s pushed himself further than ever in his new music, it still fits into the arc that spans all of the music he’s made, on his own and with the Crowes. “I’ve always been happy with every record I’ve ever made,” he reflects. “With the band and on my own, I’ve always made the best records we could at the time. I’ve never looked back and thought, ‘I wish I could have done this differently.’ That’s not how I think. From when I was 19 and we made Shake Your Money Maker to now, I’ve never tried to make the same record twice. We were always pushing and pushing, always forward. We were free, but it’s been great to get away from always thinking, ‘I’m writing for this band. I’m writing for someone else’s voice.’”
He smiles as his son clamors for attention, insisting that this interview has gone as long as it needed to. “I have no regrets … just a lot of excitement for what’s coming up.