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The Black Crowes Are In Full Flight

Posted in MusicWorld on July 31, 2001 by

For starters, Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson wants to dispel those rumors that he and his wife, Oscar-nominated Almost Famous co-star Kate Hudson, plan to audition for the third edition of reality series Survivor. "I don't even know what that [rumor] is," Robinson says. "Someone mentioned that to us, but I have no idea what that's about. I don't even watch Survivor; I watch 'Sexual Harassment Island,' whatever that thing is (Temptation Island)."

Robinson is devoting himself to other survival games, anyway: the music industry. The Black Crowes are in full flight again, with a new label home on V2 and a new album, Lions, which is the Crowes' seventh release since forming during 1984 in Atlanta. It made a promising debut at number 20 on the Billboard charts, but after years of battling with record company executives looking for hit singles rather than artistic development, Robinson says the Crowes approached Lions with markedly different goals.

"The one thing we wanted to do in particular was not to be bothered with 'What is the single?' or any of those kinds of side conversations," the 34-year-old singer explains. "We didn't want to have any distractions or interruptions . . . or we weren't going to do it. There's just no reason to do this if we're not completely free to do what we want. I don't think we can reach the type of musical goals we set if we don't. We have a tremendous amount of ambition as far as what music means to us and what it means to be able to make music as far as our creative process."

Produced by Don Was and recorded in a renovated Yiddish theater in New York City, Robinson says Lions came from "a wellspring of inspiration," much of it stemming from the band members' personal lives. His brother Rich and drummer Steve Gorman's wives each had babies since the group's last album. And, of course, there's the elder Robinson's high-profile marriage.

"Falling in love was the most profound thing that happened to me like that," says Robinson. "It's like one day you take a walk in the park, and the next day things are never the same. That's dramatic change and the type of thing that's inspired people to sing for centuries, and paint and everything else that's art."

He likens the approach the Crowes took on Lions to the group's second album, 1992's widely lauded The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, the lone chart-topper in the Crowes' catalog.

"When we went in to make Southern Harmony, it was just a dream," says Robinson. "We really saw music in this dream sort of state, a beautiful thing, how music really is the most important thing and that freedom, what that meant to us on a lot of levels. This was the first time since then that I've seen music from that - I hate to sound too flowery - but that sense of wonder, like, 'Wow, anything is possible.' I can't say I've felt that way about it in a long time."

It was a desire to get that feeling back that led the group to change labels, he explains. "When looking back, I can say Southern Harmony was the only pressure-free record up to [Lions]. We got off the road and people were so busy adding up the columns of what we made that we went in for a week and made a record without anybody sticking their noses in there or trying to tell us we should do this or do that. . . . I'm still so interested in music, and I think we're in an enviable place; none of my contemporaries that I'm good friends with seem to have made six albums. So commercial failures and successes have nothing to do with my reason for being here, creatively."