Chris Robinson: The Black Crowes singer is back and at the top of his game

Sitting cross-legged on a sofa in a London hotel, Chris Robinson is reflecting on how, nearly 20 years ago, his band The Black Crowes crept in under the radar and stole the rock'n'roll crown.

"I don't think there was a less likely group of people around to make it in a band," he says. "Our mentality was that to be mainstream, or in any way popular, was bad. MTV was totally shallow and the bands on it representative of the corporate music business that we would never be part of. Then two years later, we were on MTV five times a day and selling millions of records."

When they appeared in 1990, on a music scene dominated by big hair, big riffs and even bigger egos, The Black Crowes, with their cartoon bell-bottoms and penchant for Southern-style blues rock, were an anomaly. Yet their wilfully unfashionable debut album Shake Your Money Maker, which borrowed heavily from The Rolling Stones and The Faces, yielded a string of hits, including "Jealous Again" and the Otis Redding cover "Hard To Handle".

At the time, though, there was no one like them, and the Crowes often found themselves performing at heavy-metal festivals. "Back then, our intro song was 'Sex Machine' by James Brown," Robinson says. "You could see people in the crowd going: 'Who the hell are you, and what are you doing?' We were these aliens in velvet pants and blue eyeshadow, channelling the magic and mystery of roots music. But there was no other place for us."

By 1992, grunge had sounded the death knell for hard rock. Yet the Crowes continued to scale dizzy commercial heights – they have sold in excess of 20 million records – while indulging in the hedonism that was the calling-card of their Sixties and early Seventies forebears. The Crowes were loud about their love of cannabis and, in later years, candid about their experiences with heroin and cocaine.

It's no wonder that by 2001 the band had apparently reached the end of the road. Years of touring had taken its toll. Lions had been poorly received and Robinson and his guitarist brother, Rich, were no longer on speaking terms.

"The biggest uncertainty was whether me or my brother could continue to make music together," says Robinson. "Swimming upstream all that time took a lot of energy and after a while we just stopped communicating. We were all frayed at the seams, whether through drugs or just plain exhaustion. We weren't in contact for a while. There were unresolved issues, a lot of shit wasted along the way."

But there was another reason why Robinson's mind wasn't on the job. "In 2000, I fell in love," he says mistily. "I had never felt anything like that before in my life. It kind of took me over." The object of his affection was Kate Hudson, who that year was Oscar-nominated for her role as a groupie in Almost Famous. The weekend after they met, they moved in together and eight months later the pair were married by a shaman. At 34, Robinson was 13 years older than Hudson and for a while they were Hollywood's golden couple. But in 2005, they separated amid rumours of infidelity and divorced soon after. "We get along pretty good now," says Robinson. "We've got a four-year-old son and his happiness is the most important thing to us both."

That same year, the band played a series of low-key shows in New York. That the five-night run sold out in minutes was enough to convince Robinson that the Crowes had a future. "No matter what, I'm always interested in making music. To get the band back together was very exciting. I'm sure that the ghost of Christmas past will come back to haunt us at some point, but I hope that we'll be smart enough to deal with it head-on."

Of their new album Warpaint, their first in seven years, Robinson says it is the culmination of a lifetime of influences. "We're not supposed to still be here, or be relevant, or making music that's this passionate or fulfilling to us. It's not that surprising to us as it happens every night when we play live, but there are many people who think we shouldn't still be up there."

Musically, the album is business as usual, with the Crowes churning out their infectious blend of bar-room blues and Southern-fried soul. But there is a new emotional urgency to the songs. From "Oh Josephine" ("For a while I was dealing in tears and powders/ For a spell I was strung out beyond my means") to the closer "Whoa Mule" ("It won't take long to sing you my song/ Full of trouble and despair"), Warpaint alludes to the many war wounds, both personal and professional, that have been picked up along the way.

Twenty years on, The Black Crowes are a very different proposition – older, wiser, considerably hairier and more than able to show the little blighters how it's done. Drugs may not be completely off the menu – "That would never happen!" – but it's all in moderation. "Life is different than it was in the Nineties," Robinson says. "I'm a dad, and there are other things I have to get done in an afternoon than just being an artist. Part of getting older is realising that you can integrate all these different areas of your life, rather than the adolescent mindset, which for me lasted a long time, which says, 'It's all or nothing.'"

Much has changed in business terms, too. Having parted company with their label, the band have started their own, Silver Arrow. "We were always frustrated, because success didn't offer us any more freedom than we had with our first album," Robinson explains. "We operated with a certain level of passionate defiance. But there we were, young and from the South and idealistic, making all these corporate entities millions of dollars but not seeing eye-to-eye with them about how to operate. Having them tell us what we should do was pretty galling."

With the shifting technological climate, Robinson says there's never been a better time to be making music. "With time and experience comes a different perception of what's going on around you. Now as a musician, if you have it within you, you can create your own reality. Believe me, it's a novelty. Right now, I've never been more impressed by the new bands that we meet. I may be 10, 20 years older, but we're all on the same page about culture, music and life. After all these years and in this time of chaos within the music industry, I think our band has flourished. We're at the top of our game."

'Warpaint' is released on Silver Arrow today; The Black Crowes play Brixton Academy (0844 477 2000) on 9 April

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
‘The Late Late Show’ presenter James Corden is joined by Mila Kunis and Tom Hanks for his first night as host
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss