by Andrew Aprile
Modiba recently spoke with Steve Gorman, drummer of the Black Crowes, to talk about their most recent release, Croweology, an acoustic double album retrospective of the band's catalogue celebrating the 20th anniversary of their breakthough debut, Shake Your Money Maker.
From the top of the rock n' roll charts to an acrimonious break up in 2002 and back again, the Black Crowes currently find themselves among an elite group of enduring rock bands. Steve Gorman, the Crowes' drummer, attributes their resilient and resounding success to honest friendships, an exuberant originality, and a defiant stubbornness. Never willing to be pinned down, the Crowes have continued to renew themselves, honing a sound that has attracted the most ardent hard rockers, sentimental sing alongs, and a growing jam band base. Gorman considers the band's improvisational prowess, a lynchpin of their evolving live sound, to be "mole-like": "finding our way through... we're just diggin'. If a road we come down... comes up dry, we'll try and figure out the next thing that works." Their persistence and integrity have facilitated an embryonic identity that, true the band's roots, constantly begs the questions, "Does this feel like us? Does this feel good?" Ultimately, Gorman acknowledges that, more than anything, "we wanna be a band we like."
Croweology, released August 3, suggests a study of the Black Crowes, yet the exclusively acoustic format points toward a stylistic departure from the electric roots that have come to define the band's sound. Rather than re-release or re-record classic songs, this summation explores uncharted territories from the band's catalogue. In some tracks, as is the case with "Hotel Illness," the result is stunningly fresh, according to Gorman, "a stonesy country honk kinda thing" that propels its subdued, yet rollicking vibe. The new acoustic context affords the band a comfortable home in the present, somehow maintaining the Crowes' trademark bombast while affirming their dedication to a a genuinely raw sound. Gorman can't help but harken back to the band's seminal experience with the legendary Jimmy Page, a two-year relationship in which the Crowes became a pseudo-Led Zeppelin band, recording the classic live album, At the Greek. Gorman recounts how Page, during rehearsals, would remark on "the spirit: If you didn't feel it, you could tell. And if you did, you could tell. It's a matter of locking in." The band has found that focused intensity on Croweology; you can hear it in the way the musicians click together and, most of all, in their spirited performance of songs that have been brought to new life.
If you hear shades of Led Zeppelin III on "Thorn in My Pride," or evocations of other classic acoustic rock n' roll records (ie., Beggars Banquet, Every Picture Tells a Story) in the revamped renditions that comprise Croweology, it is not a conscious effort. As Gorman states, "they're just stamped into our DNA... that stuff is as much a part of who we are as a band as any other series of records." Gorman himself responds to the acoustic context with subtleties in dynamics that push the band and allow the musicians to lock in so that the listener can only hear and enjoy the work of a group that has played together for so long. "We take how we play as importantly as what we play." This dynamism has made the Black Crowes a great live band, one whose greatness was thankfully matched with the glory of selling 5 million records with their first go in 1989. They may have stumbled to success with classics like "She Talks to Angels" and "Jealous Again," but they are certainly not jaded. Both the music and Gorman's words exhibit a youthful enthusiasm for music making. Not that the band doesn't know about the trials and tribulations of growing up together. They have learned from the past and all indications are that their future is bright, if uncertain.
The Crowes have just embarked on their "Say Goodnight to the Bad Guys" tour. Each three-hour concert will consist of an acoustic set and an electric set showcasing the bands hits as well as their relentless innovation. The tour will be followed by an extended hiatus that underscores the need for healthy break from the mutual understanding and acoustic evolution that have marked the Crowe's career.
Croweology is being offered in a stunning 3-dimensional pop-up digipack that makes you wonder why frontman Chris Robinson didn't have a role in Where the Wild Things Are. The band is supplementing their physical product with the launch of the webisode series, "20 Years of Tall Tales," on their site, www.blackcrowes.com. The webisodes feature a series interviews with Chris that chronicle the band's notorious history.