Just an hour and half before the Black Crowes are about to hit the stage for the first date of their newest tour, drummer Steve Gorman takes a minute or 15 to chat to us at MTRBWY about the new Black Crowes album ‘Before the Frost… Until the Freeze’ due for release on August 31, as well as their extremely busy career spanning 20 years. He has seen it all and he gives us an insight into the music industry these days and just what happened when the band first hit the scene back in the late 80’s as well as his theory as to why Kurt Cobain is no longer with us.
Hi Steve how are you going?
I’m good thanks how are you?
Good thanks and thanks for taking the time to talk to us
Yeah, no worries, thank you.
So to kick it off, The Black Crowes are about to release their 8th studio album in ‘before the frost…’ with a second album ‘Until the freeze’ being given away with a download code from inside ‘before the frost’ as a thank you to your fans for their support correct?
Tell us a bit about the new album. What can fans expect?
Um, well that album is you know it’s the, every album we make is looking back now at least, it’s just a really great snapshot of where we are right now. And this album is all taken from sessions we did in February / March up at Levon Helm’s barn in Woodstock New York and it was recorded with basically an audience, we had 200 people come in each over 5 nights, each night and we just ran down take after take and tried to get good takes of the record, it’s a live album actually of new material so we wanted to do something kinda cool, something kinda different make it interesting for us and fun for the fans and then when we sat back and listened to five nights of recordings we realized we’ve got a record here already made so it’s a nice sort of, it’s a nice example you know its truly a record of that little brief period of time. And the second album its all taken from the same sessions, I think the first group of songs simply put, tie together like a Black Crowes record a lot of people would expect it’s a, you know all the different elements that we put into you know what we call Rock and Roll music there’s some country touches and some folk stuff and some soul stuff and there’s some blues stuff but it all makes sense as a Black Crowes Rock and Roll record and I think ‘Until the freeze’ the one we’re giving away is it dives a little more into some specific folk, country and like Appalachian influences without really kinda rounding it out kinda stays, it’s a little more of a straight line some country and some bluegrass stuff on there that people might not really associate with the band, so for casual fans anyway, I think, people who have really paid close attention to us over the years aren’t surprised when we do this sort of thing but the casual fan the second record is definitely would be a little not exactly what they might expect from us.
And you’re releasing it on vinyl as well as a double album which is great
Yeah well there’s still enough you know old timer freaks like us who like things on vinyl so we’ve gotta try and take care of everyone
And it sounds better
It absolutely sounds better, in fact there’s never even it’s never even been close in my opinion as to what sounds better
So was recording the songs in front of fans a new experience that you enjoyed?
Yeah it was great, it really keeps you on your toes, I mean simply put, we kinda threw it we did you know we made ‘Warpaint’ in 07 and we really felt good about it getting in and making another record again for the first time in 7 years and that was important with the line up as it is right now and it really set us sort of on a course so when we wanted to get back in it was important to us not to, you know to go right back in to a normal studio again necessarily you know we were just trying to, it was a casual conversation about what we can do to make this more interesting and how can we sort of challenge ourselves and it started as a conversation of ‘lets have like a dozen fans’ lets just give away some raffle thing and we’ll take 12 names and they can come watch us and then it was like ‘yeah’ it started there and that’s it and then by 5 or 6 conversations later we’re suddenly set up in a barn and like 200 people come in it really kinda grew and it turned into a really great vibe for those 5 nights for people that showed up its something they’ll always remember and then they can thankfully it was good enough and we could be happy with it enough to think well actually this could be the next record it’s a great example of where our heads are so it started as things that started small tend to if you keep your eyes on just trying to accomplish something for the moment usually that’s what you’re able to then go forward and take out, if we had plotted this out as ‘lets find a place where we can put 200 people and sell tickets and make a live record and were gonna have to get a live record out of out it, we would’ve blown it, you know, you cant have too many expectations you gotta trust the moment, if the vibe hits and the momentum is there you just grab on and hang on as long as you can we cant really direct these things.
What was the songwriting process for this album? Did you have them already set or was it something that came up in the studio?
Chris and Rich got together with Paul Stacey our producer about a week ahead of the band showing up and we had been working on ideas over the tour last year you know there was a lot of stuff we’d all been playin on but they sat down just the 3 of them you know 2 acoustic guitars and 3 guys in a room with no clutter and just lets write and lets really confirm the arrangements and here’s the songs and so when the band turned up a week later you know we had they’re sending us, they’re making demos and just emailing them over every night so we showed up having heard the songs already and then its like pick this one out here’s the arrangement this is the parts and what does everyone hear then its like then I would have an idea I think the drums go like this and everybody would go try this now try this its like the bass is obviously here you know the arranging part is something the whole bands involved in and that usually comes together very quickly because its really rare that there’s 2 very differing opinions on what a song should feel like, its almost always like ‘oh that’s gotta be like this’ and its like ‘yeah of course’ so we don’t experience a lot of ‘I really hear it this way’ and someone saying ‘I really hear it differently’ at this point we’ve been doing it so long they fall together very quickly. And then our self editing has gotten much better too that’s what you also realize you get into something and we can all look at each other and kinda go ‘this isn’t happening’ you know, its not very cool so we don’t get stuck digging ditches too often we move on if we haven’t hit something at the bottom yet.
Well you’ve done it long enough to understand that sort of thing now
You’re working with producer Paul Stacey again you’ve been working with him for a couple of years now since 2006, was he an easy choice to work on this new album?
Yeah he was the only choice, we’ve never worked with someone for more than 2 albums and id like to think we’re gonna work with him again, he’s just got, a bit of it is we’ve grown up and so we’re able to listen to people better but then he’s also just got a great insight, very much understands our band, in a way that he can explain what he hears in a way we can understand. Production is 99% communication you know, I mean you can have a great producer that you done communicate well with and you don’t make a great record you know you can have an OK producer that communicates great and you make a better record, I mean so when you’ve got a guy with great insight and is supremely talented and can communicate what he hears and feels and we’re able to hear and we’re mature enough to accept it, you know the results have gotta speak for themselves so I feel great having Paul. You know Paul actually toured with us as our guitarist in 06 and 07 we had a series of dates where before Luther was able to start touring with us we had had dates booked and found ourselves without a guitarist all of a sudden so Paul stepped in and he’s a spectacular musician so he more then held his own with us and so he’d get an insight you know when you spend 3 months on tour with a band you know that’s more of an insight than any producer can ever have, he’s playing with the band every night for a few months so he’s definitely the perfect guy for us.
With the way music is these days and the ability make it yourself and to release music independently, such as the Black Crowes now do. do you think now is a better time for a band sharing the same ideals as the Black Crowes to be arriving as a new band? Is it something that they should latch on to and say ‘well I can do it too’
I think so, you know the thing is, its funny I did an interview earlier and a guy was asking me about all my favourite bands when I was coming up and I grew up loving the Beatles more than anything and then Led Zeppelin and the Stones and the Doors and all the great you know I’m 44 now so I was growing up in the early 70’s listening to Led Zeppelin you know and Little Feat but those bands and being a fan of those bands never inspired me to be in a band you know how do you go from my parents basement to being in the Beatles? It doesn’t make sense and still when I got to be a little older and id go and you see a band in a club you know, that you can relate to and that can hot you like ‘well I can probably do that’ you know, so the bands that really inspired us you know aren’t, weren’t big bands at the time. Some of them became big bands, I saw REM in a club with 100 people when I was 16 and that just blew my brains out because I thought, I can do what those guys are doing, yeah I can get a few friends and try this, so if kids see our band I think the focus on it is, yeah you gotta kinda come up with your own path and the music industry has changed so much and for the most part gone away for so many people that you can set your own course you know if you have something you believe in if you’re a young band and you guys are all, I mean the most important thing is to all be on the same page because a group of like minded people can get a lot done. You know the hardest part about being in a band is just being in a band, its just staying together and keeping everyone , you know our manager used to say it was like you break open a thermometer and then try to grab the mercury and keep it all together you know what I mean, you’ve got a bunch of guys who are all very opinionated and very strong passion for this, its real easy to start driving each other crazy, so if you got guys and there are young bands out there starting something then its like if you guys can all agree on where you’re trying to go, you can get there, I mean these days you can do things yourself, you can record a great record in your house, you can get it out literally as many people as you can, if you can get people to listen to 5 seconds of a song online you’re way ahead of where a band could have been 20 years ago.
Now we saw you in 2008 here in Australia and the show was amazing, can we expect to see you back any time soon?
Yeah I certainly hope in 2010 we’re just starting dates tonight in fact in like an hour and half it’s the first show of this tour for our new album and this is going to take us through December / end of December here in the States, and then hopefully early next year, that’s just a total, gotta see what on a business side of things what makes sense and if we can put together a deal with an Australian promoter that makes sense we’ll absolutely come back down. One thing we all said last year is we’re not waiting another 16 years to get back here you know we want to come back as soon as we can.
When you were here you played with at the Blues & Roots festival. Did you get a chance to check out any of the Australian artists and if so what you thought of them?
No, we just flew in the night before you know we got added to that late, wed booked our dates and then they said well you can jump on the festival so we weren’t initially booked for that festival so we weren’t staying up there in Byron Bay, we were staying like down south a couple of hours somewhere on the water, so we got in the night before you know so everyone was completely upside down and then we just drove in a couple of hours before our set, we played our set and then we drove out and flew to Perth so it wasn’t the ideal way to take in Byron Bay
As a young band starting out, even then your mentality seemed that to be mainstream, or in anyway popular, was a less than ideal thing but before you knew it you were all over MTV and selling millions of records. Was this a struggle for you to deal with as a band given your mentality and resentment of the corporate machine?
Oh absolutely, you know when you spend a few years as a band when you get it in your head that anything that’s popular must clearly suck and all of a sudden your record is very popular it’s a definite bizarre thing to have happen, I mean the good news for us is that it took a year for that to happen, we were touring and out working it you know our record in the States it went platinum after like 12 months and that’s quick to go from like 0 to 60 you know basically to go from absolutely nothing to a platinum record in a year is pretty good but you know, its nothing like Nirvana dealt with, they had 3 weeks their record was number 1 in its 3rd week out I mean that’s not right man and I can tell you right now, anyone wants to wonder why that guy couldn’t handle it and decided he needed to kill himself well that’s why, you go from nothing to just all of its in your head and you hope and that you accomplish way more than you would’ve ever dared to dream about it, it can be incredibly confusing, I mean the only way we dealt with it was to just keep working, we were like afraid to take a break. Then you’d go get your head back in the real world and really freak out so we stayed on the road for almost 2 years, went in made a record went right back out on the road and we did it that way for our first 3 records, at the end of the ‘Amorica’ tour at the end of 95 is the first time we really just tried to breathe a little bit.
At the time the Black Crowes arrived, big hair, big riffs and even bigger ego’s dominated the scene. That must of been some interesting times for you with the tours and crowds you must of been playing to?
Yeah, oh yeah, it was funny to us cause we were definitely not coming from that world you know, I mean mindset wise we were totally about The Replacements and a lot of Southern bands, Southern independent bands from the 80’s like bands that were doing it very small scale, I wouldn’t say we weren’t afraid of success but we were afraid to pursue it the way that other people did. And so when we would get lumped into the hair band scene and anything to do with Heavy Metal none of us understood on any level I mean we still don’t. I mean it was definitely a weird thing when you’d see yourself and you’d hear people say all the bands of that time and the Black Crowes and we were like, how in the world are you lumping us in with Poison?
It was the long hair that was about it
Ha ha yeah that’s another reason we said lets just keep working and lets just look up in another couple of years and maybe all this will be done
Well you’re still doing it which is great, so we hope to see you soon and we’ll catch up for a beer or 2
Yeah, I would say 2 at the least. Cheers
Thanks Steve, we’ll talk to you soon