On the one hand, the fact that you had the Crowes and were able to explore that style of music obviously puts you in a position to start a band at this period in your career and jump on the road and tour. But at the same time, was there a point where you said to yourself, “You know what, I don’t have to shoehorn all the music I like into the Crowes. I can make a band like the Brotherhood, which sounds different.”
That’s funny—it’s definitely problematic. It’s something…because I hardly have changed any of my [goals], except I did maybe become more hardcore about what the creative process means to me and what it means for me to have my part in the big song—music as eternal. You have to kinda look around and say—someone can say, you know, “I believe in this” and then in the same sentence, you know, someone can say, “We should sound like this, because this is what we sound like.”
And then to me that sounds like, “We need to keep doing this because this is what makes money,” or something. And I get it, man. You know, I have kids, I have a wife, I want to take care of my family, I want my wife to have nice things, I like to go to the record store. But I’m just not that person, you know? I don’t care that I’m getting into my 50s, I don’t care that I’m not a giant star.
If it’s not happening, and if it’s not real, I don’t want to do it. I didn’t get into music to be, you know, like David Bowie and pretend I’m from outer space—I am from outer space [laughs]. I got no other place to go. It works for me, so I keep doing it. Actually, I’m from ‘Outer South’ [laughter]. That’s even worse than outer space—I’m from the Outer South!
But you know what, man, that’s the way people are; you change. Someone said a band is like a marriage, and I said, “Yeah well, in the case of the Black Crowes, a band is like being married to your high school sweetheart.” You know what I mean? You have to go around, you have to deal with that for a couple of decades, and then some. By the time you’re a grown man, you’re probably, you know, eating less Chicken McNuggets, and settling on movie dates or whatever. You know, everything changes, like I said…
*It sounds as though another change has been that you rediscovered your love of improvisational music? In part, your love of the Grateful Dead and the California jamband scene inspired you to form the Brotherhood. *
Well, I mean, in the mid ‘90s the Crowes [played that style of music] and even after that—I’ve always been that way, right? From being a teenager and listening to the art of improvisation, I was always into jazz. It doesn’t matter how much blues and R&B and country music and stuff that I’d listen to, I was always listening to improvised music. Again, The Black Crowes, like anything else, was a conglomeration of people and ideas and influences, most of which were rock/blues based, and all that stuff based in roots music. But, again, my interest in avant-garde, my interest in funk, in soul—all of it, I think, adds up to the way we sounded. The most inspiration comes from a place where you’re completely free of any road map. Again, I’m completely influenced by Garcia and the Grateful Dead, and the moments that I like when I listen to that—when I got to see that—even in the ‘90s, would be the places where when those moments happen. That’s an addictive feeling when you like music.
I am lucky to have the gift and honor to play with Phil and Bobby—everyone is in a group space with nothing tethering us to ground, and you can create something [unique]. That’s why you set it up and you try again every night. Some nights you get there and some nights you’re sweating trying, but it is all about getting to that place where you feel comfortable. It’s like psychedelic drugs in a way. Some people aren’t very comfortable being tripping or getting outside on the inside, and getting their inside on the outside. You know, the Black Crowes played with Bruce Springsteen last summer. If that guy attempted to play something that hasn’t been played a billion times, I imagine those people would riot [Laughter.]. I’m being totally serious: It just depends on, really, where your vibes are, man.
You are one of a handful of modern musicians who’ve been able to play with both Bobby and Phil regularly during the last 10 years. What has been a highlight of playing with Bob and Phil and how would you describe your relationship with each of them?
Oh my god, there’s so many. I mean, like I said, after you’ve played for hours—I mean you can really start breaking it down to hours, and stuff…
I mean with Phil, it’s completely different because I love him and I love his family so much. Whether he likes it or not, he’s a real father figure to me. So there’s so many moments like that with Phil. But then again, you know, being onstage for Phil’s birthday, and playing “Attics of my Life”—I mean, not that we were improvising there—but there’s a million things that I just get goosebumps. Even two summers ago, I sat in with Furthur at Red Rocks, and we played “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” the Bob Dylan song, which was super improv, and then we jammed on a “Hard to Handle,” and we did two solos, which was pretty epic—so you never even know when it’s coming. Know what I mean? But playing with Bob has been great. He is such a sweet and nice guy—and funny, too.
Exactly, yeah, it’s the freedom with people you know so well.
And I also think, it gets back to songwriting. One thing I think people always forget about the Grateful Dead, or the difference between them and a lot of stuff that came out then, would be the writing. They’re incredible, and they were writing songs when The Beatles were still making records and when Bob Dylan was at his most potent—when he was still this cultural sort of force. I mean you have to put it in context of what some of it was. That’s why those songs went on. And again, I think that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for that kind of depth.
*Absolutely. The brilliance of the Grateful Dead, in one of many ways, was their ability to write great songs and then to twist them around live. You touched on this for a second before, but I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about your relationship with Neal Casal? He was obviously an established songwriter/musician/sideman himself and played with people like Ryan Adams before he joined the Brotherhood, but you have really evolved as songwriters together since the Brotherhood formed. How has your musical relationship evolved in that time and how has that, as you said before, challenged you as a guitarist? *
Neal and I are very similar in an aesthetic, but I’m far more kinetic, like, “Bam, boom, this, this, that” [laughter]. I throw a lot of stuff around, where Neal will take more time. I mean, he will take in all the ideas and bring all his ideas, but he has a great, more calm, sort of Zen method. So I think my sort of whirlwind, manic, creative highs benefit from his more laid back, sort of, “We’ll get back to this in a couple days.” I’m just like, “That’s it!” So that’s what I’ve found with other songwriting duos. And it seems as if that’s where our stuff is headed. I mean, this record was almost 50/50 compared to the first batch of songs, in terms of what we contributed to each of them. And it’s like anyone in this band. I’ve never told anyone in this band, from the day anyone showed up, what to play or how to play or anything. Adam is making his contribution, in terms of composition, more and more, and I think that’s something really interesting. Like I said, there’s no reason to be precious about it. It should be like I said. This is a real organism, and let’s see what happens. Let’s see how creative we can get. As long as we’re feeling it, that’s the base place to jump off. I think it’s good because any great—or any successful, is what I mean, in terms of the output—songwriting team, I think is about two different voices and approach?
Have you guys already started working on a new album, or at least a set of songs that could form the basis of a new album?
Yeah, well, I mean, we’re there. It’s on the horizon. So we’ll be in the studio in the New Year. Then, you know, we wanna get right back out on the road. This is priority number one, I think, at least musically, for all of us. The more we keep our heads down and don’t really deal with anything, the better it seems to be going [laughs]. And let me tell you something: this vegetarian can deal with that kind of thing.
As a final question, Bobby Womack recently died. I know he was an influence on your music. Did you ever have a chance to meet him?
You know, man, Bobby Womack has a record from 1971 or ’72, I think, called Communication that’s just, to me, one of the best vocal performances—everything on that record. Ridiculous. And again, besides his writing, he was Sam Cooke’s guitar player. People don’t even write about that. I got to meet him on an airplane a couple years ago flying after a gig in Memphis in the afternoon. I got on the plane and he was sitting there, and I actually asked the flight attendant, “Is that Bobby Womack?” She said, “Yeah!” I got to talk to him for a little bit and he was super cool.
He told me he thought Jimi Hendrix was weird because he would buy a sandwich on a Monday, eat half of it, and then not eat the other half until Wednesday. [Laughter] I was like, “Yeah, I guess that’s weird man.” It’s pretty weird if you don’t have a refrigerator, I guess. I don’t know.