Q&A: Band Chemistry, the Greatest Rock Riffs and Our ‘Cultural Black Hole’ with the Magpie Salute’s Rich Robinson

Q&A: Band Chemistry, the Greatest Rock Riffs and Our ‘Cultural Black Hole’ with the Magpie Salute’s Rich Robinson

Sophomore jinx? Not a chance. Fresh from a seasoned slate of live dates peppered around the country, High Water I, the sophomore album by the Magpie Salute, whites out the band’s confident debut long player and imbues the follow up with an incendiary collection of tunes ready made for the concert stage.

Guitarist Rich Robinson, who helped form the group with his fellow ex-Black Crowes Sven Pipien and Marc Ford, spoke with us for an interview about the new record (pick up a copy at this link) and what the Magpie Salute has to contribute to the rock world.

Rock Cellar: How has the Magpie Salute’s extensive slate of live performances helped shape the direction/style of material on the new record?

Rich Robinson: You have to understand that the prior one was the first time that Marc (Ford) and I and Eddie had played together in years. And it was the first time that those guys played with Joe or Matt. and everyone that was there in a totally different context.

And also it was recorded without it ever meaning to be anything. We didn’t say, “Let’s create a band and start with this show and record it.” It was literally gonna be three shows and that was gonna be it and then I was going to continue with my tour. Then we started putting up shows for sale like, ‘this would be fun, let’s do this.’ So we’d put up a show for sale and it sold out. Then we put up three more and they sold out. At that point, it was like, “Oh, let’s do a tour — and we recorded some stuff last year, so let’s make a record out of that.”

It was a totally different thing than spending all of last year touring and focusing on going into the studio and really becoming a band. We looked at it as something we wanted to take seriously.

This is something that we feel and this is something that’s important to us and this is something where we all want to be right now.

So last year we played over 200 songs. Some Crowes song, some covers, some of Marc’s songs, some of my songs, and that deep changing of the set every night gave us an agility as a band that really comes into place. It’s something we always had with the Crowes because the Crowes would change the set list every night. We would always do that stuff. Towards the end, the Crowes were pulling from over 400 songs.

So that’s just kind of how we were brought up in this scenario. But to kind of do that and clear out the pipes, so to speak, and then really get out there and do this kind of touring, I think it made us really agile as a band and it served us well in the studio.

Rock Cellar: And prolific too, as there’s already a High Water II planned for release in 2019. 

Rich Robinson: Yes, we recorded 28 songs for High Water I and II. When we went into the studio this year we recorded two records in one. We cut all those songs in 21 days. High Water II will be out early next year.

Rock Cellar: Now that you were a band, did you feel a sense of that chemistry clicking in which sparked this kind of outpouring of material?

Rich Robinson: The thing is, everyone in this band I click with incredibly well musically. Marc and I have this thing where when the two of us play together it creates this other thing that’s amazing, but you could say the same about me and Sven (Pipien), Sven and Marc and Joe (Magistro) and everyone and Matt Slocum and John Hogg. So in my opinion, going into this I knew where everyone was sitting creatively before we started. The interesting thing was seeing how everything meshed as we were in the studio.

Rock Cellar: As a player, you had such a great chemistry with Marc Ford in the Black Crowes, what the secret behind that collective complementary vibe as guitarists?

Rich Robinson: That’s hard for me to say. I don’t think like that, it just kind of works and I’m cool with it working. I don’t dig deeper than that. When we first started playing together again, it clicked immediately. We were playing these shows and Marc was late.  He was supposed to come in the night before and we were gonna go over some things. But his flight was canceled — it got delayed in Chicago. So he had to spend the night there. He basically showed up while we were playing, walked onstage and it was instantly where it needed to be.

Rock Cellar: When did you find your own voice as a songwriter?

Rich Robinson: The first stuff The Crowes did on Shake Your Moneymaker was pretty heavily influenced but I was 17 when I started writing it so there wasn’t a lot of experience there to draw from. But by the end of that tour, the songs we started writing while on that tour like “Thorn In My Pride” and “My Morning Song,” those kind of things, I felt that was kind of our first record.

Rock Cellar: With the new album, you only have someone’s attention for 5 minutes, what’s the track you’d steer them to listen to that would win them over and prime them to investigate the entire record?

Rich Robinson: I’m probably the wrong person to ask because this isn’t a service industry, this is a creative industry. This is all of us expressing ourselves in the music. We took the time to create this thing.

Everyone in this society is so entertained. You walk around and everyone’s got a phone, you sit on the toilet and you watch a TV show. We have the absolute control, too. So we now have a life remote control in our hands where we can block life out anytime we want.

Ultimately it’s a cultural black hole that we’ve created for ourselves. We’re purging anything that may challenge us and by purging those things that may challenge us, we’re not open to anything new. Someone was talking about flying on a plane and how blasé everyone is about it, but if you think back 50 years, holy shit, I’m sitting in a chair in a plane flying 500 miles an hour above the clouds! It’s interesting to think about as we’ve become blasé about things. We play these roles.

So now everyone goes to a show and they think they know exactly what to expect. People know you’re gonna come back for an encore, and all of that is playing a role. Back in the day, an encore happened if someone did a brilliant job, people would clap and stand up and demand them to return to the stage. So in a sense we’ve lost that ability to truly appreciate the new. And what’s been really fascinating for us on this tour is the young people, the millennials that are coming to see it.

Photo: Arnaud Lerondeau
Photo: Arnaud Lerondeau

People aren’t pulling their phones out and people are actually looking at this. For these young people to come and see this and go, “Wow, this is how it should be!” It’s not about computers, it’s not about lighting rigs, it’s not about some horseshit choreographed video game music that pop music is nowadays, this is a real band, real mess-ups, real brilliance and anything and everything in between.

Through witnessing something for the first time they’re kind of gaining reverence for that. And that’s what this deserves, and that’s what some music deserves. So that’s how I look at it.

Rock Cellar: With the Black Crowes, you’re quite familiar with how a volatile chemistry can spark the music. With The Magpie Salute, which I assume is a more harmonious experience, do you miss having that fractiousness to create that spark?

Rich Robinson: I definitely don’t miss it, and I’m not convinced that you need it or we’ve had enough in our lives to fuel more than enough creation; it’s one or the other. The amount of horseshit we had to deal with the Crowes, where the joy became fewer and farther between, where that negativity kind of fueled this whole thing. With that band, the joy kind of went away and more of that negativity filled that space, whereas this band feels a little more free and I think that joy comes out.

I think that’s why some people say it sounds similar to the Crowes, but it’s also different.

Rock Cellar: Speaking of volatility, your brother Chris has been unkind in his comments about your new band, describing The Magpie Salute as a Black Crowes tribute band yet he’s gone out with a band, As The Crow Flies, playing Crowes songs. Where is all that negativity coming from?

Rich Robinson: You know, look, Chris is who he is and he’s never gonna change. He sees the world the way he sees it and I see the world the way I see it. I guess the best way to view that is I see it differently. Like I said, last year we played my songs on tour and we played them with the utmost respect and reverence. So to me that’s really why we did it; it was so much fun for the first time in years to just go out and just love this, music and love what we’re doing.

I don’t know why Chris was saying that stuff; I’ve stopped trying to make sense of why he says what he says. Like I said, I’m just really happy and thrilled to be putting out this record and starting as a new band. I feel almost like a teenager. We go out and play these shows and we really feel like we’re winning people over. There’s no better feeling than that.

Rock Cellar: Being a great riffmeister, what’s the coolest riff in rock and roll?

Rich Robinson: I always loved “Sunshine Of Your Love” by Cream. That’s one of my favorite riffs. It’s one of the coolest riffs. I’m a Cream fan but I’m not an obsessive Cream fan like I am more about the Stones. I also love “Custard Pie,” there’s a ton of Jimmy Page riffs that are stellar. “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” by the Stones to me is one of the most amazing riffs ever written.

Rock Cellar: In the music business, are there many yes men, your “go-to” folks who will always be straight up and honest with you?

Rich Robinson: My wife’s always honest, brutally honest (laughs) but in a good way. I trust the guys in the band. We’ve been around a long time and I think we all have a pretty solid ground that we come from.

Rock Cellar: If I went through your record collection, what album would I be surprised to find?

Rich Robinson: Joanna Newsom’s Ys album. I think it’s a masterpiece. It’s the antithesis of pop music. Lyrically its some of the most brilliant lyrics that I have ever heard and her playing is gorgeous. It came out in 2006.

Van Dyke Parks did the string and the string arrangements are stunning. Every song is 7-10 minutes long,but what she can do with words, with melody, she plays harp and piano and it’s just fuckin’ brilliant.

Rock Cellar: You have use of a time machine for an evening and can see any show in rock history, which show would you want to see and why?

Rich Robinson: I’d go see Band of Gypsys. Just to see that shift in Jimi’s (Hendrix) music would be amazing. From seeing what Jimi was doing to going into Band of Gypsies and shifting was just bad-ass.

Rock Cellar: Politically, what Jimi was doing with Band of Gypsys fits into the tenor of our times today.

Rich Robinson: Yes, exactly. The music Jimi was doing was pretty heavy.  Also, the song that John Hogg wrote called “Color Blind” and how apropos that song is right now in this moment with all of this horseshit going on in the world.

Rock Cellar: What’s the last song you heard where you went, “I wish I wrote that”?

Rich Robinson: I don’t know, that’s a good question. There’s a lot of really good stuff out and you kind of hear it and go, “Wow!” There’s some stuff done by a band from Austin called the Heartless Bastards. There’s a song on one of their records, The Mountain, and it’s the title song and that one is really cool.

But there’s also a really cool punk rock Karen Dalton kind of song called “Early In the Morning” that they wrote that’s really cool too.

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