INTERVJU: Rich Robinson och Marc Ford i The Magpie Salute

The Magpie Salute är Rich Robinsons senaste skapelse och bjuder på musik som på flera sätt påminner om hans gamla band The Black Crowes. Dessutom återfinns gamla kråkor som Marc Ford och Sven Pipien i bandet. Nyligen gästade Rich, Marc och sångaren John Hogg Stockholm för ett litet akustiskt gig och vi passade på att ställa några frågor till Rich och Marc.


How did The Magpie Salute come together? There was a show in Woodstock, right?

Rich: Yeah! I was touring on my solo record and this show came up. It was an oppertunity to play these shows up in Woodstock, three shows in front of a live audience where they invite like 100 people into this studio and they literally sit in the tracking room with you and some of them in the control room. It´s a whole day event and basically two sets a day for three shows. I had done one before and I thought I wanted to try something different and the more that I tour and play, you start thinking about things to be grateful for and one of the things that, in particular, I was very grateful for was to be able to play with people that I have this musical connection with. For whatever reason it just musically works and Marc (Ford) and I have always had that since the first day he got up and jammed with us (The Black Crowes) in 1990 or something. We´ve just always been right there, but the dynamic in The Crowes was always a bit odd, so it was like Marc and I always had this sort of musical thing, but the other half of it wasn´t there really and I wanted to sort of reach out for both of those reasons. I just reached out to him through his people or agent or whatever. We hadn´t spoken in 10 years and I was like ”Hey, you wanna do this?” and he said ”I don´t care what it is. I´ll show up.” I thought ”Wow, that´s cool! Maybe he´s on the same page as me?” and then I called Eddie Harsch (1957-2016) because Ed´s the same and what I liked about it was bringing those guys to play with me in a different context. Sort of getting out of that old pattern… well, not pattern, but that old thing and sort of thrusting us all into this new element which I thought would be really cool.

How long after that did it take for you guys to form The Magpie Salute?

Rich: That was it. It was gonna be those three shows and that was it. Then I went on doing my thing and Marc finished his stuff and Ed went home. It was like ”That was fun!”, but I feel that when we were all there we felt it was something more, something special about it.

Marc: It was just rehearsals for New York, so we had three days to get 80 tunes together and that was getting Magpie…

Rich: As I kinda went on my tour I thought about like ”Let´s do this!” I mean, Eddie was really excited to do it, so I called Marc and I called Ed and spoke to my band and said ”Let´s do this! It would be cool.” Let´s take that show as a template and go out and put a show up for sale and see what happens. It sold out in 20 minutes and three more sold out in 20 minutes and we were like ”Wow, that´s kinda cool! Let´s do some more of that.” What I liked about it is that it was very organic. That´s all it is and that´s all of this is, ”Let´s try that! Let´s make a record!” This is what we wanna do and it´s a very natural, authentic and organic experience.

When was the first time the two of you really crossed paths? Was it right before The Black Crowes thing (“The southern harmony and musical companion”, 1992)?

Rich: We met Marc through Craig Ross, who was in a band called Broken Homes and my brother Chris is outgoing, a lot more outgoing than I am and when we would go out to LA, Chris would meet people and we would all go out or whatever. I don´t know where… did Chris come see you guys? I guess Chris had heard of Burning Tree?

Marc: I met Chris through an NME writer who told both of us we should look out for each other. We were doing similar things, so when they came to LA… I don´t remember exactly how it was, but it was just like ”Yeah, this works.” It was fun just hanging out and I understood what he meant because at the time it was big hair metal and I was in Los Angeles. I was weird as hell in LA trying to do what I was doing, which to me was more rock and roll. It took a guy from England going ”You guys are kinda doing the same thing.” and he was right.

I think I read in a Rolling Stone interview where you were talking about music Rich, and the love you have for the bands in the 60´s and you said it was a ”freer expression back then ” What exactly did you mean by that?

Rich: I mean it wasn´t bogged down with money. Those guys wrote the book in the sense that they weren´t… there wasn´t some sort of bank infrasturcture that took over and the record companies weren´t  publicly traded companies that had to report to their share holders and all of this horseshit that it became. Those guys were free to be who they were. There was such a thing called A&R, where the A&R guy, the guy that signed you, could sign a band and they didn´t have to sell x amount of records to make another record and they could be developed and sort of brought along. Those bands, I felt, didn´t have those restarints as much as we did and we do now. It´s insane now. I think it´s near impossible to be creative nowdays because it´s been so squashed out by greed and corporate culture.

Marc: You´re expected to do every other job besides being the artist. (laughs)

Rich: Yeah! Basically ”You do all the press because on your social media you do this and take pictures.” and it´s just like ”Whoa!” But ultimately I think that it was more for the spirit and also the individuality. Everyone wanted to be individual and everyone was trying to be something new, but you can only be something truly new by your own filter. Neil Young drinks from the same well as Bob Dylan or as Joni Mitchell, but Neil Young is Neil Young because he is unique and that was squashed out. Through technology and through computers everyone can sound like everyone else, but what I like about John Bonham or Jimmy Page or Mick Jagger or Keith Richards… these people growing up, the songs that they wrote, the musicians that they were, no one sounded like them. When Keith picks up a guitar, no one plays like that. When Jimmy Page plays a solo, no one sounds like that and that´s what was cool and now everything´s been homoginized and dream packaged and surplussed.

Was music better before than it is today?

Rich: The only reason I think it may have been better… I mean, we don´t live in the past. We don´t walk around thinking it´s 1969 or wishing it was 1969. What I like about that era and there are some bands that are like that now, it´s literally just sincerity and authenticity and trying to strive for something greater.

Marc: It was simple. Not every kid on the block had a guitar. You had to play the thing, you really had to do it.

Rich: Exactly and also… I think that there was a sincerity to it. It´s authentic music and people were writing about universal human things. Everything in popular music now and as sickening as it gets in my opinion, call it country or pop and all this shit where nothing is sincere…

Marc: And when the only goal is to be a star.

Rich: And to be famous and rich. I think that if you´re gonna be a creative person you should have… there´s a responsibility to try to strive for something, to try to better humanity and give someone a different angle. ”I´m gonna sing this song!” You think about the Dylan song ”It´s alright ma, I´m only bleeding”, you can take that song and put it in here today and it´s more relevant than it was back then. That´s the kind of stuff I´m talking about, because when I first heard that song I was blown away and it made me think about things in a different way and that´s what it all is, really.

Do you think 60´s and 70´s music… was that when all the cool stuff…

Marc: It´s the old frontier. FM (radio) was brand new and and they were all playing albums and they could do what they wanted…

Rich: There are bands in the 90´s… shit, we came out in the 90´s, Burning Tree and you look at bands like Nirvana and those guys weren´t corporate in any way, shape or form. They were signed as a tax write off. I remember the dudes from Geffen were like ”Oh, we signed this band.” and they called them a tax write off and when I first heard that song (Smells like teen spirit) I was like ”Holy shit! This is great!” and then grunge followed and you have a corporate band like Pearl Jam, but you had other cool bands that were out there doing some stuff. There´s a lot of cool stuff happening. There were some good stuff in the 80´s and there was an alternative underground movement called Paisley Underground in California in the 80´s and they were making really cool music and then in the 90´s and the 2000´s we have bands like Grizzly Bear and bands that are still but playing and bringing really interesting elements to it. Radiohead made great records, you can´t really deny that. Some of their records were really good.

I´m a sucker for the Sunset Strip thing in the 80´s. Did you guys listen to that stuff back then?

Rich: I personally never did. I mean, you couldn´t avoid it in a sense. If you listened to the radio back then you would hear some of that shit, but it wasn´t my thing.

Marc: I had to because I was there. (laughs) It actually probably spurred me on to do what I did. Go the opposite direction.

Tell me about the album!

Rich: Towards the end of the tour last year… last year we toured a good amount and it was a mmore of a celebration of the music we´ve made together, in The Crowes, seperately, covers and everything in between.

Marc: Just the past.

Rich: Yeah, just the past and we weren´t planning on being a band. There wasn´t a five year masterplan. It was ”Let´s try this!” and ”Let´s do this!”, so we went out and did it and it was great and we had a lot of fun, but then as the tour was going on, we started becoming tighter as a band. You have to play to become a band and that was cool. Then ultimately we started looking towards making a record and we wanted to make two records, because we knew we would have a lot of stuff and we started writing at the end of the year. In January this year we all got together, me, Marc and John (Hogg) in a house… threw everything on the table and we started out with about 60 things between us and then we just started peeling away, ”This isn´t gonna work.” and ”This is gonna work.” and eventually a puzzle starts coming and a picture comes and the cool thing is that we didn´t finish anything, because we´re all at the level where our instincts are gonna be better than everything, so we got the songs to about 80% for us and no one else in the band had heard them and we just showed up in the studio  and it was like ”Song one, let´s do this!” We did 29 songs in 21 days.

So all songs are done already for ”High water II”?

Rich: Yeah!

Were you guys on a creative high?

Rich: I think there´s an element of that, but I just think we had… I just wanted a bunch of songs to play. When I go on tour and when Marc goes on tour, we have dozens of albums to choose from and I change the set every night and I´m sure Marc does too and it´s just that kind of constant movement and inspiration. It makes it more fun for me and for all of us.

Marc: It´s gotta be a live bomb, it´s gotta be dangerous.

Rich: You see these bands that just do the same set every night and say the same thing every night and to me… that´s A way to do things and that´s cool if it´s your thing, but I would shoot myself. Jesus, man! The same songs every night…

The bird connection, The Black Crowes and The Magpie Salute, was that something you thought about?

Rich: Yeah! I mean, when we first decided to put a show up for sale, I was like looking at this and Sven (Pipien) was already playing in my band and he´s from The Crowes and the drummer Joe Magistro, he toured in The Crowes as a percussion player in 2010 and then there´s me, Marc and Ed. I´m not gone ignore the elephant in the room, there´s a lot of Crowes here and that´s cool. I´m proud of that. It´s my band and I wrote that music and we´ve been around for a long time and we did a lot of great stuff. A magpie… first of all, I like the word and I´ve always liked that word and secondly I started looking at it and you know… my wife´s native American and in that culture animals have a symbolism and every animal has a meaning and a magpie has light and dark and I thought that was cool. I´ve always seen them all over the world, these black and white birds and I liked the fact that symbolically they have light and dark and there´s more of a balance there. Then I started reading more about it and it was interesting. People salute magpies in the UK and the way they do it is by saying ”Good morning captain!”, which is a Crowes song and a salute means ”we come in peace” and it´s also a nod to… it´s almost like ”See ya!” For all of those reasons I thought it worked and we stuck with it.

Is this gonna be your main band now?

Rich: This is what I wanna do right now and this is where my focus is. It´s cool when we have time off to go do somethings on our own, but I think this is what excites me the most about music right now. Playing with these guys and this band.

Reconnecting, is that something you think comes with age as well? Realizing you´re getting older…

Rich: Yeah, I think so. When you´re a kid, the world´s in front of you and I was just thinking about how some people in our lives die and I was like ”Wow!” and I started looking at that and even people that… like old guitar techs or techs that used to tour with us and it just kinda sucks and I just started looking at it from a broader perspective. We were all on this Earth together at the same time and we all share these experiences and if I was ever dissmissive of that, that´s a shame and I look back at it and these people that have been in my life and that have been circling around and me circling around theirs and really just putting afocus into that. To me, since then, Marc and I are really getting to know each other on a deeper level for the first time. Has it brought something to the way we play together too? I feel that. It was always like there was this half moon element and it enhances what we do together now.

Do you feel the same way, Marc?

Marc: Oh yeah, for sure! Just because of the youth, the success level and the insanity of the times and the relationship between the brothers was polarizing.The rest of us had to choose a side. Chris brought me in, so there´s the side. There was definitely barriers. I don´t know. It´s dumb to pick it apart. Do it differnt? Would we? I don´t know. We made it and it´s like this music wants us in it, because nobody else makes this sound unless we get in the room together and it´s aquired of us and that´s pretty special, to be part of something that doesn´t happen without you. You gotta do what it takes to make sure that you can show up for that.

People dying like Lemmy, Bowie, Chris Cornell, Prince… anyone of them that meant something more for you guys?

Rich: Tom Petty and David Bowie for me. We toured with Tom and he couldn´t have been a sweeter dude and he really loved our band. We opened for Tom Petty in 2005 and he gave us and hour and 15 minutes to open and he would watch us. We got to know him and the band and Marc´s good friends with Mike Campbell. It´s one of those things that are shocking and it´s just a bummer. It´s like ”Wow, holy shit!” It´s a cliché but it´s true, people start looking at what that guy did and the songs he wrote and how important they were and they are fucking brilliant American pop songs! A lot of times it just takes us stopping and thinking about that and David Bowie was a huge influence on me, not just from a musical stand point as an admirer of his… I mean, I love Prince, but it kind of shocked me more about David Bowie than it did about Prince for some reason. I don´t know why. It was a loss on a broader scale. But I look at that and kind of what we were talking about as it retains to what those guys meant and now we´re out here and these people come see us and desperately wanting real music and we play this music and it means something to them. Growing up as a kid and having ”Exile on Main Street” or The Beatles or Zeppelin or any of these bands that meant so much to me and their songs moved me to wanna do this and now our songs, The Black Crowes songs and these songs are bringing people to tears and it means so much to them and they come up to us like ”I can´t believe you guys are playing together again.” It really means a lot to them that Marc and I are playing together again and that´s why you get into bands, to pass that along. It´s almost like we´ve kind of stepped into this next level.

Marc: It´s the end of an era for sure. The fathers of this thing are kinda gone now. There´s a couple left. I mean, we´ve done it long enough so I guess we´re in line, so let´s dress up and hold the place because it needs to be held. I feel like a kid again. I feel like when we first met. The excitement of it and everyone´s playing at their best and we´ve gone through enough bullshit. Let the dumb stuff go and just love the music and the magic that it is.

When you joined The Black Crowes and you were asked to join Guns N´Roses around the same time, were there a few days where you felt ”Damn, I should´ve joined Guns N´Roses!”?

Marc: No. (laughs)

I read somewhere that you said if you had, you´d be dead.

Marc: I would. I mean, essentially I would´ve stood there and strummed behind Slash and creatively I would´ve been dead and I would´ve just done drugs and die. (laughs) I mean, Slash said the same thing.

Rich, when you (The Black Crowes) played the Monsters of Rock tour in ´91, was that your first time in Europe?

Rich: No, we had come over and toured with Dogs D´Amour.

Marc: We toured with them too in Burning Tree. First time in England.

Rich: Yeah, in 1990. We played the UK and then we played Pinkpop and then I think we played the Paradiso with Tyla and the gang. That was our first time and then we came back with AC/DC and that was a 3 month fucking tour and that was insane. We did those shows and then we did a bunch of headline shows. We never listened to Metallica and we never listened to any of those bands. We loved AC/DC and they loved us. I found out recently that Malcolm wanted us on the tour. They loved our band and when we showed up AC/DC were like ”Come on in!” and they couldn´t have been cooler. They came to see us at the Paradiso on a day off. Malcolm and Angus showed up and it was great. It was a night that Skid Row came too and they asked if they could jam with us and we were like ”Ah, man…” I mean, they were really sweet dudes, but… and then this dude that was playing with my guitar smashed it and the fucking headstock broke and they wanted to get up on this first song and we were like ”What?” It was like ”AC/DC´s here!” and then ” Oh, Skid Row wants to jam with us.” It was kinda funny. AC/DC couldn´t have been cooler. We were friendly with Metallica. I remember the first show was Donnington and we were the opener. We went up there and played our set and it went over really well. We thought we were gonna be pelted with urine bottles, but they really liked us. We sat there for the rest of the day and then Metallica came on and I´d never seen Metallica and it was intense. 80000 people, lock, stock and barrel and just following this band and it was this really sort of weird angst going on and we were kinda worried. I remember us being like ”Shit, what´s AC/DC gonna do? That´s a tough fucking act to follow.” Everyone was getting ready and me and two of the guys went into the audience and then they opened with ”Thunderstruck” and when Angus came out it was just like ”Metalliwho?” There were more people there and they were way into it and it was unbelievable. Just hanging out with Angus and Malcolm and watching Angus play slide with a lighter during soundcheck and shit like that. It was like ”Fuck!” It was really amazing.


Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen