Rich Robinson’s dad is dying. And his newborn son, Bleu, is a mere three months old. Experiencing grief and happiness simultaneously has become a strange constant in Robinson’s life. At 25, he had everything: as a member of the blues-rock outfit The Black Crowes, Robinson was in a “comfortable state” financially, married to a beautiful wife, and playing shows around the world.
But even at the peak of the Crowes’ popularity in the early- to mid-’90s, something was off. “I was living this life that was askew,” says Robinson, now 42. “My relationships with the people that were supposed to be my closest seemed damaged. My marriage was not a good fit for either of us and we weren’t facing up to that. Though I love my brother [Chris, co-founder of The Black Crowes], the fact that my working environment can be challenging has been well-chronicled. Nothing was working like it should have been, but by many people’s standards, it was a dream come true.”
In a Job-like cataclysm, it was all gone: The Crowes went on hiatus—“We just made plans to not make plans for a while,” he explains—Robinson and his wife split, and she took the kids, and now Robinson’s dad on his deathbed.
It was enough to break a man, but, like his growing family, Robinson’s career is seeing a new day dawning. He’s on the road again, and making a stop at Moe’s Alley on Nov. 15 in promotion of his Oct. 11 release Through a Crooked Sun. The album could be viewed as his sophomore effort after Paper (2004)—but only if you don’t know the prolificacy of the Crowes.
For fans of the Crowes’ catalogue, Through a Crooked Sun isn’t a drastic departure—Robinson was the driving force behind the band’s songwriting, along with his brother Chris. But Sun is distinct from the Crowes in ways that even Robinson has difficulty articulating: “I wrote in a fully mindful sense of what is going to work with me and my vocals,” he says. “In doing that, it created something a little different. People that I’ve played the songs for were like, ‘This sounds really different for you,’ which I’m really happy with. It’s a place I’d like to explore more.”
That disparity can partially be attributed to the fact that Robinson is finally, truly independent in his writing. “Chris and I have written all the songs we’ve ever played together, and I always had someone to bounce ideas off of,” he says. “When I made [Sun], I didn’t have that, and it definitely felt weird. It felt like a different thing.”
On vacation from the Crowes, Robinson has evolved as a musician. “The one thing about being in a band is you’re kind of stuck with these same people,” he explains. “You create this language, but on the flip side, you don’t get to expand what you do.” Through exploration, he says, “I really feel much stronger in my voice, and I’m getting a much deeper knowledge of what I can handle and what I can’t.”
While once on shaky legs in his solo career—Robinson refers to his mindspace around Paper as “frantic”—for his second full-length solo album, he’s settled into a more comfortable rhythm. “I really just write,” he says. “I write these songs, and then when I put together a record, we go in and record everything, and the songs seem to dictate what works on a record.”
Rich Robinson plays at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $15. For more information, call 479-1854.
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