Rich Robinson Q&A — The Magpie Salute to rock ‘n’ roll
Have you saluted the magpie today?
English superstition has it that if you run across a lone magpie out in the world and you don’t acknowledge its presence with a respectful tip of the hat or a “Good morning Mr. Magpie,” the vengeful bird will bring bad luck to you and your brood. To salute the magpie is to bring about a good day and hope for a little luck to come your way.
While the jury is still out on how well this method works, certainly one way to have a good day is to listen to The Magpie Salute and let the surefire thunder of its rock and roll rumble through your mountains and valleys. The Magpie Salute is the latest band from Black Crowes founding member and guitarist Rich Robinson and a flock of of his musical confederates, including Marc Ford, John Hogg, Sven Pipien, Joe Magistro and Matt Slocum.
Rock and roll is no longer the zeitgeist of musical culture in America and its popularity among the younger generation is all but a flickering flame. But to listen to The Magpie Salute is to feel the fiery spirit of rock and roll again. Many of the members have played in either The Black Crowes or Robinson’s solo bands, sometimes both, so there is a musical foundation of searing rock and captivating songwriting inherent in the band’s sound. Its eponymous debut album was recorded in front of a live audience and featured myriad supercharged covers of songs by artist such as War and Bob Marley, with a healthy dose of swagger and groove in the fabric of the project.
The Magpie Salute released its second album “High Water I” in August 2018 and is the first introduction to the band and what it can do with its own crop of songs. It’s a glowing affair and showcases the complementing musical textures these players can create together, from the enchanting romp “High Water” to the contemplative brood of “Sister Moon” to the blues strut of “Take It All.” For people who already need more, they’ll be following up the release very quickly with “High Water II” sometime this year.
The Magpie Salute will play Reno’s Cargo Concert Hall Sunday, Jan. 13, in the midst of a lengthy nationwide tour. As pure rock and roll goes, you won’t get any better than this group, so don’t hesitate to grab tickets to what will surely be a great way to start your 2019.
And don’t forget to salute the magpie, your day might depend on it.
Tahoe Onstage: I wanted to start off with something you might not talk as often about, your art. I’m curious to know how long you’ve been releasing your works as a commercial artist?
Rich Robinson: I started in about 1991. It was actually (Black Crowes former bassist) Johnny Cole. When we would travel I would buy art books and he saw that I had interest in it. For Christmas after “Shake Your Monkey Maker” we all bought each other really great Christmas gifts. Johnny was a photographer so I got him a nice camera. He had bought me an easel, about five canvases and some paints.
It kind of sat there for a little while. I wasn’t nervous, but I didn’t want to do that art form any injustice by it sucking, you know what I mean (chuckles)? With the utmost respect I looked at it for a long time. So I thought that I would start on paper as I didn’t want to ruin the canvas. I just started and it was something that was very peaceful. I’ve always appreciated contrast and color and how it works in the world.
So I started then and about 10 years later I amassed enough where I could do some shows. I did one in Connecticut, one in Toronto, two in Atlanta, one in Malibu and it has grown from there.
From my untrained eyes, your art seems to deal more with space, color and the abstract realm. For your canvas style, which artists have been influential?
I started out with being a huge Salvador Dali fan. I liked religious iconography and I started using gold leafs and religious iconography and circular halos and liked the texture of that on paintings. Then I got into Gustav Klimt and I was way into Egon Schiele. I was drawn to sort of the German and Austrian artists, that’s where I started. I liked the concept of modern art, more conceptual art. One of the more modern guys I am into is Gerhard Richter.
Do you feel like you’re working a similar part of your brain and soul when you compare art and music or are they two different aspects of your creative process?
I believe it falls under different minds. I think that you are using the visual and the auditory very differently, which is what I find fascinating about it. To me, I either write music or I paint, I can’t do both. There’s not a line drawn or a conscious thing but when I am painting, I tend not to write songs and vice versa.
Do you find you are someone that needs to be fulfilled in creating something? Are you a producer and creator in general?
I like to, it makes me feel purposeful to do that. It makes me feel like I am contributing to society in some way. I can’t just sit around, that drives me crazy.
Jumping into music, The Magpie Salute is your newest band. I am always intrigued by names and your band name is a good one. Where did the name The Magpie Salute come from?
The thing first started as a project and I was doing solo stuff. There was this show that came up in Woodstock, New York, that had a cool concept that I was interested in. Basically we recorded in front of a live audience and did a whole new live record. It was interesting and when I saw that and I wanted to reach out to Marc Ford and Eddie Harsch. Those two guys and I have played a lot over the years and we have a special musical relationship, so that it where that came from.
So I reached out to Ed and Marc and they were both into it, that’s really what it was. We all felt there was something real special about it. After some time, we decided to put some shows up for sale and see what happens, that’s how it started. It was all very natural how it unfolded and organic. There was nothing planned about it and that’s another cool thing about it and, in my opinion, what was great about it. It was just one of those things, let’s put a show up for sale. By putting a show up for sale you have to call it something.
I thought it would have been silly to ignore the fact that majority of the band was in The Black Crowes before. So I was thinking about what to call this band that was close to that but something we never used before. I’ve always like the word magpie and the concept of the word. When I was checking it out and looking into it, there were people in the U.K. who salute the magpie. They salute the magpie just to have a good day, so I thought that was cool. The more I looked it was the way people salute the magpie by saying, “Good Morning Captain,” which is also a Black Crowes song. So it was kind of cool, a little tongue-in-cheek, a little funny and that’s all it was.
You’ve had the musical relationship with Marc and Eddie and others who’ve been in the Black Crowes. Did you want to just continue the musical conversation you had already started or do you think you wanted to “talk” about something different? What were you thinking about when you thought about The Magpie Salute’s sound?
No one ever goes that deep when it comes to create a sound, we just make music. I believe in not forcing anything and just making the music that you make. That’s the music we choose to make and that’s how it is going to sound. As long as it’s natural and feels good to us it’s going to be as good as it’s going to be.
I wanted to talk about the song “War Drums” from the first album. I thought your version of “War Drums” was one of the most explosive songs I’ve heard in awhile, it being a War cover. What made this song an attractive song to cover?
I’ve always been a huge fan of War and that song in particular, that record has a lot of great songs on it. It was something I had done on my solo stuff that I thought was cool and I thought we’d continue the tradition. I tried to find songs everyone would compliment and bring something too. Really I was thinking about how much I wanted to hear Marc and Ed on this song.
Now you have the new record, “High Water I.” Were there any creative goals for this record or, as you talked a little but about earlier, just letting things flow out and see what happens.
Yeah, we had no goals. We’re making rock and roll music when people could give a shit about rock and roll. More people are interested in shopping and watching Netflix than going to see shows, so I am just going to make the music that I like and I hope others like. If people come that’s great and if they don’t that’s cool, whatever. I have no aspirations for it, it kind of is what it is.
Is that always been how you feel about the music you create?
I mean I push myself to write better songs, I don’t just half-ass it. I want to write better songs and I want to play better as a band and I want to do all those things. Ultimately, it’s about being a better guitar player or songwriter and that’s kind of the point I was trying to make. With The Black Crowes, I was 19 when we did “Shake Your Money Maker” and it was great, no one in a billion years thought that record would sell. We were just kids and I was just out of high school. We were doing what we did and there was no thought to it beyond, “let’s make a record.”
Looking at “High Water I,” what one or two songs could you point to as ones that you found very fulfilling to make or ones you could hang your hat on?
I’ve never put out songs that I don’t really appreciate and love. I won’t do, “oh yeah, that’s an alright song.” All songs have meaning to them and are there to serve a purpose as it pertains to the greater picture of what the album is. It’s about the whole album and how the songs work together, and greater than that, how the whole thing works with the rest of the work I’ve done my whole life. Those are the kinds of things I think about as an art.
You also have “High Water II” coming out this year, right on the heels of the first one. Is this essentially a continuation of the sessions that put “High Water I” together?
We made “High Water II” at the same time. It’s a little bit different based on the way I sequenced the two records. The whole purpose of “High Water I” is to bring people in and let them know what this is all about. “High Water II” is really going to highlight who we are as a band and go a little bit deeper, so I am excited for it to come out.
— Garrett Bethmann
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.