I know, I know, this is a guitar site and what am I doing interviewing a drummer? Well, the chance for this interview came up and it was printed in Mixdown and Beat. I really enjoyed the chat, and since it’s my site and I can do whatever I like, and especially because you can learn from fellow musicians no matter what they play, here it is!
The new Black Crowes release, Before The Frost…Until The Freeze, at once looks to the past and the future. Like a classic sitcom from the 60s it was ‘recorded in front of a live audience’ – that’s the past taken care of. Yet it features entirely new songs, and each copy comes with a code to download an entire second disc. So there’s your future too. I found drummer Steve Gorman in a chatty mood despite being his last interview of the day.
What was the idea behind recording a studio album in front of a live audience?
Like most of the things we get ourselves into, we really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. We had this very vague idea, which was to go to a studio and unite, and for a few nights during that process, bring some fans in and let them watch us make a record. It started as something that simple. Once it occurred to us to go to Levon Helm’s barn, where he performed and recorded shows all the time, it turned into a different vibe because we could have 200 people in there. Initially we were talking about a dozen or a couple of dozen people, very much being a fly on the wall thing. So it was kind of a weird hybrid, because it wasn’t a live show, in that we were going to do the same song several times in a row if need be. We were trying to get takes and we thought it would be great if at the end of this we had a record that had takes with the audience in there. If we don’t, we don’t, but if we do, we do. If not, we’ll record during the week too and fix the ones we did live, and we’d get a good record out of it, but it would be really cool if all the songs ended up being live. And that’s what happened. All the songs on the album are as they were recorded live. Those are live, actual versions. Going into it, you just don’t know if that’s going to work. It kept us on our toes and made us focus. But there’s no guarantee of anything. It has to feel good. The band has to be on the same page, and we all found ourselves in a good spot, able to open up.
How long had you sat on the songs before you recorded them?
We started work on a Monday, and the first time we had people in was that weekend, Saturday and Sunday night. So we had five days to put together 12 or 13 songs. That was the first time we played them, during that week. Each day we’d put together two or three songs and we’d record a version so we could remember it. Each song was only a few hours before we’d move onto the next one. So when Saturday came along we wrote down a list of ‘Let’s try these tonight.’ We were very much flying blind, but that energy is like, you’re going to sink or swim.
How did the audience influence the takes?
The buzz of having people in the room certainly helped. The first song on the album, ‘Good Morning Captain,’ the outro to that song is not how we ever played it. We got to the final downbeat of the final chorus and I thought it was going to keep going and so did Rich, but no-one else did. There was that moment of everyone giving each other a look like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ But it’s great and it sounds perfectly natural. I think the album throughout has a great buzz and a really cool vibe because of things like that. The best moments of rock and roll are when the train almost falls off the track.
What gear did you use?
I played a Ludwig kit – a small 20 inch kick drum, 12 and 14 inch toms, a maple shell, nice Legacy series small kit. Pretty contained, Zildjyin cymbals, Evans heads. That’s what I’m touring with this year. I’ve played Ludwig drums all the time. This kit is nice and small. It doesn’t sound small but it’s a very warm, natural-sounding drum kit. And there’s a lot of hand percussion. But I’m not a big gear head. I used to have a lot of drum kits but it started to dawn on me that I could only play one at a time. I got rid of a lot of stuff. I’ll play one kit all year and if I want to change something for the next record I will, but I keep it pretty simple.
The single, ‘I Ain’t Hiding,’ is really cool. It’s like country-disco-rock.
That’s a song that we threw together in one afternoon. That song started with Chris saying ‘I’ve got this idea. Gimmie ten minutes and if everyone hates it we don’t have to keep going.’ Because it’s got like this New York, 1970s punk disco beat. It started from that concept to then everything from ‘How will Meg White play it?’ and every kind of idea we could think of. But by the time we’re playing the song as a whole it just sounds like us. I don’t know what a traditional Black Crowes song is but it didn’t sound like something we would do, but by the end of it everyone was smiling. It was uncomfortable but fun, like “Are we really doing this song?” We played it live and we would just be laughing the whole time because we didn’t know what we thought of it. I said it either needs to be the first single or we shouldn’t even put it on the record.
The downloadable bonus disc is such a cool idea.
There’s a lot to that idea that all makes sense. It’s a nice little tidy package of nice ideas which all stems from ‘We have a lot of songs. It’d be nice to make a double record.’ Then that’s immediately followed with ‘We can’t ask people to pay for a double record now, in the worst economy in 85 years.’ Then the next statement is ‘Well, why don’t we just give it away?’ Next year is 20 years and we’ve been looking at how next year is the first time we stop and tour with a way of looking back, celebrating 20 years. So we thought, if we’re going to do that, let’s give the record away this year and say ‘Thanks for everything. Here’s nine more songs.’ I think it’s totally cool. Out of all the things we’ve ever done I think this is the coolest thing we’ve ever come up with.