The Chris Robinson Brotherhood in their element: The Bay Area

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood in their element: The Bay Area

Photo Credit: Jay Blakesberg courtesy of Calabro Music Media

Chris Robinson Brotherhood has always been about community. And while their previous albums have reflected that aspect of the band, the communal vibe is palpable on their latest record, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel as well as the record’s companion EP If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home By Now. The titles reflect the CRB’s strong sense of community with their fans, speaking directly to them using the second person. To the CRB there is no distinction between fans and friends. 

Musically, the album is probably their tightest, another reflection of the collaborative, communal way the CRB approached making the record. AXS had a chance to talk with lead guitarist and creative mind Neal Casal about the Anyway You Love sessions, CRB’s communal nature, and how California figures into the band’s mythos.  

AXS: What was your experience making Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel?

Neal Casal: We made the record in Marin County, California, which is just a little bit north of San Francisco, in a beautiful house that has been turned into a studio overlooking the Pacific Ocean, sweeping views and beautiful vibes there. The record was very much informed by the feelings we got from living communally in that house and making a record there. Writing music while you’re looking out over the water was a pretty amazing experience. That certainly had a lot to do with how the record turned out. When I think about this record I will always think about that house. Actually we’re going back to that house to record our new record. It’s a very inspirational place for us. There’s a lot of songs in that house for us to conjure and grab ahold of.

AXS: So you mentioned you guys were living communally and that probably lent itself to some great collaborations. What was the collaborative process like exactly?

NC: Chris [Robinson] and I write the majority of the songs together. But everybody got in on the act this time. Adam [MacDougall, keys] wrote a lot, Tony [Leone], our drummer, wrote some as well. We had a big communal table that we all would gather around for meals and songwriting sessions. We would start our day breaking out the acoustic guitars and kind of picking what we were going to work on that day. Everybody would throw their ideas and two cents in till we had something worked up and then we would record it. We would usually have a basic framework laid out by dinnertime and then work on some vocals and overdubs for the rest of the night. And that’s how it went for three weeks making that record.

AXS: The track “Forever As The Moon” has a very stream of conscious vibe. Did the lyrics and music just kind of flow on that one?

NC: Yeah, that was a quick one for sure. Chris wrote all the lyrics on that song, really great lyrics. He had the initial riff as well. He finished most of that song on his own. But there was one part that I added. There’s a few chords at the end of the chorus, the part that says, ‘Anyway you love, we know how you feel.’ Those chords and the melody came from me, but Chris wrote the lyrics and came up with the hook. I just added that small part at the end but Chris really had that song very well in hand and I think that song came very quickly to him.

AXS: The song “Give US Back Our Eleven Days” is very intriguing. What inspired that one?

NC: That song came from a jam and soundcheck that Adam and Tony were doing. They just had this rhythmic, trance-like motif going and Chris really dug it. He recorded it on his phone while they were playing and he remembered it. It was something that stuck with him and he asked them to recreate it in the studio. And they did. Then we added some other layers on there, some fuzz guitar and obscure, oblique kind of vocals (laughs). Chris had written up some lyrics to kind of chant through it. That’s how that one came about. It was a soundcheck jam.

AXS: Wow! That’s interesting, because sometimes you’ll record a jam and listen back and say ‘oh, we really liked that.’ But then it’s hard to reproduce it with the same vibe. Did Adam and Tony experience that when they tried to recreate the jam?

NC: They definitely jammed it again. They had to relearn it from the iPhone recording, which is funny, but they did it. It took a little feeling to get that one reimagined. You know how it goes, when you’re not thinking about it when you’re playing something in a jam or a soundcheck or wherever you may be. You’re not consciously thinking that it’s going to be on a record and it flows out like nothing, it’s so easy. Then of course when you have to think about it like, ‘do that again!’ (laughs), everybody stiffens up and they’re like,’ whoa! I don’t know!’ Then you can’t play it.  It becomes hilarious really. So we did go through a little bit of that, which is funny, but we managed to wrangle it (laughs).

AXS: It’s a great track.

NC: That was really Chris’s presence of mind to hear something at a soundcheck. He had a vision for that. Otherwise that thing would have been lost to the ether like any other jam that you let go.

AXS: You guys have a great sense of community with your fans. What are some of the ways you’ve seen that manifested?

NC: Easy, I go down the list of friends that I’ve made since this band started. Good friends, close friends, friends that will be lifelong. It starts and ends right there. It demonstrates what music is for at its root, which is bringing people together. That’s what it does. It’s all about people ultimately. Speaking for myself, I’ve made a long list of good friends through this group. I can’t think of any better way to demonstrate it than that.

AXS: Speaking of community, CRB has some home state shows coming up. What’s your favorite place to play in California?

NC: San Francisco is really special for us. It’s always been our home base even though we started as an L.A. group. San Francisco was really the first place that took us in. It’s the place where we built our strongest following. It’s our core, it’s where we record now. Chris now lives up there, in Marin County. He’s made that his home. We just have very strong roots in the San Francisco area. We play with Phil Lesh a lot, we’re friends with Bob [Weir]. Betty Cantor is a really big part of our world. We’ve been embraced lovingly by the Bay Area. So I would say that’s our strongest anchor.

AXS: You guys are closing out your 2016 tour in L.A. Anything special planned for your show at The Fonda?

NC: We do, but I don’t know what it is yet (laughs). Chris and I have been talking it over. I don’t know what the specifics are yet but that will definitely be a special show.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood will be closing their 2016 tour at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles on Saturday, December 17. Click here for tickets. The CRB will be back on the road in 2017. You can find tickets to their Denver show at the Ogden Theatre on February 2 here. You can also check out live video cuts of the Anyway You Love tracks "Forever As The Moon" and "Leave My Guitar Alone" below.