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Track By Track: Chris Robinson Brotherhood Barefoot in the Head

Dean Budnick | September 29, 2017

"I've never been interested in hit songs. As a matter of fact, most bands’ biggest hits are the songs I would never play,” Chris Robinson declares, with a laugh. “That’s just me. It’s not being difficult; it’s just the way my mind works or where the connection is. Writing songs was always my entry into this world of being a musician, and of all the ups and the downs and the goods and the bads. It all started because I wanted to write. It’s funny, at 50 years old, you come back around. And again, that’s the fuel, this material, for any musician worth his weight when given new music or a new composition—at least in our band.”

This is what prompted the Chris Robinson Brotherhood to re-enter the studio in late 2016 to record the followup to last year’s full-length album, Anyway You Love, We Know How You Feel, and its companion EP, If You Lived Here, You Would Be Home by Now. These sessions were the first to feature the CRB’s current roster, which also includes co-founding guitarist Neal Casal and keyboard player Adam MacDougall, along with the new rhythm section of drummer Tony Leone, who came onboard in 2015, and bassist Jeff Hill, who joined in 2016.

“We were really in a great place when we finished the last record, our first self-production. It was a really good energy,” Robinson expounds. “I came home from those Anyway You Love sessions, and I just kept writing. It seemed like my acoustic guitar was at the forefront. I didn’t send any songs around to anyone or anything but, by the fall, I was sitting on 12 or 13 things that weren’t complete. We were in a harmonious place after having Jeff join the band, spending another year on the road with our rhythm section and knowing that these are our dudes. So we made the decision to record. One idea I thought would be cool was not to bring any of our road gear—no amps or guitars that we used on tour. That set us off on a little bit of a different thing.

“If we didn’t have the material or the imagination to be there, then I suppose we would have just said we could keep touring but, as a communal group, our perspective is: Every song’s like a new elixir. Every song is a new shape or texture or color or phrase we can use in our stories. We have the unique opportunity to create something on the run, in a way. We don’t have nostalgia, we don’t have hit records and we don’t have, ‘Ahhh, remember in the summer of ‘95…’

“So, Barefoot in the Head is representative of this freedom we have to be creative. Ultimately, as musicians, that’s what we’ve craved our whole careers, our whole lives. Maybe we all can’t drop out and move to a commune in Oregon, but we can do it in our music. We can do it in our mindset; we can do it in our business model. I think that’s the energy and where the creative heart still is in this band.”

“Behold the Seer” is like a two-part song, but it’s quintessentially CRB. The demo name of this song was “Shit Kicker.” It was more rootsy country. I had the intro riff and my little verse parts. Then, instantly Neal wrote the chorus and, while we were playing, I said, “Adam, what do you want to do? It’s your solo—what do you want to play over?” So he went to his chords. The song came together very quickly. It’s a song about being able to have your moment to focus through the fog or clarity with the maya around us. And how some people almost have special eyewear to be able to see through whatever sort of trance we’re in.

This is my favorite song on the record. I wanted to write an updated, more romantic version of two people who are in love and moved somewhere to grow weed or something. Their backstory wasn’t important, but their love affair was. I wanted the words to feel like a Robert Altman movie, in a way.

The song is made up of scenes. I wanted them to play out over the music, as if in your mind, you were watching a movie. The first bit, “Barefoot through the crocus among the dreaming trees”—that’s the opening scene. That’s the credits where this beautiful girl is in the woods walking through the crocus flowers. But then, if it were a script, it would say, “Scene II: Inside the Cabin,” and that would be another scene where they’re in their simple dwelling and she’s combing her hair. It kind of moves from there and starts in the autumn and ends in the winter. So it takes place just over a few months—this love affair is going on with these people. The instrumental section in the middle, which I believe Adam orchestrated, fits perfectly. It’s the montage of what’s going on in their lives during that part. It’s a real visual song to me. It opens with this beautiful girl walking through the forest, and the camera should be moving in on her. Some songs aren’t like that at all, but I see this one like a storyboard. I’m visualizing the image and writing it down in a script form, at least to a weirdo like me.