» Robbie Crane - Black Star Riders
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Interview conducted November 26 2015
Interview published December 06 2015

"This band is very focused and serious about what they do."

Metal Covenant met up with bass player Robbie Crane of Black Star Riders prior to the band's show in Stockholm. Robbie is more than anything a really nice and sincere guy and we mostly talked about his first year with the band, but of course I couldn't miss out on the opportunity to ask him about why the core members of Ratt really can't get along anymore.

"Unfortunately in the business, you can be in a business position where you can have a say or in a business position where you don't have a say, and some guys, who we would think would have that say, they don't have it anymore."

Tobbe: Your latest record [The Killer Instinct] came out in February, so what's been going on in the BSR camp since then?

Robbie: Yeah, you know, a lot of touring. We were out with Europe in March and we did a lot of festivals this summer. We did Download and a bunch of other festivals. We did the Monsters Of Rock Cruise in America. You know, I've done that cruise with like 3 bands and seeing it from all different perspectives and it was a really cool experience to do with Black Star Riders, because they're more of a European based band, you know, with regard to the following and everything. A lot of touring, but we took a little bit of time off after that, about September and October, to get ready for this tour. And it's just been great, man. We've just been enjoying the success of the record. You know, it's been a great opportunity, yeah.

Tobbe: You've played with quite a few bands in the last 2 decades and you obviously have a lot of experience, so what did you bring to the table for the recordings of the BSR record?

Robbie: You know, playing with a lot of different artists and stuff like that, you tend to have just different flavors and different styles of music and stuff. I was fortunate enough to when I joined the band, I was able to go out on the road with the band for a week, with Marco [Mendoza, former bass player] and the band. So it was a great opportunity for me to meet Marco and to be around the dynamic of the guys. I didn't know anybody in the band and at that point Black Star Riders, Ricky [Warwick, vocals and guitar], and Damon [Johnson, guitar] and Scott [Gorham, guitar], had started to write and really get focused on the new record, so I had a great opportunity to be able to kind of absorb it and watching the growth of the band.

For the most part, most of the songs were written when I joined the band. So by the time we got into the studio it was a great experience with Nick Raskulinecz, our producer, and everybody, to get in and work up the songs and really work hard on them. For me, I just felt like Jimmy [DeGrasso, drums] and I really locked in together and I laid heavily on my experiences as just a musician in general, playing with these great musicians and I think the result of the record is awesome. We're really proud of it. Absolutely.

Tobbe: So why, in the end, did they, exactly, pick you to be the bass player of the band?

Robbie: Aah. It's a good question. I asked the same question. You know, when we auditioned, or when they auditioned bass players, they auditioned a lot of people that I knew very well. Good friends of mine and some people that I know. You know, great players. When I came down to do the audition, the first person I saw was Marco Mendoza, and Marco and I've played in a lot of different situations. He was in Lynch Mob prior to me. He did the Smoke And Mirrors album. And also with the pop artist Daniel Powter. Marco had done the record [Turn On The Lights] and I did the tour. So we would always cross paths, Marco and I, as bass players, you know, and it's just a great feeling to be able to play in any gig that Marco had played in, 'cause Marco's an amazing player and an amazing person.

So when they auditioned all the bass players, to be honest with you, Jimmy DeGrasso had called me and asked me if I wanted to come down and audition, so I came and I played, you know, my 3 songs. I thought "Okay. Well, I didn't get that gig", 'cause there were so many great people up for the gig, you know. And I was surprised. Why they got me I still ask. "Why me?" and they go "Oh, you know, you're a great guy, I guess.". I don't know, but it's a great experience to play with Scott, and Jimmy, and Ricky, and Damon. It's been amazing, yeah. They're good guys, you know. Talented, man. They're very talented. Good people. It's rare to find a group of people that you're cohesive with, you know, personality-wise, and we all get on real good, which is cool.

Tobbe: So what did your words actually mean in the studio to them? You know, being the new guy.

Robbie: You know, everyone was always very open about everything. Ricky and Damon are creative individuals and they aren't stifling. I've been in situations where there's writers that are like "No, no. I wrote it like this. Play it like this.". They gave me all the freedom to do whatever I felt I wanted to play, so all the bass parts that I played on the record I made up myself in the hotel room. You know, I listened to it and I "Okay. I'll play this.". And Nick Raskulinecz, our producer, is also a bass player. An amazing bass player. He's recorded Geddy Lee, the Foo Fighters and all these great musicians. So for me, I think it was more nerve-wracking to work with Nick than it was with the band.

But every time I would come up with a part, I would play 3 or 4 different passes of different ideas and Ricky and Damon would go "Great! Cool! Love that!.". So everyone would interject, you know, and I think that what I brought was my melodic playing. I play for the song mostly, you know. I tried to play more with Jimmy on this record. So just a lot of creative freedom in the band, to just kind of do what I love doing, which is great.

Tobbe: It must be great to come in that way and just not do what everybody else says.

Robbie: Yeah, absolutely. Every band I ever joined, it's been like within the first month or 2 I've done the record. Or like first week, like when I joined Ratt I did the Collage record in 3 days. So I joined the band and I did the record, you know what I mean? You know, every situation you can either come in tentative "Oh, I don't know what to do." or you just come in and act like you've been there your whole life and just, you know, do what you do; and that's kind of always been my approach; just to come in and just do what I do, and if it works, it's great. If it doesn't work "I understand.", you know.

Sometimes when you go to record records; I know a lot of musicians, a lot of friends of mine, that call me and say "You know, I did my best, but they replaced my bass or my guitar." and I'll say "It's not about you. It's not your fault and it's not that you're not adequate. It's that sometimes what you're doing is not the sound they're looking for.". So I've tried to be as diverse as possible with my playing and on this record, I think I played a lot of different styles. I drew from my pop experience, from Daniel Powter, and my heavier experience with Ratt or whoever and really just played as a team bass player, you know. Just great, yeah.

Tobbe: If you look at yourself in a live environment, on stage, what role have you been able to take so far?

Robbie: In every band I've ever been in, I've always been like the high background singer who sings the most. You know, singing the most background with the singer. In this situation we're very lucky we have Damon and Ricky, and they're both great singers. So I try to play as much support role vocally to Damon and Ricky as I can and try to be as much of the foundation with Jimmy. You know, keep it solid, but be aggressive live, and still have a lot of fun and personality on stage, but I try not to overbear the lead singer, you know. I prefer, me personally, because I've been in bands with so many great guitar players, to always try to let the guitar player shine and do his thing, and be supportive, but still aggressive and still hold my own. So that's just always been my way, you know.

Tobbe: Just be yourself, with self-confidence.

Robbie: Yeah, totally. I'm comfortable being number 2 to a great. You know, a great Damon Johnson, Michael Schenker, Warren DeMartini, George Lynch, Steve Stevens, whoever I've played with. I've always been comfortable with "That's the guy, and I'm here with him.", do you know what I mean? That's just always been my way and my position, yeah. It's good. Served me well.

Tobbe: Had you joined the band if they still were known as Thin Lizzy?

Robbie: Um, that's an interesting question. I don't think so, and I'll tell you why, and we've talked about this a little bit. You know, I'm a huge Thin Lizzy fan. I grew up on Phil [Lynott] and he was one of my favorite bass players. For me, I kind of was more of the opinion I appreciated what Thin Lizzy did in their history. I wasn't against Thin Lizzy playing again. I thought it was great that they were celebrating the music of Thin Lizzy and I think it's their right to do it, but for me, I don't think that I would ever want to do that. For me, personally, you know. Now they've asked me, you know, and I've never offered, but for me, I would feel weird. [Laughs]

But it's an honor to play with Scott and play Thin Lizzy songs in Black Star Riders. That was part of the thing for me when I joined Black Star Riders; was that it was a new band, yeah. It's a new band, and with a new history, and something new to write down. And that's for me, I think, the reason why it was so appealing. You know, the music was great.

Tobbe: Like we mentioned earlier, you've played with a few bands before, or projects, or whatever you call them. Like Ratt, the Vince Neil band, Lynch Mob and whoever. So this is your chance to explain why you don't participate with those bands anymore.

Robbie: I was in Vince's band for 5 years, Vince went back to Mötley Crüe, so the band dissolved. And then I joined Ratt 2 months later and I was in Ratt for 15 years. So when Ratt decided to take a long hiatus, George Lynch called me and asked me to play in Lynch Mob. So 2010 and I played with Lynch Mob for 18 months and, you know, it just ran its course. So I wanted to take some time off, so I stopped playing in Lynch Mob and I started playing with pop artists and things were going great for about 2 years, and then I got the call for Black Star Riders. I don't think anything has really been like "Oh, it's over!". It's just more, you know, it runs its course sometimes and as musicians, like in any relationship "Is it the right one, or?", you know. But I'm very proud of the time I spent in every band I've ever been in.

Tobbe: Like you said, you were in Ratt for over 15 years and why is there always some trouble in that band? Why can't the core members stick together?

Robbie: I just think that they're really great people, each individually. Warren [DeMartini, guitars], Stephen [Pearcy, vocals] and Bob [Blotzer] are the predominant guys that I've played with and they all have different personalities. In time Stephen's been a part of all the songwriting in the band and Warren's been the predominant writer in the band. Juan [Croucier, bass] and Robbin [Crosby, guitars, deceased 2002] and Bob as well. And I think it's just their personalities as they've grown up and grown apart. They just don't agree business-wise and it's okay. There's so many bands that… You know. We all know. But sometimes it comes out and sometimes it doesn't.

I think that in the end everyone just had a strong opinion of how they think things should be ran, and they all have very valid points, you know. Unfortunately in the business, you can be in a business position where you can have a say or in a business position where you don't have a say, and some guys, who we would think would have that say, they don't have it anymore. So for the Ratt situation, you know, now even more than ever, Bobby's playing in his own group without Warren and everybody. And I talked to Bobby yesterday about it and, you know, if they don't wanna work together, I guess they all should try to work on their own.

Stephen's been doing his own solo stuff for years. I mean, 6 years in the time that I worked with him. 2000-2006 and then he came back to Ratt and then, you know, he's been solo since 2012. Maybe he did some Ratt shows a little bit for maybe a year, but he's always been solo and he's done well for himself. But yeah, personalities I would say. But let me tell you; in the time that I spent with them, we had a great time. It was always fun. Very good times. Fun records.

Tobbe: What has been your biggest influences through the years?

Robbie: Oh, man. I guess you could go back years. My father is a musician and so was my grandfather. They were both guitar players, so they influenced me to want to play. I think, as I grew up in Hollywood, a lot of what was going on then was like a lot of the local scene. And I was into Kiss, and Van Halen, and Led Zeppelin, and all the basics, Thin Lizzy. I loved the Sex Pistols when I was a kid. I was really into punk. I loved U2 when I was a kid too, and Duran Duran. I loved everybody. I was just into everything. Steve Harris from Iron Maiden and Phil Lynott were my favorites. So I just would play all styles. Just a basic rock 'n' roll kid, you know what I mean?

Tobbe: Let's get back to the present now. Do you have any material for a forthcoming record already written?

Robbie: Yeah. We're just in the process right now. As a matter of fact, the other day we were in the room and Ricky and Damon and Scott were throwing out some ideas. We have a plan, and I think we're gonna take some of 2016 off 'cause we have some other stuff going on. I think we're gonna start focusing on recording in the middle of the year, end of summer, and hopefully have something for 2017. That's our plan. Who knows, you know? Things could change, but we're already planning on the next record, yeah, absolutely.

Tobbe: You all speak very highly of Nick Raskulinecz too and have you been talking to him in terms of making another record together?

Robbie: Nick is definitely our 6th member, I consider. I think a few of us consider him the 6th member of Black Star Riders. You know, working with Nick was an amazing experience. More so because he was one of us. All of us have worked with a million producers. Some of us have worked with the same producers in projects. You know, producers do their job. They get a bad rep. I mean, a lot of them are great.

I worked with some really cool guys that I love, like Elvis Baskette and Richie Zito and guys like that. Nick's a musician, but first and foremost he's a bro and he's a buddy, and he's a great songwriter and he's got great ideas. I mean, he will say stuff and you'll look at him and go "What?" and then you do it and you're like "Oh. Cool!". You know, he's just another one of the guys. I mean, I feel like he should put on a guitar or a bass and just play in the room with us. He interacts so well with the band, so I think it was a great experience. We absolutely have every intention of doing another record with Nick.

Tobbe: But that was kind of a lucky strike, because initially the band was gonna go with Joe Elliott [Def Leppard].

Robbie: Joe Elliott, yeah, which would have been a great experience as well. Unfortunately scheduling-wise it didn't work out, as we all know now. I think through Damon we were able to land Nick, 'cause they both live in Nashville. And, man, when I heard we were gonna use Nick I was like "What!", 'cause I love all the Rush and the new Alice In Chains and Foo Fighters and all that.

Tobbe: Is there anything you will change a little bit, like things you weren't completely satisfied with, to the next record?

Robbie: Oh, come on. I could sit here for an hour. [Laughs] We're our own worst critics. I mean, for me, in my own selfish ways, there's things that I would have changed. But some of the stuff that I recorded, like Blindsided, for just a couple of takes, I used this one bass that I have on the road and always recorded with, my Black P bass, and Nick Raskulinecz was smart enough to say "Hey! Let's take you out of your comfort zone. Play one of my basses. This old 70's Telecaster bass and just see what you come up with." and I just "Oh oh, I don't know if I can do this.".

So I just did a couple of passes and, you know, we pieced together a track that I think was great for the record. I mean, it was great for the song. But there's some stuff that I would have changed, you know what I mean? That's just my own craziness. But for the song, I think it's perfect for the song, yeah.

Tobbe: But still, the band has a very specific sound, so how much can you actually deviate from that sound?

Robbie: Yeah, that's interesting that you say that. Again, I'll reorientate this. The first record had a certain style to it, and especially with the bass, and that's very Marco Mendoza. He has a style about him which is awesome, and he also did the Lynch Mob record, so when I came in to learn the Lynch Mob, I picked up that rhythmic style that he does with his right hand. I mean, he's really, really efficient and perficient with his right hand, the way he plays.

So when I came into this, I emulated that style, learning the songs, and then recording the record, I definitely used his influence. Because I think that Marco has a certain style and a certain sound on the first record that gave it that little flavor with regard to the bass, you know, so I did definitely try to emulate that. And you're right, there is a style and there is a certain thing and a little bit of Phil. That swing that Phil gives you, you know. So yeah, I definitely use some of that. [Laughs] And I told Marco "Dude. I gotta copy your style, man. It's great.". 'Cause he's great, man. A wonderful person. Nobody is like Marco. Marco is very special, yeah.

Tobbe: But you're experienced too. You've been doing this for like 30 years, I guess. Or even more…

Robbie: Oh, man. I was on the road when I was about 16, with Poison. You know, I was a technician first. When I was a little kid, you know what I mean? You think back on that and you're like "I'm 46 now and that was 30 years ago.". That's a trip. This feels like yesterday, you know. [Laughs] Where is that time going?

Tobbe: When you get to a certain age, people are starting to have families and kids, so how do you guys try to make things work between the band and families and all the scheduling that comes with it?

Robbie: Well, you know, we came on this tour and I missed my youngest daughter's birthday again. This is probably the 3rd time in 4 years and it's a lot of sacrifice on our families' ends, you know what I mean? Thankfully, my children and my wife, and everybody in the band's, has been very understanding that we really are dedicated to this.

When we're home, we're home, you know. I just spent 2 months at home. You know, no music, no nothing, and 100 percent on with my kids and my wife, and it was great. You know, they understand, and just, you know, Skype and iChat is the best thing. Back in the day I can imagine having kids in the 90's when you didn't have all these creature comforts. You know, electronic gadgets everywhere. I don't know if I could have done it.

I grew up very close to my family. My dad, my mom, my sister and I were all very close and I think it's important that you're there for your children and I think it shapes growth and the future for your child. I have 2 daughters and they're my best buddies. We talk on the phone all the time and we just always try to keep in touch and just keep in touch with each other's day, you know. But it's difficult. It's definitely difficult, yeah.

Tobbe: Like back in the day you had to pay like $2 a minute for a phone call overseas.

Robbie: Yeah, if you could even get a phone, because back in those days it was like the quarters. I remember being out in 2001 with Ratt, with Dio and Alice Cooper in Scandinavia and I didn't have my phone. I had to use a phone card and call on the pay phone. Like 5 million kronor [Swedish currency] to call America for 2 minutes. [Laughs]

Tobbe: What do you personally think is the most important factor for the band at this point?

Robbie: I think musical growth for us. I think it's important that we at least give our new record and the new songs a chance. We were very blessed to write the record that we wrote and record the record that we recorded. Damon and Ricky and Scott really did a great job with the songs and Nick was amazing. I think, as a band, we really were able to capture something. I think that we need to maintain who we are, but get to the next level musically and songwriting-wise, and that's something that we take very seriously as a group and as players.

It's infectious when you play with Ricky and Damon and Scott who are very accomplished writers and have done a lot of great things, so it's really great to see that as a band member. You're a product of your environment when you're in these situations. You could be "Oh. We're all getting drunk and chasing chicks." or you could be serious about what you do. This band is very focused and serious about what they do. I love that. It makes it so much funner. I mean, it's a new level of fun, other than "Oh, man, I feel sick today.", you know what I mean?

Tobbe: In the end, what will make this band, supposedly, stick together for a long time?

Robbie: I just think the fact that we believe in each other musically and that we get along as friends and the open communication that we try to have with each other. It goes all the way to the crew, you know. If we have any sort of an issue or something we need to address or talk about, instead of walking around and pouting, we go straight to that person and address it. You know, we're adults and I think musicians fail to realize that. You know "We're musicians. We're in the bubble.", but you're adults too.

You know, I think having kids, all of us are having kids except for Scott, really helps everybody to kind of deal with each other's relationships and how to address stuff. So I just think the mutual respect and the open communication amongst us as musicians will really help our longevity. The truth is, selling records and having some success with it comes into play, but even if we weren't successful, I think we would still have a like and a love for what we're doing and I think that we would really do it anyways, you know. I just like being around these guys.

I've never played outside of a Los Angeles based band and everyone I've ever played with has been in my small circle. So to be outside of my comfort zone, I didn't really know any of these guys, has taught me a lot musically and as a person. You know, just to be straight and to be honest and straight up with each other and I think that we've done well with that. You know, hopefully we'll continue down that path. They're all such nice guys. You know, you've met them. What you see is what you get with them and that's what I appreciate.

See also: review of the album The Killer Instinct

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