» Robbie Crane - Black Star Riders
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Interview conducted November 1 2019
Interview published January 8 2020

"I don't bitch, I don't complain."

Black Star Riders put out their latest record Another State of Grace on September 6th and as the band came to Stockholm on the following tour, Metal Covenant got some time to talk with the band's bassist Robbie Crane.

An interview with frontman Ricky Warwick containing some of the same questions was done on the same evening and was published on November 17th. Read it here -->


Tobbe: Your new record was out in September and as an artist that has been around for quite some time now, does it still feel strange that record sales are counted in hits for streaming and stuff?

Robbie: Yeah. I mean, for sure. It seems a bit archaic to have the expectation of, like, you know, actual physical sales. But, you know, we see physical sales as well. I think we're one of the few bands that still has a solid fanbase that actually goes out and does the physical thing and wants to pick up an LP, the old-school records, or even a CD. You know, I don't have a CD player anymore.

So, it's nice to see that people actually do find value in the physical copies. But, you know, it's the trend of life. If everything travels with the speed of light you can either buck the trend or get onboard and try to make it as great of an experience for the purchaser as well as for us.

And that's, I think, what we've tried to do. We try to find and have a meaning between the two. You know, we still wanna offer physical copies 'cause we love physical copies. I love having an LP, which is cool to me.

But still, I like to click too. I've downloaded a record. [Laughs] I did, you know what I mean? To work on it. To work on the record, because, you know, we recorded it pretty much live, so to work on the record I downloaded it. [Laughs]

Tobbe: But it must be kind of disappointing for established artists like yourselves to see record sales keep diminishing?

Robbie: Okay, so let's be truthful. I mean, in the height of it, you know, where we making millions of dollars? We were doing good, you know what I mean? But the reality is if you're eager enough and you have the dedication to wanna go out and tour the records and invest in it, you know, as a company and as a group, then you still can do well at it.

And diminishing record sales or not; you know, it's a matter of creativity and I hate to sound like the old cliché "Oh, we're artists and we do it 'cause we love it.", but we generally love it. And as long as people wanna hear what we have to say we're gonna keep put it out. As long as we have a record label…

You know, Nuclear Blast has been behind us the whole time. They encourage us the make records and they wanna hear what we have to say. We're willing to do it. They're partners with us in it and we're excited to do it. So, diminishing or not; we've not seen it terribly diminished too much. We've managed to be one of the few bands that recoups our records, which is pretty rare nowadays. And we're appreciative, man, so it's exciting, yeah.

Tobbe: I'm thinking about what artwork for albums will look like in 10 years. Will there even be artwork?

Robbie: Yeah. I mean, there's the whole creative aspect of it that is, you know, lost on this generation, or even generations prior to us. I mean, remember the '70s and the '80s when you'd get a record and you'd open it up. Or a CD booklet and you'd dig through it. And I always took joy in, like, "Who's Martin Birch? He's a producer guy. Isn't his name on the...? Wait a minute!" and you'd dig through your records and you'd find "Oh, he did Deep Purple.". You know what I mean?

You find these names of people and you realize that there's all of these things going on behind. I think that's what made me, as a young musician kid, wanna get involved; just seeing all these names behind the record. You know, they were as famous as the musicians to me, 'cause they had a hand in making this great piece of music that I found joy in.

Tobbe: When I read Martin Birch's name the first time, that was on a Maiden record, and I didn't realize until later that he was very active in the '70s as well.

Robbie: Me neither. My introduction to Martin Birch was Piece Of Mind [1983]. Well, actually The Number Of The Beast [1982] and then Piece Of Mind, but it was on Piece Of Mind that I actually said "Hey, wait a minute, man! That's the same guy that… Oh, he did their last record.". But nowadays you just hit "Click" on Martin Birch and you get the whole enchilada. Which is great, and it can be a useful tool, but it can also be a stifling tool for some generation, you know what I mean?

Tobbe: Even if record sales aren't as good as they used to be, recording is cheaper than it ever was.

Robbie: It can be. So, I've been lucky enough to be in different aspects of that. You know, I've been in bands where you get an advance of money and everyone wants to keep the money and record the record for as cheap as possible, and it sounds like it! And I've been in bands, like in Black Star Riders, where we get a nominal amount of money, and we spend it. We spend it and we try to get the best producers we can. You know, we did two records with Nick Raskulinecz, who did the Foo Fighters and Rush and Alice In Chains.

And our most recent record we just did with Jay Ruston, who has done Anthrax, and you know, everybody else. So we tend to be willing to put our money where our mouth is, in the hopes that what we put out is quality and that people will appreciate it and, you know, they'll invest in it. And so far it has worked out well for us, so we have no plan of changing that; that way of how we do business.

Tobbe: Don't misunderstand me now, but why isn't this 4th record of Black Star Riders just the 4th record? Why is it something special instead?

Robbie: I think it was a change in a number of things that we did in the approach of this record. I think the last two records we did with Nick Raskulinecz: Number 1: Were created a certain way. We had a certain path that we followed, that, you know, is still with us, which is great. And we changed guitar players and drummers, you know. Although Chad [Szeliga, drums] joined the band in 2017, his first record is Another State Of Grace. Damon Johnson's [guitar] departure allowed Christian Martucci to come in.

And I think the energy, and the chemistry, that synergy of the 5 guys, completely changed our process, as of how we wrote songs; the direction of the songs. Anyone can take a chord progression and interpret it different ways, and Christian took Ricky's [Warwick, vocals/guitar] chord progressions and lyrics and transposed or interpreted them in different ways. So that immediately changed the dynamic of the music for which we were about to put out. And then we brought in Jay Ruston, which is a completely different dynamic, as the way Jay records records. Jay put us in the room together, the 5 of us, and said "Have at it! Let's record these songs live and try to get them in the first or second take." and we quite literally were able to. Definitely for the most part.

Most of the songs are first and second takes of just Chad and I. Some of the guitars we kept. But that energy of 5 dudes in a room having a jam is captured. I just think that you can feel the energy in the room with some of these takes. I feel it. And I think that people capture the energy of that and they're feeling that we were having a blast making this record. And it's not to say that we didn't have a good time making the other records and I think it was a little bit more traditional style, or stale, where you would record the drums by themselves, and then you'd record some guitars, and the other guitar.

And to be honest with you I did the bass at the end, which I thought was cool, because I had the benefit of a semi-painted canvas to lay my parts on, but it also created a little bit of a staler…, you know what I mean? And it's not… Again, through the process I loved it, but something may be said about playing in a room with your mates and just having a jam and capturing what you did and keeping it. And Jay did a great job capturing that band, and the moment, and snapshotting what we were doing at that moment, you know. We just did a different thing on this record, and I think it comes off.

And again, it's not to say that it wasn't great before; it was awesome. But it's just a different approach, with different players, and although Scott [Gorham, guitar], Ricky and I are all the same from those last 3 records, and Scott and Ricky from the last 4, it's just something new, and we just captured it. Chad brought an immense amount in the studio. Different playing style. More of a songsmith, as opposed to a basher. Jimmy DeGrasso, amazing drummer, but Chad is… It's just a different style of drumming that fits more of what we were doing.

Tobbe: And Damon quitting must have meant some trouble in the beginning there. He was one of the core writers. Even though Ricky just told me that you kind of knew for a long time that he was gonna quit.

Robbie: Damon is a solo artist. You know, we've always known that. I've known him as that, first and foremost in America, with Brother Cane and all that. He was very straight and honest with us, that he wanted to follow his solo career. And we encouraged that for him, because he's our friend and we love him, and to see him do what he's doing now is great. He's so happy and content in what he's doing. He did let us know. It was about two years in the making. He was letting us know, so we knew that something was gonna happen. When it finally came to be, we were ready for it.

And musically, although we hadn't really written much… We had about two songs written prior to his departure. Again, Christian coming into the fold, through Jay Ruston, our producer, put us in a position to win. The demos that Ricky and Christian did right out of the gate… Mind you, we had never even met Christian. I mean, I had met him one time through our friend Stefan Adika. They were playing in Dee Dee Ramone's band together, but I had never, liked, played with the guy.

And the first time we ever actually met him was when we walked into the pre-production studio. He was standing there with his guitar on. Scott, Ricky, Chad and I plugged in our instruments and we just starting having a jam and literally in 3,5 days we had the whole record done. And again, it's a testament to the energy, to the chemistry and to the synergy that the band had, and has. And I was saying this after we recorded the record; I was a little nervous that "Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe we were just in a good place at the time when we were doing the recording.".

So when we got into the rehearsal studio in London to start with this tour it just picked right back up from where we started it and where we'd left off. It was great to see that. I think it comes off live as well.

Tobbe: You guys are always replacing members with already established artists, like yourself once. What would be the risk in taking in someone that isn't so experienced yet?

Robbie: Well, with the dynamic of this band, because of the players that are in the band, I think there's an expectation, and there isn't any time in the way this band works, because we are moving forward so quickly and we're two years down the road already, like we already have dates and stuff planned for two years down the road and a game plan and we're already mentally working on our next record.

And because of that forward momentum I don't know that we actually have the energy or time to train somebody or to get somebody in the position. Now that's not to say that if, God forbid, anything happens to somebody in the band we wouldn't consider somebody like that. But it's easier for us to envision somebody in the band… I'd seen Christian play with Dee Dee Ramone, but I'd never seen him in Stone Sour, so I didn't wanna not envision him or envision him in the band.

Like I said, we just got together and played and it just worked out, by luck, by chance. We saw a video from playing our songs and, like, "Oh, that's perfect. Great! He's the guy!". And same thing with Chad. We saw a video and said "That's the guy!", you know. Something told us that was the guy. It just so happened to be that they were in other bands, you know what I mean? You know, I don't think it's conscious, 'cause we auditioned a bunch of guys, and they were great, but it's just "How do we gonna live with the guy?", you know what I mean?

There's so many different aspects to it, you know. You live with these people. You share with them, you comingle, and you know, you coexist, and can you live with them? We're all alpha males, and we're all dudes, and we all are the kings of our own castle, so it's kind of hard to find some ponds in that little pond. [Laughs]

Tobbe: I remember asking Damon a couple of years ago if you were trying to distance yourselves a little bit from Thin Lizzy and he told me that will never happen, but now you play only Black Star Riders songs live.

Robbie: I think for Damon it would be easy for him to say that 'cause he's in Thin Lizzy, you know what I mean? I'm not, and nor is Chad, and nor is Christian. You know, Scott Gorham's in our band and Scott Gorham had a pretty big hand in the writing of the Thin Lizzy songs with Phil [Lynott], so our music is gonna sound like that, 'cause Scott's a predominant writer in our band.

Usually we don't give Scott enough credit regarding the Black Star Riders catalogue. You know, he's the one who penned all the riffs from, like, All Hell Breaks Lose to Kingdom Of The Lost to Soldierstown. I mean, those are Scott Gorham riffs. Ain't The End Of The World and Tonight The Moonlight Let Me Down on the new record; those are Scott Gorham riffs. Scott is a very dominating player in our band and he's a dominating writer.

So in that, it's up to Scott. If Scott said "Hey man! I wanna do some Lizzy songs.", by all means we would do Lizzy songs. We love playing Lizzy songs. When I joined the band we were doing 70 percent Lizzy songs 'cause we only had one record worth of catalogue to draw from. But at the end of the day that's Scott's call. You know, he was the one who said "Hey guys! We have 4 records. We're taking X amount of songs off of each record, that we kind of have to play 'cause they're singles, and they're fan-requested.

And that puts us at 16 and, you know, we only have a few more slots to fill and let's try it without doing some Lizzy.". We had had aspiration of doing it prior too, and it's on all of us that we kept them in; you know, the two songs that we did. I think in the last 3 years we've only done two songs, and sometimes we just did one. We did Whiskey In The Jar at the end and we would do either The Boys Are Back In Town or Jailbreak. One of the two, but we never did them both. For the last 3 or 4 years.

But at the end of the day it has been great; very well-received, especially in the UK. We were a little… You know, you never know what people are gonna think. And I think people appreciated the fact that we were willing to stand on the laurels of our own catalogue, as opposed to resting on Scott's, you know what I mean?

Tobbe: I totally love it.

Robbie: Yeah, it's great. It's cool, man. So Scott has asked me to play in Lizzy a few times and I've told him "I love you, bro, but I don't wanna be in Thin Lizzy.". You know, Phil was one of my heroes. So I wanna be in Black Star Riders; I don't wanna be in Thin Lizzy, you know what I mean?

Tobbe: It's cool for Scott that they're getting nominated for Hall Of Fame.

Robbie: Yeah, what a great experience. If you would have told me when I was 15, or 25, or 35, that I would be sitting in a band with Scott Gorham while he's getting nominated for the Rock 'N' Roll Hall Of Fame, I would have called you "Full of it…". But what a great experience. He's such a humble, honest, cool cat. I could think of no one other that I would want to receive that. Just the nomination is, like, you know, winning an Oscar in itself. It's cool to be recognized, man. And I'm proud of him, and it's cool to be playing with him.

Tobbe: Some people claim that rock is dead, and my question to you is: Who will be the next moron to say that rock is dead?

Robbie: Well, I mean, the people who tend to say that are the ones who are a fan of a certain genre. As we all know there are genres that, you know, killed themselves. You know, whether it would be the '70s, the '80s, or disco, or punk, or whatever. They kind of imploded on themselves because of the continued regeneration of each other. It was, like, the 10th version of that. And growing up in Hollywood, where I grew up, I saw a lot of the earlier bands; [Red Hot] Chili Peppers, Guns N' Roses.

You know, in early forms, and bands that followed that and became 7th, 8th, 10th generation, with expectations of, like, you know, "We're the next Guns N' Roses.". - "No, you're really not. You're, like, 10 years behind, bro.". [Laughs] And so, they kind of ate themselves. You know, I played with a lot of '80s band and I've been around a lot of those dudes, and they would blame Nirvana or whatever and I was always like "No, you guys made crap records.".

Everybody got sick of lickety-split and kiss my chick and, you know, the hairspray thing. That's the truth. So their version of rock may be dead, but there's so many great rock bands out there still.

Tobbe: If we put music aside, what does a regular day look like in your life at home?

Robbie: Oh, man. I have two kids. I own a business, so I get up at 5.20 in the morning. I'm a big morning person. I go for a run, walk my dogs, take my kids to school, call Jack Taylor in England and laugh at him. I live in California, Los Angeles, so life is great. Then I kind of go about my day. I have a business that I run and I just kind of do my own thing. I just kind of enjoy my day, to be honest with you. I'm not too overly crazy. I don't burden myself with anything. Yeah, I just enjoy it, write music and enjoy myself.

Tobbe: Do you think that you have missed out on a couple of things because of your choice of career?

Robbie: Like what?

Tobbe: Well, like family life, or friends. Being a football player, or whatever.

Robbie: No, no, not at all. I'm 50, man. I don't have time for friends. [Laughs] When I was, like, 15 maybe, you know what I mean? You know, when you get to a certain part in your life, you're just, like, "It is what it is.". You just get on with it, and, you know, have a great family and a solid family life. And I have my really good friends that I hang out with, and I've got my band, and everything is cool.

Do I feel like I miss something? - No. We own a big diesel pusher, a coach, like a 40-foot bus, and we travel, we go on vacation with our animals and our kids, and we get to see America and whatnot, and we just kind of enjoy our lives. So no, I feel very blessed that I'm able to… If anything, I go out and do what I do now and if I miss a birthday or two, or a holiday, it's all good. I get home and make it up, you know, 'cause I'm home for two months, you know what I mean? It's cool, it's a great experience.

Tobbe: Let's hear some bragging now. What's the greatest thing about being Robbie Crane?

Robbie: That I can walk to my own beat, I can live my own life. I mean, I've been lucky, in that I've had a 30 some odd year career, and I've been very fortunate to be put in a position and play with the artists and musicians that I've played with. And to be where I'm at right now in my life playing in the band that I'm in... I mean, I'm very lucky and fortunate. I don't take it for granted at all. I still appreciate what I do.

I don't bitch, I don't complain. We have a very hectic and busy schedule out here and it's par for the course, you know what I mean? I'm down to do whatever it is. Yeah, stay positive. That's the most important thing, yeah. 'Cause the negative can eat you alive. I've been in bands that were just negative. You know, like "Wow!". We're lucky, 'cause we're able to wield a lot of that out of this band and this is just such a positive group of guys.

Tobbe: You've had a 30+-year career and you obviously had ups and downs. Every artist has that.

Robbie: I don't see it that way. I always say that I've never been up here, you know what I mean? Like, I never was a rock star. I was always just kind of in the middle. You know, just kind of made a living out of it. And I can still go work a normal job and have pride in it, or I can play in a band and be prideful of it too. I own my home, I have a good life and I have nothing to complain about. I was lucky though.

I was lucky that I, you know, was able to make money early in my career and then my sister was able to help me invest it. You know, buy the house that I'm in today. I mean, I would never had bought the house I'm in today. I was 22 and I was like "I'm not buying that; I'm going to a strip club.". [Laughs] And my sister was like "No, you're gonna invest it and buy a house.". And I did, so I'm appreciative 'cause, you know, it put me in the position that I'm in today. Which is great, yeah. Things are good.


An interview with frontman Ricky Warwick containing some of the same questions was done on the same evening and was published on November 17th. Read it here -->


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