After nearly 20 years in the music business, The Black Crowes know you've gotta have a gimmick. For its new record, "Before the Frost …Until The Freeze" (Red Distribution), the rock band has taken the unusual step of recording brand new material in front of a live audience in a studio setting.
The sessions were held in February on five different nights in a barn-turned-production facility in Woodstock, N.Y., owned by Levon Helm of The Band and solo fame.
"It's a nicely refurbished barn, but there's nothing else to do but make music there, or put another log in the fire," says drummer Steve Gorman, who appears with his band at 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, at the Event Center at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.
The Black Crowes, which reunited in 2005 after a three-year hiatus, will also distribute the music in an unusual way. Those who buy the first record, "Before the Frost …," which goes on sale Monday, Aug. 31, get the second release, "… Until the Freeze," as a free download.
It's all part of an effort by the band, which is fronted by brothers Chris and Rich Robinson, to keep the proceedings fresh. The group made its debut in 1990 with "Shake Your Money Maker" and has sold more than 20 million records.
Gorman recently talked to At The Shore about taking creative risks at this stage and how the three-year hiatus turned out to be a good thing.
Q: How did you come up with the idea of doing the live studio album?
A: That initial idea came from, "What can we do on the next record to keep it interesting?" The answer could have been, "Let's all wear San Francisco 49ers shirts. I'll be Joe Montana."
Q: What was it like to interact with Levon Helm, who opens at the Borgata, during the sessions?
A: We got up there and hung out. It's kind of a given to sit at Levon's feet and soak up whatever he's playing.
It's the beginning of a really nice friendship with his camp and our camp. Bands are like dogs. You sniff and in about three seconds you know if there's something there.
Q: What prompted you to release the second album as a freebie?
A: The idea was "This is a good double album. Let's not ask people right now, in 2009, to pay double." It's not that they won't, It's just rude to ask - it's not appropriate on any level.
Next year is 20 years (since the band's debut), what are we going to do to acknowledge 20 years? We have to do some cool thing for the fans. If 20 years later, someone is still going to buy our CDs, the least we can do is say, "Here's another one on the house."
Q: Was the decision to release the album on your own label a push to be independent or a reflection on the music business today?
A: That's how we did "Warpaint" (the band's 2008 release). It would have been really good if we had gotten into this business setup a long time ago. We didn't handle the business side of working with record companies very well.
I think we had some very great relationships and some strained ones. We felt like a square peg in a round hole. This has been much, much more to our liking.
Q: How did your hiatus from 2002 to 2005 impact the band creatively?
A: The main thing was we stayed really patient until we all felt like we had somewhere to go. With "Warpaint," there was a collective sense of we're moving forward. That was a great feeling that hasn't really abated.
The Black Crowes
with Levon Helm
WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29
WHERE: Event Center, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $49.50 and $59.50, are available at the Borgata box office or from
ComcastTix at 800-298-4200 or www.theborgata.com.
WEB SITES: www.blackcrowes.com
Making The Black Crowes' live studio album
Making a studio record in front of a live audience isn't as easy as saying, "Let's put on a show."
At first, the band thought it would bring in about a dozen fans to sit in on the recording sessions in a conventional studio. Then, after investigating Levon Helm's facility in a barn in Woodstock, N.Y., the group expanded the concept to include five live sessions with 200 fans in each one.
"When we loaded in an audience on that first Saturday night, we pretty much knew the songs, but they weren't rehearsed down," says Steve Gorman, the band's drummer. "That in itself gave it a bit of an edge and adrenaline. Having the audience there, it was an interesting hybrid session."
The 30 tracks recorded over a three-week period were then whittled down to 20 songs on a double album. Those who buy "Before the Frost …" get a code for a free download of "… Until The Freeze."
"It was one of those really good ideas that turned out a great result," Gorman says.