Chris Robinson Brotherhood Guitarist Neal Casal Talks Gear and New Album, 'Phosphorescent Harvest'

by James Wood
Posted Mar 25, 2014 at 5:06pm

Phosphorescent Harvest is the third studio release from the Chris Robinson Brotherhood.

The album — which features Robinson, the former Black Crowes vocalist/guitarist, along with guitarist Neal Casal, keyboardist Adam MacDougall, drummer George Sluppick and bassist Mark Dutton — is a treasure trove of soul that advances the band's bluesy, kaleidoscopic sound.

Songs like "Shore Power," "Badlands" and the beautiful "Wanderer's Lament" contain tasty, inspired guitar arrangements; meanwhile, Robinson's lyrics are thoughtfully constructed from dreams and casual observation.

Starting in April, CRB will embark on a tour in support of the new album. It's a tour that will take them through the highways and byways of the U.S. for remainder of the year.

In addition to working with Robinson, Casal has performed alongside other heavyweights, including Ryan Adams and Phil Lesh. He's also released a reflective book of personal photos that were shot during his years touring with Adams.

I recently caught up with Casal to ask him about the new CRB album (which will be released April 29), his playing, photography and more.

GUITAR WORLD: How do you approach doing a Chris Robinson Brotherhood album as opposed to some of the other projects you've been involved with?

CRB is the most expansive band I've ever been in terms of freedom of expression in guitar playing. Chris really encourages us to bring our adventurousness, personality and whimsical character into our playing. I got to really do my thing all over this record. It's a guitar player's dream.

How would you describe Phosphorescent Harvest?

It's certainly my favorite of the albums we've done and really shows our growth as a band. If you trace the line of the records we've made so far, you can really hear the work, time and perseverance we've put into it. Arrangement-wise, this record is a lot deeper, more complex and psychedelic than anything we've done. It covers a lot of ground, but the songs and vocals are never compromised.

There's a lot of deep emotion within the arrangements. What was the writing process like?

Chris and I are simpatico when it comes to music. In the case of this album, we were on tour the entire time we wrote it. We spent a lot of time in hotel rooms, on the bus and in backstage rooms hammering out ideas.

In the beginning of the process you wonder how you're ever going to come up with enough material for a record, but after a nine-month touring cycle, we had a wealth of material. Sometimes Chris would come to me with a verse idea or maybe just a chorus or an idea for a riff. Then we'll both sit in front of each other and record it. Then later, I'll think up ideas to add to his. Chris writes all of the lyrics.

How did you and Chris connect?

Back in 2001, I was in a band called Beachwood Sparks, and we did a tour opening for the Black Crowes. I got to know Chris and we became friends. Over the years we would run into each other and finally, it all came together and we decided we wanted to play together and make this happen. It was a 10-year friendship that turned into a band.

What inspired you to start playing guitar?

I started playing when I was 12, and for me it was all about the Rolling Stones. They were the ones who first captured my imagination. Everything they were into provided me with many different roads to explore musically. The Stones really opened up the world for me and made me want to play.

What was your practice routine like, and who were some of your influences?

All of those cliché things you hear about playing guitar — like locking yourself in a bedroom and playing until your fingers bleed — I went through. When I was 18, I started getting into bands like Free (Paul Kossoff), Peter Green and some of the other English blues players. There was a sense of urgency coming from their hands that really appealed to me.

What's your current setup like?

For this tour, I'll be using an amplifier that was built by a company called Booya. They're a custom builder in New Jersey who built me a 100 watt head to go on top of my old Boogie cabinet with 2 EV 12L's. Guitar wise, there's a guy in Santa Cruz named Scott Walker who makes these really beautiful guitars I'll be using.

On the album, I played a Terry McInturff Taurus Standard and a 1969 SG. For effects, I've got a Klon Centaur, a Catalinbread Belle Epoch Echo and a Pareidolia Univibe Trem. I also use a BMF overdrive and there's a company in Kansas City called BearFoot that makes some really great pedals.

What made you decide to release a photography book about your time touring with Ryan Adams?

It was a pure desire to document my life and experiences that grew out of being on tour and not wanting to forget. I started out by just carrying a camera around wherever I went and documenting everything. The thing that makes my photographs interesting is that I'm around such great musicians in situations where no one else could be.

Over the course of your career, is there one moment that stands out as a particular highlight?

There have been many. Getting the chance to play with someone like Chris has certainly been a highlight. Twenty-four years ago when I was coming up, the Crowes were a band I looked up to. I always thought of them as the great white hope of rock and roll. To see it come around and to now actually be in a band and write songs with Chris is amazing.

For more about the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, visit chrisrobinsonbrotherhood.com.

James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.