“Family Tree was our Southern blues record, this is straight-ahead rock and roll!" - hmv.com talks to Black Stone Cherry
Kentucky hard rockers Black Stone Cherry have established themselves as a good time rock and roll band, building their tracks around big, sleazy riffs, southern fried melodies and powerhouse choruses. It’s earned them a devoted following and a reputation as a go-to outfit to rev up a festival crowd.
But, for the last five years, they’ve been on a little diversion. Their 2016 LP Kentucky and 2018’s Family Tree have been more personal efforts, much more indebted to blues and country than the uptempo rock and roll of their early work. It has sat alongside two Black to Blues EPs, where the band have covered tracks by great bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.
Now though, they’re ready to let the good times roll again.
Their new album, The Human Condition, is a punchy, rollicking rock and roll record, and it’s particularly cruel that they won’t be able to play it live for their considerable UK following for the next few months.
Ahead of its release, we spoke to guitarist Ben Wells about the making of this new album and their socially-distanced comeback...
When did you decide that it was time for another album? Is it just a case of having enough songs and pressing record?
“Usually by the end of each album cycle, we’ve been out touring for anything up to two years, so by the time you can feel it winding down, you start to think about it. We want to get an album out every two years, so there’s an understanding between us that it’s time to go to work.”
You made the record at home in Kentucky. Was that always the plan?
“We used to go away. We made our first album locally and our last one, Family Tree. But we’ve made it to Nashville and we made two albums out in California, so we’ve had both worlds. These days, we feel like we can get just as good if we stay at home and do it ourselves. Our bass player Jon (Lawhon) has built a great studio, right in our backyard, so we save a lot of money on travelling, hotels and all kinds.”
Did you ever consider getting an outside producer in?
“We’ve always tried to do things as much as we can in-house. We’ve worked with great producers in the past and we’ve learned a lot. But we know what we want to sound like now. We hold ourselves to very high standards. If anything it brings more pressure to do well, there’s no one else to blame.”
Does that mean studio time is quite business-like?
“I wouldn’t say that. We always have a good time. It’s not an office, but we are there to work. It’s just an exciting place to be and often we won’t stop until the early hours. We give ourselves a month to get things done.”
Working on your own time with no ticking clock and no bill at the end could mean you never come out of the studio…
“This band works best when it has a deadline. You never want to get lost inside a record. This album was fantastic. The studio is right out in the woods. No phone service. It isn’t hard to focus.”
How did you want this album to move on from Family Tree?
“We never want to make a copy of the last one. We want to grow, evolve and move on. To compare this one to Family Tree is hard. This harks back to our early records. It’s big riffs and heavy drums. Family Tree was our Southern blues record, this is straight-ahead rock and roll!”
Was that a conscious choice? Or what happened naturally?
“A little bit of both. We wanted more guitars, and a good time record. You never want to calculate too much. It makes things unnatural. It was more our mindset. Let’s make a big sounding, party album.”
What kind of album is this lyrically?
“It’s definitely not a concept album, but there’s a lot of emotion going on. Chris (Robertson, singer) has been very outspoken about his struggle with depression and he’s a real advocate of going out and getting help. That’s covered a lot. There are some big love ballads, there’s loss and grief. Then there’s us having fun. ‘Ride’ is just about riding your motorcycle. It’s all sides of the human condition.”
When did you decide that was the right title?
“It’s been around since the beginning of the year. We were picking songs for the record, settling on the vibe. John just said one day ‘We always write songs about the human condition’. We all thought it was cool and a great title, but you don’t want to have it in your mind while you make the album, you don’t want to try and make something fit. But after we were done, we listened back and it just fit perfectly.”
Did titles always come easily for you generally?
“It depends. Sometimes they drop out of nowhere and sometimes we just overthink things to death. Family Tree was there the whole time, Kentucky and Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea took a long time, we really had to dig those out.”
Touring’s going to be quite a complex thing for you, but you’ve got some shows booked in November and December in the US, how’s that going to go?
“They’re both outdoor, socially distanced shows. We’re trying to stay ahead of the game and take every safe opportunity we can. We have to be proactive now. We’re standing by mostly, watching and waiting, we’ll have to jump on every chance we get.”
Have you been rehearsing?
“We’ve got a pay-per-view concert, which is coming out tonight. We filmed earlier this month, so we’ve been playing for that. It was very streamlined. We played the set through back to back. No takes, no do-overs. We wanted a live feel. Just with no audience. We did our best not to let that bother us. We hadn’t played together in eight months. It felt good just to do that.”
No substitute for a live gig though...
“I can’t wait to get back. I’m really missing the camaraderie, time with our crew, the travelling, seeing different places. We’re doing our best to go full steam ahead on promoting this record. If we have to do another pay per view, we will, but it’s nothing like touring.”