Blackberry Smoke talk expanding their line-up, trying new sounds and new album, You Hear Georgia...
Rockers Blackberry Smoke have never been shy about their deep roots in the deep South of the USA. Their sound has always been built on swaggering guitars and a good time feel, a sonic template that harks back to ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers and fellow Georgians The Black Crowes.
Steadily, over the course of a 20-year career and six studio albums, they've been built up a devoted fanbase and big crowds on tour, who pack in across the world for a taste of that good time rock and roll.
On new album, You Hear Georgia, the band's roots are more on show than ever before. The album has been produced by Dave Cobb, whose CV is a hit parade of country's biggest recent success stories, including LPs with Zac Brown Band, Chris Stapleton, Shooter Jennings and Jason Isbell.
Together with Cobb, the band have crafted an album that is all big heart and big choruses, and we spoke to frontman Charlie Starr about why they brought in a producer for this new album and why they've expanded their line-up to become a seven-piece...
When did you start work on this album? Was it written on tour for Find A Light or after you got home?
"I guess I started tinkering with some songs at some point on the Find A Light tour, but definitely got to fully work on them when we were home for a while."
How did you want this album to move on from Find A Light?
"I only ever hope to make a good record and not repeat what we did on the last album. We don’t want to be repetitive…"
You self-produced your last two records, this time you went with Dave Cobb, why did you decide to change it up?
"We had been in contact with Dave about making a record for a couple of years, so it really seemed like the right time to do it. Dave is such a great producer, so we were very interested to see if we all clicked."
Was it odd adjusting to an outside voice after self-producing your last two records?
"Not at all. If Dave had come in wanting to change our sound, it would’ve been awkward, for sure. But he didn’t."
What was it about Dave Cobb that you liked? And what was he like to work with?
"Dave makes very natural sounding records. He really seems focused on bringing out the purity of each artist’s sound and not putting his own stamp on it. He’s extremely easy to work with, but very passionate about the process, as well."
You’ve got some cracking guests on this album, Warren Hayes, Jamey Johnson, how did those collaborations come about?
"Jamey is an old friend, and we’ve actually recorded with him before (with George Jones on Yesterday’s Wine.) We picked up where we left off having him come sing on 'Lonesome For A Livin’'. Then Warren and I co-wrote All Rise Again during lockdown."
"It was extremely spontaneous. I played the demo for Dave Cobb when we started tracking and he loved it…he said “do you think Warren would play and sing on it?” I asked Warren and he said “Absolutely.”
Your line-up has expanded for this album with Preston Holcomb and Benji Shanks now in the band full-time, what did they bring to writing and recording?
"They add what would normally be overdubbed. It started as a live thing, you know? Then it just made sense to have them record it with us in real-time. Benji, especially, has been playing with us for quite a while now. They add so much to the sound without taking anything away."
What kind of album is this lyrically? Is there a theme to it?
"I don’t think I can discern a specific theme. I think they’re just little pieces of life, it's a collection of little stories."
Which song on the album took the longest to get right? And which came together most quickly?
"To tell you the truth, we didn’t waste any time labouring over any of the songs. They all seemed to flow really nicely. The song 'Old Enough To Know' was probably the quickest. It is also a live performance, vocal and all."
When did you decide on You Hear Georgia for the album’s title? Were there other titles in contention?
"When we finished tracking the song 'You Hear Georgia'; everyone was excited because it was very spontaneous. The band had never heard it before we started to record it, there was no demo because it was brand new that day. I think Dave Cobb said, "You should name the album this.” We all agreed."
How are your live plans shaping up? Looks like you’ve got a busy summer…
"We are playing outdoor shows now, and are hopeful that the whole world can open up soon. We're looking forward to coming back to the UK as soon as we can."
You’ve got seven records now, how is your setlist looking?
"Writing the setlist gets more and more interesting each year! We change it up a bit each night so that every record gets some representation."