Gavin had the opportunity to chat to Black Stone Cherry’s bassist before their headlining slot on the recent Carnival of Madness tour when they hit Glasgow. After an initial, lengthy chat about cameras (!), we got onto the more musical stuff. If you want to know what camera Jon uses, and it really sounds like he knows his stuff, just ask! Hell, we may just follow this interview up with a second article… Interview and photos by Gavin Lowrey.
How’s the tour going?
Good! This is night four. We had a day off yesterday which was much needed. I spent the day on the bus editing all the footage we shot for the documentary. Anything visual you see to do with the band, either I’ve done it or my buddy Robb has taken the photos. I’m always the guy they come to to ask what we’re going to go, where’s the location going to be, what’s our look…? I work a lot!
You’ve toured with all these bands before. Is it nice to slip into this comfortable routine?
It’s nice to be back out wth Shinedown and Halestorm. Highly Suspect are new to us and they’re doing really well in the States. They’re pretty cool. In a good way, they’re out of place on the tour. They fit in a slightly different rock genre. I look at Halestorm as almost eighties rock, though a bit cooler. Shinedown’s more of a super modern rock and we’re more of a split between the seventies and the nineties. We cover a bit of a gambit, the three bands together. Highly Suspect stick out like a sore thumb, but in a good way. They’re a great band but they’re way different to the other three bands.
Well, when we finished the last arena tour in 2014 we went home and waited to hear from the label about what the next step was going to be. Somehow I think we were the first band to do a nearly sold-out arena headlining tour… and then get dropped from the record label. Ultimately what it came down to is that Roadrunner was purchase, or consumed, by Atlantic. They let all the staff go worldwide except for in the United States, but let half that staff go. They shut their offices down and brought them into the Atlantic building, basically turning Roadrunner in to the rock department of Atlantic Records.
Roadrunner was always a very faithful rock label – a started underground, built it from nothing kind of label. Atlantic is more streamlined and polished and urban. We knew when that happened we’d have one more record. If it didn’t start to fly in the States then they’re going to give up. By fly I mean 5000 or 8000 seat arenas. We do 1000-1500 seat venues in the States. Some places we’ll do more, some places we’ll do less – the States is pretty huge! We’re a big southeast/mid-west band. Put us in the far west and we have die hard fans out there, but they’re fewer; same with the north east.
But we knew we were likely out of there. We just didn’t fit that label any more. If it’s not pop, hip-hop or extreme radio rock then it just isn’t going to work. As far as America goes, radio’s never “gotten” Southern rock. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd didn’t get a number one until the “Red, White and Blue” song they did right after 9/11. That’s the first song radio-wise that Skynyrd ever had. You think of “Simple Man”, “Gimme Three Steps”, “Free Bird”, “Tuesday’s Gone”… You can name classic Skynyrd tracks all day long and they didn’t have a number one in the States until the end of 2001.
Rock radio in the States just isn’t there any more. When I was a kid growing up, there were two rock stations in Jacksonville, Florida. One was “The Big Ape” which did alternative rock – and alternative rock now isn’t what it was then. Then it was stuff like Counting Crows, Hootie and the Blowfish, Butthole Surfers… which is way cooler than what alternative rock is today! The hard rock station was “Planet Radio” which played everything from White Zombie to Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails… all the hard rock stuff. I had that as a kid to be able to listen to. Now, Planet just came back after being gone for a long time. Big Ape is still there, but playing the newer alternative music rather than “cool” alternative.
There were 200-some rock stations when I was 15/16 years old. Last time I checked – summer last year – we’re down to about sixty. Think about it – there are fifty states and each state is about the size of a European country.
Not really. The best way I can describe the new record is that it’s everything our band has tried and wanted to be and has always held back from being able to be. We went back to the first engineer we ever worked with. His studio is a different building than from when we recorded the self-titled record, but it’s 99% the same gear. The only gear that was different was stuff I took in myself. I own a lot of microphones and pre-amps and so on.
We went back to him and we produced it ourselves. We wrote almost all of the material ourselves. I think two of the songs we didn’t. One is the single “In Our Dreams” that we’re playing tonight. We wrote that as a demo for the third record. It’s a song that Roadrunner never got, but is a killer song. It was the first track that came up when we were talking to our new label, Mascot, in terms of releasing it as a single. They recognised it, Roadrunner missed out on that one. When we first turned it in, we wanted it as the first single but they weren’t interested – it didn’t sound like us, apparently. Hang on, if anyone knows what we sound like it’s us!
The only band who can get away with releasing the same song over and over is AC/DC – and the do a wonderful job of it. We’re more like Led Zeppelin in that aspect because if you tell me that two Led Zeppelin albums sound the same and I will laugh! Even going song to song, you can tell it’s Zeppelin, but that’s it. You can’t put on a list of Led Zeppelin songs and expect one to flow into another because they don’t sound anything alike. We might do a song that leans towards one we’ve done before, but that’s just due to the flavour of our band… but they still don’t line up.
This record, we’ve got all kinds of lights and shades, peaks and valleys. When you listen to the record, there’s some really dark stuff on there. The ballads on there aren’t like cheesy gumball crap. There’s substance. The only other song on the album not written completely by us is “The Rambler” which we’ll also be doing tonight. That was originally written by Jasin Todd who was the original guitar player for Shinedown. Jasin brought it to us and he played it for me on the bus, and by the end of the second verse I was welling up with tears. I told him to hold on, found Chris and told him he had to get on the bus right now. We were all sat there in tears. What an astounding song. He told us that if we wanted to cut it, it was ours. We made some small changes to make it “ours” – we added a bridge to it as there wasn’t one originally. We changed some of the words around, which is why it references Kentucky in the song. Some tweaks and changes and melody adjustments.
Festival-wise, are you doing anything this summer in Europe?
Yup, we’re headlining the Rambling Man Fair in the south of England which is on its second year. The offered us main support last year but we had to turn it down as we were headlining the second stage at Download, which was our third year in a row playing Download – the only band to do that, I believe. John Fred’s dad’s band, Kentucky Headhunters, who’ve never been to Europe before are coming over as well. I believe they’re the second band on the day we headline. So for all the Black Stone Cherry fans, you want to get there because you never know when these two bands will play a show together again! This is something that rarely happens in the United States and it’s never happened over here.
Also, when they invited us to headline, they told us that [redacted, sorry, it’s not been announced yet! – Mosh] would be our main support which is like “wow!”. We’re really going to try and get them up on stage when we’re on to do something special. Maybe something completely different from our stuff or theirs, just for the festival.
That’s the only show we have booked for the summertime. We are talking about coming back later on in the year, but we’re not really sure how as yet. If we don’t make it then at the start of next year.
I was asked almost the exact same question by Rob Fenn, the photographer that’s out with us. His question was that if you were on a ship with every album in the world on it and the ship started to sink, what one album would you grab to keep you company while waiting to be rescued? I sat and thought about it for a long time. I’m a huge Alice in Chains fan. Have been since I was a kid. I’m not a humongous fan of William DuVall – nothing against him personally, I just think his voice is a little thing for what he’s trying to emulate. That’s one of the things that got me about the new Alice in Chains: it’s too much of an emulation.
If you’re going to keep the band together then you have to move forward since the original singer passed away – which devastated me. If you’re going to do that, don’t try and replace the guy with someone who sounds similar to him. Let the new guy come in and be whoever he is. I mean, you got Jerry Cantrell singing background vocals, and leads here and there. You don’t need much, because he’s a super talented guy. The whole band is incredibly talented, but I wish they’d gone with a different singer.
But if I was going to grab a record it would be a hard tie between Dirt and Facelift. I’d close my eyes, swing my hand out and take whichever was there!
Kentucky is out on April 1st – If you pre-order at iTunes – http://smarturl.it/BSC-iTunes – you get new album tracks, “The Way of The Future” and “In Our Dreams” straight away. Pre-orders for physical CDs and special vinyl packages are available over at http://smarturl.it/BSC-