Prior to their second gig in a week in Glasgow, we grabbed a quick chat backstage with the incredibly polite Ben Wells of Black Stone Cherry. Midway through a run of two-set sellout shows, Ben appeared as relaxed as a man who was about to kick back for the holidays, not plough through several hours of rocking sets on the way there! After he finished signing some very nice looking kit for a charity auction, we settled down in the peaceful backstage area of the Royal Concert Hall…
You’re around halfway through this tour now?
We have two weeks left, so around half way, I guess. It’s only a three-week run so not too bad.
You were only up here a week ago at The Cathouse. How did that gig come around?
We’ve known Donald [MacLeod – Mosh], who owns the Cathouse, for several years. He asked us if we’d like to do it, if we were back over here and could make it happen. It was for a charity – Nordoff Robins – and it was also the Cathouse’s birthday bash so we just decided to tag it onto the front of the tour. It was great. Not just for the opportunity to raise some money for the charity, but to have a warm-up show before the tour.
Does the backstage at the Cathouse match up to this?
Erm… no! Not at all! It’s a cool place, it’s legendary, but… no.
The Cathouse was the first place you ever played in Glasgow, wasn’t it?
It was. Our first UK show to ever sell out was here, too, back in 2007. We have a special connection here, I think. We try to keep coming back. We hoped to do more Scottish shows this time, but we don’t book the dates!
Are you trying to tick all the Glasgow boxes? You’ve played The Cathouse, The ABC, The Academy, The Garage, The Hydro, The Royal Concert Hall…
… the SECC as well, a couple of times. The Barrowlands! Yeah, it seems like it, doesn’t it! But this place is beautiful. This is going to be a special show tonight.
The last tour was arenas. Was it a decision on this tour to downsize or to go for theatres?
We were looking at theatre-sized rooms, because we wanted to do something different because the last two tours were arena tours. Let’s do something we haven’t done yet – we don’t want the fans to get bored. Let’s have no support, do two sets, have a night full of Black Stone Cherry music. Judging from the response so far, this is just what the fans have been wanting. I’m glad as we were all a little apprehensive about how it would be perceived.
How is it doing the two sets?
At first it was different, but now we kind of like it. We can take our time and do more songs. It’s really cool. We’re getting up to an hour for the acoustic and at least an hour and a half for the electric.
Is it causing you any problems doing two sets – tiredness and the like?
No, not at all. When we headline we usually do ninety minutes anyway. The acoustic set’s not as tiring as the electric set either, so we’re not worn out.
Are there songs which lend themselves more to being played acoustically, which you’re now really getting to show off “properly” a bit more than you could before?
Songs like “Hell and High Water” and “Big City Lights” which we’re doing – which was a B-side… “All I’m Dreaming Of” we’ve never done live until this tour. “Stay”… and other songs, they just translate better acoustically. Some of those songs were originally written acoustic, so we’re getting to play them as they were intended to be heard.
When do you guys ever rest? You seem to be on the road constantly, pause briefly to spawn an album, then get back out again.
We like to stay busy! But this will be our last tour in the UK for at least a year, I’d say. We want to take a break as we don’t want to tour here too much in case the fans get tired of us! We’ll probably tour on this album until the beginning of the summer then start working on the next one. We’re going home for Christmas, then touring mainland Europe through January and February, a US tour in March, Australia in April, another US tour in May… by that time we’ll be ready to slow down a bit.
In our last interview with Jon, he mentioned that you were generally hitting mid-size venues in the US, around 1000-seaters. Are you expanding on that now?
We’re coasting along there and it depends on where the shows are. Some are bigger. But nothing like the UK. That’s one reason we love coming back over here.
Kentucky – how is it doing? Your first release on Mascot after changing labels.
I think it’s exceeded expectation as far as the team at Mascot are concerned. They’ve been behind it so much, coming up with some cool ideas – they’ve been so passionate about it. It feels good to feel that. People are enjoying the album, which ultimately is all we can ask for. It was a mutual split, I’ll say that, with our last label. We just came to a point where we’d done all we could for them. Leaving was exciting, but also kind of nerve-racking. What did we do now? Put it out on our own? Do we look at other labels? We had so many options, with a bunch of labels being interested. We narrowed it down to Mascot and things have worked out fine.
So you considered the PledgeMusic route?
Well, I didn’t really want to do that. I didn’t want to start asking fans for money just yet. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing if it’s used in the right way, but we didn’t want to take that route just yet – especially as there were labels showing interest.
In all your time on the road, what’s the maddest thing you’ve seen, or that a fan’s said to you or done?
I think when people come up with tattoos… of us, with our signatures tattooed on them. That’s incredible. I would never expect that when I was younger. To see that dedication to us and our music is incredible. Humbling.
You’ve been together as a band for over a decade, released five albums and had no changes in line-up. How have you managed that?
We’re friends, most importantly, and a band second. We’ve always kept that mentality. We weren’t put together by a label, we grew up together, we lived together. That bond is there. That’s the strongest thing, and then comes the band. Without the four of us, the band doesn’t happen. That’s just how it is.
What advice would you give a young band wanting to get serious in this industry today?
The main piece of advice I give to people is what we did – we just dedicated ourselves to this. We practised every single day after school, we booked our own shows, played, made our own t-shirt… we were very hands-on. Maybe it’s society today, but I feel a lot of younger band just expect this all to “happen” for them. You have to get out there and earn it. You can’t just sit back and think you’ll be signed tomorrow. You have to be creative, don’t worry about the money, get out there and play shows. Worry about exposure. Keep your head on straight, your nose clean and don’t get into it for the wrong reasons.
Final question – what do you want from Santa this year?
I don’t know! I don’t think I need anything this year, I’m just happy.
Are you on the naughty list or the nice list?
I hope I’m on the nice list!
Header photo by Gary Cooper.