Where does the time go? It feels like just yesterday that Black Stone Cherry was introducing their now tried and tested sound to our eager ears via the likes of “Rain Wizard” and “Lonely Train”.
Now on to album number 7 in the BSC arsenal, and the band are most certainly on classic form. That hard-rocking, southern soaked sound which prevailed in the band’s early releases once again feels at the forefront.
With the band’s 2020 touring activities largely cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic, the Kentucky based quartet took to the studio, where they self-produced their latest Mascot Label Group release “The Human Condition”. The band’s new album will be released just one day before Halloween, but rest assured, despite the timing of the release, this album is certainly all treat and no trick.
HRH Mag caught up with the band’s energetic axeman Ben Wells at home in Kentucky to get the lowdown on Black Stone Cherry’s eagerly anticipated long-player.
So obviously the UK is a special place for Black Stone Cherry. The last time I saw you perform over here was when you were headlining Ramblin’ Man Festival last year. That was an incredible show and such a special night. It felt like one of the best times I’ve seen you live in a long time. How did that night feel like for you?
That was one of the most amazing shows. That festival, we love that festival. We think it’s just one of the coolest vibes. The lineups are so cool and different and we like how it’s laid out. It’s big, but it’s not overwhelmingly big. We’ve got to headline that festival twice now, and each time is just like, I don’t know, it’s just a special thing. And the weather has been great every time we’ve done it – luckily. The energy you get from playing a festival like that, it’s just something you don’t find everywhere. And we’re very, very fortunate to have a good relationship with that festival.
Speaking of your British fans, I know that you were awarded our “Axeman of the Year” award, at last year’s HRH Awards. Were you expecting that? How did you feel about that?
You know, that was unexpected, I was blown away by that. I remember first hearing about it and I just thought it was incredible and I’m humbled and I appreciate it so much. I wish I could have been there to see it. I was hoping there’d be a video of it. I think there might be one somewhere, but I was totally humbled and blown away by that, it meant a lot.
Over the summer, besides Black Stone Cherry, you collectively came up with something quite new and original when you got together with Monster Truck and you created The Cherry Truck Band. I just wondered, did you enjoy that experience? And is it something that Black Stone Cherry may do again in the future or was it purely just a one-off?
No, we enjoyed it. And we thought it was something fun for not only us to do, but for fans to see how the writing process works. We wrote that song over a series of Facebook live sessions. We wrote it live to the world and recorded it. So, I think it was something that hadn’t been done yet, during the middle of all of this and it was really neat. I mean we are definitely up to doing it again with Monster Truck or anybody else. I think that it’s a really fun thing to do.
I noticed that you’ve also been working on your surfwear brand – The Surf Monster Company. I was just wondering, can you tell us a little bit about that project?
Yeah, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but you know, normally when we’re on the road, it’s hard to devote your time and energy into a different venture. So when I found out that we weren’t going to be touring a lot this year, I was like, well the silver lining in this is that I could put some time and energy into something else creatively that I wanted to do, and that was Surf Monster. And we are having a lot of fun with it. My wife and I, coming up with designs and working with different illustrators. It’s just really, it’s a fun thing and it’s another creative outlet that I’ve been wanting to do for a while.
Getting onto the album release. This is now your seventh album, which seems crazy. It feels like just yesterday when you brought out your first Black Stone Cherry album. How are you feeling about this album? Are you sort of excited about it? Are you nervous? Are you curious to hear what the fans have got to say about it? Or is it a case of all of the above?
I think all of the above. I think every time you put out an album, there’s always anxiety and excitement around it and you want to know what people think about it. And you can’t get too caught up in that because at the end of the day the album we put out is the album that we’re proud of and we always will be proud of it. If you read too many comments online, good or bad you can kind of get caught up in that. You know, it’s kind of hard not to do that. But for us, if we didn’t love what we did, we wouldn’t put it out and this album is something we’re super proud of just because we recorded it during the pandemic as the world was shutting down.
And we kind of looked at each other and we’re like, well, you know, we don’t know what the rest of the year is going to be like, but we’re at least going to have an album to show for it. So we just kind of buckled down and put all of our energy into this. It kept us going. We at least had the recording process to keep us creative during the beginning of this pandemic. And we just put all of our energy into it, and we self-produced it and recorded it. John – our bass player has a studio and our monitor engineer on the road, he engineered the record and he also mixed it. And so, it’s just something we’re super proud of that we could do this in-house and I think the fans are gonna love the songs on this record too. There are some heavy songs on there. It’s very wide open, and then there’s a couple of really great ballads that we’re super proud of as well.
You mentioned there about the record being self-produced. I mean, was that a conscious decision that the band wanted to be in control of the whole process and of the record’s destiny, so to speak?
Yeah, I mean, this will be the third record that we’ve self-produced. And so, when we signed on with Mascot Label that was one of our things, we said our stipulation was we wanted creative control. So we want to be able to control the sound of the recording of the band. We’ve worked with some excellent producers and we’ve learned a lot from them, but I think now at this point in our career, we kind of just know what we want to sound like, and we assume we know what our fans want from us. And we can’t spend a ton of money on hiring somebody else just to kind of tell us the things we already know, you know what I’m saying? So it’s just more fun for us too. But with that comes a responsibility and that responsibility is pushing each other as far as we can go to make sure that we get the best performances out of each other that we can.
What was the first track that you wrote or laid down for this album? What was the song that got the ball rolling, so to speak?
The first track we recorded on the album was, “Some Stories”. And that’s a song that we’ve had for 10 years now and we’ve always loved it. And this time it was able to make its way on the album. We changed a few things about it, but that was the first one we laid down, mainly because we were just really familiar with it, so it felt good to start with that one.
And the title itself, The Human Condition, it’s quite a thought-provoking title. What were you guys thinking about in particular when you came up with that theme or the title for the record?
Well, we were talking at the beginning of the year on the phone – this was before the pandemic, we were talking about writing songs and what songs are going to go on the record and whatnot. And John just kind of said off the cuff, he said, a lot of these songs are about the human condition. And we were like, that’s kind of a cool title. So we kind of just saved that for a while. And then for some reason, it kept popping back up – either we would hear other people say it or we would read it somewhere. And we thought once we looked back at the collection of songs on the record, we thought it was a great title, and a great year to have that title out there because everybody is experiencing so many different emotions and things of that nature. So yeah, we thought as you said, it’s a thought-provoking title and it kind of made sense to go along with the album.
There are some fantastic songs on this record and the latest single “Ringin’ In My Head” I believe that one’s been around for a while. What brought you back to that song to revisit it. I understand you took a slightly different approach from its original form, is that right?
We wrote that in 2017, it was supposed to be for “Family Tree” and we liked it, but we didn’t love it at the time. But we liked it enough to want to bring it back. We knew we loved the chorus and the first verse. So, we got in the studio this time and we just kind of rewrote the whole second verse and we wrote a new bridge for it. And once we were able to rework it, it became a better song. This goes to show that sometimes you can write songs that are years old and then all they need is a little bit of updating, a little bit of tweaking and then it becomes a very strong song. And that’s kind of what we did with a lot of songs on this record really or songs that we’d had in the past that we just knew we love, but they needed to be reworked. We had the luxury of being in the studio, doing it ourself, and we were able to kind of take those songs and fix them to the level they needed to be at.
From a guitarist point of view, what’s your favourite track on the record to play and why?
Well, I’m not sure yet, because we haven’t been able to play any of them live yet. Hopefully, I’ll have a better idea once we start playing some of these live. One of my most favourite, just straight ahead, rock songs on the record is called “Ride”. And we’ve had that song since 2003, probably. And mainly because it’s not a super crazy guitar song, it’s just fun to play because it’s simple. And like I said it’s like a freight train. And “Again”, it’s going to be fun to play because that’s a fun riff. I don’t know, there are so many cool ones that I listened to and I can envision playing. So I don’t know, I don’t have a firm answer yet just because we haven’t had the opportunity to play.
Like you mentioned before, there’s a nice balance of tracks on the album, it’s got a nice flow. There are some slower tracks and then the next one will be an absolute banger. I love some of these heavy tracks on this record like “Push Down and Turn”, “Live This Way” and “The Chain”. And obviously, the first single “Again”. They feel like some of the heaviest Black Stone Cherry songs I’ve heard in a while. Was that intentional, to sort of push the boat out and go a little bit heavier or did it just kind of happen organically?
Well, I mean, it was intentional to the degree of we knew we wanted to make a rock record because that’s what we are, we’re a rock and roll band. Well “Push Down and Turn” is a new song. “Live This Way” we’ve had for a few years. But you know those riffs and that energy has always been with us. I think it was just time to put that back into the forefront of what we do, and I think that’s why fans are gonna love this record because it is the Black Stone Cherry that maybe a lot of people were first turned on to – the energy and the riffs and some of the heaviness. And I’m glad that we are focusing on that again, it feels really good.
One thing I love on the album is the cover of “Don’t Bring Me Down” by ELO. That one took me quite by surprise. What was it about that song that made you want to cover it?
We love ELO, we are huge ELO and Jeff Lynne fans. We listen to it all the time on the bus because our musical influences range through so many different things. And Jeff Lynne is one of our big influences. But we were sitting in the studio and we were looking for a song to cover that was going to be a bonus track. We tossed around a couple of different ideas and nobody was sold on the other ones. And then Chris, I think pulled up, “Don’t Bring Me Down”. Chris and John Fred won, and we were like instantly, of course, this is what we have to do. Just because it’s already a great song, it’s a great melody. And so for us, we didn’t change it a lot. We just kind of made it a little bit heavier just as if we had written it, you know, it’s already perfect as is. And then once it came out and got mixed, we were kind of like, well this can’t be a bonus song, this has to go on the album. And I’m thankful it is because it’s a fun moment on the album and it’s a surprising moment for some because they wouldn’t expect that.
In terms of your stage performance, I have to say you’re one of the most energetic guitarists I’ve ever seen play. How do you go about preparing for a show? I mean, do you have to conserve your energy throughout the day or take a long nap before you go on stage? Or is it just pure adrenaline once you get on stage that takes over?
It’s just pure adrenaline, you know? I mean there are some days where like, even if you don’t feel good like you’re kind of sick or something on the road, or if you’re just tired and it’s 10 minutes to the show and you’re just yawning on the bus, but once you get up there, it’s like, boom it’s like come to life. For me, it is anyway. And I love that there’s no better feeling than that. And I love just getting up there and running around and feeling the power of the music and that’s what I just truly enjoy. And like I said, there’s no better feeling than playing live.
“The Human Condition” by Black Stone Cherry is out now via Mascot Label Group.