Black Stone Cherry Are Part of this Years Carnival of Madness - Interview

Odds are if you’re in a rock band, you’re not going to make it. There are several different ways to make it, but the odds are against you. You can write an amazing hit that blasts you into stardom, but that rarely happens. The best way to make it is to be a great live band and just tour, tour, tour. I’ve seen Black Stone Cherry five or six times. At first I saw them on accident. I saw them open up for Buckcherry in Rockford IL, a few months later I caught them in Chicago with Black Label Society.

Since them I’ve made a point to catch them whenever they come to town. My favorite all time band is Aerosmith and I love blues based rock bands like Aerosmith, Buckcherry, The Black Crowes and Black Stone Cherry. Recently they came to a neighboring town to play and I got the chance to catch up with Guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon. We talked about the new album, the upcoming Carnival of Madness tour and our mutual love for Aerosmith.

Zoiks! You guys recorded your newest album “Between the Devil in the Deep Blue Sea,” in LA with producer Howard Benson, which is new for you, because you’ve recorded every other album in the south. Why the change?

Jon Lawhon: We wanted to step outside our comfort zone a little bit and force ourselves to be creative, rather than sitting in an environment where you’re home. We wanted to push ourselves to be creative in a certain way, break down all those barriers as opposed to being able to drive and go see my mom in twenty minutes. It was the four of us really focused on what we were doing without any distractions from anywhere else.

Z!: What was different about the writing and recording process outside of the location?

Ben Wells: It was pretty much all the same. Everybody is there on the clock to do the same job. It was fun, that’s the most important thing. It wasn’t where you clock in and can’t wait to get out; we would actually wanted to stay later to get more stuff done. All the guys we were working with were awesome.

JL: They had to kick us out (everyone laughs)

BW: It went really fast because everybody had fun working on the music, everyone was really involved and look forward to coming in everyday.

JL: How many days did we actually spend tracking?

BW: A couple days shy of month maybe.

JL: Because we were there like a month and a half other than going home for Christmas. The first two weeks of that was some writing and preproduction. It flew by, it was a good time.

Z!: What did Howard Benson bring to the record?

BW: He didn’t really want to change the sound of the band, we didn’t want to either. He was just kind of more or less a coach in a way. He was real straight to the point, like for a song he’s say maybe do this part longer or take this part out. He just wanted to cut the bullshit and go straight to the listener’s ear and right to their brain. I think he really shines on that, he knows exactly what to do when it comes to vocals, harmonies and melodies. He is a genius at that stuff.

JL: He wasn’t standoffish though. Some producers can be like; the singer gets in the vocal booth, all right sing this and tells him exactly what to do. This is what you’re going to demo, so do exactly that. Chris (Robertson) would go in and sing, he’d sing the demo, then Howard would say, ‘try something completely different, anything.’ Sometimes we took the demo take sometimes we took the new idea, sometimes Howard would say, ‘let’s try something like this and see if it works.’ He was open to listen to what it was, to what was actually the best thing. Most producers say, ‘this is what the thing is, this is what the harmony is going to be.’ I mean I’d go in for a harmony and he’d be like, ‘try something.’ It’s refreshing to see that coming from a producer, because most producers stuck in like, ‘this is what I want to hear, this is my vision, and you’re my puppets go dance.’ It’s not like that with him at all.

Even during the guitar and bass stuff, Howard wasn’t even in the studio. It was us and the engineer and the guitar tech, stuff like that. He came in for drums to make sure we had a good platform and he was like, ‘all right, see you guys later.’ He would come in pretty often, but he pretty much stayed out of the control room. He’d come into the dining room area or whatever. Whoever wasn’t in there working at the time would eat lunch or watch “Family Guy” or whatever. He really kind of stood away from the guitars and bass stuff because he didn’t want to interfere with the creative process.

Z!: How would you describe the new album? Is there a theme to the album?

BW: There’s not really a theme, we just tried to write great songs. Whether it be about relationships or the world or whatever. We didn’t have any concept in mind. The only thing we kept in mind was our live show. That would be the most reoccurring thing that went through our heads was that we didn’t wanted to write songs that we couldn’t see ourselves playing live. Sometimes we run into that problem and it sucks, because you just end up doing the singles off the album. So that’s what he kept in mind, we didn’t want to put too much stuff on there that we couldn’t recreate. We wanted to make the riffs have enough energy, on the slower stuff we wanted to make sure it rocked enough so we could pull it off. That was the only thing that kept going through everybody’s head.

Z!: How did you guys get involved with the Carnival of Madness Tour?

BW: The tour is owned by our management company, they did it last year for the first time with Shinedown and it came around this time and early on we were on the bill for it, it’s going to be great though. Five bands, a low ticket price and some great venues. All the bands with the exception of a couple we’ve played with and are really good friends with, especially Theory of a Dead Man and Alter Bridge. It’s going go be a nice family tour.

Z!: Is there a lot of competition between the bands at these festivals?

BW: There’s always a healthy competition. Most of these bands are out there playing to their fans. It’s not like we’re going to go whip your ass. Every band out there has their fans, but it is a healthy competition. One band wants to win another bands fans over and vice versa.

Z!: How is your approach to the big festivals different from the more intimate tours?

BW: We really try to put on the same show every time, but it’s always different because we feed off the crowd’s energy. We bringing it ten times when the crowd gives it back to us.

JL: I think the obvious difference is that in here (Uptown Bar and Grill in Bettendorf, Iowa) I might have a 6 x 6 block I can move around in, I might be able to squeeze past Chris to get to the other side and vice versa. Then humongous festivals like Download for example where you’re sitting on a stage that’s like 60 foot wide, you’ve got 20 feet from Chris. You feel more like you’re running a race, because you’re running around so much. That makes a big difference to a crowd, whether they’re 30 people in a room or 80,000 on a field, if you see a band and you see them moving around and making it from one side of the stage to another, being somebody that’s gone to concerts just like you and a lot of other people, if you’re in the crowd and you’re stuck on the left side of the stage, right side or whatever, you’re stuck seeing the singer here, drummer here, who ever this guy is etc. With us you never know who you’re going to see right there, because we’re always trying to make sure we’re right in front of everybody as much as possible.

Z!: I’ve seen you guys several times, almost on accident some times. I saw you open for Buckcherry and then a couple months later with Black Label Society. You really made a name by touring and then word of mouth. For a young band starting up, how important is touring to make a name for yourself as opposed to social networking and stuff?

BW: Touring is the only thing. Facebooks and Youtube are important, but they can only get you so far. With downloading today, the only thing you cannot steal is a live performance. It use to be that you’d tour to support an album, now a days you put out an album to support a tour. That’s just the way it is, people don’t buy albums the way they use to, but occasionally they’ll still come out to the live show. That’s the only way for bands to sell themselves is on the road, it’s really just a word of mouth thing. Have you seen this band live and so on and so on. That’s what helped us along, people would say you should check them out, I saw them with so and so, like you just said, and they just keep coming out and every time we come back there is more and more people that have seen us in the past that we’ve gained as fans.

Z!: At what point in your life did you realize that music was the dream that you wanted to pursue?

BW: It’s cliché to say since forever, but I think all of us, we might have played little league baseball or football, but realized it was just something fun to do, we couldn’t go anywhere with that. We weren’t valedictorians in school. We all just shared the same interest in music, we loved it and not for drugs or sex or alcohol, but for the fact of music. We were fifteen when we started, that stuff didn’t matter, it was about writing songs and being the next Led Zeppelin.

JL: We’d get out of school at 3:00 and ten minutes after school we were at our friends house plugged up playing, five days a week during the school week, and then on weekends we’d get there earlier in the day. We went everyday, that’s what we did for recreation. That’s what we did for everything. I mean if we wanted to have a party we would have friends come down and watch us practice (everybody laughs) that was it.

Z!: As fans, is there a concert that you saw that stands out above the rest?

BW: My personal favorite band of all time is Aerosmith, so every time I see Aerosmith it stands out. Sometimes I’ll see a band and think we’re miles above them, we’re rocking. Then you see bands like Aerosmith and you think, how do I get there, how do we do it. They’ve also got 40 years of experience.

JL: You’ve got all that experience and all those hit songs. If you play a set that’s an hour and a half and you have fifty hit songs, it’s kind of hard to play a song that nobody is going to like.

Z!: What has been your bands greatest achievement?

JL: “White Trash Millionaire” is biggest single thus far.

BW: Our new single is our highest charting single.

JL: It’s in the top fifteen on every chart you can be on as a rock band.

BW: We got awarded best new band in England in 2007. We’ve been featured in “Rolling Stone.” We’ve gotten to meet celebrities. We’ve been very very fortunate.

JL: I’d say the biggest highlight would be when we played with Whitesnake and Def Leppard at Wembley Stadium. We get done playing and our guitar tech told us that Jimmy Page and Richie Sambora were watching our set. We were like no way. Chris, our singer saw them in the hall way and started talking to them and asked them to hold off so they could meet us. We all came out there and Jimmy Page, aside from being so humble and kind, it was Jimmy Page. He told us he was into the band and we took a picture with him. I’m not taking away anything from Richie Sambora he’s an amazing guitar player, but it was Jimmy Page. Meeting him was amazing, not to mention we just played Wembley with Whitesnake and Def Leppard.

Z!: Is there a dream tour or band you wish you could play with?

JL: Aerosmith.

Enough said, who wants to see Black Stone Cherry tour with Aerosmith? Talk about a band that compliments Aerosmith well. If you’re fan of Black Stone Cherry and want to see them tour with Aerosmith, hit up the Aerosmith message boards and twitter accounts and demand it. I’d love to see that happen.

BYLINE:

Bob Zerull is the Managing Editor of Zoiks! Online. He writes pop culture commentary, does interviews with bands, and reviews music and stand-up concerts. He also administers Zoiks! Online's Facebook page. Follow Bob on twitter at @bzerull. Email Bob at bob@zoiksonline.com.

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