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| 20 April 2018 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

Black Stone Cherry are the real deal: childhood friends who worked their arses off building their band and honing their craft over seventeen years. They’re bloody nice guys as well, always giving friendly, polite and interesting interviews. With the release today of sixth album Family Tree, Ben Wells took time out for a chat down the line from his Kentucky home.

100% ROCK: Congratulations on Family Tree – I’ve gotta say, for me, it’s right up there with your best. How do you guys feel about it?

Ben: Man, well, thank you for saying that. We’re very proud of it. It’s an album that we’ve always wanted to make. I think it’s a record that if somebody was to say, ‘give me the quintessential Black Stone Cherry album,’ I think this would be the one. I think we’ve really let down our guard and really said, ‘we’re not gonna try and be commercial, we’re not gonna try and write for any form of commercial success; we just wanna write songs that we enjoy and that we think our fans will enjoy.’ And that’s just good, Southern, bluesy, rock and roll.

100% ROCK: I believe that you didn’t over rehearse or anything – you kinda kept the spontaneity fresh in the studio.

Ben: We did. We didn’t even do any pre-production on this album. We wanted to have that loose, natural, live, raw feeling. So we had the demos done, but we didn’t do any kind of rehearsing ahead of time. We knew the songs enough and then we went and recorded them. So some of the first times we even played the new songs is what it is on the record. And I think that the energy behind this album is that there’s a nervousness, and there’s a live feeling that you wouldn’t get if we had gone in and over rehearsed.

100% ROCK: The vibe for me is that as you’ve matured, your sound has matured, and this album sounds more organic – like you’re sitting around in a circle jamming, rather than some of the darker, grungier sound of your earlier work, as much as we all love that. Has it been a conscious change to get to this more organic sort of a sound or was a natural evolution over the years.

Ben: It was really natural, man. We’ve always been influenced by the blues and southern music and soul and funk and so many different types of music. And I think after we did our blues EP Black To Blues last year, that really rejuvenated us and it got us going deeper into our influences, and really showcasing where our influences are coming from a little more. So we said, ‘look, we’re not the heaviest band in the world, we’re not the lightest band in the world, we’re just … we’re a rock and roll band.’ And I think that’s what we got back to, because that’s what we were when we first started.

100% ROCK: I was wondering how much that EP influenced where you went with this album, because your part of the world is a real melting pot for music, isn’t it? There was all that, what they called race music back then. And all that music was coming in – the blues and the funk and the soul, and I can really hear those influences in your rock and roll.

Ben: Thank you, that really means a lot, because you’re exactly right. We’re influenced by so much great… I guess you could say, race music. So much great blues music. And that’s where rock and roll came from – that’s the heart and soul of it. And for us, that’s always been a major part of us. And I think on this album, we just kinda got back to that.

100% ROCK: Having gone back to your roots a bit more – both Kentucky and Family Tree were recorded closer to home and family, and your sound is becoming more organic – is there a sense of having come full circle and, I guess, a rebirth or reclaiming control over your music?

Ben: In a way, yeah. It is somewhat of rebirth in the sense that we’re carving our own paths. This is our sixth album, we’ve worked with some great producers. This is our second record label. But for us, I think we’re comfortable being the band we are. We want to always explore new territory, and we always to spread our wings and not settle for anything, but I think we’re comfortable in our skins just being a southern rock and blues band. And I think that’s something that it took us a minute to get to – but now that we’re there, it just feels really, really good.

100% ROCK: You guys self-produced this record and the last one, and Chris [Robertson – singer/guitarist] mixed this record. What challenges did self-producing pose for you, and how does the democratic process work when two of you might want things one way and two of you might want them a different way?

Ben: You know, we’re all four [of us] very much hands on it when it comes to the creative process – the writing, the recording – and at the end of the day, we all four decide on what is the best. It’s not going to go one guy’s way or two guys’ way. We all four want to be on the same page. Otherwise, there’s no reason to do it. We’re a unit. And it takes four of us to make this thing work. So if all four of us aren’t agreeing on something, then it’s not real, it’s not legit. So for us in the studio when we self-produced, it’s really a fun and easy process because most of the time, we’re all on the same wavelength, if that make sense. There’s a chemistry that we have that just really works. And when we’re allowed to do it our way, really it’s a freeing process.

100% ROCK: You’ve known each other literally all your adult lives. You must be closer than brothers by now. Has it been difficult to have four individual creative people grow in the same direction over that span of seventeen years?

Ben: Not really. Like I said, we’re all influenced by so much different stuff. The good thing about our band is that we’re not just one lane of music. If we wanna go country for a minute, we’ll go country. If we wanna go funk, we’ll go funk or reggae or heavy metal or blues. Whatever. And I think we’re all four involved in that natural process so we’re very fortunate and lucky that we found each other. And, as I said, it’s that chemistry that we have, we like exploring different things. And the four of us have always been about, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter the genre or how it sounds, it’s just about the song. If the song connects with you, if it makes you wanna dance, if it makes you feel good, if it makes you cry – as long as it evokes some form of emotion, that’s all we want.

100% ROCK: It is very lucky that you found each other, obviously that friendship ‘s a big part of the chemistry and what makes the band so good. But even best friends fall out over the years, just for short periods of time. You’ve really got to hold tight onto that bound that you’ve got…

Ben: Absolutely. Look, we have our arguments. We fuss and fight just like brothers would but we’re also very quick to make up. Because we know that we’ve been given a gift to be able to play music and tour the world and meet really cool people and talk to cool people like you. As hard as times might get in the music industry and whatnot, we know that we’re all in this together and it goes back to the family aspect that our bands have that we’re all for one and one for all.

100% ROCK: You brought Warren Haynes in to play and sing on Dancing In The Rain. You must be big fans of his, obviously.

Ben: Oh, absolutely. We’ve been fans of Warren’s work when he was with The Allman Brothers Band, of course, and Gov’t Mule. We had an idea for him to appear on this record for a long time. We had that song and we thought it would perfect so, we’d met Warren a couple of times and we contacted him and asked him if he wanted to be a part of it, and he said, ‘sure, send me the song.’ So we sent him the demo and he said, ‘I love it, I’d love to be a part of it.’ We were so excited. He was actually on tour at the time so we had to send him the tracks to his studio and he recorded it. We got on the phone with him and kinda talked about the song and essentially just told him, ‘look, man, we want you to do what you do. Don’t let us influence you any way.’ And he sent it back the next and he just, he totally killed it. It’s just an honour to have him on this record.

100% ROCK: Fantastic. Mascot Label Group are pretty big on getting their acts to collaborate on various projects – have they pitched any other interesting hook-ups to you as yet?

Ben: There’s been a couple, but we didn’t want to make this record a collaboration record. We still wanted it to have its own feet – but there’s definitely ideas for future stuff that we’ve already got, kinda in the back of our minds. But, Mascot is really great; they’re a terrific label. They’re very hands on. They’re very innovative. We’re glad to a part of that family for sure.

100% ROCK: And very supportive, from what I understand, of their artist’s creativity.

Ben: Absolutely. What Mascot does is they sign bands that they like and then market what that band does. They don’t sign bands with the intention to try change them or mould them into their idea of something else. We’ve been there before. So it thrills you. It’s very refreshing to be on a label like Mascot.

100% ROCK: Your first Australian headlining tour last year seemed to be a real success. The Perth show was just a mind blower for us. Can we expect you back, touring this album?

Ben: Thank you. We really hope so, man. Funny, I don’t know when it would happen, but we’ve been hitting our booking agent up almost every week saying we have to come back to Australia. We have fans there. We have to come back there now, especially with the new record out. So we’ll be back. When, I’m not sure, but I know we will be.

100% ROCK: Excellent, looking forward to that. You’ve toured relentlessly for many, many years. When you do get a little bit of time off at home, do you just put the guitar away in the corner and forget about it, or are you still playing all the time?

Ben: I sat in my basement yesterday for about 3 1/2 hours straight playing guitar! I did for about an hour today. I love it, man. Granted, the first day home, yeah, you’re kind of chilling, you’re relaxing. But I love the guitar – we love our instruments so we’re not ones to come home and not pick up our instruments and not play, because that’s what brought us to the dance. So we always have to keep that in mind.

100% ROCK: As a guitarist, do you ever stop learning?

Ben: No. I’m learning more. I’m trying to pick up more of that chicken picking stuff right now, and playing with my fingers instead of a pick. The guitar is one of the most versatile instruments on the planet, so there’s always things to learn. There’s never a time – I don’t think any guitar player would say this: if they did, they’re lying – there’s never a time when you can say, ‘I’ve got it all figured out,’ because there’s so much, and there’s so many different styles and techniques. So I’m always trying to learn new stuff and better myself as a player.

100% ROCK: Have you discovered any new players or any older players that you weren’t aware of, that have opened your eyes up to a different style recently?

Ben: I’m really into Brian Setzer and Chet Atkins and things like that, Jerry Reed, that kind of style of guitar playing. So that’s been a focus of mine, just to really try and figure out how those guys do what they do so well. I’ve been in that world for a while but there’s always new players that are coming out just to look at and they’re mesmerising. I’ve been in the rockabilly, chicken picking world for a little bit now so that’s kinda what I’ve been focusing on.

100% ROCK: Cool. We’ll eagerly listen out to see where that fits into Black Stone Cherry in the coming years, man.

Ben: Thank you. Thank you. Hopefully it will.

100% ROCK: I was having a big talk with a friend of mine the other day and we both had dealings with depression over the years, and we were talking about how big stuff – the big, exciting life stuff – is great. But it’s the little stuff, day-to-day, that gives you the right foundation of happiness. So what are the little things that make you a happy person?

Ben: Of course, I love my wife, and we have two dogs – two beagles. I have a great supportive family. I’m not one to… I always try to look on the bright side of things – and, yes, I get down and you get kind of in a slump every now and again, but I rely on my faith and the little things around me. If it’s as simple as going outside and listening to a bird sing, I can find beauty in that. I don’t try to overthink things anymore – I take each day as it comes. And, like I said, I’m a firm believer and that kind of stuff really helps me whenever I get down in the dumps.

100% ROCK: Absolutely. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, because we say that these are the little things – but they’re the biggest things of all.

Ben: Absolutely they are. The little things are the things that are going to be there with you all the time. The big moments, the exciting moments, those are temporary. The important thing is to find joy in the things in your every day life.

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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