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| 18 September 2023 | Reply

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur @toddstarphoto

According to a recent press release: “BLACK STONE CHERRY bring another taster of their eighth studio album, Screamin’ At The Sky with the release of the album’s title track and an accompanying lyric video. Screamin’ At The Sky is set for release on Friday September 29 via Mascot Records. Check out the lyric video here: The Kentucky-based band, featuring Chris Robertson (lead vox/guitar), Ben Wells (guitar/background vocals), drummer John-Fred Young (drums/background vocals) and ‘new’ bassist, Steve Jewell Jr. (ex-Otis).  In recent months, the band has presented two other tracks from Screamin’ At The Sky – “Nervous” and “Out of Pocket.” Screamin’ At The Sky features all-new material written collaboratively while on tour, but when it came time to record, BSC decided to try something it’s always dreamed of doing: tracking an album at The Plaza Theater in Glasgow, Kentucky – a legendary 1020-seat venue built in 1934 that boasts meticulous acoustics.” We get guitarist Ben to discuss new music and much more…

Toddstar: Ben, thank you so much for taking time out. I appreciate it.

Ben: No problem, man.

Toddstar: Well, let’s talk about the best thing going on in the world of Black Stone Cherry right now, and that’s the upcoming arrival of a brand-new album coming the end of September. What can you tell us about Screamin’ At The Sky that the fans might not grab the first or second time they listen through this album?

Ben: Well, this album, I think more than any one we’ve done in recent years is the most transparent album we’ve done I think lyrically. We went into some deep places. Of course, we’re coming out of a couple crazy years there since our last release in 2020, and I think we just had a lot to say, to get off our chests, this time around, and with different things that have happened. I think the main thing that people are going to take away when they listen to it is we tried to make this as relatable as possible because we didn’t really hold anything back as far as emotion, be it happy, sad, or struggling, whatever it may be. I think that’s what people want when they hear music is, yes, they want to experience a feeling, whether that be good or bad, and I think this time around we just wanted to take off another layer and sing about things that I think we all go through as people.

Toddstar: How different was that approach for you guys? Like you said, it’s a little rawer, a little barer. How different was the approach for you guys going from what you’ve done and done so well for so long to really strip back and make this more emotional and more connectable?

Ben: I think we just kind of came to a place where we said, “Look, this is our eighth studio album,” and we talk to a lot of our fans and we read stuff and we hear stuff, and the thing I think that appeals to most of our fans is that we always try to be relatable. This time around we just had so much to say, I think, that we didn’t really put up any pretenses and say, “Well, maybe we can’t say that or maybe we shouldn’t talk about this.” I think it was just things that we needed to get off our chest. And I think listening back to it, it feels good to be able to have said those things via music, and that’s why we titled it Screamin’ At The Sky. I think it’s about letting go of a lot of things that you’re just dealing with. And yes, there’s happy songs on there too, like “Smile, World,” which I think really balances out the album, because in the midst of all this stuff that we talk about, personal struggle or whatnot, we also can’t take things too, too seriously. That’s what that song in particular talks about. It’s just, hey, it’s all good… take a step back, take a breath and just smile. Everything’s going to be fine. So, there’s all kinds of emotions on this record, and it felt good for us to go in and go, “Let’s take everything off the table and let’s not hold anything back.” At the end of the day, the lyrics are what’s going to penetrate people’s souls.

Toddstar: I was lucky enough to hear a couple of these songs live when you guys played another packed phenomenal show at The Machine Shop back in the middle of June. It was cool to hear “Out of Pocket” and “Nervous” live. What’s the reaction across the board? Are the fans digging into this stuff as much as you guys enjoyed recording it and enjoyed putting it out there?

Ben: From what we’ve seen online so far and the way that they’re going over live, people are really, really digging the album. I think people are happy that there’s plenty of riffs on there, it’s super in your face, and people have said, and even past interviews I’ve done, people are saying, “Man, this is some of y’all’s heaviest stuff yet.” And while that wasn’t a subconscious thing to sit down and go, “Let’s make a really, really heavy record,” that’s just where we were musically and I think mentally, is once we start writing, that kind of dictates where the album goes. And so far, it’s been really good, really positive. Everybody’s really excited about the three songs we’ve put out, and that makes us feel good, because you work so hard on something, you want to please your fan base, which is the whole reason we’re able to do this. And when you get that kind of love in return, it feels nice.

Toddstar: I agree with the heavier, but I think it also showed more of a connectivity between where you’ve been and where you’re headed. It showed some of that growth as writers and performers, and the ability to go out there and just connect one-on-one. I’ve seen you guys at The Shop for years now, and you guys are always able to connect at least at that venue. What is it about The Machine Shop that makes it a sweet spot for you guys? It’s like a reunion when you guys are in town.

Ben: Yeah, thank you for saying that. We just adore that place, and I’ll tell you, most of it has to do with the fact that they have Kevin and his wife and the incredible staff there, just second to none. That means a lot to us. We know that every time we go there, we’re going to be treated nice, we always try to treat everybody nice, but you’re given the respect, and there is a crowd there, that in-house crowd that just has really followed us from the beginning of us playing there, opening up for acts back in 2006, that they’ve always been there for us no matter what time of the year it is or how many times we come back. So that’s one of those places that every time we see it pop up on the list, we’re always excited to go there, because we know it’s one of those shows you know is going to make you feel good when you leave, and that’s something that’s just guaranteed about that place.

Toddstar: I’d agree with that. Actually, I couldn’t have put it any better myself. When you look at this album – Screamin’ At The Sky –  other than the couple songs that are out there, are a song or two that still strike you as hard emotionally or mentally when you hear them or rehearse them or think about putting them in the set as they were when you guys finished writing them or recording them?

Ben: We are excited to hopefully be able to play every song off this record at some point in time. I know some songs may be a little more emotional than others, like “Raindrops on a Rose,” or “R.O.A.R.” is what it’s called on the album, that song was written by Chris and our engineer Jordan. They both lost their fathers over the last few years, so that song was written about that. I know there’ll be emotional things when it comes to playing those songs live, but that’s the beautiful part of music. If it evokes that kind of emotion with us, then we know hopefully it’ll evoke that same emotion with the listener.

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur @toddstarphoto

Toddstar: Other than that emotion and that connection that you have with the fans and the listeners, what still motivates you, Ben, personally, to get out there and do this day in and day out? You guys don’t live an easy life. You’re on the road, you’re away from family, and you’re away from friends. What keeps you wanting this day in and day out?

Ben: That’s a great question. For me, it’s just I absolutely love what we do, and the way I see it is I was given a gift. I prayed for this opportunity ever since I was a little kid. This is what I wanted to do. We still love it. We love each other. We love the things that we create. I think the thing that keeps us driving too is that there’s still so many things we want to go and do and see as a band, and even today, even with this being our eighth album release, we still have people coming up to us saying, “Man, this is the first time I saw you guys,” or, “I’m just now discovering you guys. I’ve just bought your whole catalog now.” That is inspiring to us, because there are so many unturned stones out there when it comes to us, and it keeps us going and it keeps us inspired to hear that. Some bands might get discouraged at that and go, “We’ve been together 22 years now,” and some bands might be like, “How are people just now discovering us?” But I love that. I think it’s fantastic.

Toddstar: I love the fact that you guys still throw some cool covers out there just to keep fans on their toes as well.

Ben: Yeah, we did a Tracy Chapman song, which is a lot of fun, and it went over really well and we still do that live. The Tina Turner thing, which we had no real intention of putting that song out, we recorded that last summer, and we knew it was going to be like a bonus edition or a bonus track on this album. With the unfortunate untimely passing of Tina, we had talked to our management and decided to put it out as a tribute to her and then donate all our proceeds to domestic violence. It was our way to honor her legacy and just to put it out. It kind of surprised some fans, I think, but we’d already had that song in the can, and it was like, “Why not? Let’s go ahead and put this out.” So yeah, we like to do that every once in a while, do some fun covers that people might not expect.

Toddstar: I love the fact that you guys kept it pretty close to the original foundation that Tina laid out there, but you definitely took the BSC paintbrush to it, so I love the track.

Ben: Thank you, thank you. With every cover song we do, we try to honor the original because the original was already perfect, but we also want to do it as if we have written it, and I think that’s what makes the cover version special. I love it when bands do covers, but sometimes I don’t want to hear a band play a cover song verbatim to what it was, because we don’t need that. That song was already right, it was already good to go. When a band’s able to add their touch to it, I think that’s what makes it special.

Toddstar: I agree with that. Well, on that note, when you’ve got, there are guys that I’m sure you meet and you think, “Oh my God, this guy helped me want to pick up a guitar,” or whatever. What’s it like for you when you’re on the flip side and you meet that young kid who’s just getting into this or just thinking about it or wanting it as bad as you can remember wanting it and he looks at you and says, “You made me want to pick up a guitar”? What’s that like for you, Ben?

Photo credit: Todd Jolicoeur @toddstarphoto

Ben: That is another thing that absolutely keeps us going, and when I hear that and when somebody says that it’s kind of surreal, because I don’t put myself on that kind of pedestal. When I have a young person or even an older person says, “Man, you inspired me to play the guitar or to do something,” it’s one of those things where you take personal stock and anything else that might be bothering you or you might be upset about the music business or whatever and whatever stuff that comes along with doing this for a living, but then when you hear that, you’re like, “You know what? It’s all good, because you have just inspired somebody who could be the next greatest thing.” And it’s like, that’s what I love. And I always try to give them the best advice I can and just to support them, because that’s what young players need, is that constant support and belief because it’s hard to break into something, and I think a support system is more than half the battle to success.

Toddstar: I’d agree on every level on any job you do. That said, if you could go back and talk to a young Ben Wells back in 2001 when you guys were kicking this off, what piece of advice would you give yourself then knowing what you know now?

Ben: Probably just to not stress over the small things, don’t make mountains out of molehills, and just enjoy every bit of the ride. I know I still tell myself that to this day, because sometimes you go on tour and you do a show and you’re so caught up in maybe everything else that’s going on that when it’s over with you’re like, “Dang, I didn’t take all that in like I should have.” So, now I always try to make a mental note, especially after the pandemic, to always take stock in what I’m doing and where we’re at and who we’re playing for and my surroundings. I think that’s very important, because that’s what we love.

Toddstar: That’s great advice. I know you’re busy, so I got one more for you before we cut you loose. When you go way back to 2007, you’re talking 16 years ago when you guys kind of tossed “Rain Wizard” into the world, and then you come full circle to now where you’ve got the new album dropping, and you had “Out Of Pocket” out there, which again you got in the current set list, going through all those songs through the years, if you had to pick one song’s title that you thought perfectly encapsulated your legacy, what would that be and why?

Ben: That’s a great question. I would say, of course the cliche song title, I would say “All I’m Dreamin’ Of,” because I think that is exactly, which is on our third album, I think that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re doing all we’ve dreamt of, and I think that’s just a perfect way to sum up where we’ve been and where we’re going.

Toddstar: That’s awesome. I love that song and that whole album, so it works well for me.

Ben: Thank you.

Toddstar: Ben, as always, I appreciate the time. We couldn’t connect when you were in town, but I was able to catch the show. Again, always a pleasure to see you guys at The Machine Shop. I can’t wait to see it again. Hopefully they’ll get another date on the books once you guys drop this album and get a new routing out there.

Ben: I’m sure we will be back there before long, for sure.

Toddstar: Awesome, Ben. Well, have a great day, and safe travels till we see you again.

Ben: Thank you very much, I appreciate it.







Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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