Since releasing their first record in 2006, Kentucky’s Black Stone Cherry has constantly evolved. They have incorporated southern rock, metal, and alternative rock into a unique sound that gets better with each record. They are about to release their 8th studio record, and first with new bassist Steve Jewell, called Screamin’ At The Sky. Recently, vocalist Christ Robertson took some time to talk with me about the new record.
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Chris Robertson –
On approaching the 20th anniversary of the band – We started the band in 2001 and then put out the first record in 2006. So we’re creeping up on that 20-year anniversary of the first record. It’s an odd thing, man. We get labeled a newer band a lot because we never really jumped to the next level on our first few records. Then we did a couple of records where we just kind of took a step back from the active rock world and did more of a stoner rock, classic rock kind of vibe with Magic Mountain and Family Tree, and that was a lot of great fun. But with the new records, the last two records, we really jumped back in. There are a lot of people that are discovering us for the first time, even though we’ve been around for 20 years, there’s a lot of people that are just now learning about Black Stone Cherry and that’s totally fine with us. We accept new fans anytime they want to join up. So, we’re all about it.
On if they feel like veterans or if they still have the hunger of a young band – I think it’s both, always. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been doing it a long time, and we know the ins and outs of the business, and we know if we get a tour, we got to go deliver. We know sometimes if we don’t get it to where that another band got it for this reason, we understand the business and how it works pretty well. It’s just much like any other business on the planet. You take the cards you’re dealt and you and your people create the best hand you can. This business is it’s one where the minute you stop having the desire to prove yourself with your craft, you might as well go on home because there’s going to be a group of kids coming up out of a garage or a basement somewhere that are doing everything, bleeding every day in, day out to do this. So if you get to that point where you don’t want to step it up every time then just go into the house.
On the 3-year break between Human Condition and Screamin’ At The Sky – I think more than anything, the pandemic happened. We finished recording The Human Condition right as the pandemic started. Then we went through the next 18 months of, well, there really ain’t no live performing arts going on, and then once we had a chance to go out and play some shows, we wanted to do that. Truthfully in the business now talking about earlier, being veterans or still out there trying to grind, the business now more than ever doing what we do, you make your living playing concerts, and selling t-shirts. Streams are great and all, but they don’t pay and records don’t sell anymore. So you’re not getting paid royalties there. So it was literally concerts and t-shirts. So the minute we had a chance to go tour where we were like, “Okay, let’s go play some shows”.
Just number one, to get back in the flow of playing shows. But then it’d also be nice to pay next month’s bills and not have to worry about it. We wanted to go tour, we wanted to play those songs that we worked so hard on that record and then never got to tour off of it really much So, when the time came around we were talking about wanting to start touring again It was like, “Okay, we’re gonna need another record. It’s getting time for that”, We decided we didn’t want to do an EP, so we just went did more shows for a while and wrote the songs as we did the shows because admittedly, it’s hard as shit for us now that we’re all mid-30s, other than Steve, he’s, he’s a young pup, he’s 31, getting ready to be a thing. We get home, life happens. It’s no more rock and roller, Chris, it’s dad Chris, it’s husband Chris, it’s grandson Chris. Those are the things that I absolutely live for. So, what that gets to is the majority of our writing gets done on the bus. So we’re writing while we’re out there touring. People might think, “Well, they’re not even writing songs”. The reason you don’t see me come off a bus is because I’m in the back with all Pro Tools open, messing with one of our ideas. We’ve been writing, we were super excited to start getting this new music out. We recorded the first half of it in June last year. Then we finished it all up at the very beginning of January of this year. So we’ve been sitting on it, for almost a year before the first thing got put out waiting for people to hear it. Since June of last year, we’ve been sitting on the first song and we’re just finally excited for people to start hearing it. The way the world works now is people get three or four songs before the record comes out. There’s no greater time to be a fan of music than right now with the amount of music bands are putting out and the quality as well. I said that in an interview earlier, I think coming out this side of the pandemic, our first release since then I speak for us and I’m going to go ahead and speak on behalf of 95 percent of the music I’ve heard since the pandemic. That bands are writing their most honest material to date since the world got shut down.
On if he feels a weight and responsibility for his lyrical content – I think more so than ever, and more than anything, as far as my contribution, my lyrical contribution to the record, because we all write together. But I think more so than ever, I just said, “Stop hiding anything. Just say the truth of how you feel and chances are someone else has felt that way before as well, or currently does”, because, with as many people that are alive today, somebody else feels how you feel to some degree. Instead of trying to say it in a fancy way, or trying to beat around the bush and just come out and say it with my contribution. I felt nervous at first about it, but the more the songs get released and people hear the stuff, the better I feel about it because I feel like there’s no guessing in these songs.
It’s direct in what it’s about and it addresses those things head on, even “Raindrops On A Rose”, that song is admittedly for my contribution about my dad and Jordan’s dad. That line where it says, “Sometimes it feels hopeless when everyone knows it’s only a matter of time before y’all see it, try to find a reason before we must say goodbye”, it’s just the truth. There are so many times that with my dad and the situation he was in, we’d be having the best time sitting around laughing, doing something with our minds, not on anything and I would just look over and my heart would sink because I knew that sooner than later, I wasn’t going to get to see those smiles anymore. That’s that hopelessness, even in the happiest times, and we’ve all experienced that. I really hope these songs connect with people the way they’ve they’ve seemed to connect with you.
On if he ever felt pushback for the honesty of his lyrics – There wasn’t any pushback about topics. The only pushback I’ve had at all on this record so far is my use of explicit language and I knew that was going to happen. That’s also why there are clean versions of any song. There’s a clean version as well, whether it be just an edited, a bleeped out, a chop word or I replaced the word or whatever. When you hear “Nervous” on the radio, it doesn’t have the F word in it, “Out Of Pocket” on the radio doesn’t have it, but, admittedly, the honest feeling has those words in it. The way I went, when I get to where I feel that way to where I want to say it in a song, it has that adjective in it, and it is what it is. I didn’t want anybody to feel left out so we did clean versions as well. But I look at it from this perspective. My son will be 11 years old in October. He’s allowed to sing along with me at any concert he wants to he’s not allowed to say the bad words outside of songs But in a song he’s allowed to sing along with anything dad says. I knew that when we wrote these songs when my kid sings along with those songs. He doesn’t sing that word He replaces it with the ten-year-old version. If my own kid can listen to it and go, “I probably shouldn’t say what dad says”, then it’s at parental discretion at that point. But at the same time, I guess Declan’s grown up around hearing me talk the way I talk on stage. It’s never been in our songs up until this record, but on stage, I’ve always had kind of a bad mouth. I don’t mean anything by it. It’s just how I talk. I was spoiled, I guess, at the fact that I’ve spent the majority of my adult life on a 60-foot submarine on wheels with a group of dudes and we don’t have to pay attention to what we say. We can just let words fly, and it’s different. They say a sailor’s mouth. It’s a real thing.
It is what it is, at the end of the day it’s just a word. Especially now more than ever, a large number of words carry way more weight than they used to and I totally understand that. It may be highly offensive to some people that have always been long-time Black Stone Cherry fans. To them, I do apologize if I made you feel bad, but at the same time, what we do has got to be a true representation and expression of ourselves and that’s what we gave out. We also gave the other version, but, the true honest version is the one that’s on the record.
On incorporating Steve Jewell into the band – I read it best in a comment better than I could even put it. Somebody commented after our very first tour that Steve did with us, which was the tour where we did the Albert Hall DVD, that was Steve’s first actual tour with us. One of the comments I read from the second show was, “I thought it would be odd, but it’s like, Steve’s been here from the beginning”, was someone’s comment. There were a plethora that came in after that same, the same kind of stuff or similar. That’s what it felt like.
I remember when we got the call, Jon said, “I can do the first show, but I can’t do the next three on this run”, and we were leaving that night. So it was very last minute. My instant thought was, “Who the fuck’s going to play bass for us this weekend?” So I called the guys and I was like, “How about I play bass? We’ll just tailor the setlist. Ben can take care of the solos and stuff”. John Fred and Ben were like, “Well, that’s highly commendable, but you playing guitar is part of the sound of our band. You got to play guitar”. We’re like, “Well, all right”. I said, “Okay, who are we going to get?” And the first thought I had was, “If I broke my arm and we had a tour, we couldn’t postpone, who would you call to play your guitar parts that would learn them and appreciate it and really, really grab a hold of what it is?” It was Steve. He was the first person that came to mind. I didn’t even know Steve could play bass. I called Steve. I said, “Hey, man, how good a bass player are you?” He goes,” I don’t know, pretty good. I guess.” I said, “Well, can you play bass for us if, if we can show you the songs at a couple shows?” He said, “Well, I can for sure try, when is it?” and I said, “We leave tonight and we got one show a day off and then three shows and I need you to play the last three shows, 45 minutes a night. We can teach you the nine or 10 songs”. He said, let me make a phone call. Five minutes later, he calls me back. He goes, “I’m in, man. I can do it. I’ll figure it out. Can you give me a list of songs?” I said, “Yeah, here it is”. So he’s played bass for us ever since. That was it.
Jon never came back and decided to leave after that. Like you said, we started this band when we were kids and over time, people’s desires and things that they want to do in life changed and the pandemic really gave people a lot of time to think and things change for people and this is who we are now, where we are now and onward and upward and upward has always been our mentality and nothing changed That’s not saying leaving anybody behind, I wish everybody the best, but I’m just saying our thing is, no matter what life has brought at Black Stone Cherry, it’s always been, “Okay, we move on and up, we move on and up”. Without that mentality, I don’t know that we would still be around 20 years later. No matter what this industry or life in general is thrown at us, we figured out a way to keep going and I, for one, I’m damn proud of that, especially in today’s industry.
On upcoming tour plans – So as of right now, we’re actively booking out the rest of the year, obviously. We’re going back to the UK, right around album release, doing some in-stores and some shows over there. Then we come back, we got a tour that we’re just about to finalize. It looks like sometime in November we’ll be out. We’re actively booking the rest of this year and already into next year. So, we’re going to be on the road and we’re going to be in a city near somebody seeing this segment within the next 12 months, I promise you.
On the use of backing tracks live – Never heard of it. That’s my stance. I also am not going to just turn a blind eye and say, I’ll call out bands that use tracks because that’s unfair. In today’s production, there are a lot of bands that 50 percent of their song, even Falling In Reverse, for example, Ronnie Radke be the first to tell you that 50 to 70 percent of some of their songs are a track that the band plays with. Now, do I think that makes it okay to cancel the show because your track machine is down? Absolutely not. At the core of it, the band should be able to perform their songs as the band. If you can’t, then you should have some kind of clause or something to dispel that. But I have no problem with bands using stuff because who can expect a band to hire out an orchestra every night if they truly think that sound is detrimental to a song? I don’t care who you are. You can’t afford to hire out a 40-piece orchestra to tour with you to play one song a night. Bands can’t do that.
So, it’s a fine line, For me, it’s a really fine line because for me, the way I look at it, it’s a fine line, but it’s actually pretty simple. The integral band should never have, should never be tracked. The guy playing drums, the guy playing guitar, the guy playing bass, the guy, the people playing the fucking instruments and the vocals should be doing their job. Additional stuff. If you’re doing that, then I understand, do your thing. Or if you’re a band where you’ve got one guy that sings and he puts on harmonies on a chorus in the studio and nobody else in the band can physically sing, and he sings the lead vocal, but they’ve got the harmonies brought up. So be it, man, whatever. I personally wouldn’t, but I get it.
I understand why, because at the end of the day, 95 percent of the bands that run tracks, aren’t doing it because they can’t play the stuff or because they don’t want to play the stuff they’re doing it because they’re so afraid to play a version of that song that the people haven’t heard on the radio. We just have a different mindset. We’re of a mindset that the live show is the live show and the album is the album. That’s the difference and it’s there’s no right or wrong answer to it in today’s society. There’s no right or wrong answer to yes tracks, no tracks. In my personal opinion as far as Black Stone Cherry goes, we won’t use it The only thing we ever do is if we see videos of us getting a song really really fast, sometimes every now and then we’ll play it one night to a metronome. We’ll just have like a metronome that’s just a cowbell going “pop boom pop boom” to start the song tempo, so it doesn’t get so fast that I can’t sing it, and then if we play it one night to a metronome, then we’re right back locked in the groove and we don’t use it anymore.
We tried years and years ago, after we recorded Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, because the first record we did, we didn’t even record the click track. So, The first, the Black Stone Cherry self-titled debut, there’s no metronome, there was no, none of that stuff. We just went in there, dropped our count off the songs, we played them, we punched in what we needed to fix, and that was the end of the recording process. From then on, we’ve been in situations where either the producer wanted us to, for just song’s sake, and for production quality, honestly, it makes sense to play to a metronome in a studio. But we’ve played, we’ve recorded all of our songs to a metronome since, now we’ll play around the metronome or shut it off at parts and then kick it back on at parts. But, in the studio, we’ll record our songs to one. It’s just standard practice. They’ve been doing that for decades now, but live, for us, it’s almost like going out and getting a wild horse and trying to saddle it first thing and expecting it to trot. It ain’t gonna happen and we’re like, it, we just feel like we’re pulling back the whole time.
We’re more like AC/DC in that regard where we’d rather play a song 10 beats faster than it is on the album and it’d be hard to sing than play it one beat slower than it is on the record because it’s slower than the album is just boring as shit to me. I’m like, “Oh my God, is it over with yet?” I can promise you if you come see Black Stone Cherry, anything you’re hearing, that is an instrument or vocal, if you’re hearing it during our show, it’s one of us playing it. If it’s bongos, it’s Jeff coming out from behind the drum riser playing the bongos. We don’t use any kind of backing track whatsoever. We never have, never will. We’re much like Hailstorm in that regard. They’re another great friend of ours that same thing. They don’t use any kind of backing track, nothing. They just go out there and do their thing.