Latest Release: Kentucky (Mascot)

Whilst Black Stone Cherry may not be familiar to Australian audiences in the live setting, by joining the impending return of repeat offenders, comedy hair-metallers, Steel Panther, they are almost guaranteed to win over a rock crowd. Now with five studio albums under their belts and a wealth of global touring experience to draw on, Black Stone Cherry’s first ever tour here promises to showcase a tightly rehearsed band capable of some decent rock swagger. In time for the tour, Loud spoke to front man and lead guitarist Chris Robertson to find out more about the band that continually receives high praise.

I believe you’ve a lot of tour dates arranged and soon you’ll be heading our way, playing on the same bill as the unique Steel Panther.
Yeah, we’ve known those guys for a while so it is definitely going to be a whole lot of fun.

What are your plans for the set list for the coming tour?
I have no idea yet but we’re working on the set list regularly. But I would say there will be a little bit of something off of every album, I’m sure.

When writing for the new album, did you think about playing live so is it performance based writing?
Any time we are writing songs we are thinking about the live element. A couple of times in the studio, you can get ahead of yourself and end up with a bunch of stuff that you’ll end up not being up to do live. For us, with this new record, we wanted to only do stuff that we could do live and make this record have a little live feel about it.

Were your guitar solos reined in by your producer on this album?
The way I have always approached solos is to do them off the cuff and when we’re writing, I guess if I’m doing a good one them we’ll just keep jamming for a little while until it feels like time to conclude them. I never really write them but I do try to get them more towards the melodic side of the soloing as opposed to playing the fast blues scales. So I try to incorporate as much melody as possible.

So was the song ‘Soul Machine’ perhaps inspired by ‘Spanish Castle Magic’ or ‘Purple Haze’?
Man, that one is in a cool tuning that we use which is kind of like open key, I guess. But we that song set slack so it is low to high [CFCFAD] and that tuning lends itself to those kinds of riffs plus I probably sound like a huge Hendrix fan and he was the greatest guitar player that ever lived. So I am sure there is some of that in there and whilst I listen to everyone, Hendrix is on the main influences for me, for sure.

For the stack riffs you came up with, do you have a stack of bonus tracks or ideas for the next album lying around?
It’s funny, when we write our songs it seems that every one of our songs starts with a riff. Invariably in there you will have a turnaround and there will be a song you started working on from years ago or an idea surfaces from several years ago. There are a couple of songs that were from older riffs; ‘I Am the Lion’ and another called ‘Coyote’; they were the bonus tracks on the record. There were also a couple of songs that didn’t make the record that we’ll see if we want to use those riffs at some point.

Did you find it difficult getting used to playing guitar and singing at the same time?
Yeah, I mean, I’m not bad doing that with verses, depending on the song but it is harder if I’m playing a bit of a guitar solo and singing at the same time than if I’m playing some riffs and singing at the same time. I don’t know why either; there is something going on there with my fingers.

Production wise and making sure the album sounds as intended, how much pre-production is needed?
For this record, we went down to David Barrick‘s [engineer and executive producer] house for two days and went over each song one time and in some cases, not even all the way through. We wrote them to leave open the possibility for changing ideas and you certainly don’t want to have things set in stone. So we didn’t really do a whole lot of pre-production on demoing and tracking. You’ve got to leave that room for things to change and for parts to come up and for other parts to go away.

The upcoming tour with Steel Panther is amusing given that you’ve also toured with some of the big bands that Steel Panther are affectionately bagging out such as Whitesnake and Def Leppard.
Yeah man, the Steel Panther dudes are absolutely awesome. We did a tour with them in the UK and it was like an awards show. They were hilarious and such nice guys. It is funny that we’ve toured with Def Leppard and Whitesnake yet Steel Panther takes that to the extreme. It is going to be a fun tour.

Do you get a chance to talk to Satchel in non-character mode to check out his guitars and talk shop?
Man, hopefully because that would be cool. But we’ve hung out with them a couple of times and they are super cool. They are such incredibility talented musicians.

Have you picked up ideas or tips from watching the other bands you’re touring with perform?
I do try to study it and see what it is that makes those bands work. We’ve been doing this for fifteen years with ten years of putting out records so we kind of know where our thing is but you’re always wary and you’re always evolving whilst picking up different stuff from day to day. You’ve got to continue to be wary no matter what, above all else.

Do you think bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd or Bad Company might learn things from yourself as well given they would have to be aware of the new blood coming through?
I highly doubt that because those bands are legendary and it was cool to look over to the side of stage and see those guys watching us play which they did. On tour they would come out every night and watch us play our set. I don’t think they were learning any cool moves from our set though.

What is it that impressed you most about Lynyrd Skynyrd?
I would say just the longevity of their music. They have just always played great music. Lynyrd Skynyrd never really had radio success and built their whole career on playing live. That is something that we have in common with them in the fact that we have always built upon being a live rock’n’roll band. So much of that is missing now from rock’n’roll. It is pretty great to know that Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company can still go out there and play. They’re still doing it.

Your influences would surely include ZZ Top based on the song ‘Hangman’ but would you agree that there is some Pantera or even Godsmack in there as well?
Man, we are all huge Pantera fans and have been for many years. They were the originators of groove metal in my opinion. As far as the cut on the album, even though it is metal it has that bluesy background.

How do you think the Southern rock sound is changing with bands such as Blackberry Smoke coming through?
It’s kind of weird because you didn’t hear anything about Southern bands for a long time and now there has kind of been a slight resurgence. I don’t know man, I think that there is something about the honesty of the people and also in the music there is a beat with a bond and you know it. It is somehow an outsider genre of music that lands upright and there is something different about it but I don’t know exactly what it is. Hell, we never wanted to be Southern rock band, man, we just wanted to play rock’n’roll. We didn’t set out to sound like Lynyrd Skynyrd or the Allman Brothers. We just wanted to write our own songs and be as good as we could at what we were doing.

For the studio used on this album [Barrick Recording Studio], you returned to near your place of origin or hometown [Edmonton, Kentucky] and used a refurbished mixing desk from EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in the UK. Did you notice it in the sound and final mastering?
Man, David has had that board for several years now. We actually recorded our debut record on that board and it’s had some magic in it. So many great records were recorded on it so it’s got some magic in it when everything slaves through that board. It just adds a little presence to everything.

Touring wise, are you still sticking with analogue gear? Would you consider digital gear?
Man, I use old tube amplifiers. I used to use old Fender Bassmans and then I used Peaveys and Budda for a long time and they were great. But in the last couple of years I’ve switched over to Paul Reed Smith amplifiers. For the most part I use an original model [PRS Original Sewell] with just bass, treble and volume knobs on it. I’ve currently been playing a 50 watt prototype PRS amp. There is a part of me that would like to have a Kemper [profiling amplifier], just in case we have to fly in and do a show but when I can’t get the amps and all that gear there. At the same time, there is a part of me that goes, ‘I just want to have tube amplifiers behind me’ because that is all I’ve really known. When I first started playing guitar I was playing a Fender Bassman head with a 2×12 cabinet that my grandpa was letting me borrow. I played tube amps from the get go and nothing has ever sounded as good as them. I have some great solid state practice amps but as far as really going to play I like to powering up those tubes and slamming on full 12 and letting them go.

What types of guitars are you using? Any Gibson Les Pauls in the set up?
I’m a PRS endorsee. Ben [Wells – rhythm guitar] plays Les Pauls and a little bit of everything. On the record I used a bunch of different stuff like some 245s [PRS SE 245], some Starlas [PRS S2 Starla] a Baritone [PRS SE 277] and a couple of Grissoms [PRS ‘DGT’ Dave Grissom Signature guitars] that I have. But for the most part I am using my 245s. For pickups, I’ve got a humbucker in the bridge and a soap bar in the neck and I really like them – to me they are a guitar perfected.

What led you to PRS guitars initially?
I was on the road playing a couple of old Gibsons and a couple of older Telecasters with humbuckers in them but I was having trouble with the consistency day in, day out. I asked my guitar tech at the time [2011] who had worked for a lot of guys, ‘What is the most consistent guitar that you’ve ever set up?’ and he said, ‘PRS, hands down’. So we got to talking and I tried out their guitars and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been playing them ever since.

This latest album will be getting the vinyl treatment too.
We issued it on vinyl with several different colours and I’ve listened to it on CD, vinyl and mp3 but I prefer the vinyl sound. I’ve gotten back into it. I learned to play guitar by listening to Mountain on vinyl so I have always had a love for vinyl. So, to have our record on vinyl is just awesome. This is the third release that we have done on vinyl and I just love the way the record sounds like that, man.

17/6: Big Top Luna Park, Sydney NSW
18/6: Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC
20/6: Eaton Hill Hotel, Brisbane QLD
22/6: Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA
23/6: Metro City, Perth WA