Hi Ben, how you doing? “I’m good man, how you doing?”
I’m great, what time have I got you at there? “It’s 5.30 in the afternoon here”. 8.30 in the morning here. I understand we’ve got only about 15 minutes so I’ll get into it.
Introductions and scene setting done, I’m getting the chance to have a chat with Ben Wells (rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist) of Black Stone Cherry, a Southern Rock band from Kentucky. The band will very soon be landing on our beautiful shores to headline shows in four capital cities. The boys were just out here in June last year with Steel Panther and are back again quickly, hoping to build up their family of BSC fans, of which, I count myself as one.
The latest album Kentucky, has been out for almost a year now. For me particularly it’s a great return to form. I read that you were happy to be in more control of your destiny in the move from Roadrunner Records, it definitely comes across in the album. How much of a different feel did Kentucky have when you were recording? “It was really great for us to just get in the studio and really just have ourselves and the engineer to rely on. Even in the past albums we’ve always been really hands on in the studio, but we have a producer where you always feel they are lurking over your shoulder. You may have a really cool idea, but you’ve got to listen to the producer which means sometimes you end up second guessing yourself. In saying that, we’ve loved everybody we’ve have the opportunity to work with, but this time we just wanted to do an album by ourselves You know what I mean, it was our 5th album and we’ve been touring for several years now, so I think we kind of know what our band is supposed to sound like. So we were like – Ma, we don’t need to pay anybody to try and be polished up; we just want to be who we are. I think that’s kind of where we were in our mindset, we were going to make a rock album the way we want to do it”.
For me it definitely sounded like you were just enjoying yourself. “Thank you, we definitely were”.
I read that the Chris Robertson found the whole recording process much easier being able to go home to the family at night, how was it for you? Did it make a huge difference compared to previous albums where say, you’ve been in Los Angeles? “Yeah, being out in California and recording is fun. You know it’s beautiful out there, every day is sunshine and it was nice. But at the end of the day it is nice to go to the studio and work all day and then be able to come home… To your wife. The other guys have got kids, and I got to see my wife and my dogs. It was a very comforting thing to know at the end of the day you can separate yourself and unwind and then come back the next day fully charged. That’s why we wanted to do the album at home and I think that plays into the sonics of the album as well because we just had a fun time recording it. If we’re having fun in the studio, then that comes across in the music”.
Cheaper to Drink Alone has just been released as the next single, got to say I love the video it looks like you guys had a great time putting it together and Lzzy Hale makes a cameo too. It is one of my favourite tracks from Kentucky. Was the video the bands idea, or if not how much input did you guys have into the concept? “Thank you, it was a great time doing that video. The Director, we worked with, is a good friend of ours from really close to where we live. He actually did the video for our song The Rambler, which we released last year. We were talking about ideas for the video and Chris actually thought up the idea for the speed dating thing and everybody just immediately fell in love with the idea. So we ran with it and we had a ball doing it. It was fun to dress up and play characters, it was awesome”.
Where did you find your skull? “Oh, actually that was a skull that I had from my house at my last year’s Halloween party. It had been put with our equipment and we sometimes use it as a prop. We didn’t even plan on it, it was just there with our stuff and we thought oh yeah we’ll use this – it’ll fit nicely”.
I’ve got to see you as a support act for Alter Bridge back in 2011 (House of Blues, Las Vegas) which made me a fan. I was overseas getting married when you were here supporting Steel Panther in June last year so missed that. You must have got a great vibe from the Aussie crowds and it must be a great feeling to be able to come back and headline this time around? What can we expect now that you’re driving the gig? “First of all a longer set for sure… (laughs) We had a great time the last time we were there and we knew we immediately wanted to come back and build on the momentum we had. This time we will get to play four shows and people will get to see the full side of Black Stone Cherry, not just 35-40 minutes. It’s going to be really great, I’m excited to get back down there; to play and meet new fans; to continue to build what we’ve started. It’s been really exciting to see it catch on and hopefully it will continue”.
Did you find much difference in the crowds here to the US and UK? What has been your favourite country to tour as a result? “It’s hard to say, I’d say our biggest fan base is probably the UK. Over there we headline arenas, it’s pretty incredible what we’ve been able to do over there. Of course we love going to Europe, we love playing the United States, because that’s where we’re from. We’re really starting to grow here in our home country which is really nice. For us we just want to keep going to new places, and growing, and making new fans. Last year we came to Australia for the first time, played South America for the first time. As long as we continue to play and pop in to all these places and make new fans; play for fans we didn’t even know we had; that’s our goal. But I’d say right now the United Kingdom is probably where our biggest audience is”.
I think part of the growing following is just a testament to the band and the sound that they’ve got, very distinctive. For me I hear that Southern Rock sound and can tell it’s you guys, just love it. So in saying that, it’s got to be getting harder now that you have five albums worth of awesome material to pick from, what is your favourite song to play live? “Cheaper to Drink Alone is a lot of fun right now, current fans are really liking it; Blame it on the Boom Boom is fun, Me and Mary Jane is fun. I don’t know what my favourite one is but I really think the audience plays in to that in some sort of degree. If they get really excited about it, then a song that may be dull to me or the band, if they’ve responded really well, breathes new life into that song for us”.
That pretty much covered my next question then as it was going to be what song generally gets the best reception from the punters? Does it become harder to compile the set list with so much material? “It does, we try to make the best set list with a good mixture of all albums. It is hard with five albums worth now if you try to pick your favourite songs and then trying to think what the fans are going to want to hear. It is difficult but I think we’ve got a pretty good set right now, it’s pretty polished”.
Looking at the Australian tour, it’s a pretty short and sharp itinerary, so, are you getting anytime to be a tourist? “Hopefully, we got the opportunity to go out and do a lot of stuff last time we were there, though there’s still a lot more we want to go and do and see. I think it’ll depend on one: how exhausted we are, you know from flights, etc., and two: how much stuff we’ve got going on. If there’s not a lot of interviews then we should be able to get out and do stuff”.
Cool, so what sort of things are you keen to see if you can? “I don’t know anything in particular, we got to see the Opera House in Sydney last time, whale watching. I’d like to go to the Hillsong Church in Sydney, I love what they’re doing. There’s all kinds of stuff that we want to go and see, it’s just finding the time to do it”.
The band has been together since 2001 and I’m guessing you’ve all been through a bit over those 16 years, both tough times and good times. What is the secret for your longevity as a band? “I think for us, we were friends before we were a band. We keep a very family atmosphere, everything is equal with us. We share everything equally; no one guy gets more than the other. For us, that’s what it’s all about we’re just four dudes from a small town in Kentucky. We’ve had a humble upbringing, we’re appreciative and down to earth, level-headed. Nobody has any egos, I think that is what has kept us going. We’re friends and then we’re a band”.
What advice from your own experiences would you give to bands trying to make their mark on the scene now? “Perspective and goals, and have the right goals at the right time. I see a lot of new bands coming out and while I appreciate their enthusiasm, they need these right goals and the timing. There are a lot of bands who have just started and they’re asking us ”how long did it take you to get a tour bus? How long to do this? How much money do you make?’ I’m telling them you’re asking the wrong questions. ‘Where you’re at right now, you’re asking the wrong questions. Where you are, you need to be thinking about: How many shows can I play. Regardless of how much we get payed at the beginning let’s just go out and play shows and make fans. Spread the word about our band. You need to get out there and make a statement, make people aware of what you’re doing’. The other stuff may come to you but it’s about keeping a healthy perspective on what you’re doing and not getting mixed up and going out there and getting drunk and wasting time. Go out there and have fun and remember that you’re trying to follow a dream. But it’s a business at the same time; you’ve got to keep that in mind’.
Did you ever see yourselves, when you were first starting out, five successful albums later? I mean I know you talked about goals – was it let’s play shows here, lets record an album. Did you ever expect to get to the point that you’ve achieved? “We knew we wanted to, we didn’t know that we would get to do half the things we’ve already done. We knew we were going to handle anything that came our way to make it to that goal. We had the passion for it; that’s the thing. We didn’t treat it like a hobby, we treated the band with the respect it deserves. We dedicated ourselves to it and in the beginning you have to. So yeah you only get out of it, what you put into it. Exactly”.
That’s pretty much the end of my allotted time, so I want to thank you so much for taking the time out to chat with me. “Thank you very much man”. I’m really looking forward to coming up to catch the gig in Sydney. I’m bringing my wife along – a potential new BSC fan. “Awesome, we’re really looking forward to it and we’ll catch you there brother”.
Black Stone Cherry Australian Tour Dates
Thursday April 20 – The Triffid, Brisbane
Friday April 21 – Factory Theatre, Sydney
Sunday April 23 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
Monday April 24 – Capitol, Perth