Black Stone Cherry: The Long Ride
Black Stone Cherry have a new record on a new label, and they’re doing things their own way: it just so happens that they had to go back to where it all began to do it.
A decade ago, Kentucky’s Black Stone Cherry recorded their debut at buddy David Barrick’s Barrick Recording near their hometown of Edmonton. It was a masterwork of Southern-influenced heavy rock which set the band up to be the Next Big Thing, but while they’ve certainly achieved plenty of well-earned success, it also put them at the mercy of the decisions of their record label. They’ve made great music in the interim, but they felt they had more to say that wasn’t being said.
Jump forward ten years and BSC are on a new label (Mascot Records) and have just wrapped up recording Kentucky, album number five, in that very same studio and on their own terms, producing the record by themselves and being one hundred percent accountable for every song choice and every arrangement decision. And as lead vocalist/lead guitarist Chris Robertson explains, it’s been good to go back.
“It’s been ten years since we recorded there,” he says of Barrick Recording. “It’s a big open live room with two booths in it and we just love it. To be able to go to the studio and be home in 30 minutes is amazing. To go back there and do a record and to self-produce it, man… just to go in late at night and do whatever we wanted. Whatever guitar sound we wanted, however long a guitar solo we wanted. The solo in “Soul Machine” is one of the longest ones I’ve ever got to do and it’s all so much fun, because we didn’t have anyone saying “You’ve got to make that section shorter.” It was just so relaxed, and I don’t see us recording any other way, ever again.”
The studio itself is loaded with personal meaning for the band, since it’s where they recorded their debut, but it’s also home to a much more tangible link to wider music history: the board in the studio is actually 16 channels out of the old EMI console from Abbey Road in London.
“It’s one of the only ones,” Robertson says. “When they split up that board, our engineer back home got one of the first 16-channel boards they did, and his is one of the only ones that has the EMI/Abbey Road/Chandler Ltd stamps on it. He’s got an old compressor that we run everything through, then some Neve mic preamps and some old mics. It just sounded so good, man. I love the guitar sounds on this record.”
It takes balls to cover Edwin Starr’s “War,” a song with an arrangement and style so distinctive that a lesser band can be lost under its weight. Not so when BSC tackled this track.
“Oddly enough we weren’t even planning on recording that song,” Robertson explains. “We were trying to find a song to cover for a B Side and we thought of that, and ten minutes later we were in the live room of the studio tracking the song. And after listening back to it once we got the horns on it we thought ‘Shit, this has to be on the album.’ So it ended up going on the record, man. And everybody that’s heard that song really enjoys it. It’s one of those classic songs, man. We kinda gave it a new spin, a new twist. But that was a lot of fun to do, man, to decide to do a song and ten minutes later go and record it.”
Another standout track is “In Our Dreams,” which was written with producer Bob Marlette years ago, and although the band loved it, their old label wasn’t so keen; “We wrote that song in 2010 for Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea and nobody at the record label wanted that song on the record. Then we wanted it on the next record and we could never get anyone at the record label to agree on it. So when it came time for us to produce it, damn right it’s going on the record because we’ve always wanted that song on a record. And it just goes to show, man, the difference in opinion and taste. We had two A&R guys who didn’t believe in the song, then we get with a new record label and they wanna release it as the first single!”
The title Kentucky isn’t just about returning home to a physical environment to make music in: it’s also a nod to the local musicians who helped to flesh out the sound of the record: any extra instrumentation was provided by hometown heroes.
“Every musician on the record is somebody back home,” Robertson says. “All the background vocals, the gang vocals on the cover of “War,” the horn section that played on “War” and “Soul Machine” was from back home, the guy who played the organ on I actually played organ on “Born To Die,” which I’d never done before… but everything was so home-grown and it’s just got this feeling of carefree and homespun that I just love about this record.”
The album closes with “The Rambler,” a song written with another proponent of Southern-influenced modern-yet-classic hard rock. “That song was brought to us by a good friend by named of Jasin Todd, who was the original guitarist in Shinedown and has been a good friend going on 13 years,” Robertson says. “He brought us this song and it was kinda half-finished but we said ‘We would love to record this song and make it ours, if you wouldn’t mind us finishing it.’ We came together and finished up the song and it came to be one of the highlights on the record. We’ve been playing it live and people love that song, man.
Next up for Black Stone Cherry: an Australian tour with Steel Panther in June, along with their own headlining dates on the side, totalling ten dates across the country from bigger venues like Festival Hall to more intimate club shows. Black Stone Cherry are right where they want to be, making the music they hear in their hearts with a supportive label backing them up, and bringing their sound to fans all over the world.
Steel Panther / Black Stone Cherry
Fri Jun 17th – The Big Top @ Luna Park, Sydney
Sat Jun 18th – Festival Hall, Melbourne
Mon Jun 20th – Eatons Hill, Brisbane
Wed Jun 22nd – Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Thu Jun 23rd – Metro City, Perth
Sun Jun 26th – Powerstation, Auckland, NZ