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Taking Requests: Black Stone Cherry Out To Express Themselves

Thursday, 27 February 2014 Written by Heather McDaid

It’s a pretty good time to be a follower of Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry. With a new album, 'Magic Mountain', on the horizon, their current UK tour offers a rare chance to interact with the band on the most sacred of things: the setlist.

Prior to the jaunt’s opening night at Glasgow’s Barrowland Ballroom, Jon Lawhon, the band’s bassist, peered through a fog of jetlag and early mornings to discuss the mechanics of putting on a tour on which the band has little control over what they’ll be playing night after night.

"Yesterday was a production day," he said. "So we flew in and the bus picked us up at the airport and took us to a rental building where you rent spaces to rehearse. We went in there and set up all of our gear, threw away a bunch of crap we've been collecting over the years.

“We've been touring here since 2007 and we haven't thrown anything away in that time, stuff that was outdated and random things. Went through all that, set up our gear, made sure everything was good to go and then we rehearsed a few of the newer songs and some old tracks we've not played in a while."

As for the new tracks, this tour will mark their UK premiere after 2013 was spent busily crafting their fourth album, the follow-up to ‘Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea’. The writing process found the band stripping away a few layers of industry bluster and expectation following the restructuring of their label, Roadrunner.

"The last record we did a lot of co-writes, where we were writing with a lot of people outside of the band,” Lawhon said. “Long story short - Roadrunner was consumed. In doing so, a lot of the staff was let go, or - I don't know a nice way to say fired - a lot of them were fired. We ended up with an A&R guy named Steve O, who originally was the first guy who tried to sign us back in, jeez, 2005. We basically have a new A&R guy so it all came full circle with us. And he's a lot better to work with as far as getting input.

"He understands us a million times more than the last guy we had. Writing was actually really simple for us because we just went in and wrote what we wanted to write, how we wanted to do it. We just spent a lot of time focusing on us instead of trying to worry so much about what everyone in radio was going to think and all that. We made a record that was for us and for our fans.”

That attitude was carried over into the studio, where the band worked with producer Joe Barresi, a veteran of records with Queens Of The Stone Age, Bad Religion, Isis, Melvins, Every Time I Die and more.

"The studio process was the same way,” Lawhon continued. “Joe Barresi is a brilliant producer in regards to the fact he doesn't produce, he kind of wrangles you. He'll sit back and listen to the ideas, and he'll help you find the idea rather than 'no, no, no - do this'.

“A lot of producers have a bad habit of handing parts over and forcing bands to play them and things like that - he's not like that. In fact, any time he was talking, if he heard one of us whispering in the background he'd be like: 'Hey, what are you saying?' All the ideas and thoughts came from us, so it's very pure and genuine."

The band were driven by a desire to get back to their musical roots, to embrace the same passion that drove their earliest work rather than conform to expectations. ‘Magic Mountain’ is set to contain its share of twists and turns.

"It was more of who we are and what we've been through as people and musicians," Lawhon said. "This is the most musical record we've had since the first one. The guitar solos we've had are twice as long than they have been on the last couple of records. There's musical pieces of songs, like there's jams at the ends.

“The song will be done and then the jam will kick in, just these outlandish left-field things that we used to do as kids and we did quite a bit on our first record. Even that record was kind of reserved, I guess, because we overproduced it ourselves to the degree that it would fit American radio. This time we said screw all that."

Interestingly, the album seems to encompass elements of their live show, something that was a touchstone during the writing process. In particular, Lawhon credits their experiences touring on this side of the Atlantic with influencing some of their creative decisions.

"We've always been a live band rather than a studio band, mainly thanks to the UK," he said. "Even before we came to the UK, the live performance is what we were all about, but after we came here - here and Germany, really - the feeling you get off the crowd, it really forced our live performance to the forefront more than anything else.

“So, while we were working on the record, way, way more than once did I hear: 'What would this be like at Download?' or 'How will this go down in front of our fans?' That part has got to be such a big thing that our audience gets into it. We kept using that as an influence to force us into something better."

The album’s lead single, Me And Mary Jane, is a foot-stomping workout that allowed Black Stone Cherry to show off just a little, something that Lawhon is just fine with.

"They came to us and said they wanted Me And Mary Jane as a single and we were like, 'cool',” he said. “The reasoning behind it was that it's just a fun song, and the breakdown and solo section and all that really showcases us as players individually. The guitar solo section has a bassline in it that's like Band of Gypsies, it's all over the place. It's really energetic and all over the place, it's difficult musically. We just wanted people to see that we still got it."

The main perk of this tour, if one had to be picked, is that the setlist was decided by the fans, leading to a few surprises. During their sets, the band will also open the floor to questions.

"Big City Lights, that was a b-side on our first record, and it's in our set,” Lawhon said. “We haven't played that song in - your guess is as good as mine - a long damn time. There's a lot of songs we're playing tonight that we haven't played in forever.  

“One in particular, Ghost of Floyd Collins, the first time we played it since back then was at the practice house a couple of weeks ago. As soon as we got done, I looked around at the guys and was like: 'Why the hell did we ever stop playing that?' It's a frigging hardcore rock song."

Black Stone Cherry UK & Ireland Tour Dates are as follows

Fri February 28 2014 - LONDON KOKO
Sat March 01 2014 - WOLVERHAMPTON Wulfrun Hall

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