Interviewed by: Adrian Hextall
Pictures – Wembley Arena – Adrian Hextall (Mindhex Media)
Pictures – Borderline – Robert Sutton (Robert Sutton Photography)
With a new album due in the next few weeks and the inaugural Carnival of Madness tour in full swing across the UK at the moment, things are looking good for Black Stone Cherry. Sell out shows across the country with the bill including heavyweight acts like Halestorm and Shinedown, a low key charity show in support of Teenage Cancer Trust at the Borderline in London and a long list of promotional work to do for the new album means it takes several attempts to connect with Jon. When we do however, he’s again on route to another press related event. Pretty impressive for a band that only a few years ago opened the Hard Rock Calling festival in Hyde Park at mid-day in one of the tents!
Jon Lawhon: We were supposed to be at the hotel, and then plans changed, and I’m actually in a car right now, heading to our bus. Then, shortly after I get there, we’re getting picked up and taken anew, I believe to a photo-shoot for somebody.
Since the band hit the ground in the UK, it seems that they’ve had a tremendously busy schedule. Press shoots, recordings, radio slot and photo shoots. It’s a long list and I wonder if I’ve missed anything out.
Jon Lawhon: Well, we’ve done a few performances, and radio take-overs for the Team Rock, Planet Rock, Terrain. All kinds of different stuff. We’ve done tons of variety with different print media, and so on. We’ve played a show, which was charity gig last night. That was for the Teenage Cancer Trust. That was great. We had a blast doing the show last night. We raised a bunch of money for the charity. The only downtime we’ve had – I personally had my face stuck in the laptop trying to edit the footage for a documentary DVD that is to be released with our album.
In a world where album releases are so easy to find available on-line or simply streamed via Music services, bands need a way to entice fans to purchase physical products. The limited edition digipacks with a bonus DVD, the vinyl releases or other items that have an air of ‘limited edition’ about them seem to be doing the trick. With such a busy schedule though, it’s amazing to hear that the band themselves are the ones doing the editing, mixing and splicing of footage for something like a documentary. With a laugh, Jon explains just why he is the one doing it all;
Jon Lawhon: Yes. Somehow I’ve figured out how to do it thus far. The management and label are probably ready to wring my neck because it’s taking so long to get it done, but when your press schedule is this busy, it’s kind of, you know, you can’t push yourself through all these people, you know. It takes time.
Presumably things like video editing then become an escape whilst on tour. An opportunity during downtime to keep yourself occupied and focusssed on something else that you enjoy. It’s something that Jon readily agrees with;
Jon Lawhon: Yeah, I do, for sure. I mean, not necessarily when the band started, but as the band started getting going really – with label and all of a sudden we were shooting photos for our album. Doing album art, and all the things that it takes to put out a record, and to market the band. I’ve got really interested in all that, so I started. I bought a camera, and I sort of learned how to edit HD footage and how to use Photoshop join up the video footage and design; edit photos and everything. So, once the studio work’s done, you know, the four of us are done in there, that’s when I roll my sleeves up and start working. I’ve got, you know, three to five months work non-stop chaos for me personally after this recording.
It’s a lot easier to find the time to do that stuff when we’re on the road. While at home, you know, I’ve got a three-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter, plus my wife, you know, and Mom and Dad, and in-laws, and everybody just want to hang out and spend time while I’m home. It’s hard to be able to work, and still maintain that personal life as well.
Personal life of course needs to take precedence sometimes and with a six week tour in progress, that’s got to be tough on a musician and the family as well. Naturally the desire to go back home to see your children, especially when they are that young, is a strong one.
Jon Lawhon: Yeah, that’s right. At the end of March, we’re supposed to be at home, with exception to the Kentucky album release show that we’ll do, I imagine, on release day, or nearly around it. Then we’re back to touring in the States. And in May we’re touring in Australia for the first time. In June we’ve got the Ramblin’ Man Fair back here (Mote Park, Maidstone Kent, UK), and a whole other variety of things we’re working on.
As we talk about the Ramblin Man Fair in the Summer, the speed at which Black Stone Cherry have risen in the UK is still taking the band by surprise. Ever the humble man (it’s a Southern thing I’m sure) when prompted about their headlining slot, Jon is clearly still taken aback.
Jon Lawhon: Yep. We were very surprised to get that offered. I mean, we’ve headlined the second stages at Festivals here twice now . You know. And the Ramblin’ Man Fair being a newer festival that has come up, you know, most of the time, well, you know, from a spectator point, anyway, you see a new fair festival or something – they can stick with the classics which are guaranteed to sell (Whitesnake headline day one). And they asked us about headlining the main stage, and we were all kind of taken aback by it, you know. Of course we said yes, you can’t argue that. Yea, we’re really excited about it. Can’t wait to do that show.
He continues to discuss the rise of the band in the UK. Meteoric would be a good word. It’s certainly seen us take the band to our hearts.
Jon Lawhon: In the UK it has. In the States, you know, we’re still climbing like anybody else. But for some reason, I don’t know why, but for some reason the UK is really onto us, and it’s kind of catapulted here. There are other parts of mainland Europe, like Germany, Italy, which we do very well at, and we’ve grown very quickly there, just not as quickly as we have here. This is definitely our primary market.
If you look at some of the tours the band have done to date, the rise has been very very impressive. The first time I saw BSC perform was at Hard Rock Calling, when Aerosmith were playing. I recall they opened a tent at about midday in 2007. Following that they opened arena shows for Def Leppard and Whitesnake a mere one year later, and then, with a main support slot to Alter Bridge in the bag, they returned for their first arena headlining tour.
Jon Lawhon: Yeah. I know. It’s crazy. You know, it was 2011, I believe, we did this support, direct support to Alter Bridge in their Arena tour. And then in, I guess, 2014 we did our first arena headline tour. And then we just released Thank You: Livin’ Live – the Birmingham performance live DVD, in October 2015, which is right at the year of the anniversary mark of the show.
So, it’s really, really crazy that that we’re doing the kind of the shows that we are. We’ve been together for 15 years this year, come June, you know. And, you know, we’re the same four dudes. Not a lot of bands can say that. We were trying to think what bands we’ve known since we first started touring, that are still together and it’s like our support on this tour Halestorm. That’s really about it. Nobody else is still the same line-up. A lot of bands have just split up. Period. And then, other bands, you know, half the members or just one guy left. At least one person has left the band. You know.
We then start to discuss one of the other bands on the Carnival of Madness tour with them, Shinedown. Although the line up has been stable for some time now, Shinedown did of course use to be a five piece with Jasin Todd in the ranks, the man, who if you read our review of the Wembley show, was also responsible for helping write one of the BSC tracks played that night The Rambler.
Jon Lawhon: Yes. Before that, what people don’t realize is that, even before that, Shinedown was the drummer, Barry [Kerch], and Brent [Smith], and they are the only two true original members. ‘Cause, before that was Jasin Todd playing guitar, and Brad Stewart playing bass. We knew Shinedown then. If it wasn’t for Jasin, their original guitar player – well, as far as this dimension goes, Jason’s the reason why we got our management deal. And, which, obviously, kind of helped us get a record contract. He was outside of the stage watching us play at the show we did with them, when they very first started touring, in Elizabethtown, Kentucky. And he’s the one who kind of waved the Black Stone Cherry flag constantly until somebody finally started paying attention, you know. Jasin, actually, is a co-writer on one of the songs on our new record coming out, called The Rambler.
With such a great connection to their touring partners, we discuss the bill that the crowds are seeing every night at the moment. For the UK, it’s a huge draw, the opportunity to see so many class acts on the same day.
Jon Lawhon: The Carnival of Madness is a festival, a touring festival, that’s been going on in the United States for – oh gosh, 2010? So, for about 5 years now. We did it early on, whenever it first came about; I think it was the second year of it, in the States. But, you know, it’s all bands that are signed to the same management. So, we’ve done a variety of shows with both bands, and you know, we’ve all been buddies for years and years now, so it really only makes sense. We were doing that headlining Arena tour, like I was talking about a minute ago, in 2014. And Bill [McGathy, Manager] came to the Wembley gig. It was in a dressing room after the show, and it was his pitch, “this is all I wanna do”, and he kind of threw the idea out about us doing the Carnival of Madness tour over here, and have Shinedown and Halestorm come support us, and all that stuff. The idea for all this happened, you know, a year and a half ago, so… it’s finally come together. Pretty cool.
Our conversation continues as Jon transfers from car to tour bus and with a brief pause as mobile phone reception (or lack of) wins the day and Jon is only heard on every 5th word, we eventually get back to talking about the new album ‘Kentucky’, recorded back home, hence the title, taking the band back to their roots where it all began.
Jon Lawhon: You know, this is our fifth record, so we decided we’re going to do this ourselves. We’re going to produce it on our own, we’re going to do things our way, so this is what we need to do. And we just took every step to exactly what we want. So we recorded it at home, so we can go home to our wives, and our kids at night, in a comfortable environment, without letting, you know, without sacrificing quality in any way.
We recorded the record very raw, and in that sense it’s the way that Black Stone Cherry should have always been recorded. So we delivered, in our opinion, what is the most scrutinized representation of what our band is. Basically, if it flops, we can’t blame anybody but ourselves.
We’ve got such an itch to do this by ourselves, you know, that I’ve literally invested like every dollar I have in the last 6 months in building my own personal recording studio. So, if all goes well in the near future, when we do the next record, who knows – maybe we’ll be doing it in my studio.
Aside from the new album the band, who’ve undergone their own issues individually over the years have also made the time and effort to try and give back to the public when they can. That included as mentioned before a gig at the Borderline Club in London in support of Teenage Cancer Trust. MGM Photographer Robert Sutton was present at that very exclusive event. His shots are below:
Jon Lawhon: We started, you know, playing music, because we love it, right? Then we started looking around and realized how many people couldn’t do the things that they love, because of kind of obstacles, be it opportunity, or lack of money. We do a lot of charity shows for basically homeless families, and kids that aren’t going to have Christmas, you know, the toys for boys and girls club. We do those shows every other year at home. We try to do as much charity work we possibly can, because, you know, we live a blessed life, with no doubt. You know? And there are so many people out there that deserve the kind of life that we have, that we’re living, but they can’t. You know? So we try to do everything we can to do try to get them a little bit closer to that goal, close to that mark where they need to be at.
I mean, even on the selfish side of things, us doing these charity shows is uplifting, and beneficial to our spirit. You know? ‘Cause, like, just my household, for example – and me, my father has survived colon cancer. He had his entire colon removed, and has his intestines reattached to his stomach, but he still has issues. My grandparents, his mother, and his father, my grandma and my grandpa, on my dad’s side, have battled with cancer, two different kinds. My grandpa’s bone marrow inside of his bones basically turned to dust, and my grandma had, I can’t remember what it’s called exactly, but basically her joints grew together; fused. That’s just in my family.
You know, you think it’s so easy, especially when you’re a kid – ’cause I remember being a teenager and everything in life is great, ’cause our parents protect us from stuff, right? That’s their job; they just keep us from finding out about all that terrible stuff that’s going on in the world, as much as they can. They try to keep us safe, and they keep our spirits lifted, and keep us smiling and happy. You know? And it’s easy being a teenager, standing in the middle of a crowd, looking at a rock band, and going: “They are the coolest thing ever. They don’t have any problems in the world. They are awesome. I love those guys“. And all that. And in reality, they’re just like you. Their grandparents might have died from cancer. Their mom might have died in a car accident. Their brother might have committed suicide. You never know.
We’re all just people at the end of the day. We all try to do the best we can for the people that are next to us.
If we were having this conversation, say, thirty years ago, in the eighties, considering the bands of excess, shall we say, I doubt we would be having this level of response. Aside from anything else it feels like BSC got off to a very grounded start. It’s well documented that Chris, for example, sought a lot of guidance from his local pastor with the things that he was going though at one time. It’s likely the rest of the band had similar upbringings.
Jon Lawhon: Yeah, for sure. I mean, like my parents for example, I mean, my mom specially, they are my rock. Always have been. No matter what’s going on in the world, doesn’t matter how down I feel, my parents always remind me how special my life has been. I mean, god forbid that I fall dead tomorrow, but if I did, I’ve done more in my 32 years of being alive than most people can say they’ve done in 80 years. So I’m incredibly proud of that. But you lose sight of that. I don’t care who you are, how famous somebody has become, or whatever, they are going to lose sight of it. Because, to us, me, I’m just living my life. It’s hard to sit back and look at somebody else. It’s like, you see people complaining on Facebook. You have people there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, just complaining about whatever they want to complain about. And then you scroll a few pages down, and you see some dude, with no legs, sitting on a skateboard, pushing himself through a city, and he’s homeless. It makes you scroll back up to the first, that was complaining about oh, there wasn’t any peanut butter in the cabinet today, and go: “What are you really complaining about here, bro?”
If you consider that approach when out on the road, it flies in the face of what we see in the popular press as well where teenage pop stars are photographed doing things no one should be proud of just because no one has the nerve to tell them “NO”. It sounds like NO was part of their upbringing and has left them with a sense of right and wrong… sorry to destroy the rock and roll image folks !
Jon Lawhon: I think a lot of that has to do with our raising, honestly. All of our band was raised in Kentucky. Three of the members are from Kentucky. I’m actually from Florida, originally. But my dad is from Kentucky. My mom lived in Florida. My grandparents on my mom’s side, they are from Massachusetts, the New England area. And they moved to Florida when my mom was like 15 years old. And then, oddly enough, when I was 15 years old, I moved from Florida to Kentucky. But I’ve always had my dad around me, and my dad’s very stubborn. My mom was raised in a very stubborn manner, ’cause aside from the fact that my mom did the majority of her growing up in Florida, her parents were predominantly Italian. You know as well as I do that Italians are big on respect, respecting their elders and all that, so I kind of got it from both sides, me personally. But I know the rest of the guys are the same way. We’ve all just been raised to help people out in every opportunity you can, take care of anybody that needs to be taken care of, always looking out for people, always take care of your family.
How refreshing is it to read something like that rather than the stock interview responses that often boil down to “oh we’re so pleased to be playing in X today and want to thank our fans for coming out to see us….” Yeah, great, thanks for that guys. How enlightening. Not the case with BSC though.
Jon Lawhon: It’s so sad, honestly. It’s so sad to see so many of the new bands that are around today, because there’s no substance. Especially if you live in America, you can just listen to the song, and tell there’s no substance to that. That’s written by some guy who knew nothing about what he was talking about. He just got lucky, and got close to a topic, and you know, the American public, for the most part, when it comes to music, just buy whatever is shoved down their throat the most.
Rock is garbage in America. It really is. There are a few bands that still try to hold up the right way, you know, when it comes to rock music. But just so much of it is just trash. You listen to the rock station, and it’s not rock. It’s some kind of goofball metal, that’s trying to be rock. You know? It’s either too far leaning to metal, or leaning completely away from that; it’s an alternative to whatever you want to call it.
We, honestly, we just try to play the best we possibly can; write music that’s honest and genuine, and put it out there, and people will come to that. People that are really paying attention to what’s going on will respond.
Don’t think that BSC don’t have fun on the road however. You only have to listen to Me and Mary Jane or Blame It on the Boom Boom to know that fun has very much been had by the band in their time. But they know what, how, where and when it’s acceptable and where the boundaries are. Refreshing!
You can pre-order your copy of ‘Kentucky’ now at
iTunes http://smarturl.it/BSC-iTunes and get new album tracks, ‘The Way of The Future’ and ‘In Our Dreams‘ right away!
Check it out here: https://youtu.be/OFmIlJUYXeo.
Pre-orders for physical CDs and special vinyl packages are available over at http://smarturl.it/BSC-