Interview by Robert Cavuoto
Live Photo © MindHexMedia
Black Stone Cherry is set to release their seventh studio album, The Human Condition, on October 30th via Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group.
The Kentucky-bred hard rockers completed days prior to the COVID-19 lockdown, and as events progressed, it became apparent that the completed album featured eerily prescient lyrics. For the first time, the band opted not to record live, but instead, meticulously multi-tracked the songs. Each member endured grueling studio sessions to ensure the collective studio mindset of achieving epic performances. The results are stunning; the grooves feel organic, the riffs are mountainous, the performances are urgent, and the hooks shine gloriously.
Chris Robertson [vocals/guitar], Ben Wells [guitar], Jon Lawhon [bass], and John Fred Young [drums] take this new record further into the realm of rock greatness, building on their previous six albums. The Human Condition can be pre-order here: smarturl.it/BSC-MLG.
They will also have a live stream event that will broadcast on October 30th, titled Live from the Sky, which will be from SkyPac in Bowling Green, KY. Tickets and assorted bundles are available here for those in North America here: https://go.seated.com/events/a58e1003-b9d4-4757-97c7-e8a03437f4d3
I had the chance to sit down with vocalist and guitarist Chris Robertson to talk about The Human Condition, how they never want to make the same record twice, how great riffs are the pinnacle to any Black Stone Cherry song, and how he would never have been a lead guitarist if it wasn’t for Eddie Van Halen!
Robert Cavuoto: I think the band’s sound is getting more solidified with every record you make, it’s steep in southern rock but with a melodic hard rock flair. Do you think the band is moving the needle with each record to more straight-up rock?
Chris Robertson: More than anything, we never want to make the same record twice. Some of our records have similarities, but we have done a good job of not repeating ourselves over the years. This record is more of what you are hinting at [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: Has it been a natural progression?
Chris Robertson: It does happen naturally with most songwriters. The goal in life is to grow as a person until your dying day, at least for me. I want to continue to be the best person I can be, whether musically or personally. I’m not always the best version of myself; no one is. It’s the same with songwriting; there are days that you have it, and days you don’t. It felt like we “had-it” for this record. We went into the studio, not knowing what the hell we were going to do, and we ended up more aligned as a band than on any record we have ever done! There was never any talk of “this or that song being better than another,” as we sometimes do when writing or recording.
Robert Cavuoto: Most Black Stone Cherry riffs have a signature sound and style, something that tells you right away it’s your band even before you hear your voice. What do you think that is?
Chris Robertson: As individuals in the band, we have similar yet uniquely different backgrounds and musical preferences. For me, I’m a weirdo; I listen to everything from Lamb of God to Bob Marley with everything in between. Four of my favorite artists are Lynyrd Skynyrd, Nirvana, Bob Marley, and Jimi Hendrix. Those four artists couldn’t be more different from each other stylistically. That’s the beauty to me. To me, great music is great music. Genres are just labels for the world because they don’t know what else to do. John is more The Beatles and Led Zeppelin while Jon likes more Motown, Bob Dylan, singer-songwriter stuff. All of these unique influences mold together to make Black Stone Cherry what it is. It’s a cool thing when that happens.
Robert Cavuoto: How important are the great riffs to your songwriting as every song has a memorable one?
Chris Robertson: As a guitar player, that’s the goal at the end of the day, to be a riff guy. Some of my favorite guitar players are riff guys like Jerry Cantrell, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Tony Iommi, the Godfather of “Riffology.” They were the guys that took us from doing a guitar lick here and there to having a main riff drive the song. Those are the guys at the forefront of rock. A guitar riff to me is the pinnacle of the song. That’s different than the guitar solo, which I do 90% of. The riff is more important. The solo only happens for a small moment in the song, but the riff has to carry the song.
Robert Cavuoto: My favorite track on the record is “When Angels Learn to Fly.” It’s a tremendously melodic kick-ass rock song, but I feel there is something deep and personal about the song lyrically. Can you share some insights into its creation?
Chris Robertson: Yeah, man! My wife and I have been together since high school going on 20 years. Her mom took me when I was 16 years old and treated me like her own. Last year she was diagnosed with a very rapidly progressing cancer and wasn’t able to overcome her surgery. By November 2019, she was gone. It happened so fast, and this song is about what it has been like for my wife, my son, and me to deal with it. It’s about continuing to live after losing someone in your family.
Robert Cavuoto: The song is a wonderful tribute to her! With so many great songs on The Human Condition, is it difficult to pick a single?
Chris Robertson: Not for us, because we always want to make sure the first song coming out of the gate is a rocker. We are proud to deliver a record that we feel confident any song would be a great representation of us and what we do.
Robert Cavuoto: Let’s talk about the chemistry between you and Ben. When I think of legendary rock bands, a lot of their success is because of the chemistry between the two guitarists. Tell me about the chemistry between the two of you?
Chris Robertson: I have only ever been in bands where I was the only guitar player. Unless I was filling in for someone in my father’s band to play a couple of classic rock tunes. It was weird at first to play with someone else but the minute Ben came in, it became Black Stone Cherry! The first day he came to jam together, we wrote a song and had that instant chemistry. At 16 years old, we still managed to find another 16-year old who was as determined, and not only in love with music but in love with the idea of making music. The fact that the four of us got together and stayed together, it still blows me away.
Robert Cavuoto: What’s the secret to your success in dealing with all the ups and downs of the music business?
Chris Robertson: I think it has to do with what I said earlier that we were all friends before the band. Here is a little advice for people starting bands; we have always been equal members in the band from day one. We have split every dollar evenly and given credit on all the songs equally. This was something that was instilled in us by John Fred’s dad, who was in the band, The Kentucky Headhunters. They were the biggest band to come out of Nashville. One of their members left, and it just messed things up for them. We learned a lot from a very unfortunate situation they had to deal with. They instilled in us, if you are going to be a band, then be a band all the time no matter what! I was just watching the coolest interview on Van Halen the other night; it was Eddie and Alex on MTV or something from 1993 or 1994 when Sammy was in the band. The reporter mentioned she thought it was cool that the band was called Van Halen, and anytime the band name was mentioned, they made sure that people knew its four guys. Eddie responded, “It takes all four of us to make it Van Halen.” That’s the same way it is with Black Stone Cherry; it takes all four of us. We are who we are, and we are Black Stone Cherry, regardless if we are playing music or not. The name is more than just the band. It’s a family, friendship, and way of life.
Robert Cavuoto: Speaking of Eddie Van Halen, did he influence you?
Chris Robertson: I never got to meet him or see them play live, but I can say without Eddie, I would never have become a lead guitar player. When I was playing guitar, I always wanted to learn how to solo. There were always so many notes to learn on a big fretboard and how to use a whammy bar. I learned how to play guitar using an Epiphone Telecaster. I was listening to Van Halen I starting with “Runnin’ with the Devil,” then “Eruption,” then “You Really Got Me.” After that, you have “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love,” and I was floored because of his solo in that song. I could pick out the notes he was playing. He rewrote the guitar handbook with that solo for three decades with “Eruption. When they came out, everybody tried to be Eddie Van Halen. It is the most melodic solo. It made me think, you don’t have to do blazing solos all the time. You can learn at your own pace and put these things in as you feel comfortable. Eddie could have easily put the most blistering solo of all time in “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” or in “Running with the Devil.” The guy played complimentary solos to the song, and that defined him as one of the greatest. Even though he could do “Eruption,” and it was his forte, he could play melodically and captivate you with just a hand full of notes. I’m a guitar player, and we can be the vainest group of people; we dictated that we are going to take a few extra minutes in a song to showcase what I can do. [Laughing] I’m that guy as well as the lead singer. Guitar solos have always just been a thing in our band. I’m glad they are because I honestly love them. Ben and I really enjoy doing them.