In the realm of modern southern hard rock, few names resonate as powerfully as Black Stone Cherry. Hailing from the heart of Kentucky, they’ve cemented themselves as pillars of the genre over the years. Fast forward to today, and the band is still burning brightly, celebrating a legacy that spans two decades, marked by both highs and lows but never a dimming of passion. As the band ramps up to release their 8th studio album, Screamin’ At The Sky at the end of September, Screamer Magazine sat down with guitarist Ben Wells, to discuss the band’s journey, the evolution of their music, and of course, to discuss the new album.
Diving straight into their latest creation, Wells opened up about what fans can expect from Screamin’ At The Sky: “From what we’re hearing so far from people I’ve already talked to, it’s our heaviest one. I think it’s the most aggressive, in-your-face record that we’ve done. I think that’s just because musically, that’s kind of where our heads were when we started writing this album, because we wrote it while we were on tour last year. So we were feeling that energy of playing these live shows, and we were just bringing that back to the bus. So that was kind of coming out. And lyrically, it’s our most transparent and deepest album. We just kind of got to a point where we said, ’Look, if we want to say, let’s just say it. If we feel a certain way, let’s not try to ignore it’. Not everything has to be a metaphor, not everything has to be a hidden meaning, you know? We’re feeling this way, then let’s say that, and I think people will be able to appreciate and feel something from that. So I think that’s one of the biggest things people are going to notice, for sure.”
The heartbeat of the album can be found in its title track, Screamin’ At The Sky. This song embodies the album’s overarching theme, according to Wells. “The whole album as a whole talks about getting things off your chest and letting things go and feeling certain emotions, be it good or bad. So I think that we thought that that title in particular would be the perfect thing to encompass the whole album and the perfect song to start the album with.” Wells also added that not every song on the album is quite as aggressive. “Smile, World is a fun song on the album and it’s a cool song because it kind of lightens the album up a little bit. And it shows that the whole album isn’t as dark and personal. There’s still points on the record where we just kind of sing about not taking yourself too seriously and just letting things go and everything is gonna work out. So that’s a fun song, lyrically, and musically that I always like to listen to.”
Every band’s creative process is unique, shaped by their surroundings and experiences. Wells sheds light on how Black Stone Cherry’s time on the road influenced their latest work: ”I think this time, this is the first time every single song–I’d say 90% of this album–was written while on tour last summer. And it was all new and fresh ideas. We didn’t pull from the well, so to speak. We didn’t use anything that we had laying around. We just wanted everything moving forward to be fresh and new. And so that was a little bit different. I think there’s a cool thing that comes out in the music.”
Recording an album of this level of heaviness needed a special space, and Black Stone Cherry found just that in the Plaza Theater in Glasgow. While the band members reside around Glasgow and Edmonton, Kentucky, the choice wasn’t just about geography. The theater’s ambiance and history played a crucial role in shaping the album’s sound. According to Wells, “We always do our annual hometown charity shows there and it’s a great sounding theater. Number one, it was built in 1934. And just acoustically, it’s really, really awesome sounding. So when it came time to look at where we were going to record, you can do guitars, vocals, stuff like that almost anywhere now with technology. But with the drums, we wanted to have a nice big open room. So instead of renting out some random studio somewhere or having to travel to go somewhere, we had the idea to do it right here in our backyard. And it came out incredible. It just came out sounding so big. So we ended up doing all the drums there and the guitars and then the bass and the vocals we did at John Fred, our drummer’s home.”
“We always put our friendship and our love for each other and our families first.”
Over 2 decades into the band’s journey, the band still all live within 15-20 minutes of each other, which is a testament to friendships that have lasted the test of time. “We always put our friendship and our love for each other and our families first. That’s the number one thing with us. We don’t let business overtake that,” shared Wells. “We share everything equally. Everything is down the middle. And so there’s no egos and we just love creating and playing music together. And there’s still so many things, so many goals we have and places we want to go and there’s songs that we haven’t written yet that are going to be great songs. But at the end of the day, we just love what we do. And we’re really blessed to be able to do it with each other.” Wells also described how the band has developed musically over the years: “You know, you grow as people and you keep honing your craft, so to speak, and I’m guessing it’s gonna continue to get better. I think as far as our writing goes, I think we’ve learned our song structure and not putting things in songs for no particular reason. You know, not every song has to have a guitar solo. Not every song has to do this-this method. Whatever’s best for the song at the end of the day, and I think we’ve understood that over the years. You know, that’s probably the main thing, but we always continue to be influenced. You know, there’s new things we’re influenced by, and I think that will continue to help evolve us.”
One of the most notable evolutions in the band’s dynamic is the addition of Steve Jewell Jr. (ex-Otis) as their new(-ish) bassist. Wells praises his contribution, indicating that Steve has seamlessly blended into the band’s two-decade-long legacy. “Well, the good thing is Steve has been around us for years. He used to be in a band called Otis that used to open up for us some and he’s sort of from the same town we are. So he understands where we come from as people and musically. So it was really great. And he was the first guy we called. He’s such an amazing musician. And I think people are going to hear that when they listen to this record, his bass line was just over the top. So if anything, I think that he has helped us take ourselves musically up to another level, because he’s a great vocalist, and he’s a great guitar player, bass player. And he’s so passionate about music. And it’s really great to have him on board with us and a great addition to our band for sure.”
In an industry where fame can often distance artists from their audience, the genuine connection Black Stone Cherry shares with their fans is admirable. Wells reflects on the band’s down-to-earth approach and its impact: “I think they see we don’t put ourselves up on any kind of rockstar pedestal. I think our fans understand that we’re just human beings. We still relate on that level. We don’t put on a certain facade, and I think fans appreciate that. And we’ve always tried to be as humble as we can, try to show our appreciation for all of the people that have showed us support over the years. And when we say thank you, we mean that and I think that they see that and they understand that. I think that is what’s helped create such a wonderful fanbase family that, you know, when they come to see us play, and they come to see a show, they’re gonna meet up with some friends that they go and see at a Black Stone Cherry show and then those people form bonds and friendships. So it’s a really cool thing that we have helped create and it’s an honor really.”
“… we don’t put ourselves up on any kind of rockstar pedestal. I think our fans understand that we’re just human beings. We still relate on that level. We don’t put on a certain facade, and I think fans appreciate that.”
As for budding musicians hoping to make their mark, Wells offers a simple yet profound piece of advice: “Be dedicated. Music shouldn’t be just a hobby. It’s a craft that demands commitment, passion, and authenticity. You can’t treat it as a pastime, it has to be your number one focus. And that’s what we did. When we started, this was our number one thing. Nothing else was gonna stand in our way. I think that’s very important. Because if you start looking at it as a, well, this might happen, or this could happen, then you’re giving yourself a safety net. And if you really want to go for something, you just get to pretend that there’s no safety net there. Maybe because you have to succeed at that point. So that’s what I would tell people, don’t treat it like a hobby, or that’s exactly what it will be.”
As Black Stone Cherry takes center stage once more to promote the album, Wells reflected on some of the artists they have shared the stage with in the past. “We’ve been really lucky,” he said. “We’ve done some great tours with Alice Cooper and Def Leppard. We’ve been able to share the stage with some some legendary acts. And, you know, it’s super honorable. And, you know, there’s still probably plenty of acts we would love to go out and tour with someday. We’re just happy to be on the road, you know, and playing music for people.”
As our chat with Ben Wells winds down, the reasons behind Black Stone Cherry’s enduring success come into sharp focus. It’s a blend of passion, authenticity, and an unyielding desire to share their craft with fans. And while they’ve already left an indelible mark, if the enthusiasm and dedication they’ve shown over the past 20 years are anything to go by, the best is yet to come.
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