Kentucky has a rich history in the world of music, and out of its musical depths has grown Black Stone Cherry, the epitome of modern Southern rock. Formed in 2001, the band is soon to hit their 20th birthday and through the years the original lineup has stayed solid- Chris Robertson on vocals and guitar, Ben Wells also on guitar and vocals, Jon Lawhon on bass (and vocals as well) and John Fred Young on drums. Young’s musical lineage is firmly planted in Kentucky soil, with his father and uncle both being founding members of The Kentucky HeadHunters. The band’s last album, Family Tree hit the charts at #8 in Current Rock Albums and they are now on the verge of releasing their 7th album, The Human Condition, which they finished just as the world began to lock down under the COVID-19 pandemic.
Going in with four songs, Ben Wells shared what it was like to be in the studio as everything started to change. “We’d started writing on it towards the end of last year and there’s a bunch of songs that we used that we’d already had in our catalog. We just kind of had to rework them and update them a little bit. So that was a good thing,” he recalled. “But we started recording at the first of March-right at the top of the pandemic- and we finished recording right as it started to get really, really serious here. But we kind of used it to our advantage because we were in the studio and normally the studio is a very creative and inspiring place for us. We were kind of looking at our phones in the studio watching the world shut down around us and watching all our tour dates start to disappear. We kind of just said, ‘Look, we don’t know what the rest of this year is going to hold, so let’s at least make this album as incredible as it can be. That way, we can have something to show for it’. And I think that, subconsciously, that’s kind of what we did with this record. We put all our emotion and feelings into it and I think it really came out. We self-produced it and we pushed each other really, really hard just to get the absolute best performances we could.”
Bassist Jon Lawhon built his own facility, Monocle Studios in BSC’s home state and helped to facilitate that sound that the band is known for and also bumped things up a few notches sonically speaking. According to Wells,”It’s literally a studio in the middle of nowhere that sits off the road and you would never see it really if you didn’t know it was there. We went there to record it and it was really great because there’s not a lot of cell phone service there, so there’s not a lot of stuff to do around that area, you know? So when we’re in the studio we stay focused and we’re working and we’re having a great time. But it’s kind of like we’re out there in the middle of nowhere, by ourselves. It was really great and I’m really glad that Jon has built this incredible studio and he spared no expense with building it acoustically correct, and the microphones and equipment that is in there, so it allows us to go to record with high-grade equipment and we don’t have to travel too far away from home.”
Strangely enough, although several of the songs were written long before the events of 2020 occured, some of the lyrics are eerily fitting in the present situation. “It is weird that we have some stuff like that, that ended up on the record,” said Wells. “Like Ringin’ In My Head was a song that we wrote in 2017 that was going to be on Family Tree and for whatever reason, it didn’t make that album. I mean, we liked the song, but the version of it then was totally different than it is now. But we decided not to really pursue it and I’m glad we did because it came time to do this record and we revisited the song, we fixed some things about it, but the line that we kept that we liked, the ‘Ringin’ in my head’ and ‘There’s a new disease’ and all that stuff, that was all written three years ago. It’s kind of ironic that now it makes more sense in 2020. So if we had released that song in 2017, it might not have gotten the recognition that it has. So it’s one of those weird things, how a song doesn’t make an album for whatever reason and you find out later that it just wasn’t its time, but now it is.”
The band has released a lyric video for the album’s opening track, Ringin’ In My Head, as well as a performance video for Again, and Wells found a video shoot a welcome distraction. He shared, “We shot that video at a soundstage Nashville, Tennessee and the camera crew was all very respectful. They wore their masks and we shot our parts individually. Not really because of the pandemic, just because that was the focus of the video. The director wanted to film us all individually and piece it all together. But it also made it very easy for us to do during uncertain times. So it was really cool and we’re super happy with how the video came out because we wanted to come out of the gate with a really cool performance video with some cool visuals, and I think he did a fantastic job. It was a fun day recording the video. It gave us a break from, just not doing anything music related, which was very, very welcome at that time.”
A new album release usually comes with a full tour docket, but unfortunately, most live performance dates have come to a screeching halt with no official word on when that might change. “We’re just kind of standing by like everybody else at this point,” said Wells. “We’re trying to find opportunities where we can go safely perform social-distanced shows and stuff like that. But as far as back to the normal full-on touring, I don’t think anybody really has the answer just yet, unfortunately.” However, the band has done the best they can with the situation and have a plan in place for the album release: “There’s a thing that we’re doing coming out October 30th, which is the day the album comes out. ‘Live from the Sky’ is what it’s called. A lot of bands have been doing these livestream concerts recently and this is similar to that, except we filmed this concert last week at a theater in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Now it’s being edited and put together. So it’s going to be more or less like a pay-per-view, and it’ll come October 30th to coincide with the album release. So we’re very excited about that. That way people can get a Black Stone Cherry show from the comfort of their living room for only ten dollars. We’re calling it a broadcast concert because it’s not technically live. But that will also be on October 30th and the ticket information and all of that is available on our website.”
In addition to the singles that have been released thus far off of The Human Condition, the album boasts some ballads- If My Heart Had Wings and In Love With the Pain– and then there is a perhaps unexpected cover tune. The band chose to perform ELO’s Don’t Bring Me Down and although it may seem a bit out of the ordinary for a band like BSC, Wells explained, “We love ELO and Jeff Lynne. We listened to them growing up all the time and we pulled that song up in the studio when we were looking for a cover song to do. It was going to be a bonus track and when we pulled that song up, everybody agreed on it. We loved it and we didn’t really want to change too much of it because we already really loved it for what it was. So we just kind of made it a little more heavy. And after it came out and got mixed we were like, ‘Well, this is too good to be just a bonus track.’ So we put it on the album and it’s a good song to have right there in the middle of the record, too. It breaks it up. And it’s one of those songs that a lot of people know, but maybe in a roundabout way, we can introduce a lot of people to ELO or to some of Jeff Lynne’s music. We’ve always been fans of it.”
As the band continues to navigate the music world as it is at the moment, it seems like their bond is as tight as it could possibly be: “We just keep our friendship in front of the band really. We’ve always said we’re friends first and a band second. We love each other and each other’s families and we care too much about each other’s well-being to put the business in front of that. So that’s been what we’ve done since the beginning. That’s been why it’s kept going. And I think that’s the only thing really I can attribute it to. That we love each other more than we do the music we make, so the music we make is just a great bonus.” With a connection like that, it would appear that the band can withstand whatever the rest of the year might throw at them.