Black Stone Cherry release their 8th studio album, Screamin’ At The Sky, with no less than a tremendous amount of hype from a band that keeps on giving. Fifteen tracks of pure hard rock finesse come just before they hit the UK road for the second time this year. MetalTalk’s Monty Sewell sat down with guitarist Ben Wells to discuss all things Black Stone Cherry.
From Kentucky home county heroes to elite industry recognition, BSC are no stranger to the big and the bold. Still, Wells kicked things off with an unflappable anticipation of their upcoming release. “It is very exciting. Every time you release an album, it is an exciting time. There is just a different energy in the air, you know. But seeing the reaction from many people who have heard this release so far has made us feel like our work was very well done.”
Though hailed by many as straight-to-the-soul Southern hard rockers, Black Stone Cherry have always held their heart on the heavier side of the road. With thundering riffs and huge drum fills, Screamin’ At The Sky feels like a step further than the last album, The Human Condition, into that gustier territory that BSC does so well. “At the end of the day, we’re a hard rock band and love the big riffs and thundering drums.
“We got back into that with The Human Condition and then took it further with Screamin’ At The Sky. We had such a few crazy years, the pandemic, and all these things going on, which is why this album is as aggressive as it is.
“We really had something we wanted to say this time, and we wrote probably 95% of this album whilst on tour. So we would play shows and then get in the back of the bus or a dressing room afterward and write all these songs. We still had that energy from playing live, which turned into all these riffs we were riding.
“We always write everything together. It is always a collaborative effort; that way, nobody has to carry the burden of writing anything just by themselves. We just really enjoy working together, so with this album and The Human Condition, we recorded it and produced it ourselves. But we’ve done that for the past four albums, actually.”
A sudden but welcomed interruption by Wells’ adorable dog – who clambers onto his lap and stays put for the rest of the interview – gives just a moment’s pause as we dive into BSC’s writing and recording process.
So you four keep it relatively close-knit in the studio, then? “We do have our monitor engineer and bass tech, Jordan Westfall. He engineered the last two records and mixed them as well. But we do it all in-house and like it that way because we know how to work with each other and what works.
“It is great with Jordan; we don’t have to constantly relate what we want to some third-party mixer because he knows our sound so well. But it is just really cool at the end of the day to know that we all got in a room together and created this. It is ours from start to finish.”
Listening to the album, one surprise popped up in particular. Whilst track thirteen’s title read, What’s Love, it wasn’t until the song got to its chorus that vocalist Chris Robetson sang out the oh-so-familiar, reminiscent words of Tina Turner and the lightbulb flicked on as to what song I was listening to.
“So we actually recorded that last summer,” Wells says. “We were doing a premiere for our live at the Royal Albert Hall gig and we were at the Hard Rock Hotel. John was sitting in the hotel lobby and when Chris walked outside, that Tina Turner song started playing over the PA system. John heard the song and later said, ‘I bet Chris could do a great job singing that.’
“So when we went into the studio a week after that, he brought it up again and we decided to do our own little version with, honestly, no intention of releasing it. We just loved Tina Turner and loved that song. Eventually, we put it as a bonus track on the album, and then, of course, with her passing away, we decided to release it as a tribute to her.”
The slightly eerie, if not beautifully poignant, coincidence of BSC recording this song before Turner’s passing could not be ignored. “People keep asking us, ‘Did you record it as soon as she passed away?’ We say, ‘No, that was done a year ago’.
“It is just something we had sitting around and we thought, what with what had happened, this was a nice way to release it and pay tribute to her. We’re also donating all of the money we make out of it towards helping those suffering from domestic abuse.”
Gifted in their generosity as well as their music, Black Stone Cherry continue to donate all their portion of the proceeds from the track to those organizations helping those in need. Commemorating Turner’s own escape from an abusive situation and her subsequential fierce support of these charities.
A self-professed Les Paul man, Wells admitted to his formula of keeping things as instrumentally straightforward as he can in the studio. “Now more than ever, I like to keep it as simple as possible,” Wells says.
“The album’s main sound will always be a Les Paul because that is what I mostly play live, but certain tones would call for a Telecaster, a Gretsch, or a Strat. That is when you break out those guitars, but it is always a Les Paul or Telly when playing live. One of the brands I use is Lucky Dog, a great independent guitar manufacturer who is fantastic at what they do.
“Look, I love all guitars and I like experimenting with different guitars, but at the same time, I do not like overwhelming myself and having so many choices that it just gets ridiculous. Just pick a sound, you know? So that’s what I’ve tried to do on this album. Get as raw as possible with the best outcome.”
Does Ben keep a similar way of working on the road? “Well, several years ago, we decided to make duplicates of our gear and store it overseas because we come over to the UK to tour so much,” he says. “So now, thankfully, we can fly over to you guys with just a suitcase. It is always exciting to get back over because we have some guitars there that I don’t have here, so it’s like getting on stage with an old friend.”
Their upcoming tour began on the 26 September in Belfast and will mark the second time Black Stone Cherry grace our stages this year. The first was their duel headlining tour shared with The Darkness at the start of 2023. You can read the Black Stone Cherry report here.
“It will be nice to have a different flavour of show this time compared to when we were on the road with The Darkness. We last played these venues long ago, and we wanted to make it extra special to celebrate the album’s release. We wanted to return to our touring roots, with some of these venues being where we played on our first headline tour in 2007.
“Those rooms will have a different kind of energy than what you would get inside an arena. But, you know, at the end of the day, we just love being on stage. I’m super excited about the atmosphere of playing these kinds of venues again. There is more intimacy, something quite special that you don’t get in arenas, which are equally fantastic.”
With time running short, there had to be one more question thrown at Wells, who had been a more than amiable conversation. “Favourite song on the record? That is a hard question because you love every single song.
“But I would say probably Who Are You just because of the message behind it. It’s a very open-ended, positive message saying, ‘Hey, the world is yours; take a risk now and then, take that first step, take that leap of faith, and go after whatever you want to go after.’
“I love the message behind that. But I also love Smile World just because it is a happy song that says just to take a breath, it is all going to be okay. It is all going to be good, you know. And of course, You Can Have It All also has to be up there. But again, it is a tough choice.”
Added to the list of ‘nicest guys in rock’, I bid farewell to Wells, who signed off along with his pup. Off I went to ensure those tickets for the Black Stone Cherry tour were securely booked.
Screamin’ At The Sky is out today.