Black Stone Cherry’s John Fred Young Takes Us ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’
Southern gents Black Stone Cherry went into the writing and recording process of their latest disc 'Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea' with the lofty goal to make their music more accessible without compromising the sound they’ve worked so hard to craft throughout their young career.
Stepping up their game, the countrified rockers worked with producer Howard Benson and engineer Mike Plotnikoff, who through some simple techniques and tweaks help the band accomplish their goal: a disc that sounds like classic Black Stone Cherry with the muscles to carry their music to the radio airwaves and extend their listener base.
For their latest single 'In My Blood' the band got back to their roots, taking a unique approach to the video. They followed a U.S. soldier from his active duty assignment in Afghanistan and through Germany to flying home to Georgia and meeting his newborn child for the first time.
We recently spoke to BSC drummer John Fred Young about their latest disc, their camaraderie as a band and their touching tribute to the U.S. military.
We already talked in-depth about the military based video for 'In My Blood' that you recently debuted. The song isn’t necessarily specifically about the military, it applies to anyone who’s been away from their loved ones, how did you connect the two and want to release a video that paints such a vivid picture of the military?
I think they make the biggest sacrifices out of anybody. We wanted to show a job that took the most sacrifice, and that was it. I can’t think of one that’s even comparable, ours is a grain of sand. We get homesick but these guys are giving up everything to protect our country and the freedom of our people. It’s a nice reminder that these guys are out there doing it and they don’t have to, they choose to.
You also recently kicked off your “What’s In Your Blood” web campaign; what’s that all about and how can fans get involved?
It’s whatever you’re into that’s in your blood, it doesn’t matter what it is. You can send us a video and we’re going to be picking the most unique one and we’re going to do a private acoustic show for the winner and their friends.
Your latest album, ‘Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,’ has been called a “summation of a year in the life of the band—every emotion, triumph, loss, romance and everything in between” Do you think that accurately describes it?
Yeah I think I does, it does a pretty good job of it. We were home for all of 2010 writing and we hadn’t been home for like five years for that length of time, it was definitely different for us. Three out of four of us still live at home with our parents (because we’re losers) and we definitely had to get used to that whole scenario of not being on a tour bus and not just being able to throw our clothes everywhere or just a leave a hotel room behind. We had to really get back to a regimen of a different routine and I think it was really great for us.
We got to spend a lot of missed time with family and friends and get back to who we were before we left in 2006 and it was cool, we had a good time with it. Honestly, I hope the next one doesn’t take that long; a lot of it was our label trying to get us to do co-write after co-write because they wanted to make sure that we had the widest spectrum of songs. We’ve always just written by ourselves and we didn’t really want to write with anybody or include an outside writer because we thought that might change the sound of our band and we didn’t want that. We went ahead and did it, and it came out good. Some of the writes didn’t make the record and some of them did and we had some great experiences writing with people. It was a new approach to songwriting for us; it was a different experience than just writing by ourselves.
Other than those co-writes, has your writing process changed much over the years as the band has evolved or has it stayed the same?
We do the same thing, we all four write collectively the music and the lyrics. On our first record we wrote a lot of song with my dad who’s a musician, plays with The Kentucky Headhunters, he produced that album with us. On the second record, we did it with a producer named Bob Marlette, and writing with him was a new experience. We were scared; we didn’t want to write with outside people. Some of the tracks on the latest album were written entirely by us like the song ‘Blame it on the Boom Boom.’ We had a lot of different people come up and write with us though, at first we were kind of close-minded because we didn’t want to sound like a lot of the other bands that these guys were writing with. Obviously it’s not that they’re not creative, but a lot of the input is coming out of other bands that are modern rock bands and we didn’t want that influence to heavily override our sound. No offense to any of the bands, a lot of them are great friends and we love a lot of their music but the most important thing to us is to keep our music sounding like Black Stone Cherry and not sound like somebody else.
You mentioned that all four of you are involved in writing both the music and the lyrics, how hard is it for the four of you to come together and agree on things when it comes to the creative process?
It can be hard sometimes, but for most of the time it’s really easy. There’s not a lot of ego when it comes to writing and recording our music. We’re all open-minded and I think that’s allowed us to be creative. If you only have one person writing, things stay very one-dimensional, with four writers you get an array of different ideas. We’re not too precious on our ideas, if one of us comes up with something that sucks, we’ll all chime in and say it sucks, and we move on. That makes the process a lot quicker.
Do you think part of that comes with being together for so long and your friendships?
Absolutely, we love each other and we hate each other, to death. It’s that great energy, we’re like brothers. [Frontman] Chris [Robertson] and I have known each other since kindergarten and that’s a really long bond. Our bass player Jon [Lawhon] moved up from Florida in 1999 so we’ve known him for a long time. Ben [Wells], our guitar player, he actually lived in the town next to us and we met him in 2001. He came down to a party and we were hanging out and the next day we all hung out together. It was June 4, Chris’ 16th birthday. It’s a pretty cool story about a bunch of hillbillies getting together to form a band.
You partnered with producer Howard Benson on your latest record. I’d imagine for a band that likes to do things their own way, working with Howard was a new experience for you?
At first, I remember we pulled up to the studio to meet with him in California. We pulled up in our little rental all cramped up and we parked in his spot. He had someone come in and ask us if we could move so he could park his Beamer in his spot right next to the door so immediately we thought, “This dude’s a prick. We don’t want to work with him.” The label really wanted us to work with him so we did. We went to the rehearsal studio and we got to hang with Howard and we really hit it off with him right off the bat and became good buddies and formed a personal friendship after the first couple of days. He and Chris are both huge football fanatics so they hit it off.
From a musician standpoint, it was very educational working with him because he didn’t work too much with the guitars or bass, he didn’t even come to the studio when we did that. What he was there for were the drums and vocals and my drumming had to be spot on. We cut the drums in two days. Their studio is like a factory, that room has everything dialed in and man what a great sound. We had a really great engineer named Mike Plotnikoff and that’s important. We told Howard one of the reasons we didn’t want to work with him was because we didn’t want to sound like all these other bands, they sound great and have hit records, but we just didn’t want to compromise our sound. I remember Mike telling us that we’d be surprised how many bands want to sound like each other.
There’s a couple of songs on the album ('Such a Shame' and 'Won't Let Go') that feature Halestorm’s Lzzy Hale singing backup; how did that come together?
We’ve been friends with those guys for a long time. She has amazing vocals; she’s truly a great singer. The way that came about, we needed a high harmony on that song, and there’s a singer I guess that does a lot of the backup high soprano stuff on Howard’s albums. We knew it would probably get the job done but we just didn’t want to have somebody come in and sing on the album that wasn’t going to be playing every night live with us.
So Howard asked us if there was anyone we wanted to do a guest appearance on a song that can sing that high and Halestorm was out there writing and we were all staying in the same apartments out there and so we asked Lzzy to do it. She did a killer job and hopefully we’ll do a video for that song. It’s actually a single in Germany right now, hopefully it will be a single here in America and we can do a video for it and get her in it, it would be cool!
You mentioned your dad earlier, has he been the biggest influence for you throughout your career and do you think that country rock vibe that you’ve captured so well with Black Stone Cherry comes from that influence?
Yeah absolutely, I think my dad and my uncle have inspired us hugely with letting us practice in their practice house. One of the biggest influences on us is watching the Headhunters play. Chris comes from a pretty country background too, his dad plays guitar and his grandpa made mandolins. The Headhunters were never really a country band until about the '80s, and then they started playing country music. You probably wouldn’t have a lot of these rebel country guys like Jason Aldean or Randy Houser, or Montgomery Gentry if it wasn’t for the Kentucky Headhunters back in the early '90s.
I find out in meeting a lot of both rock and country artists that they’re big fans and that’s a cool thing. We’re very thankful to be in the family of great musicians like that. My dad has sat us down and taught us the ways of publishing and how you receive royalties. He’s still a financial advisor to us, so it’s good. Sometimes you want to kill each other because your family but it’s definitely great to have someone looking out for you.
So did you always know that you wanted to follow in his footsteps and pursue a music career or when did you start playing drums and decide that was the right path for you?
When I was little I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I got in 8th grade I started playing the drums. Chris and I got together and I couldn’t even play ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ or ‘Back in Black’ at first. It was a learning experience. My dad wanted me to play guitar, and I couldn’t make the bar chords and I got frustrated and was done so I started playing drums. Now I kind of kick myself in the butt sometimes because I wish I had practiced more on the guitar. I’m just now learning how to make chords and trying to learn. No pun intended but it was definitely in my blood to do this. I use to go out on the road with him when I was little and I never really thought “this is what I want to do” I just thought it was a cool job that my dad and uncle had.
You recently announced that you’ll be heading out with Chickenfoot this summer for some dates. That should be a great opportunity for you to tap into a whole new fan base. Are you excited about those shows?
Terribly excited, we are really excited. There’s a lot of great musicians in that band. Sammy is a great singer; he’s my favorite Van Halen singer. David Lee Roth is a great singer and a great frontman but for me personally Sammy’s my guy, even when he was in Montrose, way back in the day, I was a fan.
It’s going to be great, with [Joe] Satriani playing guitar, that’s not going to suck and Michael Anthony is an amazing musician, it’s going to be great. During that tour we’re going to be in front of some new faces that we haven’t met before so that’s going to be nice for us, we’re really looking forward to it.
There’s a lot of cool shows coming up for us, this year is going to be great for us. I think we’re doing a cruise. ShipRocked, at the end of the year. We have to do a lot of stuff this year because the world is going to end and we have to make a big impact!