|May 2015 interview by Todd Jolicoeur, photos by mintypics.com
Good Southern rock is hard to come by these days, but there is a cool tour wrapping up some US dates right now featuring headliner Black Stone Cherry and it is a killer show, with Shaman's Harvest and new comers Fall To June opening the shows. Touring behind their 4th disc, Magic Mountain, Ben Wells (guitar), Chris Robertson (vocals), Jon Lawhon (bass), and John Fred Young (drums) are tearing up stages and blowing up sound systems all in the name of rock. Just before hitting the stage in Flint, MI on a crazy Saturday evening, Ben took some time out to discuss everything BSC with us...
Toddstar: Well, we got Ben from Black Stone Cherry. Thanks for taking time out for us Ben.
Ben: No problem. Thank you guys.
Toddstar: Let's talk about it man. You guys are out touring behind Magic Mountain, the album the dropped last year. You are still out supporting that album.
Ben: Yeah. It came actually a year ago May 6th, so we're just over a year and we're still supporting it. We're doing a U.S. run. That'll take us to the end of May. Then go to Europe in June, more shows in July in the U.S., and then back to Europe in August. We got a pretty busy summer ahead of us, but we're tight.
Toddstar: Very cool. How's the album still coming over with the crowd?
Ben: The good thing about it, the reason our fans are awesome is that we'll play songs that weren't even released as singles, and they love those songs. They'll sing those songs just as loud as they will something they've maybe heard on the radio before, so it's really good. We really appreciate that. We try to make albums that aren't single driven. We want a whole piece of work. It's doing really good.
Toddstar: Speaking of that, albums are cohesive from front to back; almost any song can be a single.
Ben: Thank you.
Toddstar: When you guys are writing the stuff, do you guys go in thinking "Let's just write, and write, and write, and write." Or do say "Let's write singles." What's your approach?
Ben: I can say now, we're writing stuff for our new album right now, and we're not thinking about singles at all. Just because radio is so fickle. Music has been, every genre, it's like they write for radio now. It's like "It's a song. I like it to be popular, but what's it saying?" You know what I mean? For us, it's like why write for radio? Why write for program directors at a radio station? We should write for ourselves, and our fans, and write songs that we think are going to touch people, not climb the radio chart. I think that's more important. I think that all have to do with staying power. Hopefully our music.
Toddstar: Well, you mentioned you're writing for a new album. It's good news for the fans, especially because the last couple, 3 albums, there has been about a 3 year break between discs. You guys going to try and kick this one out a little sooner?
Ben: We hope to have it out sometime early next year. That's the plan anyway. We'll see how it goes. We've got a lot of great songs written so far and we're really excited about it. It's super heavy looks like.
Toddstar: Cool. My favorite disc is Between the Devil and Deep Blue Sea. I love that disc. I love that album from front to back.
Ben: Thank you very much.
Toddstar: To me that had that bluesy Kentucky sound. You guys always seem to work that into your albums. Is that just the way you guys grew up and what your influences are or?
Ben: It comes naturally, you know. Even if we play something that, we play a metal song, it's going to come out sounding somewhat Southern, or somewhat bluesy. That's just the way we are and what we grew up listening to. We didn't really intend to be that, it's just who we are. It's who we were raised, and where we're from, and the music we grew up listening to.
Toddstar: We're here for a killer show tonight at the world famous Machine Shop [http://www.themachineshop.info/]. You guys have been here I think 8 or 9 times. It's been a few years since you've been back.
Ben: It has.
Toddstar: How does it feel to be back at The Machine Shop?
Ben: It feels great. We were talking to them earlier. I think it's been 4 years since we've been here. We asked ourselves why? Why? It just hasn't worked out in the routing. Our tours, we've spent a lot of time in Europe since then too, but very excited to be back here. We've been looking forward to this show for a while, and the fact that it was sold out in advance is just a testament to the venue and our fans in this area.
Toddstar: What's it about The Machine Shop that when you see it on the routing that you think "That's going to be a great show."?
Ben: We know it's going to be easy. It's a good sound system. It's a good light system. People here who run this place are second to none. It's just a good vibe. People come to these shows here. They know it a reputable venue. It's a clean venue. They get what they pay for and they get their money's worth here.
Toddstar: With everything going on, with the music the way it is in the music world and the music business the way it is, you talk about writing for yourselves and your fans, not singles, things like that. How different do you think you guys approach writing, and everything else, because of the way the music business is?
Ben: We try not to really focus on the business part of it so much you know? We try to picture ourselves playing songs live. We think "Well, what's going to go over great live? What are our fans going to like? What are we going to have fun playing?" I think that's what our fans expect from us. That's what they want from us. We're not a pop radio band. We like to have guitar solos, and crazy drum fills, and bluesy vocals, and that's just what we are. All four of us write together too. One guy doesn't write the songs. I think that's different from a lot of bands out there anyway. It's unfortunate, but a lot of bands just don't get in a room anymore and write music.
Toddstar: Who still makes you want to play a guitar?
Ben: My biggest inspiration of all time is Elvis. Obviously he wasn't known for a guitar player, but an entertainer and human being. I love Elvis. I love Brian Setzer. I love Joe Perry, Alex, and Hendricks and stuff like that. I don't know. I guess my biggest influence would be Elvis.
Toddstar: Anybody who has seen you before, and I've had that pleasure, you're one of the most energetic guys I've ever seen on stage. There's not usually a clear picture of your face because of your hair, well now there will be because your hair's gone.
Ben: Thank you. Yeah. I can't stand still. It's not something that's forced either. It's just when we play live I just cannot stand still.
Toddstar: Very cool. Looking back, what are the few things in your career so far, Ben, that you're most proud of?
Ben: We've got some pretty cool awards. We've got some silver plaques from record sales in Europe. We've gotten to play with some incredible bands. Aerosmith, we got to meet Jimmy Page, tour with Def Leppard. We've won awards and that stuff was awesome, and to be able to do our first arena tour overseas was incredible. The stuff that really tickles you the most is when people tell you how, maybe a song has really changed their life, or better yet, saved their life. That's the most rewarding thing.
Toddstar: When it comes to doing what you do, hitting the stage every night, did you think way back in the early 2000's when you guys really started to crank this up, that you'd still be doing it all these years later?
Ben: I know we wanted to. We had the goal to do it. It's pretty surreal, where we are, especially in Europe, to go "Wow. I cannot believe we started where we were. None of us even had a driver's license. Our parents taking us to our little concerts we play around town. Now we are headlining Wembley Arena." It's totally surreal. We don't take any of it for granted.
Toddstar: What keeps you guys the most humble?
Ben: I think it has a lot to do with where we're from. You know? We're just four guys. We don't consider ourselves any different. Our parents brought us up to be respectful, and we realize we've been given an opportunity and a gift. More so an opportunity. I don't want to sound like I'm saying we're gifted. We've been given an opportunity to do something. To me, that's just what we want to do. We have to stay focused and keep our heads on straight, which we do. We keep it very much family first music set. I think that helps a lot.
Toddstar: You guys have shared the stage with a lot of your peers, a lot of the guys that you guys have come up through the ranks with. Is there anybody still out there that you want to share a stage with, or tour with, that you haven't yet?
Ben: We've played a couple festivals with Aerosmith, but I'd love to go on tour with them. They're my favorite band. Before they just stop playing music I'd love to go on tour with them. Other than that, that's probably my number 1.
Toddstar: Would that be the same with writing? Like you said before, you guys write together. Is there anybody that you'd love to write a song with, or maybe write some riffs with?
Ben: Yeah. I'd love to sit down with somebody like Jimmy Page, come up with something. I love Jack White too. People that are different, left of center, you know what I mean? That might have something they can bring to the table.
Toddstar: Listen, again I know you're busy. I know you're trying to get stuff set up. We appreciate your time. Thanks for everything and have a great show Ben.
Ben: No problem. Thank you.
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