Black Stone Cherry is a hardrock band with clear roots in the American South's musical treasures. The band started in 2001 and took over the same rehearsal house as country rock band The Kentucky Headhunters.
The latest album "Magic Mountain" is another step in the direction they adopted from the beginning, in all cases since they released the first album. They have basically been playing together since their teens.
The heavy stoner-groove is there on the new album and it fits properly along with the catchy refrains. Everything is refined and even more of the characteristics of the band. Powerful and very heavy guitars.
I meet Chris Robertson and Ben Wells just before their gig at "Klubben" in Stockholm last month. I was a little curious about if they have fell in to the digital trend and how they create their guitar sound as a band in studio and in live situations.
Have you stepped in to the digital world or did you use real amps on the latest album?
Chris: It´s real amps, no digital! There are no Fractals here.
Ben: All Tubes man...
Chris: We use different kinds of stuff in the recording studio but all of them are old school amps with tubes in them and it goes to a speaker cabinet and the sound comes out that way, no digital wizzard-tricks going on.
Is it still Budda amps?
Chris: I just switched to PRS amps now and they´re great man. The best amps I´ve ever heard.
Ben: I have my same Peavey 5150 and 6505. On the new album we also used a VTM 120 from the late 70s. It´s a killer amp head. It´s sad to say that playing through amps is becoming old school.
Chris: I´ve used Budda or Peavey for years and the reason I switched over was because PRS asked us if we would like to have a couple of amp heads in the studio while recording. And you know, in studio sessions you use a lot of stuff, there is no limit. We had Soldanos, Ritchie Blackmoore Engles and much more. When the PRS amp heads came down I recorded the whole album with them. Totally impressed. The one I use right now is an PRS Original Sewell, but I´ve listen to the new amps they have and they're great amps man.
On the new album your guitars sounds really simple, big and consistent through the whole album, is that something you actually worked hard on?
Chris: Well it´s much about keeping it simple and take advantage of the "sonic air" on the tracks as a whole. If you listen to an old Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath or an AC/DC album they may not have much "low end" but they sound so huge because there are so much space.
Chris: Yeah. First of all we wanted to record on a two inch tape which is totally awesome and it was the first time ever for us. We wanted to get that space and as heavy as it could get.
So your going back to the origin that everyone is running away from…
Ben: Yeah let them run from it man…it´s good for us ha ha ha...
Chris: Why go to a concert and see a band that has a Pro Tool rig behind the drummer that plays half the music. A lot of band has three guitars but only one guitarist up infront. That doesn’t make sense, it´s weird.
Is it to much focus on technology today?
Ben: Yeah, you know, Tony Iommi could sound like two guitarists with his vibrato back in the days. I mean lets get back to that, that awesome playing without to much effects and layers. We all want to sound big but much of it is in your playing, in your hands and heart. We are two guitar players but we use to keep it as simple as we can. I think that´s what makes us different. Fortunatly and unfortunately I guess.
How about the learning perspective today and when you started?
Chris: We grew up when there was no YouTube. I had to sit by the record player or the cassette deck and use my ear to learn. Big difference from today.
Many guitarist today seems to play from visuals or from memory, or reading tabs to play something thats cool, they don’t wanna pick up the guitar and play stuff that sucks. When I started I played a lot of stuff that sounded like shit, and thats a part of the learning process to.
Ben: Everybody does….I mean playing shitty in the beginning...it´s natural and something you have to pass.
How important is the guitar sound to your ability to play well?
Chris: It´s one of the most important things in a way. A good sound inspires you.
Ben: Yeah and most guitarists are actually depending on their sound, but really great players can use whatever amp they can find and sound like themselves anyway.
Chris: Most of your sound or your tone is in your hands as you say. But a good sound encourage you...
What stuff did you start out with, like your first amp?Ben: My first amp was a Peavey Combo, I don't remember which one but it was one with the old logo. I had a lot of distortion pedals too, you know like everyone else who starts out, trying to get your first shitty amp sound better. I had a one called Rat Distortion that I liked and a Boss Super Distortion. Now, when you getting older, you find yourself a good amp instead of loads of pedals. My first guitar was a Peavey Stratocaster, but my first "real guitar" was a Fender Telecaster Japanese reissue.
And what was your first attempts?
Chris: I had a Create 30 1x12 combo and my first guitar was an Epiphany Telecaster copy. I know the guy who have it now but he refuses to sell it back. Then my grandpa let me use his old Fender Bassman 1966, and I really learned to really play on that amp. That old amps have what I use to call "three nobs and the truth", volume, bass and treble and thats it. I didn't have any pedals, I wanted a wha wha but my dad didn't let me get it before I could play the Jimi Hendrix songs. I think pedals are cool för like effects and stuff, but they're not cool if you use them covering up shitty playing.
Chris: I have a Poly Tune, MXR La Machine which is a Octave up Fuzz, Dunlop Cry Baby Wha, GT-OD Overdrive and a Carbon Copy delay and a chorus with some weird name on it, I don't remember. I use the chorus as a "vibrato", not the way Zakk Wylde does.
Ben: Same tuner, same wha, a Talk-Box, a Swollen Pickle Fuzz and a MXR Phase 90. And of course my channel switcher. Pretty much so... I like pedals, I must admit, I like experimenting with crazy sounds. If we have an odd pedal sometimes it´s just to create a sound in a particular song which reflects the album, most of the time only one song in the set. The most used pedal is the wha...
Is it hard to translate the studio sound on an album in till live performances?
Ben: Well it starts in the studio actually. If you don't put 1000 layers on each song you don't have to worry about it.
Chris: We have done that misstakes in the past, with like 5 guitars over the chorus and it´s just not possible to do with the same emotion live.
Ben: Yeah and we have learned our lessons.
You had a Les Paul on soundcheck?
Ben: Yeah it´s a Classic Lemon Burst with the 60´s neck, that´s what I grew up playing. I have 4 Les Pauls and a PRS SE. It´s 496 and 500 pickups you know, the ones with higher output. Thats why I love the Classics, cause the come in stock with those pickups and it saves me from changing.
And you are endorsed by PRS Guitars?
Chris: Yes I am. I have the same guitars and amps here (in Europe) that I have have back home in the States. The green one is a PRS Starla S2 with a 25 inch scale and then I have another S2 24 1/2 inch and aother guitar I have is a PRS Stripped 58 Antique white. We were on tour with Alter Bridge and Myles had PRS guitars and he told that they were awesome.
At the same time I had som consistency problems with my guitars, they played differently and sounded differently depending on the humidity and I asked my guitar tech which guitar he thought would be the best up on consistency and he said "you probably don't want to hear it...it´s PRS". And I was the guy like "everybody plays PRS" and I wanted to be that guy playing old beat up Fenders and stuff. But I gave it a shot and since then that guitar changed my life as a guitar player. I was hooked from there. In my opinion PRS are the best guitars, playing the same day in and day out.
What about tuning?
Chris: Most of the time its C sharp or drop C but some of the songs on the record is drop B actually.
What guitar players inspires you?
Chris: The 80s brought out some great guitar players, but Im not that found of that era except from Slash. I like the old Whitesnake guys and of course Doug Aldrich. But the top three today is Gary Clark Jr, Ian Thornley from Big Wreck and Joe Bonamassa. Myles Kennedy is another great guitar player. Those guys make me wanna be a better guitar player.
Ben: My influences comes from Joe Perry, Jimi Hedrix, Brian Setzer and Scotty Moore. Amazing guitar players.
You are both playing solos nowadays?
Ben: Yes but Chris still does the most of them.
Chris: Yeah but we both love playing riffs and solos, I could never be in a punk band man. Playing E, A and D power chords all day, it gets boring. Our solos are longer on this album, it´s kind of boring to do chorus playing and we are always waiting for the bridge or the solos in our songs.
Thats how a guitar player works isn't it? Waiting for the singer to stop....
Chris: Yeah ha ha ha and that sucks for me cause I have to do the singing too right...
Ben: ha ha ha
Chris: But it is a good balance for me though, singing makes me appreciate playing guitar even more...
Thanks for hanging out with The Guitar Zombie, appreciate it.
Chris: Thanks man, it was fun talking guitar stuff...
Ben: Yeah and thank you for having us.