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Interview: John Fred of Black Stone Cherry

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Black Stone Cherry are somewhat of a rarity in the industry. 12 years since their debut album, the band are still going strong with all original members and an ever-growing fan base. 2017 saw the band hit Australian shores for the first headlining tour, and I’m sure it will not be the last. As the band prepare to unleash their killer new record “Family Tree” on April 20th, we got drummer John Fred on the phone for a chat.

H2Z: Hey John, thanks for taking the time to talk to us at Hear2Zen, how are you?
JF: Hey pal, I am doing great thanks for asking

H2Z: We have been living with the new album for about a week, congratulations, it’s fantastic, when did you start the writing process?
JF: Thanks man! That’s really cool of you to say. We started writing for the album last January, and it was really cool, we did a lot of writing at our practice house, the legendary practice spot of my Dad and my Uncle. We then moved to my house, which is just up the road from the practice house. We just started by messing around playing different stuff, which was really incredible. Some of the earlier stuff was stuff like “James Brown”, and a few more on the record. We also wrote demos in the back of the bus on the computer. Then a cool thing happened last fall, we did a blues cover EP called “Black to Blues”. When we released that, everyone loved it, and we got such a huge pat on the back from the Blues society, and it’s funny we recorded that in a really short time, only 6 days, so it was a lot of one takes and having a good time, not really thinking it would do anything. But then it went to number 1 on the Billboard Blues Charts and stayed there for 3 weeks and stayed in the top 5 for 3 weeks. So, then we decided when we do this new album (Family Tree), let’s just not practice, just know the songs in our heads, and see what happens, with the spontaneity, the creative energy between us, and just let tape roll. We did that and there are come cool off the cuff guitar riffs and drum fills that just happened on the spot, which was cool and awesome. I think we finally figured out that we are not trying to make perfect Rock n Roll, we are just trying to make Rock N Roll, and we are pretty proud of it.

H2Z: You mentioned the Blues EP, do you feel doing that, was the bands way of kind of hitting a rest button and getting back to basics?
JF: You know what, yeah, I think when we parted ways with Roadrunner Records, about 3 years ago, that was the big reset, refresh, hit the clear button. We spent 10 years with them, and it got really corporate, and we couldn’t sell the records they expected and wanted us to sell, so we got fired. Then we were so lucky to find a label called Mascot out of Holland, and they have been so, so awesome. They let us be us, be who we are. It has been wonderful. They treated us so well on the last record, which was the first record we did with them. There was a lot of aggression lingering over, and they let us be us, get our man chest out a bit. We got that record out, and people loved it, and it had a lot of party anthems and cool stuff. With “Family Tree”, it’s like “Peace Brother” (laughs). It’s like all our influences thrown in a blender, and a lot of blues influences that have been trying to come to the surface for years, and I think the Blues EP really helped it, it propelled it. It showed us as musicians. And not having to worry about doing songs for radio. We just have to be us, so that is where we are at now.

H2Z: You have also kept the production in house on this one. What differences have you found self-producing rather than having someone come in from the outside?
JF: Oh about $200,000 (laughs). We have been really, really fortunate to work with some great producers over the years. But this is the first album we, as a band have produced fully, we have always co-produced our records. It was really cool man. Chris (Robertson – Vocals/Guitar) mixed the record and did an amazing job. He has been working with that stuff since he was probably 16 years old, and we record in the practice house, and he did the DVD, and the Blues EP, and we were just like “Dude, just do it, you got this”. He did a killer job, and we all write the songs, and record the music. Jon (Lawhon – Bass/Vocals) does our artwork which is cool, and Ben (Wells – Guitar/Vocals), and I look after the drinking of Bourbon and Vodka, so we have a whole team of responsibilities (laughs).

When we were kids, we used to drink cases of bourbon, and I’m not exaggerating, cases of bourbon. My Dad and my Uncle played in a band called “The Kentucky Headhunters”, and they used to do this thing called “The Bourbon Festival” every year in Kentucky. They used to be the big act that would play there annually. They have bourbon companies coming from all over the world to that place. The best thing is that they would give them cases of “Four Roses” Bourbon. Four Roses sponsored The Headhunters, the event. We would go to the practice house, and there would be all these cases of Four Roses, even single barrel, so we would just drink all that stuff. So, I think Ben got a little bit burnt out on bourbon, he can’t even handle the smell anymore. But the rest of us, we highly regard it.

H2Z: At this point in your career, is it getting harder to choose your live set?
JF: It’s really hard man, to play, even a headline set, its making sure you love all your children, because your albums are your children. We try to play at least 3 or 4 songs off each record. It’s getting harder because we are playing longer each night. I now know why bands like The Eagles, Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd do 3 hours. They have to, and that’s cool though. We have been fortunate to be able to make 6 albums in 12 years which is great.

HZ2: Another thing is this band is all original members. What is the Black Stone Cherry secret?
JF: Dude, it is a rarity, you know. It really is. I normally tell people it’s because we snuggle a lot at night, that really helps. We grew up together. Chris and I went to kindergarten with each other. Jon since were in 8th grade, and Ben we first met when we were starting a band in high school. We have always all been really close together. And it is amazing. For 4 dudes to be in the same band, with no break-ups, but hey, it ain’t been perfect. With anything good that lasts, you have to learn to get over the hurdles and challenges. But that goes for anything in life, not just a band. At the end of the day I could not see myself playing music with anyone else except those 3 jerks (laughs), I love them dearly.

H2Z: That’s great. Back to the new album, what’s the one song you really can’t wait to play live?
JF: I think, it’s a song called “James Brown”. It was one of the first songs we wrote for the album, and man, it’s just really badass. It has a great, great hook to it, and it’s an ode to the “Godfather of Soul” himself.

H2Z: Safe to say it will get a run when you play Download right before Guns N Roses?
JF: If it don’t, I quit (laughs). That set has already been discussed man, it’s really hard. I think our set time is an hour, so you really have to think about your plan of operation, you know. But man, that whole show is going to be incredible. I cannot believe that we are opening for Guns N Roses with Slash and Duff back in the band. It’s amazing! Its beyond amazing man.


H2Z: There has been lots of talk about you coming back to Australia, what can you tell us about that?
JF: I’ll tell you what, there is nothing firm, as far as this year, but next year, hopefully we will be back. We can’t stay away now! We have come down and seen how kick ass it is, so we are trying to make up for lost time now.

H2Z: That would be great, as a first-time listener I cannot wait.
JF: That’s really cool. And I love hearing from fans that have been to 30 or 50 shows, but there is something special when someone hears your music for the first time and tells you they dig it man, so thank you. And people have so many music choices out there with the ability to stream. So to make a new fan really is awesome dude.

H2Z: I have to hold that product, I have to own it.
JF: Oh man, I have so much Vinyl, on the road we go to goodwill, yard sales, and we pick up so many, before they came back people would just be putting them out on the side of the road with trash, I got so many cool albums that way.

H2Z: That’s all we need for today John, thanks so much for your time and hopefully we see you down here sooner rather than later, and congratulations again on the album.
JF: Dude, thanks so much for taking your time and look forward to seeing you and all our friends on the road.

Thanks so much to John for his time. “Family Tree” comes out April 20th.

The band are about to head out on tour check out the dates below, and catch a show in a city near you

For more dates click here

Hear2Zen Magazine
Hear2Zen is a "Non Genre Specific" publication that celebrates all things sensory.

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