One of the main pay-offs of collaborating in the music journalism, is that sometimes, it gives you the opportunity to meet your favorite bands. A few days ago, I had the honor to interview Jon Lawhon, bassist from my beloved BLACK STONE CHERRY.
During the interview we talked about “Human Condition”, their new album to be released in October 30th, but also about caring about each other and about bands like DIO or ALICE IN CHAINS. I had a great time and the only downside was that it run out too quick.
From Kentucky, with the bag filled out with heavy riffs, amps to 10 and catchy choruses: BLACK STONE CHERRY.
Iñigo Ortúñez (I.O.): Hi Jon, it’s a real pleasure and big honor to speak to you. I’m a longtime fan of BLACK STONE CHERRY since your very first album.
Jon Lawhon (J.L.): Thank you Sir very much, I really appreciate. It’s also a pleasure for me.
I.O.: Congratulations for the new album! Once again you have been able to hit the nail in the middle, with a handful of great songs and with your personal trademark.
How do you see it comparing previous BLACK STONE CHERRY works?
J.L.: Since day one we wanted to release music that was never the same as previous collection and I think we’ve done that. Our first record (“Black Stone Cherry”) was like a punk rock and southern rock album. Our second record (“Folklore and Superstition”) was almost like a concept album, very southern rock, but also very swampy, Mississippi kind of southern rock, you know… In our third record (“Between the Devil and the deep blue see”) we got a little bit heavier and more into a mainstream kind of rock, a bit more radio driven. Our fourth record (“Magic Mountain”) we were really stressed out and we created some unique interesting music. Our fifth record (“Kentucky”) was the first album we ever self-produced, it was a pretty heavy album, but at the same time, really digging’ deeper into our southern rock roots. And “Family Tree” was a straight through back to our southern rock and classic rock music. And now, here we are with “Human Condition” and we very much intentionally made it the heaviest and hardest hitting we’ve ever done up to day.
Honestly it’s probably my favorite album we’ve done, all the songs have been written by the four of us. Self-produced, we have recorded it in my studio, Monocle Studio in Kentucky. So it was a nice feeling going into my own space every day, being creative there instead of being in a foreign room. We worked with my 2 engineers in the studio, trying every technique we could ever think of and we developed a very cool sound. It has been a blast doing it!
I.O.: It’s true it sounds really amazing! I have all your albums and I agree each of them sounds a bit different from previous one. I believe biggest jump was from “Family Tree”, which had some hints of blues, funk, soul… to this “Human Condition”, which hits harder and goes more straight to the core. I really love it, congratulations!
J.L.: Thank you very very much. We intentionally wanted to make an extremely heavy and straight forward rock n’ roll record, to reestablish ourselves in that world and let all our old school original fans that have been with us since 2006, know that BLACK STONE CHERRY is a hard-rock band and we’re not going anywhere.
I.O.: Great, that’s good news! The album kicks off with: “People, people, your attention please / I need to tell all y’all about a new disease!”. I know the album was basically written before Covid, but how did this pandemic affected “Human Condition”?
J.L.: Everything was basically finalized before Covid started. We were in the Studio but all the songs were written. Some of them were in fact written years ago, like those lines you mention from “Ringin’ in my head”. We wrote that song 4 years ago and it just happened to be perfect for the actual situation. Some of the songs in the album have raised their heads now to be the perfect songs for this time. There’s one song on the record, “Ride” that originally was called “Feel the fire”, that we wrote it in 2005 for our first album!
I.O.: This is very interesting for me… why do you think some songs that were written back in time, but were not ready to go then, but suddenly find their way 10-15 years later?
J.L.: My personal opinion: everything happens for a reason. I don’t think everything is predetermined, but I do believe in faith. You have those kind of key records that affect masses of people for generations, records that came out and absolutely destroyed it, affecting people to their core. Albums that people always can go back to, like “Appetite for destruction”. Albums from LED ZEPPELIN, THE BEATLES that became anthems for people lives. And I feel this record was fated, you know, because so many of these songs were so old and they never made it to a record, not because they were not fantastic songs, it was simply the time for them now.
I.O.: It’s funny because I use to discuss with my good friend Raúl, that there are bands that you discover in some moment in time and you don’t pay too much attention to them, but suddenly you hear them years later and they make a big impact in you.
J.L.: For us, this whole experience with the shutdown, it made us turn back around and look at the career we’ve done, look at the album that we have coming out and it was a kind of eye opening on why we have focused always on each other and not necessarily always on the business. In times like this, there’s going to be many bands that just crumble and they are not going to last and I firmly believe that BLACK STONE CHERRY will.
We’re not in this just for the business, for the money, we’ve never made lots of money playing music, we’ve made just enough to get by. We will continue regardless of how many shows we have or how many dollars we have coming into our bank accounts, we do this because we love it. The big pay-off is hearing people sing the songs back to us passionately, knowing that we’re positively affecting their lives.
I.O.: You really affect positively our lives, yes. One of the things I admire from you guys, is that you are the same bunch of friends from the very beginning, which is quite unique nowadays and for me this is great. What is the secret to achieve this?
J.L.: Honestly, we focus on each other’s as friends, before the music. If we have a rehearsal preparing for whatever event, but somebody has something going on with their personal lives, we will stop everything. I mean, we have cancelled a whole tour in 2010 for going back home, because Chris was having some health problems, he needed to go home, to take some time, to see his wife, his Doctor… focus on himself and we just pulled the plug. It sucked, yes. Surely we lost ten thousand dollars not doing this tour, but we gained 3 years of our friend.
I.O.: This tells a lot about you guys as human beings, not only as musicians, so also congratulations for this. I believe “Ringin’ in my head” speaks about these health issues from Chris, right?
J.L.: It kind of started like this, but at the end it means so much more. There are a lot of politics undertone on that song, we are affected by this pandemic and the politics behind it.
I.O.: It’s my favorite song of the album, really intense and passionate, it’s really a blast!
J.L.: Thank you so much! We played it yesterday preparing for the “Live from the Sky” broadcast performance that will go live on October 30th and it would run the October 30th, 31st and November 1st. $10 per stream! The cheapest BLACK STONE CHERRY show you will ever see, as for $10 all family could watch it! We set up the stage in round instead of facing up towards an empty room, so we would be able to see each other’s energy more, because typically live, we see the audience and we don’t see each other, except from John Fred who is behind all of us.
I.O.: It’s impossible that he sees you, with his way of playing drums!! I love his way of playing, he is amazing!
J.L.: Haha… yeah, that’s true… We are able to play about 1h and 20min, a full performance. We’ve worked out some new songs, jam and had a blast preparing it. We will have a few cameras up, a static go-pro camera… we really had a ball doing it. We’re looking forward to seeing the full product and getting the live stream put up on the 30th.
I.O.: Great! Maybe this is something that all bands need to consider further considering the situation of the market. Releasing an album nowadays, knowing that touring will be so so difficult, has to be hard I guess.
J.L.: Exactly… Now there are socially distant shows (we have a couple of those booked), you’ve got driving concerts that some people are doing. We’re trying to find ways to make this work, so that we could still earn a wage and survive. With the Internet, you can take $10-15 in the month and get all the music that is in the world, so album sales aren’t what they used to be. And Record Labels, thankfully not Mascot Records, as we have a very good deal with them, have a “360º deal”, I mean, they take money from the bands in a 360º, they take money for all activities of the bands.
So the Record Labels were not so much affected by the decline of album sales, the bands were. But there is still a very small handful of labels that are smart and realized that if they do that to every band, they are going to stop music, they are going to cripple the entire business of the music industry if they want to keep the same incomes as in the past. The bands will go and say: “you know, I cannot live on $20.000 a year, it’s impossible!”. It is possible… I’ve done it and it’s not easy at all! I have a wife and 2 kids, a home, a car and everything cost money. So I need to go out and earn a proper wage. And with the Record labels putting their hands in all our pockets, it’s impossible. Thankfully, here comes Mascot with a license contract. They want to make money out of the album sales, that’s it. We don’t get massive, crazy, sums of money for touring, but we are self-sustained. But with this pandemic and everything being shut down, you know, we’re pre-broke to be honest with you.
I.O.: I really hope you will survive, all the music industry will be hugely affected, this is clear. I think music industry is in some kind of evolution trying to keep the profits alive, and this is many times far from rewarding the artists like you. What is your opinion about something like the “Hologram Tour” of DIO? I know DIO is great, but…
J.L.: I don’t know… I think it’s cool. For example, I’ve always be a massive fan of ALICE IN CHAINS and I never got to see them with Layne Staley, I was a kid when they came out. We’ve done a couple of shows with them, they are fantastic people and they kill it live, but I never got to see Layne Staley. If they were out to make with the 3 original members, sure without Mike Starr (died in 2011) but with Mike Inez, who is one of my favorite bass players, and with the Hologram of Layne Staley, I would pay the ticket, I would be more than happy to go for that. You pay crazy amount of money to go to Disney World, Universal Studios, all to feel the magic. I will do it with the music business. At the same time, this money will go to feed the family of the surviving band members.
I met Ronnie James Dio a couple of times, and I’ll tell you… I’ve met a lot of people in this business, from Jimmy Page to Glen Hughes, all the BLACK SABBATH guys… Ronnie James Dio is probably the kindest and sweetest person that I’ve ever had the luxury of meeting. We did a show with HEAVEN & HELL in Paris a very long time ago. Ben, our guitar player told him that our guitar tech at the time, Kevin Rose, was a massive DIO fan. He made his way to our dressing room right after our show. He held his show during half an hour, as he was sitting in our dressing room, talking with us and Kevin, just hanging there for way longer that he should have done. Tommy Iommi came and knocked the door saying “We have to play a show, man!” and Ronnie just answered, “yeah, yeah… I will be there in a minute”. He was just sitting there and hunging out. He spent real honest time talking to Kevin, because he knew he was a genuine massive fan of him. When our industry lost him, we really lost in icon, for sure.
I.O.: Yeah, I get it. That’s why this kind of Hologram Tour gives me some kind of mixed feelings. On one side I agree that Dio was a super nice guy, a legend. But on the other side, this Tour is trying to keep some legends alive and we are not supporting so much other new bands. We continue paying $100 to see AC/DC or this Hologram Tour instead of supporting new bands.
J.L.: I can understand this. I guess it’s also important knowing, where the money is going. If the money is going to the record label that owns the masters of the albums, yes that’s wrong. But if it’s going to Dio’s family, and the families of the band members that are going to be there live and playing, then it’s fine, as it’s going to support what Ronnie James Dio was supporting his entire life.
I.O.: We have a deal, you convinced me… Different topic, I have to say that BLACK STONE CHERRY, are not so popular in Spain as you are in USA, UK, Germany. I don’t have an explanation for this, do you?
J.L.: I think the main thing is time invested. We’ve been to Spain maybe 9-10 times, mostly to Barcelona and also Madrid. There are other markets that we really need to get to, those where are the blue collar people that work hard every day that appreciate and love music the most, because they don’t get to see bands as often as people in the big cities. We really have to invest more time in those smaller markets, the country folks. They are the ones that really invest and are passionate about it.
I.O.: I see… I still have doubts why many nice rock bands are not exploding in Spain. When I see your headline shows in UK, I’m really jealous about it. I would love to see those kind of shows in Spain. You know, maybe a great place would be Rock Fest Barcelona. I always send messages to the promoters saying that they have to take you there!
J.L.: We would love to do it. We’ve done some festivals in the area, but it’s long time since we play a festival in Spain.
I.O.: I was in the last gig you did ALICE COOPER last year, in the front rows jumping crazy and I even arrived exhausted to the ALICE COOPER show. But 1h is not enough for me. I need your 2 hours show!
Well, we don’t have too much time, so I go directly to our “Rock Angels Quiz” to know a bit more about. You can only chose one answer:
- BLACK SABBATH or DEEP PURPLE? “Oh… that’s not easy, but BLACK SABBATH”.
- Beer or wine? “¡Bourbon! haha…”. Sorry… you are from Kentucky!
- Touring or recording at the studio? “Oh man…I have to say both… I love both”.
- Big Festival or hot sweaty club? “Hot sweaty club, every time. I love the small venues”.
- KISS, LYNYRD SKYNYRD or GUNS N’ ROSES? “I have to go LYNYRD SKYNYRD”.
- Stairway to heaven or Dream on? “Oh my God, that is hard! I gotta go to Dream on”.
I.O.: OK Jon, I still have questions for 2 hours, but I don’t want to take too much of your time! Any last message to the fans?
J.L.: Thanks to everybody who has supported us over the years, I hope everyone enjoys the new album and as soon as the world is back to normality, we will be back there!
I.O.: OK, great! This is what we wanted to hear! Thank you so much Jon once again, it has been a great pleasure and an honor. Good luck with the new album!
Iñigo Metalson (The Lux Team)