Black Stone Cherry’s Chris Robertson Talks ‘Magic Mountain,’ Songwriting Inspirations + More
Black Stone Cherry are back on the concert circuit this summer, supporting their newly released ‘Magic Mountain’ album. Black Stone Cherry frontman Chris Robertson recently took some time to chat with ‘Loudwire Nights’ host Full Metal Jackie about the ‘Magic Mountain’ disc, his songwriting inspirations and what it was like to recently tour with rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company.
It’s Loudwire Nights, Full Metal Jackie Chris Robertson of Black Stone Cherry with us on the show tonight. Chris, what’s the biggest advantage to being an established band recording its fourth album and what not-so-positive aspects surprised you the most?
Everything about this process was good. I mean, we didn’t have to do a lot of co-writes, we had to write the record and do everything like that on our own. When it came time to record, we worked with Joe Barresi. The thing about Joe is that he understands a band. A lot of times, when you get in the studio it’s all about the singer and the song and with Joe, it was all about, “Well let’s make this bass part cool. Let’s make this drum part stand out, let’s actually do this like a band rather than a singer-songwriter with four guys playing with him.” That was the coolest thing for us. The fact that we got to go in there, like a band, and record and do it all to two-inch tape, the super old school method of doing things, it was awesome.
Musically, what was the most important goal you had for ‘Magic Mountain’? And, what was the “high five each other” moment when you knew you nailed it?
I think one of the coolest thing for us, any time we recorded an album, there’s always been a computer screen running in front of us. With that you can go in and make everything perfect, say my guitar part is a little early, I can go in and slide those things over. For us, we always have been a very music-driven band. We always write music before we write lyrics. To be able to go in and record that music with no computer running, just the two-inch tape machine, you have to play the parts right. You can’t go, “Well, that’s close enough. We can fix that.” To go in and just play it … and it’s almost like the coolest thing about this record, for me, is that there’s a definite live vibe about it. Because it was recorded to tape, and we didn’t go in and fix every little thing, we just recorded the songs and they came out as what they are.
What aspect of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Bad Company rubbed off on Black Stone Cherry when you toured with them, and how did affect the way you approached these new songs?
We’re very fortunate in the fact that we got to do that tour. Lynyrd Skynyrd is my favorite band of all time and Bad Company is not far behind them on that list. I got to go onstage every night. As soon as we finish, you got enough time to dry off, change clothes and walk back, then you watch Paul Rodgers sing and watch Skynyrd play. It’s pretty incredible.
The thing I took away is when you watch those bands, they always have a good time no matter what. That’s the thing, people pay hard-earned money to come to concerts, buy tickets, buy t-shirts, buy the music you put out. There’s nothing to not have a good time about when you’re playing music for people on stage. To see those guys that have been doing this for 40 years, to see them up there still having a good time, that was the most refreshing thing for me. You tour with bands, and bands seem bitter by everything. Then you tour with bands that have been doing it for 40 years, and they’re having more fun than they’ve had since they just got a record deal. It kind of puts everything into perspective of how you need to run your everything, every day.
Chris, you personally have gone through some big life changes since the last album — not much fun to go through, but good inspiration for a musician. In the midst of turmoil, do you recognize great ideas for songs?
Absolutely. This whole record, I went through a really hard spell a few years ago fighting some crazy depression and anxiety — to the point where there were talks of suicide and everything. I came out of it a better person and a much happier person on the other side. It was because of a great support team, family, the band and all my friends I found God through the whole thing. This record, the whole record, the band was living every bit of it with me. We were on the road through the majority of every bit of this and the fact that they stuck with me and kept pushing me every single day to never give up and keep doing what I was doing, a lot of the songs on this record are about the struggles we dealt with going through that. Songs like ‘Holding on to Letting Go’ and ‘Run Away’ and ‘Sometimes.’
The other side of the coin is, there’s a song on the record that’s very near and dear to my heart called ‘Remember Me’ that we were on the road doing a few shows and my grandfather, on my mom’s side had gotten real sick and was put in the hospital. We were playing with Korn at the New York Fair. I got a phone call that he was probably going to pass that day. As soon as the show was over, we deadheaded home and that was on a Thursday. He made it to Sunday and he passed then. We started pre-production that Monday. Joe Barresi flew in on that Sunday, Wednesday was his funeral where I was a pallbearer. That night, I toyed with the idea of maybe not rehearsing that night or doing any pre-production or anything. My grandfather loved music, he was a great harmonica player. I knew he would want me to go do something that made me happy and not sit and dwell on the fact that he passed. We went down to the practice house. I had this little guitar riff, and we all started jamming on it and wrote the lyrics in five minutes. That song just is a tribute to my grandfather. That songs means a lot to me. A couple of years ago I would have dwelled on how bad it was to lose someone I loved. You gotta look at something out of it that’s going to be positive. That song came out of me losing my grandfather and it’s a song I think connects with a lot of people.
Would your songs be such great stories if you didn’t come from a cultural background of storytelling?
Absolutely not. The thing about us, we’re very fortunate in the fact that we’re from a small town. There really wasn’t a music scene going on. We kind of got to do whatever we wanted, we didn’t have to try to fit in to play bars. We didn’t have to play Top 40 covers or the active rock hit list. We just got to go play our own songs. We’ve played our own songs from day one. Storytelling is a big part of where we’re from. Yeah we’ll embellish the stories to make them a little more interesting every time you tell them, but it’s just a part of the way of life. I think that has a lot to do with our songwriting and style of music all together. Look at Lynyrd Skynyrd. They’re from the south and they sing about their songs everyone loves are about honesty and the stories in those songs.
Thanks to Black Stone Cherry’s Chris Robertson for the interview. The band’s ‘Magic Mountain’ album is out now and can be purchased via iTunes or Amazon. You can look for Black Stone Cherry on the road at these locations. Tune into Loudwire Nights With Full Metal Jackie’ Monday through Friday 7PM through midnight online or on the radio. To see which stations and websites air ‘Loudwire Nights,’ click here.