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Interview: John Fred Young from ‘Black Stone Cherry’

Black Stone Cherry Press Shot

For over a decade, Kentucky hard rockers Black Stone Cherry have captivated heavy music lovers worldwide with a repertoire of eclectic tunes ranging from country-drenched rock ballads to metal-edged grunge. Their newly released fifth studio album ‘Kentucky’ has taken the quartet back to their roots, and given them the opportunity to self-produce for the first time ever. Due to scheduling conflicts Black Stone Cherry have changed the dates of their debut Australian tour to promote their new album. Instead of headlining, the 4-piece will now be supporting Los Angeles glam-metal comedians Steel Panther on their tour a week earlier. As the band are gearing up for the tour we caught up with longhaired drummer John Fred Young to talk about the new album, their much-awaited visit, and the evolution of man-buns.

Howdy from Australia! How is life in the world of Black Stone Cherry?

Everything is wonderful! The album just came out so we played a really big show in Nashville, Tennessee. It was in an old car factory built in the 30s called Marathon Car Works. We’ve always wanted to play there but never had the opportunity before. 

Are you excited to be finally coming down to Australia?

There are a lot of messages from Australian fans. They always ask when are we coming. We’ve been really waiting to see you guys. I think we’ve had about three opportunities to come to Australia but something crazy always happens. Either we’ve got something on right in the middle or there’s a family emergency. This time we’re coming no matter what. Finally!

 Is there anywhere in particular you want to visit while you’re here?

 I think everything is going to be new for us, I mean we’re freshmen at this. We’re going to have a really good time though. We all have friends who’ve been down there and they’re like, man, it will blow your mind! We’re definitely looking forward to Sydney – everybody wants to hit it up when we’re there. I want to go to Perth too. Actually, there’s a friend of mine that lives in Tennessee who has a drum company from Perth called Brady Drum Company. I was just getting to be friends with Kelly and her dad who has made those drums forever.

What are your plans after Australia?

After we see you guys we’re doing the Carnival of Madness stateside. We actually did it in the UK already this year and it was really cool because we had our friends Shinedown and Halestorm come open those shows with us. For the stateside tour it’s pretty much the same line-up so we’re looking forward to that. Then we’re going back to England, we stay in England quite a bit. It’s going to be a fun-packed year. I think we’re actually going to take a 3-day vacation in Hawaii on the way back from seeing you. It’s going to be unique because we never really do that.

Black Stone Cherry has a very diverse sound. Where do you get your influences?

We have a lot of early classic rock and blues influences. We listen to James Brown, all those Motown cats like Al Green, and Swampers and Stax stuff. That’s the thing about rock and roll. No matter how heavy, you’re always going to find blues, bluegrass and Motown roots. All that stuff is the basis. The rest of us are like paprika on top of the soup and they are the meat and potatoes. You ask musicians today what they grew up on and they might say Metallica, Motley Crue, and you ask what those bands grew up on and they will say Led Zeppelin and The Beatles. You go all the way back to Chuck Berry. All that music got into our soul, man, and I think growing up listening to Little Richard, Sam Cooke and BB King, is what is so different about our brand of rock and roll.

I’ve heard the band composes most of the songs together, which isn’t often the case. Do you have a certain writing process?

There’s not really a set way it happens. Somebody might have a riff, somebody else might have a lyric. It just kind of goes from there. With a lot of the stuff we’ve done we’ve actually recorded on the road and while we’re at home. It’s cool to do that. Also, pretty much every song we’ve ever written has been in our practice house, which is on my grandparents’ farm here in Kentucky. We are really fortunate to have a place to play. My dad and uncle were actually in a band called The Kentucky Headhunters, who are a big southern rock band here in America and Canada. They let us use the house when we were teenagers because we all grew up together. My dad was like, if y’all gonna start a band you’ve got to practice down here so you stay out of trouble. I think more than anything he wanted us to hang out with him but we’re really thankful. He and my uncle started us onto a lot of classic records we wouldn’t have heard if we didn’t have their influence.

What bands did they introduce you to?

At the time Korn, Limp Bizkit and Creed were huge but they took us back to stuff like Mountain, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. We were also going back to stuff people didn’t really know about – bands like Cactus and Blue Cheer. It was a really big lesson for us.

How does it feel to know it’s been almost 10 years since your first album?

It’s crazy! At this record party we did at Walmart back home, they’re bringing their kids to take pictures, and they’re like, hey here’s a picture of me 10 years ago when you guys were here in 2006. We’re looking at them and go, oh, my God, it’s been 10 years and you were 12 when I met you. It’s pretty bizarre we’ve been able to stay together that long and have such a great relationship. Chris Robertson (lead singer) and I actually went to kindergarten together. We’ve put five records out, six if you count the ‘Rock n’ Roll Tape,’ which we put out before we ever had a record deal. Now that thing goes to $350 on E-bay. We couldn’t give those away in high school. So it’s all pretty wild.

What was your overall vision for ‘Kentucky’?

We wanted to have fun with it and not worry about the perfection we had to have on every other record. It was really cool because we got to work with our buddy David Barrick, who engineered our first one. He moved his studio over to the old music store in Ben Well’s (guitarist) hometown, and it was crazy because we used to go there as kids. Every Sunday they used to hold a pickers gathering there, and have mandolin players, banjos and upright bass. Everyone would be smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. It was fun. We all have kids now so we had our children, wives and friends come and be a part of it. We’re a really family-oriented band. It’s important to us and I think it comes out in the music.

What was it like self-producing this record?

We really worked hard to be the best producers we could. It was so wild not having one of those big rock guys we worked with before standing over our shoulder and go, oh no, that’s not good. We were kind of bare ass in the wind but it’s one of those things you’ve got to take a chance on and do it. This past summer we signed onto a new record label – Mascot Records. They’re just incredible. They’re working so hard and talk in the modern pop spiel because the guy who owns it is a music nut. They really take care of their artists. It really is like a family.

How has Black Stone Cherry evolved since you first formed in 2001?  

Before, we knew what we were doing but now we know what we’re doing, if that makes any sense. We’ve learnt a lot since we’ve been playing together, touring in different places and meeting new people. It keeps you strong. I hate to sound just like Britney would but I think we’re stronger. We were 20-21 years old when we first started touring and now we’re 31. Thank god I’m not losing any hair! I’m getting a little silver but I’m keeping admirers. Everyone else in the band is cutting their hair but I can’t cut it, I’ve got to keep it. It’s a running joke. Everyone is like, man you always put your hair up in a man bun. I just don’t keep it down unless we’re on stage. The guys always tease me. I don’t know why but everyone tells me I started the man-bun. I’m like, this isn’t a fad, dude. I’ve been doing this since I’ve always had long hair. I’ve got some jokes out there now. It’s like, what comes after the man-bun is the he-hive. But just to be clear, I’m not going in that direction at all. 

Do you have a favourite song on ‘Kentucky’?

I do, Soul Machine. We had some really talented musicians back home play on that. We had our friends from a band back home play brass and we had some wonderful ladies sing on the track. That’s what makes it great being at home in the studio here in Kentucky. I mean I know everybody thinks we run out barefoot and we date our sisters, but really we wear sandals and date our cousins! But really, we have a deep artistic and musical community in Kentucky.

What does the next few years hold for Black Stone Cherry?

Well hopefully now I’ll start wearing a ‘he-hive!’ No, but seriously, I don’t know what we’ll be doing tomorrow. We want to keep touring and for everyone to stay healthy; to just keep having the opportunity to go out there and play music in different places around the world. I know it sounds kind of cliché but I don’t know if we will ever win a Grammy or be of the status of some pop artists, but man, when you go out there and write songs you connect with people. We always try to write songs that really inspire people and motivate them. Not to sound like a guidance counsellor but you have a responsibility when you’re a public figure. We’ve always tried really hard to be very cautious about our lyrics, to make them come from the heart but also making them mean something. I hope we can continue writing songs and I hope people don’t get tired of our old asses.

Steel Panther w/ Black Stone Cherry Australian Tour

Big Top, Sydney
Festival Hall, Melbourne
Eatons Hill Hotel, Brisbane
Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide
Metro City, Perth

Get Tickets HERE