Jon Lawhon; one quarter of awesome Kentucky rockers Black Stone Cherry. Prior to their second date on their sold out UK Tour with Rival Sons at Nottingham Rock City, we were fortunate enough to be able to hop on board their bus, kick back, and fire some questions across his bows:
Thanks for taking some time out with us Jon, I want to get straight into it, especially as you have just been announced for Sonisphere, and you guys commented about it being “another one chalked off the list”…Does this mean Black Stone Cherry have a big master-plan and a “To Do list”?
Oh, absolutely, if you look back in history and look at like what the Beatles used to say all the time. They had like a little group meeting back in the day, and I think Paul McCartney asked like an open question, and said: “So where are we going with this boys?”. John Lennon said, “to the tip top!”.
The way you guys might look at it, is just being at the top. But the way we look at it in America, is like being the farthest, like beyond the top. Like just out of reach kinda thing. I mean that just hit home with us and we’ve really always just shot for the stars, and we’ll just keep doing that, keep trying to make it bigger and bigger every day until we are the biggest rock band in the world!
OK, at least you’re aiming high then! You did Download last year, Sonisphere this year… what else is left, anything else on that list you want to hit?
Erm, there’s definitely a list of bands we want to tour with. We’d love to tour with The Foo Fighters, we’d love to tour with Aerosmith, we’d love for their to be a full Zeppelin reunion so we could tour with that (laughing). There’s a long laundry list of bands. Like we’ve gotten to play Wembley now twice, Wembley Arena, once with Whitesnake and Def Leppard, which was amazing. I mean we met Jimmy Page and Richie Sambora that night, which like floored us! Jimmy Page told me straight to my face that I really dig your band, and I wanted to vomit because I was like… you are Led Zeppelin (laughing).
So you still get star struck then?
Oh yeah, well in certain cases yes. I mean Jimmy Page, absolutely. Richie Sambora, with all due respect, I mean he’s a great great guitar player. I think he’s a better singer than Jon Bon Jovi is personally, but I was never like a crazy Bon Jovi fan, so meeting him was just like meeting a regular dude you know.
More like just meeting a colleague?
Yeah, yeah it was. I met Jerry Cantrell once, and I grew up as the grunge era was like at its peak. And I mean, meeting Jerry Cantrell I could like hardly speak. John Fred could talk to him fine, cos he was never like a big grunge fan. But I was a humungous grunge fan as a kid so meeting him freaked me out, you know. The only two other grunge kind of artists I would have loved to have met would have been Layne Staley who passed away, and Kurt Cobain. But I got to meet one of the three that stood out to me as a child… But back to the master list, I would love to do what The Foo Fighters did and sell out a couple of nights at Wembley Stadium a the drop of a hat (laughing).
Yeah, I could see that being good and up there
Ultimately man, we wanna play all the big major festivals, you know we wanna be successful with it. We want to keep coming back and doing them, we want to keep growing so we can get higher and headline this festival. You know we want to be where Black Stone Cherry isn’t just the cool new thing, we want Black Stone Cherry to be like a household name!
Well you’re not exaclty a new thing anyway. I mean you’ve been together since school… what started it? Was it just a bunch of kids one day going, “let’s be rock stars!”
Basically… yeah. I mean we were never the kind of band that was like, “you play drums, you play bass, you play guitar and whatever and lets work up some cover songs and play bars, to make some extra cash.” We were rehearsing like Monday through Friday, school’s out 3 o’clock and by 3:10 we were at the practise house writing and rehearsing. Doing everything we could to improve upon our individual talents and our talents as a band. At weekends we’d be down there at 10 or 11 in the morning and we’d quit about 11, 12 at night, sometimes later. That was every week, every weekend for about five years! The only time we weren’t rehearsing was when we were playing a show. Once every couple of months we would take two or three days off from doing it… (laughing) and that’s when we would go on dates. That’s when the four of us would hang out with our other buddies and shoot pool or whatever.
Was there ever any backup plan?
Erm, I think individually a few of us had backup plans. But once we signed a record contract, all that went out the window.
OK, so what was yours?
I was actually in school. I don’t know how the grading system works over here, but in America 4.0 was perfect, you cant get any better. I had a 4.0 standing GPA as an Architectural Drafting Engineer. I had one semester left, and quit because I signed my record contract and we were getting ready to record a record and get out on the road, ‘cos there was no way to keep that up. I also took a semester off from school 2004, 2005 maybe and went to a place in Ohio, called the recording workshop, and I got my diploma in audio engineering.
My backup plan was something that I knew would work for the band, as well as I wanted to know how to build a recording studio the proper way, and how to engineer it properly. So eventually we’ll all end up like having a studio together. I mean Chris is right back into it, starting to get back into the swing of things. I do a lot of graphics, I mean I did the graphics for the new record, I do the majority of the merchandise that we carry.
Does that mean you get a bigger cut?
(laughing) No… no, I just do it. I mean we each kind of have our own roles you know. Ben is the Facebook like Guru. He’s on Facebook all the time, like talking to the fans, putting up posts and comments and stuff. Keeping fans like entertained and informed via the web. Chris is like the audio guy, so like when we get new mixes, Chris is like really up the mixer’s ass (laughing)…. to make sure it’s right. I don’t think he had much work cut out for him on this last album though cos Chris Lord-Alge and Howard Benson produced, and Mike Plotnikoff engineering. I mean all those guys are like top notch, classy, you cant get any better. I mean the conversation was “What do you want it to sound like?” Chris’ response was “I want it to sound like a big rock record. Something that’s going to work on American radio, but still maintain our core audience in the UK and Europe”. He said the biggest thing for him was make sure the drums sounded good, but they weren’t overtaking the mix, the guitars were good an loud and in your face, the bass was solid in the back, you know keep everything tied together. Chris specifically wanted to hear, well we all did, but he told em, he wanted to hear a Phil Rudd snare drum, and a John Bonham kick drum… (laughing) and I think he achieved it pretty well!
Does Chris want to get his hands dirty, does he want to take over?
I think he does, but finances are a difficult thing, especially these days. So Chris doesn’t have like Neve Console, SSL channel strips and Tube-Tech pre’s… he just doesn’t have it, he’s just got Pro-Tools.
Does it stop being fun because of the business, financial element. I mean it’s a far cry from a group of high school kids just enjoying themselves…
It can definitely, definitely hurt it for sure. The magic goes away once you put on your professional hat and start going at it. But you always have to keep reminding yourself and keep going back to where you were in the beginning you know. It’s hard to not become jaded when you play every day, you play the same songs every day. For us, well for me anyway what helps me out is I’ll go back about once a month. I’ll go back and look at YouTube videos from when we very first started touring, I mean we’ve got some recording from like back before anything. I’ll listen to that stuff and I’ll remember back all the times of going down the practice house, working on stuff. Using spray paint and bed sheets trying to make a backdrop. I mean anything and everything you could possibly do to try and make it look cool, you know, try to make it look bigger than it was. That, and I listen to a lot of like obscure music in comparison to what we are.
The thing I’ve been on most at the moment is Mumford and Sons, of all people. I don’t think people would expect anyone of us to listen to Mumford and Sons. It’s just nice to sit down and listen to “Sigh No More” rather than just sit down and listen to, like Metallica. We play hard rock every night, you know, and I get my fill. It’s like a breath of fresh air to go into a different avenue. John Fred has been big on The Frey lately. Hell man, Chris is a big Adele fan, big time. I mean I love Adele, but he’s like super crazy in love with Adele (laughing).
We did wonder, with the Rollin’ In The Deep cover… do you think Adele would ever cover Black Stone Cherry
Ah man, that would be awesome! (laughing). I’d love to hear her do something. I mean at the end of the day, it’s kind of a genre that we are deep down anyways. I mean I grew up listening to Motown and R & B. My Mom, she kind of put it to me like when I was a child that I wasn’t allowed to listen to the other stations. She didn’t really care though cos she told me later on, that she’d walk by my room with the door closed, and she could hear the rock station coming through. But when I was a kid, you just think she cant hear through that door! (laughing). I mean she’s a big rock fan too, but she wanted to make it like this untouchable thing and that I wasn’t allowed to do it. The same way that she was when she was a kid, but that’s what made her love it so much, but she also had the background of Motown, funk, jazz and R & B and all that. So she forced me to be rooted into that kind of stuff. It goes a long way when you transfer that kind of background into the whole kind of rock n roll, you get a completely different new thing.
Looking at musical genres and combinations, and again jumping back to Sonisphere. One of the headliners is Queen, fronted by Adam Lambert. What’s your opinion on that… one of the greatest rock bands, fronted by a reality TV star?
(laughing) Doesn’t bother me. You know, I mean I love Queen, but honestly it all comes down to “Has he got it?”. If he’s got it then shut up, let him do it you know. If that’s what the band chooses to do then that’s there choice, you know. They are Queen collectively. It doesn’t take a singer to make a band, it takes a band to make a band. Takes a singer to make himself, it’s when all the parts come together that it creates a band you know. When you get to the situation of what Queen is, you do what you have to do. If the guy can cut the mustard… then go do it.
Fair enough then. Do you pay attention to the rest of the lineup at festivals? Do you scan the list, worry about who you are up against on another stage sort of thing?
(laughing) Yeah, you do, but most of the time it’s just “can’t wait to go catch whoever”. There’s always the bands you look through the list and you’re like “man I love them, great guys”. We’ve toured with them before, met them at another festival. You just kind of look forward to the family re-union part of it. Then there’s the I’ve never seen them kind of thing too. Really happy to go check bands out, but there’s the obscure “nah, not going to go watch them” (laughing).
Well that’s festivals, but obviously this is your own tour, and you have sold it out well in advance. Do you think you’ve been helped by the likes of touring with Alter Bridge and having your own solid support band in Rival Sons?
With us, because we’ve been over here with so many different bands… Whitesnake, Def Leppard we’ve been with Nickelback, we’ve done the festivals and our own smaller headline shows. Not to mention the British audience is a very intelligent audience. I mean, you put up a poster somewhere and you’re nobody, but people see it and people pay attention to it. They then go find it on the internet, they go listen to the song… iTunes, Facebook, MySpace whatever they’ll then make an educated decision for themselves as to whether this sucks or this is good, you know, and they’re then gonna come to the show to give it that one chance to see if it works. And if it works for them, then they’re gonna come back, and when they come back they’re gonna bring ten friends. Those ten friends are gonna bring ten friends and so on. So every time we come here, it just gets bigger and bigger. Like some of the rooms we’re doing now, we’ve either done them before or it’s smaller than the room we did before that, but mainly because we took such a long time off to do this new album. We wanted to not necessarily scale back, but stay on the same playing field, just to see if everything would sell out pretty much in advance, which is the big deal. We decided that if it sells out this size rooms in advance, when we come back with the next record for headline shows, we’re just going to jump to arenas.
So you do talk about selling out venues?
Oh yeah for sure. If you don’t have a sold out show, if the room isn’t packed then it’s all politics at the end. It looks much better to promoters and buyers and things like that, when they say they need to go out and find a band to go out with U2 or AC/DC or whoever, and they can go OK well this band sold out in advance. You know, months in advance or whatever. We want them you know, not the band that plays rooms of 2000 when there are 3000 more seats. They’re looking for the band that has that stamp. For some reason, that’s just the way it works. So we kept ourselves at the same level, and we ended up having a lot of pissed off fans… sorry guys (laughing). I mean a lot of people were hitting us up on Facebook with I wanted to come see you guys but it’s sold out…
Well it’s not as if they didn’t have enough warning
Exactly (laughing) shouldn’t have been hanging around, should have bought that ticket. The tickets were on sale for like a month, month and a half before the first one sold out. So, no arguments on this end!
Well I think with the high of the sell out tour, we’ll leave it there. Once again thanks so much and enjoy the show
And you man, absolutely, been a pleasure.