Intervju med Jon Lawhon i Black Stone Cherry!
För några veckor sedan ringde jag upp en nyvaken Jon Lawhon. Han befann sig med bandet på turné i den lilla staden Butte i Montana. Staden har enbart 35000 invånare, men är ändå den femte största staden i delstaten.
Nåväl, nog med geografi! Jon var oerhört trevlig och berättade bl a om arbetet med kommande plattan "Between the devil and the deep blue sea", Sverige och vikten av amerikansk radio. Det senare ger skenet av ett band som styrs ganska hårt av vad andra vill höra och borde ju hindra dem något i deras kreativitet. Tyvärr följde jag inte riktigt upp den frågan, vilket jag ångar lite.
Jon: Hey brother, how ya doin´?
I´m good! How are you?
Jon: I´m doing very well.
How´s Butte, Montana?
Jon: I haven´t been outside yet, to be honest. (laughs) I just got up about ten minutes ago.
What time is it?
Jon: It´s 12.41 in the afternoon. You know, in the music life it´s morning to us. (laughs)
Yeah, I understand. I guess you´re out on tour now?
Jon: Yeah, finally!
How´s it been going so far?
Jon: Very well! We´re out with Hinder right now, doing a handful of dates. You know, it´s nice just to get back in the saddle after being off for so long, working on the record. It´s nice to get back out again.
Tell me about the new album? Where did you get the title from? Is that something that came right away? Did you have other titles floating around before you settled on “Between the devil and the deep blue sea”?
Jon: The title was hard. It took forever to come up with that. We threw different ideas around for a couple of months and then finally Ben actually, sent everybody a text message “What do you all think of this?” and it all kind of fell into place after that. He was looking online trying to find something, something that had a significant kind of meaning and made sense for us or for the last year of this particular record. When I first opened up my phone and saw the text, I was like “Wow, how well it encompass the last year and a half of struggle trying to get this out together.” and just a way that life has been for us to make this album, because ultimately what that means is like between a rock and a hard place. It´s just like the struggle, the everyday struggle of life, having a go between two different difficulties and try and balance it out and make it work, which is what it was. Trying to balance out our personal lives and balance out the record. The machine and monster that the music industry is.
Was this album more difficult than the others?
Jon: Not so much difficult as it was, like consuming. The way in America, the way radio is, it´s so fickle and you have to have a certain kind of thing for radio, for it to work across the board. It´s mainly in the songwriting, so we just took a lot of time writing and trying to come up with the kind of stuff that´s gonna work in America for radio and still have our European fans digging the album, because there´s a fine line that you have to walk there, because if you go too radio America, the Europeans will go “Seriously, what is this?” and I can completely understand that. We´re kind of on the same page with that anyways, because most of the stuff that is on the radio today isn´t just worth the time. It´s like, we´ve got to balance it out for ourselves too, which I don´t think we´ll ever get to the point where we do something too far that our European fans won´t dig it, because we might as well be European fans, so to say.
Is radio still that important in the US today, considering everything with Facebook, YouTube and MySpace? All these other different ways of getting your music across.
Jon: Yeah honestly, unfortunately it is over here. People are just so programmed and so used to being told what´s cool and hearing what´s cool 17 times a day when you´re driving your car back and forth to work or cooking or whatever it is you´re doing. They´re used to having somebody tell them “Hey, here´s the newest, hottest and coolest thing ever!”. It´s unfortunate, because here we have a couple of competing rock stations per major city sometimes and not only that. There´ll be an active rock station and then a modern rock station as well, so it´s still… I mean, radio stations play the same stuff, just calling themselves an animal to a different code. All in one city, so people have so much option to just go through. The problem is the way radio works, is that they don´t provide the option. They just play the same stuff that everybody else is playing, just at a different time. Let´s say our new single “White trash millionaire” was the biggest single in the world right now, if you´re listening to a radio station in Chicago and you hear “White trash millionaire”, you know you´re not gonna hear that song again for at least an hour or so, so then you change the station over to the next rock station and then within 15 or 20 minutes you´re gonna hear it, because it´s the hottest, biggest, newest thing. That´s just the way it works over here, unfortunately.
It´s kind of the same way here, but I think you´ve got more rock stations and more rock oriented radio than we do. When radio was finally free here and we got commercial radio, I think everybody thought that we´d get a jazz station, a modern rock station and a metal station, but that didn´t happen. All the stations are just playing the same stuff. It´s all the same, over and over again.
Jon: Exactly! Because they know for a fact without a shadow of a doubt that the majority of the people are going to dig that stuff because it´s popular and pop means popular. That´s just the way it is, I guess.
True! But what did Howard Benson bring to the album?
Jon: You know, Howard´s method was so bizarre but we loved it. (laughs) We went in and we were doing pre production and we were expecting a producer guy to come in and say “Ok, this is awful! We´re gonna rewrite this section!” and all that, but he was totally not like that. He came in and was like “Ok, what I want you to do is play your songs, just like you would play them and I might have a suggestion here and there for like a chord change every once in a while, just to make it feel a little different.”. He was like “Just show me what you´ve got!” and we were like “Ok, cool!”. So we stood up there, on this little six inch riser stage that they had made there in the studio in Los Angeles and we started playing our songs and he really did that. He was like “Alright, hold on right here, make that an F in that one section!”. So, we´d make it an F in that one section and then it was “Ok, next song!”.
Cool! How come you ended up with him? Was that a guy you knew of and was it a choice of yours or did the label bring him to you?
Jon: The label wanted us to go meet up with him. We were actually in California writing with Dave Basset one day and then we went and wrote with Bob Marlette and John 5. Bob Marlette being the producer of our last record and a great friend of ours and John 5 the Rob Zombie guitar player. We went over to meet with Howard and he came in and we didn´t really know what to think, to be honest. He was so super intelligent, so he kind of freaked us out. He came in and started talking about “What´s charting today? What´s on Billboard? What style of music?” and then about the rock bands that are there and how they did it and what they´re doing to stay there and all this stuff and we were just like “Well, you´re the freaking scientist at this!”. He really picks the part and thinks about it to figure out a system. It took us a little while to come to the conclusion “Yeah, let´s work with this crazy guy!”. Ultimately, what else are you gonna do? You´re sitting there looking at a guy who´s literally figured out the music industry and he wants to work with you, you´re not gonna tell that guy no! (laughs) I mean, c´mon, you´re not gonna make a guy who knows how to make radio slip out. You can actually make money and do this for the rest of your life and you´re not just gonna be writing on a whim. Go with the option that´s gonna get you paid so you can actually live your dream for the rest of your life! Why not? The good thing for us is, even if America never came to the table, we could always come over and hang out with you guys six months out of the year and we´d be fine. (laughs)
Right! Recording in LA, did that in any way bring any vibes for the songs on the record?
Jon: Absolutely! In my opinion, the songs would not have turned out the way they did, had we been going to a studio covered in snow. LA was like 68 Fahrenheit, just t-shirt and maybe flannel buttoned up with no buttons kind of weather. Just relaxed and it was just great man. We had these apartments and all that and it was just the four of us. We didn´t have any outside influence what so ever. There were no parents or girlfriends or friends or whatever. It was just the four of us, the brotherhood that is our band. We had two apartments, me and Chris had one and John and Ben had another and every night after the studio, John and Ben ended up in our living room watching something random on tv. I´d cook, we´d all eat and watch tv and occasionally Chris would cook, because I guess we´re the only two that really can. (laughs) We just hung out, man. It was like almost going back to high school, to be honest with you. When we first started we were in high school. We´d get out of school at 3 o´clock in the afternoon and we´d be at practice, just the four of us, by no later than 3.10. Then jamming until 10 or 11 o´clock at night, at least. It was just the four of us 24/7 all the time, so it was really like getting back to that, which I think gave this record a whole new vibe, because it kind of brought back those memories of school.
Did you go roaming up and down Sunset Strip?
Jon: (laughs) We were roaming all over Los Angeles. We really didn´t have many days off. Most of the time we were in the studio coming up with cool guitar parts to put on the songs and all that.
Is there a lot of pressure coming up with a new record and working with a new producer? Do you feel a lot of pressure coming up with new stuff or is it just an even flow of stuff all the time?
Jon: You know, you´re supposed to feel a lot of pressure doing that, but it has been so long since we´ve been like touring, so when we went into the studio there was no pressure. We were just gonna do the best job possible and track it and get it all laid down, get all the ideas put together, live it for a while and make sure it´s perfect and put it out. Really, no pressure involved. The pressure really, was in the writing process and it still wasn´t that much pressure. It was just, stay at it until all four of us and everybody at the record label and management company flipped out! When it got to that point, then we were like “Ok, we have the right songs for this project!”. This time we wrote with a few outside people that are good friends of ours, Dave Basset, Bob Marlette, John 5 and we wrote with a couple of guys on songs that didn´t make the record, it´s just a list of people, but it didn´t start until like the middle of the writing process. The first six or seven were just the four of us hanging out and going to the practice house and doing the thing that we do, write songs, goof off and eat barbeque whatever! (laughs) Just spending time with each other and trying to get back down to the basics. It´s just a very different thing, the four of us at home hanging out and going to the practice house every day, it´s incredibly different than the four of us with all of our crew crammed on a 45 foot 2, that we call the tour bus and rolling from town to town every day. It´s a different vibe that goes on there. Honestly, there´s a lot more stress involved in touring.
How long are you gonna be out on the road with Hinder?
Jon: That´s just another seven or eight days with them and then it´s Alter Bridge. We´re doing the Alter Bridge thing up until around the middle part of May and then we´re flying over to England to do some press in London for a few days, trying to get everything set up for the summer tour because we´re coming back over to do summer festivals and all that for the great part of June.
Do you know of any plans for Sweden?
Jon: I have no idea! We would like to play Sweden Rock again. It´s a fantastic festival! There are a couple of venues up there that are great. Sweden is great for a couple of reasons. One, the rock fans do not mess around! They come out and they come out in full force and they´re to rock and roll, which is awesome! Sweden´s actually the first place in Europe we ever played. We flew in to Sweden in Stockholm and we did this radio thing like super super early in the morning. It was like 4.30 something and it was just ridiculous early. We went from there and went to do MTV. We did that and then we had like the rest of the day off, which was a deal in itself. We hung out for interviews, performance and all that and after we did radio we were ready to sleep. (laughs) The rest of the day we travelled around Stockholm and checked everything out and then we played the next night… I can´t remember the name of the venue, it´s a good size venue there. It was us and Hinder actually, because it was the first time we came over there. The first show we ever played in Europe and the fans were so freaking crazy. We were just like “Where are we?” (laughs) Everybody just latched on to us and we´d never had a response like that. There are always diehards in the crowd that go nuts, but we´d never had them all loving it, like in that way. It was amazing, “We need to live here!”. (laughs)
Right, in cold cold Sweden!
Jon: Mmhhhmmm, but the other good point about Sweden is that you have some of the most beautiful women in the world!
Yeah, everybody says that!
Jon: It´s true! Is it something in the water?
Yeah, it´s gotta be.
Jon: It´s definitely cold in Sweden! The first time we were over there, it was March and it was bitter cold. It wasn´t even snowing or crazy winter stuff, it was starting in the spring and it was still freezing cold. We didn´t want to go outside without having four jackets on. (laughs)
Yeah, that´s Sweden for you! Well, it´s been a pleasure talking to you Jon and I hope you get to come here real soon.
Jon: Absolutely and I hope we can get it worked out and get over there as soon as possible.
And I wish you all the best with the forthcoming album and the show tonight!
Jon: Thank you so much brother!