"We grow as musicians, we grow as people, we grow as a band," measured Ben Wells, guitarist for Black Stone Cherry, "so we strive to continually progress and hopefully get better."
Black Stone Cherry released their sixth studio album, Family Tree, last week with Wells admitting the title is indicative of both family on a blood level as well as family through music.
"It's a bit of both," he nodded. "Our personal families are very close and then the four of us are as well. We're just as close as family and then we run our business very much like that as well. Everyone in our crew is family and it's just the way we like things. We put family before everything - including the business - so it just made sense to call the record that. It is Family Tree metaphorically and literally."
After experimenting with the successful Black to Blues E.P last year, Black Stone Cherry stepped back into more familiar territory with Family Tree, tapping back into the rockier side of their persona and delivering perhaps the finest body of music since their inception.
"I think we just wanted to push ourselves musically and do something that was not only challenging but also different for us," Wells surmised. "We wanted to get back to the bones of the band, which is blues and Southern rock, and I think we accomplished that."
Whereas many bands peak with their debut and struggle to maintain the intensity over further offerings, Black Stone Cherry seem to get better each time. While not refining their sound from album to album so to speak, the Kentucky natives build upon the strengths learn from lessons past and continually push the boundaries of a genre that is normally known for its predictability.
"We never try to make the same album twice, but even though there is the pressure to make great music at the end of the day if we're proud of it that's all we can ask," Wells offered. "If we are genuine with our music then hopefully our fans will like it too."
In another display of their willingness to experiment, Black Stone Cherry added previously unused instruments such as horns, piano, gospel organ and synthesizers to the mix and while the new sounds are prominent, they at no stage attempt to substitute or suffocate the fabric of the sound.
"It's hard," Wells agreed, "because it's very easy to overuse these things when you're in the studio. We tried to pick and choose the songs and the parts of the songs that we thought would stand out best and we just sprinkled enough in to make it special without overdoing it."
One of the great strengths of Black Stone Cherry is each member not only sings live and on the record, but each also contributes to the songwriting process, a luxury that not only affords a greater selection of material but also ensures each album sounds fresh because of the individual influences.
"We all write songs together and that's been our thing ever since the beginning," Wells explained. "All of us bring our own influences and have our own input within the songs and that's something that makes us special too. There's different influences coming from all directions. We can go blues, we can go hard rock, we can go metal, we can go soft and we can go in so many different areas because we are influenced by so many different things."
Wells concedes that when writing for an album, although the temptation is always strong to write material you know your fans will gravitate to, it is important to not lose sight of what makes you happy on a personal level as well.
"It's definitely both," he stressed. "We still make music that we are fans of. We never want to make music just for the sake of making music. We wanna make stuff that we enjoy and hope fans enjoy it too because we write with the thought of how it is gonna sound live and how existing fans will perceive the songs, but also with the hope of growing and making new fans. It's a fine line. We don't want to write music for anybody so to speak - we just wanna write great songs. At the end of the day, a great song will live forever."
As with most bands, Black Stone Cherry owe much of their sound to their environment growing up. While Edmonton, Kentucky is now musically on the map thanks to their efforts, it was a different story when the boys were starting out. The fledgling musicians grew up in a town relatively void of music and while having its obvious drawbacks in terms of exposure, growing up in Kentucky left an indelible mark on the four high school friends that helped shape what you hear today.
"We come from a small town so there was no music scene and there were just a few local bands," Wells reiterated. "There was no clubs and no nightlife so we just had to play where we could play. We'd play restaurants, parking lots, anywhere that would have us or allow us to set up our stuff and play. I think that had a lot to do with the way we sounded. There was no real music scene for us to be a part of so we just did our own thing."
Because of - or perhaps in spite of - this, Black Stone Cherry continue to do things at their own pace, but more importantly at their own doing.
"I still don't know where we really fit in," Wells laughed. "We stand out to a degree and we like that. We never, say, conform to anything that's happening around us. We just wanna be ourselves."
Grab your copy of Family Tree HERE