The members of Kentucky's Black Stone Cherry take pride in their closeness. They are still just four guys rocking out and living their dream. BSC's just-released third studio album, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, reached the Top 30 in the Billboard 200 and the group is currently on the Carnival of Madness tour with Alter Bridge, Theory of a Deadman, and Emphatic. The tour hits Dayton's X-Fest, at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds, this Sunday (click here for concert details). CityBeat recently spoke with Black Stone Cherry lead singer Chris Robertson in depth about the band and the personal issues he has dealt with over the past few years. —-
CityBeat: Let’s talk about the new album Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.
Chris Robertson: Yes. It came out May 31.
CB: I love it.
CR: Thank you. We did some stuff different this time. We wrote with some outside writers. We recorded it in Los Angeles, which was a big thing for us because we recorded the first album back home in Glasgow, Ky., which is about 15 miles from where I live. The second record we did in Nashville, Tenn. On this one, we were like, 'Hell with it, let’s just go to L.A. and do this one.' The weather is definitely nicer in Southern California in December and January than it is in Kentucky.
CB: Where did the name come from? It’s kind of a crazy name for an album.
CR: Ben was researching online trying to find album titles. We had kind of hit a wall. Ben said, “What if we call it The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea.” I was like, “That’s awesome. Where did you find it?” He said, “Well it’s actually an old saying called between the devil and the deep blue sea that dates back many years.” We were like, “Hell yeah. It works and we like it.” It’s kind of like the band name. We got it off of a cigar box. If things work, they just work.
CB: I have liked your music for a long time. I am from Tennessee and you remind me of people that I went to school with and was actually friends with. You seem very most normal and down to earth as I have watched past interview footage.
CR: We come from a town of 1,800 people at the most. We are just simple, southern people. There is no other way around it.
CB: Do you still live there?
CR: Yes. The house I live in now is literally 400 yards from the last house I lived in when my dad moved to Greensburg. The house I bought, I didn’t know it at the time, (but) my dad, my grandpa and my grandpa’s father, who passed before I was born, all three worked on the brick work of the house that I live in that was built in 1974. I won’t live anywhere but there.
CB: Not moving to L.A. anytime soon?
CR: If I was going to have a house anywhere other than Kentucky, I would want a place over in England, like a vacation home in England. I love it over there.
CB: It’s funny because I just interviewed Cage the Elephant again and they love England, too. They are Bowling Green boys and they also love England.
CR: There is something about England, the entire U.K. — Scotland, Ireland, Wales.
CB: They drink a lot.
CR: They drink a lot. It is like a breath of fresh air when you are in a Rock band and you struggle in the States and you go over there and things happen for you. Same thing happened with Cage the Elephant, Kings of Leon, us. Even Alter Bridge does considerably better over in the U.K. and Europe, in general. We are lucky to get to do what we do and that is the one place that we are the most successful. If I was going to get a place it would be in Scotland, honestly, out in the countryside just because it is beautiful. People speak English. It is kind of slurred and drunken but it is awesome.
CB: You guys have been together for 10 years coming up. Where do you see yourself in 10 more years?
CR: I have no idea. We started the band on my 16th birthday. We celebrated my 26th birthday on June 4. We started the band on June 4, 2001. I’m getting married in December, been with the same girl that I started dating, the day we formed the band June 4, 2001.
CB: The same day you made the band?
CR: She called me the morning of my birthday and she said, “I couldn’t ask you out until you were 16. Will you be my boyfriend?” I was like “Hell yeah!” So 10 years later, we are getting married in December and the band is doing better than it has ever been.
I am currently overcoming this severe depression and anxiety thing that I have dealt with since I was about 15 years old and have been really dealing with it hardcore for about three and a half years right before we released the second record and it finally got the best of me. I never drank much before that but now the two medications I am taking for the depression will not allow me to drink anymore. I wake up with a smile on my face every morning now that I have been on the medications for about three months. I would rather take that medication the rest of my life and not be able to drink and be happy.
I am an open person about this stuff because I am like every other person who deals with internal issues. The only difference is that I play music for a living instead of doing what you do working for a paper, doing photos, or working in a factory, or going into the army. I’m a human and a lot of people are afraid to open up. I remember saying, because I have friends that are in very successful bands that have dealt with addiction and depression and stuff, and I go, ‘What do they have to be depressed about?” and then it hit me. I actually had a nervous breakdown a couple months back. We were in Europe and we had a week of press scheduled and I had to cancel all that and come home until my medicine started working and we came back out for this tour. You have to take every day as it comes.
CB: So you are feeling better now?
CR: Yeah, I am feeling better now. The best thing is I spoke openly about it on stage in England when I first started taking my medication. We had always done meet and greets at the end of the night. We headlined the state fair here last year. We went out and sat for two and a half or three hours and signed for every single person that wanted something signed and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t, with the anxiety and everything, I can’t stand big crowds of people. I told the people when we were in England doing headlining shows, I said “I hope you understand. I want to do it but I just can’t do it anymore.” The outpour and the ovation I got from those people was very emotional to me because they were happy that I talked about it and there were people that came to the back of the bus at the end of the night and before they would ask me to sign anything or take a picture, they would thank me for talking about it on stage because they were going through the same thing and were afraid to get help. I told them when I was on stage that I am going through this and I went to a doctor and got medication and it is one of those things that you just can’t beat on your own. You can’t trick your own mind. Your mind controls you no matter what it is. A lot of people would look at me and go, “What in the hell does this guy have to be depressed about?”
CB: You do write songs like “Blame it on the Boom Boom,” which are very “happy” songs.
CR: We wrote that and “White Trash Millionaire” and “Let Me See You Shake,” which are very happy songs. Then you have “In My Blood,” which was the last song written for the album, and I think it was about all this stuff starting to pour out of me. We all four write the songs together. I think that song was a lot of this starting to come out of me. But the best reward I have gotten from going through all this is I have actually had people send letters from England to venues that we are playing thanking me for talking about it.
I had one letter from a 55-year-old lady from England telling me that her and her husband came to see us play. She wrote a two-page letter on the inside of a card thanking me for talking about my depression and anxiety issues because it inspired her to get help for hers. It’s like, I am 26 years old and I have the world in front of me and sometimes it takes hitting a low point, I was at the lowest point I had ever been in my life. It had gotten extremely, extremely bad. The thing is, the three guys I share my passion with, Ben, John Fred, and John — and our tour manager Joe, our guitar tech Cougie, our merch guy, and our sound guy Brandon — are seven of the best people I have ever met in my life and they really helped me through all of it. My fiancé was also a big help because she went through it when she was 18.
It is one of those things that run in my family, with manic depression. I went to a doctor and I went to a psychiatrist and talked and he put me on some medication and it works. I would wake up and for the longest time I couldn’t even do interviews. I couldn’t sit and talk to people. I couldn’t stand to be in the same room with someone I didn’t know. I have gotten over that and I am doing better. I am enjoying playing music again.
Anybody that reads what I have to say, if anything, to hell with the music, if you have got a problem, don’t be afraid to go to a doctor and get some help. I had to do it. I’ve never been one to really want to go to a doctor for anything. I’ve always been the guy that goes, “Hell, I can fix it myself.” I finally realized that you can’t fix everything yourself and sometimes people need help and I had to get help. I may not be here if I had not gotten help.
I am happy to say that I love my life again. It took three months of being on medicine to get to where I can say that, but I do. I love my life, I love what I do. I love the opportunity to talk and do interviews and play concerts and meet people and stuff like that. I still can’t go sit for two hours at a merch table, but anybody that wants stuff signed, they can come back to the bus — I’ll be more than happy to come off and sign whatever you have and that’s how all four of us are. We are human beings just like anybody else. People portray people in bands as this super thing and we are not. Nobody is. I don’t care if it is Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Chad Kroeger from Nickelback, or if it is Chris Robertson from Black Stone Cherry — that’s three levels, a newer band like us, the biggest Rock band going right now in Nickelback, and one of the most legendary bands of all time — each person in that band is a person. Just because they get to play guitar and sing doesn’t mean they are any better than anybody else and they don’t deal with the same problems.
CB: What is the best advice you have ever been given?
CR: That’s a hard one because I am 26 years old and have been fortunate enough to travel the world many, many times playing music for countries that English is not the primary language and get to hear people sing the songs I was a part of. I guess the best advice I’ve ever been given was follow your heart because whatever is inside your heart is what you are supposed to do. I had a lot of people tell me I should cut my hair and get a job and everything and not worry about music. I didn’t graduate high school the way most people do. I needed two credits at the end of my senior year and I took the course requirement test and passed them both and the principal was still like, “I’m still not going to give it to you.” So I ended up doing a program where I got an actual diploma from the high school. But you just have to follow your heart no matter what.
CB: You said you started this at 16 right?
CR: I started playing guitar when I was 13 and we started this band at 16.
CB: You were all friends forever right?
CR: Me and John Fred have known each other since we were 4 years old. I have known him for 22 years. We are best friends. The three guys that I am in a band with are not my friends, they are my fucking brothers. They are my brothers just as much as my little brother is. I have known John Fred for 22 years and my brother is 20 years old. I have two younger siblings. I am the only guy in the band with younger siblings. John Fred is an only child. John has older siblings and Ben has an older sister. There is a pretty good age gap between all of us and our siblings. I am six years older than my brother and 10 years older than my sister. The four of us found that common connection that we are closer together in age and from day one we have been open with each other. We said we are going to cut all this bullshit and there is not going to be any of this talking behind each other’s backs. If we have a problem, we say it to each other. Our bus, people make fun of us and call it the Bible bus because we are not partying like most people. The bus is not a party bus, it is our home. That is where we live. That is where I wake up, that is where I go to bed. That is my home.
CB: Do you guys play any jokes on each other?
CR: Oh yeah. All the time. Our merch guy bought a little mouse at a pet store like for a cat to play with and stuck it in Ben’s shoe that he wears on stage. He goes and puts his hand in his shoe to make sure nothing is in it and goes, “What the fuck!” and drops it and screams at the top of his lungs. It was hilarious. We do stuff like that all the time because we are brothers. Even the crew guys are guys we went to high school with. It is a very family-based organization much like Bon Jovi really. He has run his business like a family his whole life. We have learned a lot from John Fred’s family. His Dad and uncle were in the Kentucky Headhunters. We learned a lot from them because there band in 1989 to 1991 was the biggest thing in the world as far as country music goes and their singer leaves and it leaves everything in shambles. I was around for all of that because we were best friends. We watched the demise of that and how they had to re-create themselves and had to come back and tour more.
CB: You don’t want to ever have to do that?
CR: We won’t do that. I don’t see one of us leaving this band ever and if ever it did, it wouldn’t be Black Stone Cherry anymore. It has been the four of us for ten year. Ten years from now, I know you asked earlier, I have no idea but I guarantee if you see Black Stone Cherry 10 years from now, it is going to be the same four guys.
CB: You guys also tour with these bands a lot. You have toured with Alter Bridge and Adelitas Way. It has got to be more comfortable for you to be on a tour like this where you know all the guys.
CR: We have toured with Theory of a Deadman and Alter Bridge quite a bit. Adelitas Way and Emphatic, this is the first tour with them. But the Alter bridge guys are great. I was kind of shocked at how nice they are. You have to think Mark, Scott, and Brian were Creed, the biggest band. When I was in high school, that was the band, 36 million records off three albums.
CB: But Myles has the voice of an angel so I like them better than Scott in Creed.
CR: Yeah. I’m a bigger Alter Bridge fan than a Creed fan as well. Growing up as a teenager in middle school and high school, Creed was the thing. I got to go jam with Mark two days ago, we sat down and played guitar together for an hour and a half and I am like, “That’s the fucking guy that was in Creed.” I wanted to be in his band in high school. I wanted to play with him forever. Now he says, “Bring your guitar to the dressing room and we’ll jam.” I talked to Myles for about 45 minutes the other day. It was really the first time we had gotten to stand and talk together. He is one of the most genuine, down to earth people you will meet in your life. He is so quiet, so soft spoken but the thing I like about all four of those guys, when you are talking to them you can tell they are listening.
CB: I find that some of the biggest bands are the nicest.
CR: They are. They really are. We are not a big band by any means but we are considered one of the nicest bands in rock and it is just because if I was an asshole to somebody and my dad or mom found out about it, they would kick my ass. Seriously, my grandparents, my mom and dad, if my grandma saw me be hateful or rude to somebody, I’d never hear the end of it, she would probably smack me. That’s the way I was brought up. I was brought up in a southern home. If you did something wrong, you got your ass whipped. It’s not like today if you whip a kid you go to jail. If I did something I wasn’t supposed to, my dad ripped off his belt and whipped my ass but I am a better person for it. If I had not been disciplined like that, I would probably be an asshole to people.
CB: It’s hard because there are people all the time that are trying to get at you. I don’t know how I would deal with that.
CR: Before I got on my medicine, a lot of people over the past five years we have had a record deal would ask John Fred, Ben, or Johnny , “Man, is your singer an asshole or is he really quiet?” The thing with me is I was brought up that you don’t just openly speak. You wait until you are approached to speak to someone. If I didn’t really know anybody, I didn’t have much to say to them. Since I have been on my medicine, I have become more open to walking up and saying, “How the hell are ya?” and I think it’s the best thing for me. The last thing I want is for people to think I am an asshole.
I am not going to sit here and say I haven’t had my days just like everybody else where I didn’t want to fucking talk to anybody but we all have those days. Like I said a few minutes ago, just because we are on that stage doesn’t mean we aren’t normal people. I live my life by that because I don’t know anything else. I am a dude that instead of wanting to go to college or go into the army or wanting to settle down and start a family right out of high school, I wanted to play guitar. The first thing I ever fell in love with was my guitar.
Every night, I am in the back of the bus with a guitar in my hand. When the bus starts rolling I have a guitar in my hand. I fell in love with a guitar, the three guys I am in a band with, and Ashley Phelps. That’s my life, my guitar, my band, and my family. I don’t have any kids but I am the luckiest person in the world because I get to do what I love every day, I’m alive, I get on planes and travel every day. I’m grateful for every moment that I get to do this.
CB: You are still young so it is good that you got help early.
CR: That’s the thing. Addiction runs in my family. It runs in a certain side of my family. I was so afraid of that. I was afraid I was going to be that guy that turned to drugs or ended up killing myself. When I sat down and thought about it all, it’s just not fucking worth it. There is nothing worth my own life in the world. I went and talked to a psychiatrist, I was scared to death to go. All I saw in movies were people sitting on couches with a tissue box crying talking to a guy sitting in a chair. It’s nothing like that. I was the one in a chair and he was on a couch and he just sat there and listened to me talk for an hour and a half. Then he goes, “Here’s what I think we should try. Let’s try this. I’ll see you in a month. If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.”
CB: Did the first medication work?
CR: Luckily, the first one worked. I am on Celexa which is an anti-depression, anti-anxiety medication. I also have anxiety medication that I take which is why I can’t drink. I have to take an anxiety pill before I play, just to be able to be comfortable enough to walk out on stage. The depression side of it is slowly phasing itself past me. It was like I was telling Myles two days ago when I was talking to him, they were doing “Ghosts of Days Gone By” and I was watching them play because I love their band and am a huge fan. When he sang the line, “Ghosts of Days Gone By” it was one of those weird experiences that I have only had a few times in my life, I am not a real religious person but I believe, and it was just like that feeling when someone grabs something in your chest and pulls it out and you feel like you have that weight off your shoulders, when he sang that line, just the words, “Ghosts of days gone by” I had that feeling and got really emotional. I had to walk away and it made me realize that the days of me wanting to not be alive the next day I had left behind me, that was the “ghost of days gone by” for me. I had chills all over my body when I was telling him and I kind of got emotional telling him. He just gave me a big hug and thanked me for sharing that story with him. That’s the way it goes. At the end of the day, I love my life, I love what I do. I love the opportunity to talk to people like you.
CB: When we run this, hopefully it will reach somebody that it needs to and they’ll come see you in Dayton.
CR: Come to the show in Dayton and hang out. We are always on the Facebook. If someone is going through something, get help, don’t be afraid to go to a doctor. I did it and it worked for me. I am alive and playing concerts. I get to see my family every day because I went to a doctor. I had lost all hope for everything and the first day I went to the doctor was the day Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea came out. It was May 31, my first doctor’s appointment. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. I feel that I am a better person right now than I have been in ten years.
CB: What I’ll be interested to see is now that I know this story is how it will affect the music if it will make you write different or if you feel yourself writing different.
CR: Actually I have because the crazy thing about depression is, even though it is kind of phasing itself out with the medication, you still have up and down days. On the bus when we are writing songs because I always have a guitar in my hand and I am recording with my computer, there are about six different genres of songs that are just guitar ideas that I have recorded that not one of them sound similar because every day was a different emotion. I am one fourth of what makes up the band and one fourth the songwriting because we do everything equally. It will definitely affect it. Even “Won’t Let Go” that’s on the record, it sounds like a relationship song but it is really about the four of us in the band. It is about our friendship and our love for music and our love for each other and what we do and our love for the people that allow us to do it. Then you have “Blame it on the Boom Boom” which is just about sex. There is no two ways around it. It’s like “White Trash Millionaire,” when we wrote that song I had an ’81 Trans Am that half the car was in primer paint and the other half was still the original paint fading off. There is a couch on the porch where we rehearsed. There may have been some left handed cigarette smoke up there at one point and time. With “Blame it on the Boom Boom” I’m pretty sure we all got drunk one night, had a wild party, and the next day we practiced and wrote that song. We had our party at our buddy’s house where we recorded all of our demos. People woke up in various rooms of his house. That’s where it came from. We love what we do. We love the people that hate us. We love the people that love us. They are all an inspiration to what we do.