For Black Stone Cherry things cannot be any sweeter, for a band who has stuck together like a band of brothers for the past 18 years and yet not had one single line-up change, it's evident they are closer than you think. The great thing is they've stuck to their roots, hailing from Kentucky famed for it's chicken (obviously), this Alt / Southern Metal / Hard Rock band have been churning out albums left, right and centre. A total of six albums have been released and their latest effort 'Family Tree' is an absolute blast, has to be said. Now the Edmonton-natives make their second pilgrimage to the world of blues as they gear up to unleash their second blues-tribute EP 'Black To Blues Volume 2', rhythm / lead guitarist and backing vocalist Ben Wells was more than happy to talk about their year, including an unforgettable headliner at Ramblin' Man Festival in Maidstone, Kent, in addition to their love for the Appalachians and of course their affinition for blues music.
"We love Appalachian music... it's a big part of Kentucky’s culture and heritage."
Guys you played at the Ramblin' Man Fair festival in Kent this year, what was the reception like and what did you like most about the festival?
"We love Ramblin' Man Festival! It’s one of our favourite festivals! The atmosphere is electric, but still very relaxed. The mix up of bands from old to new and different genres is also really cool. We love that!"
Whenever you perform, what are your emotions like when the crowd reacts in the way they do to your songs and performance? (Question sent in from Black Stone Cherry fan Emily Williams)
"It’s overwhelming, really. When you write songs you never “expect” a ton of people to sing along or wave their hands in the air, or cry, etc. so when those emotions start happening... it’s the most rewarding thing for us."
Now you're set on bringing out your second tribute EP, ‘Black To Blues Volume 2,’ it's evident blues plays a huge part in your sound, but on a wider scope how important is blues to heavy rock / metal music?
"I would love to hear some Bluesy Heavy Metal! Haha. Honestly though, without the blues we wouldn’t have Rock 'n' Roll. And without Rock 'n' Roll we probably wouldn’t have Heavy Metal or Hard Rock. So I still think it’s very important."
Outside of the band, what hobbies or interests do you have? How did you get into playing music?
"I like playing golf when I get the chance! I love to run and have recently picked up swimming as well! But music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been drawn towards [playing the] guitar and entertaining people."
How tricky or easy was it to pick what songs you wanted to cover for your second tribute EP?
"It can be difficult at times because we are fans of so many different blues artists. We knew we wanted to do “Big Legged Woman” and “Death Letter Blues”. The others we kinda decided on the spot whilst in the studio. It’s never easy!"
Do you feel connected to the Appalachian section of Kentucky and does the cultural heritage play a part in your music? For those visiting Edmonton, what sights / attractions could you recommend in visiting?
"We love Appalachian music! It’s so great and yes, it's a big part of Kentucky’s culture and heritage. As far as Edmonton goes, there’s some cool little shops and stores and a great little place called Genes Freeze!"
What plans do you have for the rest of the year and leading into 2020?
"Touring the rest of 2019! For 2020 we plan to record and have a new album out, then back on the road!"
Do you have any greetings, or thank you's that you wish to send out to friends, fans, etc?
"We always want to thank anyone who has supported us, listened to our music, been to a show, bought a shirt, etc. "We literally can’t make this happen without them! So, thank you!!"
We already know Australia and New Zealand are the most prominent metal scenes in the whole of Oceania, with the addition of smaller scenes in Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, French Polynesia and Guam... but one surprising scene has sprung up thanks to the Groove / Rock / Heavy Metal band Dropvkal from... Vanuatu.
It seems that metal music is finally touching the hearts of the most isolated island nations on earth, having won a music competition with their song 'Dangerous' (which is about climate change) and seemingly causing a buzz in that part of the world, GMA caught up with band member Braxton Cooper to find out how the band started and what their role in the Vanuatu Music scene is.
"Our aim is to get attention around the world... we have like not more than a thousand fans of heavy metal / rock in Vanuatu."
How long has Dropvkal been going? Who came up with the band name and what style of music do you play?
"Dropvkal is like 3 words joined together:- 'Drop' is for tear drops that our ancestors shed during the blackbirding in the 18 and 19 centuries, 'V' is for vision, the band has a vision of creating something unique that will touch the heart of peoples when they listen to our music. 'Kal- kalja', that's in our local dialect, which means culture, we are trying to mix up today's music with our culture, we even have some local instruments in our music that our ancestors used, we used that too to add some flavour to our music... we the band members came up with that name, We play any type of music, reggae, rock, latino zouk, African zouk, pop music, easy listening, blues, etc., we even have some songs written in local dialect..."
Is it relatively easy being a music in Vanuatu? What challenges are there as a band?
"It's a little bit hard back here, with our style of music tourists enjoy it, cause we played a lot in hotels back here, most of us are unemployed youths and we earned just a little to support us. The two main challenges that we usually face is money and families, we tried our very best in our gigs but we get just a little. Families sometimes they don't support us, we even get cursing words from our wives saying we are wasting our time with music, but its what we love so none of that stops us, we are still together till today for almost eight years."
What are your thoughts on rock and heavy metal music? Are there any rock / metal fans in Vanuatu?
"We have mixtures of music, we even try to mix rock with another type of music, but yes we have a lot of fans back here. They love our music.
In Vanuatu we have a lot of bands, mostly reggae bands, and we decided to play rock, heavy metal; we have few fans here but our aim is to get attention around the world with our acoustic rock. We love rock because it easily gets peoples attention and because it is a way you express yourself or how you do campaigns or fight for something, e.g. like our single 'Dangerous' which was released in early 2016 is about climate change; we won a music competition with that single. You can watch that on YouTube. We have like not more than a thousand fans of heavy metal / rock in Vanuatu."
Have you had any fans outside of Vanuatu get in touch with the band? Surely it would be hard to perform outside of the country?
"We have a lot of fans outside of Vanuatu, we played mainly in hotels so tourists enjoy our music, we have fans in the Solomon islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, Japan, China, USA, Mexico, Argentina, Caledonia, Germany, England, and many more."
Are Vanuatuans encouraged to learn music? What styles of music are most popular?
"In Vanuatu we have a music festival, called Fest'Napuan music festival and it happens in October every year, and during this festival we try to make it gender-balanced in our music, we don't have too many females in music so we trying to encourage females to take part in music, we don't have any proper music schools in Vanuatu we just learn music anytime or anywhere we feel like we want to, but yes we are encouraging people to learn music in Vanuatu. Reggae music is the only popular music in the whole of Vanuatu with our local music, called string band."
Do you feel music brings the world together? That it speaks a common language?
"Yes I feel that music brings the world together, the way we see when we play in the hotels we meet people from all around the world, we even feel the love and joy we share together with our fans, and even just between us the band members. With music, it is a common language that we musicians speak even if we are from different places around the world with different cultures but with that we understand each other very well, and with that you can see that music always brings people and the world together.."
What plans does the band have for the year ahead?
"One of the main plans for this year is an album. We are already practising for going into the studio by next month and with that we will be looking forward to touring in Australia, New Zealand, and New Caledonia. We really want to expose our music to the world.."
When Skindred was announced to perform at Bloodstock 2017 there were a number of people who took their angst onto social media, raging at a band not being 'metal' enough being booked to play, when they should be at Download. Reality check, they've done Download, they've had their song 'Nobody' on the NFS Underground 2 game soundtrack, they've been going nearly 20 years, they've played Wacken for heaven's sake. That's metal enough for us.
Despite the whinging and whining on the net, the amount of festival goers Skindred pulled was more than adequate to put the elitists in their place. The well known 'Newport Helicopter' was a fitting way to end their set, even the ShowSec crew in front of the Ronnie James Dio stage got involved:- watch their song 'Warning' with the Newport Helicopter included here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpnPeFtUGkU); credit goes to YouTuber Jamiet1994 for the video - skip to 3:51 for the legendary Newport Helicopter.
Benji Webbe and Mikey Demus both were more than happy to spend time with GMA to talk about their origins, playing BOA for the first (and possibly not the last) time, plans ahead, the origin of the Newport Helicopter and much more... over to the Welsh Ragga Metallers.