Blackberry Smoke - Find A Light
"I'm sure there were some people who listened to Sabbath Bloody Sabbath and said, "What? Keyboards? What's going on here?"
Blackberry Smoke mainman Charlie Starr is on the phone, his voice crackling down the line from Mississippi, and he's talking about the band's new album Find A Light. The follow-up to 2016's Like An Arrow, it finds the band continuing the path each previous record has taken them: exploring further what it is they already do, and trying things they haven't done before.
"Led Zeppelin and The Stones and The Beatles and bands like that taught us that albums should be a complete listening experience, and that you should exercise freedom when you're writing songs and when you're putting a record together. You gotta go wherever the muse takes you.
"I guess some people will be put off by some songs, but we don't worry about that. It's all part of the big plan, which is to make the best records that we can."
Flesh And Bone
"This was the last song I wrote for the record. I was sitting down playing a guitar that was tuned way down, and I just fell upon that riff – the song was born of that big sludgy riff. Lyrically, it asks why everything that is fantastic is so bad for us. Sex, drugs and rock'n'roll: it's all going to kill us... but it's all so wonderful."
Run Away From It All
"This is one of four songs I wrote with [former Buckcherry guitarist] Keith Nelson. He and I have been good friends for 25 years or so. We weren't writing for any particular project, we were just writing some songs, and boy! They turned out to be good ones. Run Away From It All was the first one we wrote together, and I think it speaks for itself. It's got a nice little swagger to it, and a nice groove. The lyrics are about how nice it would be if we could run away from our problems."
The Crooked Kind
"Tom Waits – who's one of my favourite artists – once made a comment in a magazine interview about instrumentalists, and playing your instrument of choice. He said that we become almost like dogs, that our hands go to the same places all the time. Playing becomes muscle memory and habit. And with this song I specifically tried to write guitar parts that weren't normal. I wanted to go somewhere a little different. Lyrically, I was reminiscing about how bad we used to be, and how much trouble we used to get into, and how much trouble we were lucky enough to avoid. We found ourselves in some pretty nefarious situations and came out unscathed!"
Medicate My Mind
"Maybe the grooviest song on the record. I was talking to my wife about being sober – I've been sober for a long time – and she pointed out that most of us are dependent on something, whether it's nicotine or caffeine or marijuana or mushrooms or pain medication. There's always something."
I've Got This Song
"One of my my favourite tracks on the album. It's very understated. Our friend Levi Lowrey plays fiddle on it. He's got a very lonesome fiddle style. It's really pretty. The songs is kinda what you see is what you get: I don't have much, but all I have to offer are these songs, and this song in particular. As we continue on our path, and continue to make records, this song is a perfect example of how it's really easy to be loud and bombastic, and to throw everything into a song... but sometimes it's harder to show some restraint and say, 'You know what? Don't play anything. Just leave as much open air as possible.'"
Best Seat In The House
"It's obvious to everyone that this has a real heavy Tom Petty influence. I was a little apprehensive about it making the record, because it's very 'Petty'. But we tracked it anyway, then went into the control room to listen, and everyone's phones lit up with the news that Tom Petty had been found unconscious. I kid you not. And he died that night. So right then and there I knew we had to put it on the record, as a tip of the hat and a thank you to Tom Petty."
I'll Keep Ramblin'
"That was written with [pedal steel guitarist] Robert Randolph. He actually wrote it as an instrumental, and recorded it, and then he asked if I’d write lyrics for it. We played it together at a show, and people dug it, and I thought, 'we should record this!' So we did, and of course he murdered it. He’s fantastic. Nobody plays like he does. Then these girls from Atlanta, Sherita and Sherie Murphy – they're professionally known as The Black Bettys – came in and sang with us. And it’s just this big, beautiful jump-blues-gospel explosion."
Seems So Far
"My newest attempt at a country song. People in the United States get confused about what kind of band we are: it seems to be very important for people to know, and I don't know why. But, simply put, we're a rock'n'roll band that happen to occasionally play country songs. The quote-unquote 'Nashville audience' have a different definition of what country music is, in my opinion, and we don't fit their description either!"
Lord Strike Me Dead
"The oldest song on the album. I wrote that song a long time ago. The riff had been laying around for a long time, and it got a revamp for this record. We fleshed it out and added some congas, and lyrically it's a reflection of what's going on in the world right now. People have just lost their minds."
Let Me Down Easy
"Another song written with Keith Nelson. It was a different type of song for both of us, a laid-back acoustic thing. Lyrically, it's a tongue-in-cheek kind of a stalker song, almost. When we wrote and demoed it – before Blackberry Smoke recorded it – we both agreed it needed a female vocal to make sort of a Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris thing. Amanda Shires is a fantastic singer and fiddle player and a fantastic artist in her own right. She's married to our friend Jason Isbell (she's in his band as well) and has a very unique voice: it's very cool sand very powerful, so we asked her... and she said yes."
Nobody Gives A Damn
"Another song written with Keith, and maybe the angriest song on the record... or the most frustrated. It's to do with how ridiculous it seems that there are people in the public eye who are so successful, and so wealthy, and seem to be so quote-unquote 'important', but what is it that they actually do? For example, the Kardashians. Why are they constantly in the public eye and given all this attention when people who make more of a difference, in my opinion – like schoolteachers and policemen and firemen – are largely ignored? What is going on? What do we focus on these people who offer nothing by way of enrichment?"
'Til The Wheels Fall Off
"It's about getting old. Junkyard [Los Angeles rock'n'roll band] recorded a version of this song last year. They've become really good friends of ours, and this is our version of it."
"My favourite song on the record. It may be the most uplifting song, lyrically, on the album. It's sort of a 'there is hope' song. I've never been a beach person. I've always been a mountain person – a great getaway for me is to run to the hills – and that's where we're all going top end up running to, to the high ground!"