Blackberry Smoke Interview

Photo: Ross Halfin

Charlie Starr (Blackberry Smoke) Interview 18 Oct 2015

Photo: Ross Halfin
Photo: Ross Halfin

You just landed in Europe yesterday. Are you feeling excited ahead of your European shows?

Yeah, we played our first show last night in Madrid and it was fabulous. The weather’s not bad at all at the moment. We’re getting ready to get to the UK where it’ll be a little colder so we’ve brought our big jackets with us. We’re looking forward to it though and we love playing in the UK. It’s going to be great.

How many shows will you have played this year?

By the end of the year we’ll have played around 200 shows. It’s been a busy time for us. We’ll have played in Italy for the first time on this tour too. We’ve never played there before. My wife’s family is from Italy so it’s like I’m going home.

You’ll be coming to the UK in a few weeks. Have you noticed that each time you come back the crowds are bigger and more enthusiastic?

The crowds definitely seem to be growing and they are always enthusiastic. It’s a slow build that we’ve enjoyed for a lot of years. We feel like we’ve been doing the right thing. The hard work we’ve put in makes it feel more precious, like we’ve earned it. It’s not a flash in the pan or a gimmick.

You’ve had some good coverage in the UK Rock media. Do you think that in the internet age, getting into print magazines is still important at raising your profile?

I definitely feel that way because we’re old school in a way. We have a social media presence as well because that’s a necessity but print media feels good to hold it in your hand and look at it. It just feels more special.

What sort of show will you planning for this tour?

We do a lot of the new album of course and it changes from night to night so we’ll play a little bit from each record and maybe a cover or two, something that we love. We just try and play a good cross section of material.

Do your fans tend to be receptive to the new songs right away or does it take a little time for them to get used to them?

They seemed familiar with them last night. We haven’t played in Spain for 6 years so that was a pleasant surprise.

Talking of your new album, Holding All The Roses, are you pleased with the reception that received?

Somebody told us when we played Download back in June that in a calendar year that we’d had 3 records in the Top 20 in the UK. That is just incredible. The reviews have been great so we’re all very pleased.

It’s been 3 years since your previous release, The Whippoorwill. How has the intervening 3 years influenced you as a songwriter?

I just try to keep going and try to evolve but at the same time I’m not trying to throw anything at our fans to confuse them so I’m not going to go and make a Hip Hop record or anything like that.

You write most of the songs album by yourself except Lay It All On Me that you wrote with Travis Meadows. Do you record demos of your songs and give them to the band to work on or do you jam the ideas in the studio?

I make demos at home and I’ve also started to do that on the road in the last couple of years because technology being as advanced as it is makes it so easy to sit down with a laptop and make a demo. I’ve recently learned how to programme the drum parts too as before I just used to use congas and shakers. Now I’ve got my little drummer in a box.

Are the rest of the band involved in arranging the songs while you rehearse and record?

They usually have a bare bones arrangement when I make the demo and when we play them we are pretty economical with our arrangements. We can get our songs across without taking 12 minutes. We come from the Tom Petty era of Rock ‘n’ Roll and we keep things tight and straight forward but there are times where we do need to stretch out and that’d be the case with Sleeping Dogs and Fire In The Hole. There’s nothing in stone, it all kind of works itself out in the studio or if we play it live before we record it, they always find their feet.

Lay It All On Me was co-written with Country star, Travis Meadows. How did you end up connecting with him?

I met him years ago in Nashville and was introduced by a friend who thought that Travis and I came from the same sort of place and would be kindred spirits and we are. We hit it off immediately and have written a lot of songs together. We actually wrote Lay It All On Me over the phone. Both of us were apprehensive about doing it that way as there was no human contact but we were both on tour. I had an idea and wanted to include him because I respected his songwriting ability so much and it worked. In fact it worked so well that we wrote another two that way that’ll probably be on the next record.

He’s written with a host of other artists including Eric Church and Frankie Ballard. What did you learn from him from a song writing point of view?

He’s got so much Soul and never fails to come up with a lyric. If I’m struggling to come up with something he’ll just say something that’s perfect and I’ll say “That’s why I love you Travis”. We think in a very similar way but if you listen to songs that we’ve written alone they are very different.

This was the only co-written song on the album whereas your previous album you co-wrote most of the songs. Why did you end up writing most of the material yourself?

I really always have but there has just been certain instances where in certain cycles I’d wind up with Travis or whoever might be around.

Brendan O’Brien produced your album and he’s worked with the likes of AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Kansas and Bruce Springsteen. What difference did he make to the recording process this time compared to your previous records?

He brought the know-how. What we love about the records he produced in the past going back to the first two Black Crowes records and the Raging Slab records. They were the ones that wanted to make us work with Brendan. He’s made so much great music since then. We loved his drum sound and his treatment of vocal production. In making this record I think that we captured a lot of that. The really great hairy vocals and the big drum and guitar sound. The record sounds really fresh.

He’s also from Atlanta. Did that connection help to make the initial sessions more relaxed?

Absolutely, from the first time that we met. He’s still an Atlanta guy even though he’s been away for 20 years. He’s still very well connected with friends back there and so are we.

You’ll also be re-releasing Holding All The Roses prior to the tour with some bonus tracks. What have you added to the album?

When we finished the album, as it is these days with the marketplace, different retailers and regions like to have bonus material, so we thought we’d record some acoustic versions of the songs while we were in the studio. They seemed so good to us that we held onto them for a vinyl only release. We also recorded a Tom Waits tune, Old Shoes (and Picture Postcards). We released it on Record Store Day but when it came time for the tour we decided to make it available digitally and not just on vinyl.

Last month you got to tour The States with ZZ Top. That must have been an incredible experience for you?

It was great to tour with them again. We haven’t done that in 8 years. We had a really nice 6 week tour with them. It was really cool.

Where did the Grooves and Gravy title for the tour come from?

That came from Billy Gibbons. It’s just perfect.

Did you ever think when you were a kid growing up in Atlanta that you’d share the stage with a band like ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd as well?

It’s a pinch yourself type of moment, when you get up for work and Billy Gibbons is there with you all day. That’s a very surreal experience.

Did you manage to get a couple of guitar lessons from Billy Gibbons?

Absolutely. He loves to have you on his bus late at night and pass the guitar back and forth and talk about the Blues. He’s a great human being.

On 12th December you’ll be taking part in Warren Hayne’s Christmas Jam along with Joe Bonamassa and The Doobie Brothers. How did you get involved with that?

Warren is a friend of ours and we’ve played with Gov’t Mule many times. He extended an invite to us and God bless him for that. He’s a great musician and a great person. He puts on a great show for charity every year.

What cause does this provide support for?

The charity raises money to build homes for the homeless and works closely with Asheville Area Habitat For Humanity. It’s a great cause and Warren works really hard for it and has raised a lot of money to help the homeless over the years. It’s going to be a great show for a great cause.

Blackberry Smoke is the perfect name for you and just seems to go so well with your musical style. How did you come up with the name?

Chris Robinson from the Black Crowes came up with that name. When we first formed the band we just couldn’t come up with anything that we could agree on. We spent a lot of time with Chris when he was doing the By Your Side album as we were sharing a rehearsal room. We were hanging around late one night and he just came out and said that we should call our band Blackberry Smoke and we thought it sounded perfect. It was that easy.

Once the European shows are over what have you planned for the rest of the year and into 2016?

We’ve got an Atlanta homecoming show that we do every year the day after Thanksgiving. That’s always a blast as we have our family and friends there. I think maybe we should record that live for a future release. We hope to get into the studio again to begin work on a new album. We’ll also be embarking on The Outlaw Country Cruise with Steve Earle, Black Oak Arkansas, The Mavericks, Bobby Bear, Shooter Jennings and Lucinda Williams. It’s going to be fabulous.

Blackberry Smoke’s UK Tour starts on 2nd November in Birmingham ending in Glasgow on 9th November. For further information visit


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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