CHARLIE STARR (BLACKBERRY SMOKE): “Our New Southern Ground Sessions Was A Happy Accident”

BLACKBERRY SMOKE (Live at O2 Academy Newcastle, Newcastle, U.K., November 2, 2018)
Photo: Mick Burgess

You’re currently in Europe on tour. What sort of show will you be planning for this tour?

It will be different to the last tour of course as we have a new album out so we’ll play a few from that, maybe as many as five or as few as two, it just depends on how we feel on that day. We’ll also play all the favourites as well and maybe some we haven’t done in a while too. We have six albums to pull from so we have plenty to choose from. We like to keep it interesting for ourselves too so we change the setlist around every night.

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?

Our fans seem to react in a positive way and we love to play them because they’re the freshest of the bunch.

You have Junkyard with you on tour which is a great choice. Were you involved in getting them on the tour with you?

I was. I got friendly with those guys over the last couple of years and I wrote a song that’s on their latest album and is on our album too called Till The Wheels Fall Off. They were one of my favourite bands when I was in High School when their first two albums came out. They were huge around where I lived. I loved them as they had that gritty, real sort of stuff and were nothing like those lipstick and hair bands that were popular back then.

Talking of your new album, Find A Light, are you pleased with the reception it’s received?

I try not to read reviews because if I am happy with our record and our fans like it then that is what concerns me. Of course, if someone sends me a positive review then that’s great. If people love something for the same reason that we do then we feel like we’ve done our job.

It’s been just a year and a half since your previous release, Like An Arrow. That’s pretty quick work. Were you off the road writing for a while or did you have a few songs left over from the Like An Arrow sessions to get you off to a flying start?

During the early stages of the writing process we were on the road capturing ideas and getting them ready. We then went home for a bit of a stretch. I was contacted by an old friend, Keith Nelson, from the band Buckcherry and he’d recently left them. He said he had some song ideas and asked if I’d like to write with him which I did. In no time we had eight songs. I was very inspired working with him. I picked my favourite four for Blackberry Smoke.

You write most of the songs album by yourself although there are a couple of co-writes with Travis Meadows. He’s worked with you on your last few records. What does he bring to the writing process?

He’s my partner in crime and we’ve worked together for quite a while now. We come from the same kind of background. It’s a fruitful partnership. He’s a brilliant lyricist, one of my favourites in the world. I often call him up and tell him I have an idea. I know where I want to go with it but I want to see where he wants to go and we knock ideas back and forth like a tennis match. It’s a lot of fun working with him.

I’ll Keep Rambin’ is written with Robert Randolph. Is he someone you’ve wanted to work with for a while?

We’ve been friends for a long time and that song has been around for a while. A few years ago, he sent me the music and asked if I’d write lyrics to it which I did then neither one of us did anything with it. He’d recorded it as an instrumental and a while back we ended up playing a show together in Nashville and we decided to do it then. It’d been sitting around for a while and we played it and people loved it so that was the spark to record it for our album. As we were going to record it I wanted Robert to come and play on the album which he did and it turned out great.

Like your last album, you produced the record yourselves. Why did you decide to do that?

It’s just how it worked out. We knew what we wanted and we had a great team working with us to get the sounds we wanted but that’s not to say we wouldn’t work with a producer again as I’m sure we will but for these last two albums it just felt right to do them ourselves.

You have worked in the past with the likes of Brendan O’Brien who’s worked with the likes of AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Kansas and Bruce Springsteen. What did you learn about production techniques from him??

There are tons of things that you learn about arrangements, how to get certain types of light and shade. It’s fun to create a raw, live sound in the studio but sometimes you want a little more colour and you can learn tons from someone like Brendan. He’s Brendan O’Brien, he’s done it all. If we could afford him every record I’m sure we’d work with him all the time. A producer’s job is to be an extra opinion and an extra set of ears who is a little outside of the circle with no sway one way or the other who can give an objective opinion.

At the end of October, you’ll be releasing the Southern Ground Sessions featuring 6 songs. This is an EP featuring some acoustic versions of songs from Find A Light. When did you get the idea to do this?

It was a happy accident. We went into a beautiful studio in Nashville to get some video content of ourselves playing some of these new songs acoustically. We were only going to do two. It was all very haphazard. The audio guys threw up a couple of mics; it wasn’t over thought and we just started to play and it felt so cool like a living room jam. We invited Amanda Shires and Oliver Wood to come and play with us. Before we knew it we’d recorded six or seven songs but even at that point we didn’t think we were making an acoustic album. It was only afterwards that we thought that there were maybe people who’d be interested in having it so we thought why not? It was all very spontaneous. If we’d tried to plan it I’m sure we’d have failed miserably. It’s a nice acoustic accompaniment to the record.

You covered Tom Petty’s You Got Lucky. Why did you choose that specific song from Petty’s catalogue?

We’ve played several Tom Petty songs at our concerts over the years he’s in our musical DNA. I don’t know why we did that one. We just started jamming and it just felt right.

Will you be doing an acoustic session in your live show?

We do from time to time. We break it down and do a few acoustic songs but if people stop listening and get too noisy then we go back to be loud.

Once the UK tour is over in Manchester what have you planned for the rest of the year and into 2019?

We have a few more shows. We’ll do a homecoming show in Atlanta that we do every year and we have a few shows in December and that’ll wind us down. We start again in January with the Southern Rock cruise that looks like it’ll be a lot of fun and we’ll be back to work in 2019.

Blackberry Smoke UK Tour starts at the O2 Academy, Newcastle on 2nd November with support from Junkyard.

See for details.


  • 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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