Classic Rock

BlackBerry Smoke

Q&A with frontman charlie starr


Interview: Rob Hughes Arguably the 21st century’s answer to Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke have honed a rich gumbo of southern rock and country tones. But there’s heaviness in their influences as well. Drummer Brit and bassist Rich Turner played in a metal band in the 90s, while frontman Charlie Starr has absorbed the likes of Metallica, Megadeth and DC hardcore over the years, alongside the gospel and bluegrass of his childhood. There’s nothing very ‘metal’ about Blackberry Smoke these days, but it’s this musical openness – and capacity for music that rocks – that keeps their music fresh and engaging. This year they released a new album, Find A Light, and played a lot of shows.

Blackberry Smoke have been on the road constantly in 2018. How’s your fan base looking?

We seem to have locked into this slow growth process, where we’ve never had a huge hit single or any kind of windfall of success or money. But a long time ago we resigned ourselves to the fact that we’re just gonna get out there and work hard. It really is an amazing feeling to look out and see people who are on this journey with us.

Any particular highlights from the year?

We had a fantastic weekend of shows in New York City [at Irving Plaza in September]. And we had a great time in Tennessee, at this huge gathering of the Brothers and Sisters [Blackberry Smoke’s fans] in Maryville. There were probably five thousand people who came along.

How did the Brothers And Sisters Reunion Festival come about?

It really came together organicall­y, through the fans. They would choose specific shows where so many of them would travel to from all over, including the UK, after getting together on Facebook and whatnot. Then they’d let us know.

Given that Blackberry Smoke are on the road so much, you’re in an ideal position to assess the cultural and political mood of the US. What are your impression­s of your homeland right now?

It’s overwhelmi­ng. That’s what Mother Mountain [from Find A Light] is about, loosely. This guy is the protagonis­t and he’s sick of CNN and Fox News and NBC, so he leaves for the mountains. Yeah, our government is in a mess.

Have you found that you’ve been able to cross certain political divides at your gigs?

That’s our goal with each show. Being the guy with the microphone, I have no desire to talk about politics from the stage. And I think our fans come to our shows to escape any bullshit like that for two hours. We’re there to celebrate the power of music, not the power of politics.

Blackberry Smoke are in the leading pack when it comes to hard-rocking country. Does that movement seem to be gathering more pace these days?

I’ve felt that it has for a long time, actually. There will always be horrible pop music – there always has been. [Singersong­writer] Jason Isbell had a good quote about it a while back. He said: “If you want a hamburger, you don’t have to go to McDonald’s. You can go somewhere better.”

Blackberry Smoke released an all-acoustic EP, The

Southern Ground Sessions recently. Will you be pursuing that angle more?

I have thought a lot lately about maybe doing a small acoustic tour. I’ve also got a few new songs written. That said, we’ve made three records pretty quickly, so we have no plans to make another one at the moment. We’re just busy enjoying it all.

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