Starr recently answered some questions about making “You Hear Georgia” with the multiple Grammy Award-winning producer and returning to the road after lockdown. Blackberry Smoke is currently on its Spirit of the South Tour with the Allman Betts Band and the Wild Feathers.
Q: Dave Cobb is obviously in high demand, but why did you want to work with him after self-producing your last two albums?
A: Well, we were threatening to do those last two records we made with him. We first talked about it on the phone right as we finished “Like An Arrow.” He’s like, “Let’s go make a record.” “We just made one.” He goes, “Next one then.” Just he and I talked about it and we were like, “OK.” Then, fast forward to when we wanted to make what became “Find a Light.” I said, “Let’s make a record.” He’s like, “I can’t right now, I’m making three in a row.” Scheduling was the problem but we’re like, “We need to make a record with Dave.” We had been talking about it for four years before we finally got in the studio together.
Charlie Starr (center, front) and his bandmates in Blackberry Smoke, Paul Jackson (lead guitar), Richard Turner (bass), Brit Turner (drums), Brandon Still (keyboards), Preston Holcomb (percussion) and Benji Shanks (guitar), bring the Spirit of the South Tour to Rose Music Center in Huber Heights on Sunday, Aug. 1.
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Credit: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Q: When did the schedules finally align?
A: We nailed it down at the end of 2019. He had an opening starting in mid-March 2020 so we put it on the schedule. We were going to finish the Canadian tour we were on and go straight into the studio. We all know what happened the second week of March so we all went home. Dave and I stayed in touch for a couple months. Everybody was locked down and we were living all of that reality but we were still going to do it as soon as we were capable. At the end of May, he called and said, “I’m comfortable, if you guys are, then come on up. It’ll be just myself, an engineer and your band. We don’t have to invite everybody’s family and friends. We’ll just keep it small.” So, that’s what we did.
Q: Since you weren’t touring, did you have more time than usual to work on the album?
A: We had pushed it as far as we could because we had some band members with family members that were, maybe, compromised. There was a lot of concern so we put a stake in the ground and said, “OK, if everybody is cool, we’ll start on May 25,” or whatever day it was. Dave said, “OK, that’s cool. If we start that day, we have 10 days to make this record. Can we do that?” I said, “I think we can. If we don’t, we’ll come back. It’s not like anybody is going anywhere.” He and I got on the phone and chose our favorite 10 or 11 songs out of about 18 or 20 so there are no outtakes from this record. It was basically, “These are songs we’re going to record. This will be the record. Here we go.” We went in and tracked for five days and mixed for 10 and it went to mastering. We were done.
Q: What was it like working Dave?
A: I loved it. I think we all loved it. He’s very fast, very passionate. He’s a very analog guy. He’s not interested in using a click track and he’s not interested in perfection. You know, we’re all on the floor, playing live. That’s how we make records. We’re a band so you try to capture everything that’s good. When things aren’t good, you fix them, you overdub them, but with this record, Dave wanted everything to be mostly live. That’s great but there were several times where I’d say, “Ah, we could do that a little better.” And he’s like, “Are you crazy? That one had the feel.” I might say, “But I made a mistake.” He’s like, “Who cares? It was great.” That helped me step back for a minute and look at the big picture. I thought, “You know, my favorite records are not perfect.” There’s a fine line between something being musically acceptable or not. For people out there who are into perfection, maybe this record ain’t for you. I love it, it’s the feel. It’s why I love the Stones so much — they’re not perfect, they’re just awesome.
Q: Can you listen to those problem parts and not cringe when you hear them?
A: Yeah, I can, it makes me grin. So many times, as a musician, you record something and think, “Oh, that’s sloppy. I could do that better.” Then, if you don’t, and you fast forward to people hearing it, nobody ever goes, “That was really sloppy. You could’ve done that better.” We can allow ourselves to be such perfectionists but people don’t care about that.
Q: Are you playing some of these new songs in the live set?
A: We’ve played all of them. It’s definitely a record full of songs you can perform live. The only problem is, if you’re a band that’s been together 20 years, when you have a new record, you can’t play the whole thing, even if you want to. People will be like, “Don’t play that whole record, we want to hear songs from all the records.” I try to put a few in, three or four every night, and we change them up.
Q: What was it like when you got back to playing for people?
A: Oh, it’s the happiest I’ve ever seen audience members. They’re so happy to be there, to be out of the house and seeing a show again. It’s been liberating.
Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at email@example.com.
HOW TO GO
What: Blackberry Smoke’s Spirit of the South Tour with the Allman Betts Band and the Wild Feathers
Where: Rose Music Center, 6800 Executive Blvd., Huber Heights
When: 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 1. Doors open at 5 p.m.
More info: 513-232-6220 or www.rosemusiccenter.com
Artist info: www.blackberrysmoke.com