Oh man, oh man, do we have a doozy for you this week. This band wows me every damn time I see them. It’s time for you to meet the high energy, bluesy rock n roll badassery that is The Stone Foxes.
I saw The Stone Foxes by coincidence at SXSW 2013, they played right before (or after) another Badass Band, The Soft White Sixties. I’d heard their name before so I wanted to make sure I was there to scope ‘em out. I was clearly not disappointed. This is a band that reaches out, grabs you by the front of your shirt, and gets in your face. At this point I’ve seen hundreds of bands, and showmanship-wise, they are definitely near the top. Their music is raw, bluesy, clever and funny all at the same time. On stage it’s rare to see any one of them in one place for long, they’re groovin’,and jumpin’ around the whole time. It’s hard to tear yourself away even for a second.
As for The Stone Foxes tunes, I fell in love with their album, Small Fires, but they’ve also been releasing a slew of tunes this year as part of their Foxes First Fridays media campaign. They plan to release a new tune a month for a year. Hell. Yes. Though all of their tracks are definitely worth a listen, I’ve picked out a few that I feel give you a small sampling of the range of these guys:
- “Everybody Knows”- A blues rock track with a nod to Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” (which had this English nerd head over heels for this tune). This tune boasts some sweet harmonica, heavy hitting rhythms and the highly relatable chorus, “Everybody knows, everybody knows, I’m the madman with the tale heart. Everybody knows, Everybody knows, I’m gonna tear myself apart. You know it’s drivin’ me mad.”
- “Battles, Blades and Bones”- A mellower, historical commentary with instrumentals that match the seriousness of lyrics like the chorus line, “We need someone to sing because we’ve turned everything to battles, blades and bones.” This tune will get that mind of yours workin’.
- “She Said Riot”- (Nov. Single)- With sweet guitar solos, and driving keys this killer fast paced, anthemic tune will have you groovin’ and clappin’ in no time.
Recently, I got to sit down with the gents before they played at LA’s Bootleg Bar, so read on to find out how they all met, what they think of the current SF music scene and what they believe the biggest challenges are for an indie band!
When and why did each of you start playing music?
Shannon: I think I started playing when I was 11 or 12. It was because Spence is my brother and he stopped playing with me because he started playing guitar. The only way to have any kind of social interaction with him was to also play something. That’s why I started playing the drums. We lived in the middle of nowhere and there was no one else to talk to, except for my dog and that got weird.
Spence: I was given a little student guitar by my Aunt when I was in fifth grade. I didn’t really do anything with it for about a year, I forget what really spawned it. I took lessons for about a year and then in middle school started playing in a band with friends. I learned way more doing that, maybe the lessons were a good primer. It was so much more fun playing with other people and you learn from your friends.
Elliot: I started playing piano like anybody else whose Mom wanted to chuck them somewhere for an hour after school. I just never stopped. It’s really the only thing I did. I had a really great succession of piano teachers. I was really lucky to have some really super talented guys that played around the Marin County, which is right North of San Francisco, music scene. They were super inspiring so I just kept on getting better and better.
Vince: My story was slightly similar to theirs. My brother and I both got into music around the same time. I actually wanted to play drums. He had an acoustic guitar, and my parents ended up getting me a Beater electric guitar for my birthday one year, so I ended up playing guitar instead of drums. I started playing in bands and that was the deal.
What music did you listen to growing up?
Shannon: Our dad took our mom for her 40th birthday to go and see Bob Dylan and she didn’t like it at all and he loved it. When he got home he bought all the Dylan records on the planet, so we listened to that all the time. I got really into that, the band and Dylan. Anybody of that era. In high school you start going further back in the blues and then soon you realize that you haven’t listened to anything current in the last five years, so you do that. It started with a lot of Dylan because Mom didn’t like the concert and Dad did.
Spence: Our parents worked in Fresno so we came down to town. We grew up listening to 95.7, classic rock. The good stuff like Zeppelin and Hendrix and the really bad stuff like Journey.
Elliot: I’d say I started listening to a lot of stuff that musicians get into. Obviously The Beatles are a huge influence. The Eagles as well.
Shannon: The shitty Beatles.
Elliot: Are they any good?
Shannon: They suck.
Elliot: Beatles and then a big jazz period for a long time, I’m not sure what’s up with that. I got really in to jazz, played a lot of jazz piano. Very first thing was probably my parents introducing me to The Beatles, then there was a Billy Joel record I remember really early on. There was a Joe Cocker record. I’m trying to think of things that were in my Mom’s woody caravan that we drove around. We’ll go with Billy Joel, Joe Cocker and The Beatles and Michael Jackson. I love Michael Jackson, Off the Wall was my first CD.
Shannon: Mine too. Off the Wall.
Elliot: Off the Wall was great.
Vince: I listened to a lot of the same stuff, I think that’s why we have a lot of common ground. We grew up listening to a lot of the same music. I’m from Indiana and my parents always listened to songwriters, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan. I started with that kind of stuff and then through high school started to get more into Pink Floyd and bands like that. Then I got into jazz for a while but I started with songwriters and rock bands.
How did all you guys meet?
Shannon: We had to.
Shannon: We actually met Vince before we met Elliot.
Elliot: That’s true.
Shannon: This is out of band joining chronology. We played with Vince’s earlier band many times when we were both small bar bands. Then didn’t see him for along time, and then we met Elliot when we were about to go on tour all summer long and needed a keys player. It was two weeks before we were going to leave and we were like, “You’re great, how would you like to go on tour? Drop everything that you’re doing in life right now and come on tour with us all summer.” Luckily, he said yes.
Elliot: I think I remember these phone conversations with Derek because I remember being in the car after I’d agreed to come for a month. I remember I was going out to a party and I was in a friends car and I had already been drinking. I was having a great time, as I was about to leave for a month trip and Derek called and I think you guys were together when he called, but he said, “So what if one month turned into four?” and I said, “Oh, hell yeah.”
Shannon: Vince has since joined along with Ben Andrews is a fantastic guitar player and fiddle player. Also, Brian who is a great drummer, a better drummer than I am, as well as a bass player and a guitar player. We have this new crazy team that’s really awesome, and we’re really excited about it.
Why the name The Stone Foxes?
Shannon: That’s not our fault. It’s ordained we don’t question it.
Elliot: The goddess came down.
Shannon: Do you want to know the real story? We were up in the woods, it was pitch black out and we were in a cabin all by ourselves. We heard a ruckus and some scurrying so we ran to the door. When we opened it up, right in the golden light of the cabin door, there was a lone white fox sitting there like a stone. It didn’t move a muscle, it just stared directly into my eyes and I thought, “There it is, The Stone Foxes.”
How does your creative process typically work?
Shannon: I think what usually happens is a couple of us team up together, come up with an idea and then we try to play it out. Get a good picture for it. I’ll come to Spence with some lyrics and since I can’t play anything I have to hum him something so it goes like, “na na na,” and he almost kills me every time. We’ll eventually figure it out.
Spence: We take an idea and expand on it, throw riffs at it, pull things out, arrange things. There’s the songwriter and then there’s the thinning out, there’s like two courses. I don’t think that that’s an uncommon thing, but we take an idea and let everybody throw rocks at it.
Elliot: One thing I’ll say about the process is that I love that it’s in stark contrast to how I used to write before joining The Stone Foxes. I can really appreciate it, we have no problem at all throwing something out the window very quickly and moving on to something else. It gets old when you’re in a band or in your own head when you hold onto these things stubbornly forever, like “No, if I just make that one chord more interesting or if I just put a measure of 7/8 in there, it’ll be so much better.”
Spence: We’ve done that, but we’re getting better.
Elliot: It’s really a breath of fresh air, I’ve been in the group for three years now. It’s like throw a bunch of really cool sounding things out there and then keep a few of them and you know that that’s the good stuff.
Spence: Because we air an idea out, usually people don’t get to bummed out when we throw it out because we’ve given it a chance. Even if it doesn’t immediately sound like a Stone Foxes song usually we’re pretty open for giving it a shot.
Vince: I think it’s pretty interesting, I’ve never written in such a collaborative manner before. Usually in the bands I’ve been in in the past I’d write the whole song and then we’d come and layer out the drum beat and we’d tweak it here and there. In this band everyone’s really writing together. A few songs on the new album it was music first, then you go back and listen to the music demo and write words over the top of it. For me it’s all pretty new stuff, it’s been a lot of fun for sure.
What do you think the biggest challenge is for a band?
Spence: The main thing is to remain motivated in the face of constant near bankruptcy. It’s like any small business. You need to just remember what you love about what you’re doing and remember that that’s the strongest force. That’s motivation in and of itself, to keep creating what you want to create. I think it would be really easy to get locked down. I think that’s one of the hardest things.
Shannon: I think it’s about finding help. We got really lucky that we got help from our manager who found us, who gave us the motivation to keep playing and then he was able to find our agent and our lawyer. Vince and Ben had an equally talented band if not more and some bands just can’t find the help that they deserve, sometimes.
Vince: I think it’s half the help and half the personnel. You got to have a good rapport with people, everyone can create together and be together a lot, and for a long time on the road. Everyone needs to feel that their artistry is being fulfilled in some way which is also hard to balance. I think just having a good balance with the personnel is a huge part of it. Obviously the help too, so those two things for me are the most important.
Elliot: It goes really for any relationship or job or whatever as long as you’re doing it with good people you like being around then the rest will work out.
How do you guys feel about the San Francisco music scene right now?
Shannon: There’s a million great bands and the tough part is that in the city the 2% or whoever else who has enough money, are buying up places and artists, teachers and people like that are on the move, so a lot of great bands like Thee Oh Sees, Waters, those are some of our favorite bands from the bay, well, they’ve all gone to move down to LA. LA’s cool but I don’t feel like people should have to leave their home.
Spence: There’s always good music coming through. I still don’t know that there’s a great rock and roll scene. There was a really good garage scene for awhile but that has gone. I think there are little pockets of bands, friends and bands that will go make a one night little community somewhere but there aren’t venues that are the spot to be every Friday night. To create a little bit of that at The Chapel for a few weeks was a pretty special thing for us to have been able to do.
Shannon: Spence is right it’s really cool to be able to create that kind of thing and people have said that they appreciate it and hopefully we can keep doing it.
Best live show you’ve ever gone to?
Shannon: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at The Greek. Its my number one and when he said, “Everything is gonna be okay,” I believed him, and it was.
Spence: I saw The Flaming Lips on Halloween. First of all they blew me out of water, musicianship wise. I hadn’t seen them live before and it was Halloween, the live spectacle that they put on. They came on to the Halloween music, the theme song from the Halloween movie. Dark and eerie and then it was black and you could see this weird pyramid in the middle of the stage. Then they slowly bought up just low red lights and theme song started getting louder and louder and we see this light start to enter. There’s a microphone on top of this mountain that they’ve built and these hair like strands that come down the mountain. Somebody starts to climb up the mountain and it’s really high and he gets to the top and he’s dressed up as Carrie. He’s in the white dress and he has flowers and he gets to the top likes he’s one with the thing. He’s blowing kisses and meanwhile it’s just red and then somebody comes up and dumps this blood over his head and as they do this mountain of strands is actual lights, strings of light. Red lights start flooding down these strands. It rained red confetti and it was the biggest like, “Holy fuck!”
Elliot: I’ll just pass because that was pretty cool. I could come up with other ones but they weren’t better than that.
Vince: For me it’s the time I saw The Allman Brothers live at Deer Creek, Indiana. I was 15 and Dickey Betts was still in the band. When you’re young to experience something like that was just life changing for me.
One song you never get tired of listening to?
Spence: “Save the Last Dance” for me.
Vince: I would say “American Girl”. We have the Petty music rolling before and after the shows. Every time you hear that song, I still just love it.
Shannon: “Trouble” by Taylor Swift. No, I think its “The Weight” probably by The Band, every time I hear it I’m like, yeah. I could hear that one more time.
If you ran Badass Bands Blog, what are some bands that you would feature?
Shannon: Skypiper, they’re a really great band. We were playing in Lincoln, Nebraska just waltzing into town and this opening band was just good.
Spence: I’d say Waters.
Vince: I would like to add Annie Girl and the Flight. I played a shows with them back in the day too and it was cool to see their evolution last week when we played with them, it sounds great.
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