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The Stone Foxes Are Going To Save The World
Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If a meteor is hurtling towards earth you’re probably going to want to call on someone other than The Stone Foxes to take care of the situation. That said, the Bay Area rockers are playing their own unique role in saving the world.

With songs about everything from the gentrification of their beloved San Francisco, to the homelessness epidemic in their area, The Stone Foxes are a reminder that rock n roll can still provide a much needed voice for the voiceless.

Recently, The Stone Foxes launched Foxes First Fridays, releasing a new song on the first Friday of every month. The sextet also just wrapped up a tour with Social Distortion. With all that going on, I caught up with one of The Stone Foxes’ founding members, drummer Shannon Koehler, to find out more about the band, their music, and how they’re making an impact on the world at large.

Adam Bernard: Stone fox, or stone cold fox, is old slang used to describe a beautiful woman. Is there anything you’d like to reveal about your gender?

Shannon: No {laughs}. Honestly, I didn’t come up with it, so I don't think I should be to blame for it. The fable that I’ve always heard is that somebody that wasn’t me, either my brother, or somebody else, heard, in a movie, Julia Roberts call Richard Gere a “stone fox” as a man, and we thought that sorta sounds old school, and we were playing even more old school style blues back then, so we thought let’s do that.

That kinda backfired really early on. It still probably happens every once in a while, but one of our first shows, for sure, we showed up and the promoter was pissed because they were hoping for a group of hot ladies to entertain their festival, their barbecue-fest, and we were not attractive, nor ladies, so that didn’t work out.

Adam Bernard: And it all stems, possibly, from Pretty Woman?

Shannon: I think it could, but someone would have to fact check, and that would mean someone would have to watch it, which is too bad.

Adam Bernard: You recently started Foxes First Fridays, where you release a new song on the first Friday of every month. Tell me about how you came up with this plan, and how it’s changing your work process.

Shannon: It came out of the idea that we’ve done records before, and they’re really fun, but we have some new guys on our team, and as we assembled this team we were writing a lot of songs, and recording them. We would come up with something in one month, then we’d knock out a bunch of demos, and we’d keep a couple of them. Then we’d do it again. It went on and on.

We picked up Brian (Bakalian), who is a drummer with us now, so I drum and he drums, and if I’m drumming he plays bass and guitar. Then we picked up our buddy Vince (Dewald). He recorded a bunch of stuff with us. Then we got our buddy Ben (Andrews), who was out in Boston, but he would fly out, and he did a few things on some of the songs. It was this progressive thing where it wasn’t like we went in and said, “Hey, we’re gonna make this record,” we were doing these songs as we continued to create this new lineup with Spence (Koehler), and Elliot (Peltzman), and I, and those three other guys.

We’re writing these songs, and one song is a little more surf-y, they’re all a little more garage than they used to be, one is a little more country, and it sort of felt like wow, we have these songs that we really love, and we want to get something out, because we want to show people what we have, and that we have these great guys that are killing it.

People don’t buy records anymore. The last time I bought a CD for myself might have been seven years ago. I’ll buy a vinyl, for sure, but going online, everyone’s got Spotify, and they’re doing that sort of thing, so it felt like, to us, you know what, let’s give people the focus on each song, and let’s give them new songs right now, for free, and later on we’ll do a compilation of all these songs, but for now let’s get it out, and every month let’s do some live versions of it, and give each song a month of attention.

It felt like a way for us to give our fans, and to give everybody, a new way of going about it. They can soak up a song for a whole month, and then there will be something else, so there will always be something else they can go and get.

That’s kind of fun for us, because we can put out a recorded version, but we still feel like the live show is our biggest strength, so we can put out a song and then hey, here’s the live version, and here’s a video. That’s one of the ideas, to always be giving something else, and to give those songs the attention that we couldn’t give them before, and to be giving our folks stuff all the time.

Adam Bernard: Your latest single, “She Said Riot,” was inspired by the gentrification of San Francisco. What else has been going on in your lives that’s inspiring the content of what we’ll be hearing from Foxes First Fridays?

Shannon: Vince sings that one. He’s one of our new guys, and he’s awesome. I think he and I are both really into what’s going on right now. I also think some of these songs are real personal.

They’re all kind of different. Like I said, genre can kind of switch a little bit, even though it’s definitely us, it’s all rock n roll. That’s the only thing we really staple ourselves down to, but yeah, the city of San Francisco has changed.

I’ve lived here for about ten years. I understand that I’m a straight, white male, and a lot of those kinds of folks are part of the group of people that are coming in and changing the city, and are making it so that a lot of folks don’t have an affordable place to live. A teacher doesn’t have an affordable place to live out here. They can’t buy a house, and that's crazy. If you’re a teacher you should be able to live here, and buy a house wherever you’re teaching.

People are being squeezed out to Oakland, and people from Oakland have to move out to, I don’t know, to Richmond, and people who live in Richmond just have to get out of the Bay altogether, so it’s sort of this domino effect.

My rent is very affordable, but only because I’ve been here for so long. I moved here when I was 17, for school. I think we’re lucky in that aspect, but my brother just moved out to Oakland because San Francisco is impossible. At the same time, San Francisco is the city that we love, so we don’t want to go anywhere, and it’s a perfect place to play music in. It’s awesome.

So a lot of the songs are personal. That’s sort of what we’ve always had, this mix between a little political, a little personal, a little spiritual, and the underlying theme is that we just want to play rock n roll.

Adam Bernard: You’re also of the “don’t just speak about it, be about it” ideology, having teamed up with SuperFood Drive on a previous tour to raise awareness of hunger and homelessness, and even recording with food bank, and food shelter, patrons. When did giving back first become a part of your lives?

Shannon: I think probably everybody grew up doing a food drive, and going to church, and serving at a homeless shelter maybe with a youth group, or something like that, and we definitely did some of that.

I think a lot of it was just that when you come to San Francisco there’s an extreme amount of wealth. Some of it is hidden, and as a musician you get hired to play places, and then you see it and you go, “Oh my God, that’s just fuckin crazy,” but on the street you see a lot of poverty, so the disparity is crazy.

Spence and I grew up in the hills (the foothills of California’s Central Valley), so when we came here it was intense. That was probably the biggest part of the culture shock for me, just seeing how many people live out in the cold. Over time you get desensitized, and that’s sort of what the song we wrote on Small Fires was about.

We got an opportunity that just sort of knocked on our door, from Clif Bar, who was offering these grants, so we thought hey, maybe we need to stop just singing about stuff, let’s try to incorporate something into what we do. The whole idea was to make it something practical that we can do that’s a long lasting thing with us.

(Now) every time we go on tour, every show that we play, people can bring canned food, and we’ll collect it, and we'll take it to the nearest shelter, or to the nearest food bank. People are incredibly generous, man. Someone in Dallas, we were playing with Social Distortion, and a 27 year old mom comes to the show and says, “I picked out cans with my kids at the grocery store,” and she brought this huge box full of stuff.

It’s really cool to see what kind of generosity people have, and the power of music is pretty cool. Sometimes it can feel like it’s just a song, or it’s just a couple cans, but hopefully it gets people to do something, and get moving.

Adam Bernard: You mentioned the tour you just completed a tour with Social Distortion.

Shannon: Yeah, it was really fun. Mike Ness taught me how to box.

Adam Bernard: You posted a video about that. How much teaching was really involved?

Shannon: A lot. I have a pacemaker, I have heart problems, so he’s teaching me to put my hands up. I put my left hand up to guard my jaw and he just slapped me in the side of the head. He was like, “Put your other hand up, idiot.” Then he started kinda punching me in my pacemaker, and I was like, “Hey man, watch it, be careful.” Usually I forget I have one, because usually you just go out and play as hard as you can, and sweat as much as you can, out there, but he reminded me that I’m a little more frail than I thought I was.

Adam Bernard: Why do you have a pacemaker?

Shannon: I have congenital heart disease. It’s OK. I’m cool. I’ve had a couple valves put in, and a couple different pacemakers, but I'm good to go, I can do whatever I want, so that’s good.

Adam Bernard: OK, so with the idea that you can do whatever you want in mind, what was the wildest thing that happened while you were on the road with Social Distortion?

Shannon: The wildest thing? I don’t know if I can repeat it.

Adam Bernard: Sure you can!

Shannon: Sure you can. Right. {laughs}

(At one show on this tour) we got done playing, and we’re watching, and someone’s spitting up at Mike, and Mike kind of ignores it for a little while, and this guy just keeps spitting at him, so Mike stops the song, and says, “If you keep doing that I’m gonna come down there, and beat the shit out of you.” People started chanting it. Oh my God, it was incredible.

We were standing by the merch (table), and their merch person said, “Oh no, he’s gonna do it again.” We said, “What!?!” That means he’s definitely done it before, so it wasn’t an empty threat at all, which is funny because he’s so nice. I’m sure he has a pretty hardcore past, I know he does, but that was pretty fun.

Adam Bernard: He clearly has a fuse, and it had reached its limit.

Shannon: It definitely had, so we told him he was our hero for doing that, and he said, “Well, what are you gonna do?”

Adam Bernard: You had to have been thinking, “There are actually an array of options you could have done other than that.”

Shannon: Exactly. Just to have the audacity, though, that’s sort of the whole thing, that’s the key of watching people that you love playing. When we played with The Black Keys, they just go up there and they let it loose, and they don’t even think about what anybody else is thinking. They just listen to themselves, and what they’re feeling at the time. That’s the most true you can be, and that’s so rad. I think that’s what everybody wants to be. It’s a good lesson.

Adam Bernard: Let’s end this interview on another fun note. What’s the most embarrassing song you might be caught singing along to while driving?

Shannon: Embarrassing? I’m not embarrassed, but I really enjoy Michael Bolton’s “How Am I Supposed To Live Without You.” I’m not joking. It’s really good.

Interview originally ran on Arena.com.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 3:15 PM  
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