The world is on fire….
That this is so may be clearer to anyone who lives through fire season in California every year from August to October. It certainly is to California natives Shannon Koehler and his brother Spence. The Koehler brothers, a.k.a. The Stone Foxes, grew up in the foothills of the Sierras and recently unveiled their new single Man’s Red Fire, which is a teaser for their upcoming November, 2022 LP On The Other Side.
The Stone Foxes describe this album as a “…a cinematic western rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack…”
What does that mean??--this editor and frequent film reviewer asked...
Should we imagine John Wayne on drums and Clint Eastwood on keyboard? Or?
Here, Picture This Post (PTP) asks The Stone Foxes – Shannon Koehler (ShK) and Spence Koehler (SpK) --to talk about the so-Californian roots of their sound and how Hollywood’s depictions of the West---and indirectly, perhaps spaghetti westerns too-- are part of their music’s roots.
(PTP) When you refer to cinematic western influences on your music, what do you mean?
(ShP) Spence and I have always been hooked on rock n’ roll, but the cinematic western influence on our new record comes from movies and our surroundings. We grew up in rural California, in the foothills of the Sierras, where the closest gas station was a twenty-minute drive away, and our neighbors had plenty of horses and cattle.
We grew up and moved to San Francisco, never roped anything, but I think growing up in those surroundings and loving Ennio Morricone’s score from the Man With No Name Clint Eastwood trilogy burned those sounds into our collective brain.
We’d watch movies together for sure. Spence and I started getting into westerns in high school. High Noon, Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid, Fist Full Of Dollars, all of that stuff. Of course, it’s obvious, but The Good, The Bad and The Ugly was my favorite and how I got hooked, and is still in my top five favorite movies. The duel at the end with the camera jumping to their eyes as the trumpet blares and the snare drum drives…it’s so damn cool. But I think I listen to the first track from the A Few Dollars More soundtrack most. The whistling and the Jew’s harp to start that track is insanely good. We recreated some chanting choral voices, borrowed ideas for chords, Spence did some whistling, we put in wind sound effects, all of that stuff is on our new record and it’s all from listening to Ennio. We wanted the stories we were telling about my surgery and anxiety and love to feel cinematic, and infusing our rock n’ roll with Ennio’s sound gave us the ability to do that.
(SpK) There’s something really magical that happens when a movie ends, and the song chosen to play out over the credits is just stunning in how beautifully they complement each other.
Some examples come to mind: The Departed; Roy Buchanan’s Sweet Dreams - that lyric-less melancholy guitar; JoJo Rabbit; Bowie’s Heroes made me cry with how hopeful that ends such a dark story; Breaking Bad - Bad Finger’s Baby Blue - I mean c’mon! It’s so good! It’s like they wrote the whole series just to end on that song!
How do you feel your shared roots and family experiences have shaped your sound?
(SpK) Aside from Raffi, going way back, some of the earliest tapes that Shannon and I had as kids were Michael Jackson and MC Hammer. We actually had two copies of of MC Hammer so we could both listen to 2 Legit 2 Quit on our Walkmen at the same time. There is a pretty excellent classic rock radio station in Fresno,95.7 The Fox, that provided a top-notch education in the greats like ZZ Top, CCR, AC/DC, Hendrix, and Zeppelin.
Our parents had some pretty influential records that we eventually found deep in the closet, stored away with the turntable, like Let it Be and Led Zeppelin 4. Our dad took our family to a Bob Dylan concert in Visalia, my first real concert, and that started a long running shared love for Dylan records. Our mom plays piano really beautifully and our dad picked up guitar when Shannon and I were starting to play in bands so we could play together.
I have to throw in a huge thanks to our parents for being so encouraging and supportive of Shannon and me playing loud guitars and drums in the house and taking on the risks of being self-employed musicians.
(ShK) I think it started with our Uncle John. He gave Spence his old Rolling Stones records and he made me mix tapes of Elvis, Huey Lewis, and Michael Jackson. Then, Spence found our mom’s Led Zeppelin 4 on vinyl, which was the turning point. Our dad’s obsession with Bob Dylan led us to play benefit shows full of Dylan covers in high school. And when I was about to have a surprise surgery (my pacemaker was re-called like a Firestone tire), my mom felt so bad for me that she bought me a drum set. Our parents let us take over the dining room and fill it with amps and drums till we left for college.
Family was the source of it all.
(SpK) As the big brother, I think my musical tastes for classic rock n’ roll, soul, and even some 60s country have rubbed off on Shannon. But he’s always had his own interests in pop and dramatic cinematic sounds over the years - Michael Jackson, Elton John, Tom Waits, and Jungle come to mind, and I have followed him into enjoying that stuff too. I also think that we’ve played together for so long now that we’re aware of the sounds that we’re good at creating, and being brothers, we can be pretty brutally honest with each other when an idea seems like too far of a stretch for us to really own it and build an authentic song from.
How have recent times also shaped your sound and this latest album?
(ShK) Sadly, we have what we now call Fire Season in California, from August through October. We’ve had so many fires of the last five years that we’ve become used to the sky turning orange and ash falling from the sky. I got hooked on this line about “man’s red fire” that Luis Prima sings in the Jungle Book song I Wanna Be Like You. That line stuck in my head, and seeing the fires around us made me think of how all of these fires are really human made. It’s our own doing that global warming is making these fires happen more often, so it seemed like a good line to describe all of our own destructive tendencies. I blended the image of fire with ongoing racism and civil war imagery, and that’s where the lyrics came from.
The destructive nature of humanity was all connected in my head.
(SpK) The way we recorded this album is a real product of the environment in which these last few years have allowed us to create music. All of our previous albums were recorded with the full band in one studio, often in one room, tracking together. For this record though, COVID and budget restrictions pushed us to record the whole album layer by layer, mostly just the two of us at home. Songwriting sessions early in the pandemic were virtual. Vaccinations became available just as we started tracking, so Shannon and I were then able to record together with less risk involved. Many of our Bay Area musical friends made the same shift, learning to record at home, which created opportunities for us to invite them onto the album from their home studios, performing backing vocals, keys, and horns over the base tracks that Shannon and I had created.
(ShP) Three huge life experiences shaped this album…My second open heart surgery, Spence and I battling with anxiety, and receiving the astounding love and support from Shana (my wife) and Emily(Spence’s wife). They kept us strong and supported us as we tried to reach the other side of the pain or struggle. We hope that this music does the same for others when the journey gets rough.
For more information, visit The Stone Foxes website.
Images courtesy of THE STONE FOXES.