EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: The Stone Foxes
San Francisco’s own Stone Foxes aren’t the type to bore you with a dull story—both musically and literally. Their dynamic, absorbing stage presence is just as engaging as their winsome character, and this combo is taking them places—namely, the legendary Fillmore on May 4th.
Wrestling time between an impending Pho delivery and their February 13th show at The New Parish in Oakland, CA, the Stone Foxes sat down with The Owl Mag to discuss Mrs. Doubtfire impersonations, surprise rap-star cameos, and their newest release, the ferociously resolute Small Fires.
The Owl Mag: So, tell me a little about Small Fires’ first single, “Everybody Knows.”
Shannon Koehler: I had an idea for writing something in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe story. It was like two years ago and I had this idea for the melody.
Spence Koehler: Like a heartbeat.
Shannon Koehler: But it wasn’t very good so I rewrote it a bunch of times. During that time I was also going to a bunch of [protest] rallies with some friends. After 2010, the recession really started kicking in and I was feeling it. I was let go from a job. I was thinking about the idea of the wealth disparity being so huge and affecting our generation so [in the
“Everybody Knows” music video] the CEO kills the young kid and that’s sort of the tension. Spence did this spooky little melody and it came together in one practice. I like Poe a lot—the darkness is really fun, but I’m a super happy person. Music is a way for me to get into that darkness.
The Owl Mag: Tell me about “Cotto.” Is it really based on a boxing match?
Spence Koehler: That riff is pretty old. But the lyrics came within the last year or so.
Shannon Koehler: Now, we’re very peaceful people, so it was very weird for me, but I got into boxing. As much as it is this grotesque sport where they just annihilate each other, there’s some sort of animalistic part of me that’s like, “Hell yeah! Hit him in the face!” Then, I saw this 60 Minutes piece on Pacquiáo and looked him up and there was this fight with him and Cotto. He was just absolutely annihilating Cotto. He was on the verge of death for sure for the last five or six rounds; his wife like left the arena and all of his coaches were telling him to stay down. So, hopefully it’s a lesson for people— sometimes it’s time to give up and stop.
Aaron Mort: To save yourself from the agony.
The Owl Mag: So why record an acoustic version [featured on Rdio] of such an aggressive song?
Aaron Mort: With a hard-hitting song like that, which has an aggressive undertone, well, I think you get more of that undertone of probably more of his wife leaving. You get more of that sentimentality out of it. There’s a human side to it all of a sudden.
Spence Koehler: You definitely have to focus more on the lyric of it.
Elliot Peltzman: It has more of a quiet power.
The Owl Mag: Now, “Battles, Blades and Bones” has a completely unique feel. It’s in waltz tempo and much slower and softer.
Shannon Koehler: Yeah. Spence and I are brothers and we grew up in a Mennonite church that I still go to quite a bit. Everything is hymns so I started to want to write this sort of old-timey hymn sort of thing—Mennonites are basically like pacifists and socially progressive Christian group and so that song is about our anti-war sentiment of just in the history of war not fixing very much. So then we went to the studio and played it back with our producer and it was basically gonna get cut because I had it in more major chords.
Aaron Mort: It needed a different tone because it was so straightforward. Where it was and where it is now — it transformed into where I hoped it would go.
Aaron Mort: It was kind of a fluke, the way that song came together. We were writing in the studio and we had never done that before so it was kind of exciting.
Spence Koehler: And that’s the only song completely recorded over a click track. The rest is natural.
Shannon Koehler: Because my beat varies at times.
The Owl Mag: But that’s natural, it’s human.
Shannon Koehler: Actually, yeah, that’s kind of really important.
The Owl Mag: We’ll call it the human tempo.
Shannon Koehler: Oh, that’s such a sexy way to say it.
Elliott Peltzman: The human tempo. That’s your new nickname.
Shannon Koehler: AKA The Shit Drummer.
The Owl Mag: Haha, ok so this album is a bit more lyrically honed.
Shannon Koehler: Yeah, we’ve had these kinds of songs in the last couple records but this album is more focused—but on stage we’re not preachy. If people want to care about the music and listen to it, they’re gonna hear that stuff in the lyrics. And rock ‘n roll is about getting people together.
Spence Koehler: We always make a point of finding some way in our record packaging to get the lyrics on there so if you want to know, it’s there.
The Owl Mag: So Shannon, on the band’s Facebook, there’s a picture of you in a dress…what’s the story behind that? How does your humor play into the performing process?
Shannon Koehler: I’m super goofy all the time, so lyrics and music is where I get to dig a little deeper, but on the surface, I love playing like…
Spence Koehler: That was him as Mrs. Doubtfire.
Shannon Koehler: Ok, hey, I’m gonna get to the cross-dressing part in just a minute. I like to have fun, joke around. I tend to do most of the talking on stage just because I’m a blabber-mouth. I enjoy it. I like communicating with people and I think I just like making videos and stuff. I think we’ve made all kinds of ridiculous videos like…
Aaron Mort: There was a period of time where all [Shannon] wanted to do was be in his underwear for videos. Like it was a thing. The whole joke was like serious shot of Shannon like in a suit and slowly we’d just pan down and he’s in his underwear.
The Owl Mag: We love it.
Shannon Koehler: Genius! Geeen-ius! We were just making a video for this app and they said come up with a creative idea for a video. I said, “Let’s go to the Mrs. Doubtfire house.” It’s compelling when a man in a beard dresses like Mrs. Doubtfire.
Aaron Mort: We all like each other but we need something to break it up and make it fun and light-hearted.
The Owl Mag: Speaking of tour, do you have any memorable on the road stories?
Elliott Peltzman: Yeah! It starts with us trying to meet up with this cool group of guys that have this show called “Jam in the Van” where people go and record high quality audio and video and all this. So, we get to this parking lot that’s right behind the Roxy in Hollywood and we’re waiting around and some of the crew is there telling us it will be there soon, just practice in the meantime. We were going over our song “Goodnight Moon” which is one of the slower ones. That one has a really cool acoustic version we’ve been working out recently and so we were playing it over and over. We knew that a [hip-hop] panel was happening in the Roxy because we saw on the marquee a whole bunch of names—Busta Rhymes, people like that—were speaking in there. However, we did not expect a voice to come from the green room window two stories up inside the Roxy and yell something like, “Hey, why are you guys playing that song so much?”
Aaron Mort: “Why don’t you come play it for me?” And in the window we look up and go…
Spence Koehler: Holy shit, that’s Snoop Dogg.
Elliott Peltzman: You see the glasses and the billowing smoke coming from everywhere.
Aaron Mort: And the voice, you can’t mistake the voice. It was absurd.
Elliott Peltzman: So we walk over to the window, and we serenade Snoop…um, Lion, like Romeo and Juliet style, because he’s up on this balcony.
Shannon Koehler: Rapunzel!
Elliott Peltzman: And it was great because he legitimately wanted us to play this whole song for him and he stood there and listened to it.
The Owl Mag: So let’s get this straight. You sang “Goodnight Moon”…at The Roxy…for Snoop Dogg?
Aaron Mort: And he sang along to it. He actually wrote a part that we now incorporate into the song.
Spence Koehler: At the chorus, at the dog howl part, “OOOOOOOOOHH” we’d like lock eyes and he’d do it too.
The Owl Mag: That’s amazing. Alright, seeing as you’re about to go on stage here shortly, what do you guys do to get ready for shows?
Shannon Koehler: Lots of warm-ups. One we do is called “Big Bottom.” It goes, “I’ve got a biiig bottom in my hands.”
Aaron Mort: Repeat.
Shannon Koehler: “Ive got a big bottom in my hands.”
Aaron Mort: Times ten.
Shannon Koehler: “I’ve got a big bottom, got a big bottom, got a big bottom in my hands.”
Elliott Peltzman: It’s just goofy so we laugh and get all our nerves out.
Spence Koehler: It’s a switch like, alright it’s showtime. Focus, go do the thing.
The Owl Mag: You guys are definitely doing the thing. You guys are playing the legendary Fillmore soon. Big deal.
Shannon Koehler: Our first show outside the dorms was at Brainwash Café. So it’s quite the step up.
The Owl Mag: We saw you guys at Café du Nord in 2010. You guys have come a long way. How do you feel like you’ve grown as a band since then?
Spence Koehler: It’s grown really organically. The people who have liked the music and gotten behind it by one kind of falling into place as people in our team and San Francisco has been such an amazing hub of people. SF breeds an honesty in the music business.
Aaron Mort: People are really excited about music here in a different way. With the industry too, you get people who are looking at it with a different perspective. Because of that, people here—it seems like a very real, like spontaneous exuberance.
Elliott Peltzman: I think another just really good descriptor is support. People here know that people in bands and artists need a lot of support in their formative years.
Shannon Koehler: Our manager [Joe Barham] has put together a crazy great team. I met him working a Hooters event through a radio station and we both drove home feeling very smutty and gross. And so then I said, “Oh, listen to my music demo.”
The Owl Mag: Gotta do what you gotta do.
Shannon Koehler: And he enjoyed it so he’s pieced together this great team.
Aaron Mort: When we started the band, we had a little record we recorded up at [Shannon and Spence’s] parents’ place and then it slowly evolved a little bit more.
Shannon Koehler: We weren’t even going to release that.
Aaron Mort: It was just kind of like, maybe this should just be a thing that’s fun in the garage. And that was about the time that Joe got behind us and we were like, ok, we’ll give it a chance. Didn’t expect much. But, the growth over the years to where we are now, to even thinking about headlining the Fillmore, it’s kind of absurd because you start from a place where you don’t even expect to play out of your garage. So it’s something else.
Spence Koehler: It’s like the luck of the draw, but we’ve been working really hard for five plus years now and it’s really rewarding to see the—this is so metaphoric—but the apple of the Fillmore. The fruits of our labor.
Check out more photos from the interview HERE.