(photo: Staci DeGagne)

The Stone Foxes are back on the Pacific Coast, enjoying an extended break from the rigorous demands of their 37 dates on their GiganTOUR tour. The tour wormed its way around the country for the last two months and on Friday, November 17, they hit the stage for a hometown headliner at the Independent. Two weeks later, to start December, they prelude a PNW run at the Catalyst Atrium in Santa Cruz.

Touring behind their first new release in two years, the five-song EP is titled Visalia after the middle-of-nowhere town between Fresno and Bakersfield that the band retreated to for summer writing sessions. After building the songs in a farm house living room and camping in tents in the yard, The Stone Foxes took to Oakland to record with Jay Pellicci (Deerhoofthe Dodos, Thao and the Get Down Stay Down).

The show on Friday serves as an official release party for the Stone Foxes’ most recent release. Although it has been available since the tour started, the band knows that they’ve got to treat the home crowd with a little extra pizazz. It will be the first time these new songs are heard live in the city, and the band wants to make sure you get the full album experience. To do so, they will be inviting all of the guest musicians that appear on Visalia to join the party.

I was eager to learn more about what led up to the band’s first taste of new music in two years, and I got band members Shannon and Vince on the phone to talk about it.

Ahead of the dual interview, I found myself hanging out with Shannon in the conference call waiting on Vince to arrive. In the small talk, I revealed that the Stone Foxes actually helped shaped my introduction to California. Flying in from Michigan to visit friends, the very first item on my agenda was to see a concert — any concert — at the legendary Fillmore West and in early May of 2013, that happened to be the Stone Foxes with support from Little Hurricane.

Vince joined us as soon as I went into the part about a band member stabbing my friend in the eye while crowd surfing — and he immediately rebuked a deeply sincere and apologetic Shannon as the perpetrator.

The Bay Bridged: It’s alright, it’s rock and roll!

Shannon Koehler: I guess. It’s rock and roll until it happens to you, then you’re pissed!

The Bay Bridged: Well cool, thanks for chiming in to the call there Vince. Now that I have both of you, my name is Josh, it’s a pleasure to get on the phone with you guys! I’ve got a couple questions you guys can feel free to answer in tandem or however you’d like.

Vince Dewald: You got it.

The Bay Bridged: You guys are a couple of days into this “encore” break of your ‘GiganTOUR’ — which I love that name by the way — what are some of the big things that stick out to you from this run now that you’ve stepped off the road and are back in the Bay?

VD: For me it’s a lot of great shows, of course. It was a really fun tour with the band, we gelled a lot. Musically we were playing a bunch of new songs, we really had a chance to fine-tune the new stuff and hone things in and we had a lot of fun as a group, which sticks out because that doesn’t always happen.

SK: I think we kind of really honed in on each song and we really went into the whole tour, like Vince said, with a whole slew of new songs. Songs from the EP, a couple of new ones, a couple of covers, and we really found the space in each song to kind of find the moments. Like, one night all of a sudden something clicks and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah! Ben and I can sort of go back and forth on drums and guitar here or Vince will take the slide and really take his time, especially on this song called “Can’t Stop,” and it’s things like that that really make it memorable.’ But crowd-wise it’s always amazing to go to new places or to places where you might have played to only six people before and now 150 to 200 people are showing up, and it’s like ‘Whoa, holy lord! This is awesome! This is great!’ It’s a totally surreal experience. Like, there’s a guy in Denver who came and he was decked out in this silver jacket and silver cowboy hat and he knew all of the songs! Like who, what kind of guy is that? How did we impact his life? And it’s like that’s my favorite part — you meet new people, people that you’d never expect. We like to talk to people, too. After shows we love to hang out with people and get their story too.

VD: It’s also really cool to see the people who are singing along. They went ahead and sang along to songs that haven’t been released yet, like, ‘Oh, you don’t even know this song yet but you’re singing along!’ It’s an incredible feeling.

The Bay Bridged: The new EP, Visalia, is named for a middle-of-nowhere town between Bakersfield and Fresno. How did sleeping in tents outside a trailer on a cotton farm help you guys focus?

VD: So you’re in tents, and you wake up and stroll down the way and you see sheep eating like, donuts, that the farmer just dropped off and you think, ‘Well that’s kinda weird’ and there’s chickens and like four cats, two dogs and a bunch of neighbors that just show up at this house every day. They’re the sweetest people and they’re also musicians. The idea was just to go down there and get on tape. We were really interested in — you know we’ve been recording digitally for a long time now and we just wanted to get a real big tape sound and Brian had a friend named Cody. He’s actually on the front cover of the EP, and that’s just him relaxing, by the way, on a normal day. No posing, his girlfriend took that while they were just hanging out. So here’s this wild guy who walks around the house in these big fur coats and he tells us, ‘Well, you play only as good as you look,’ and I’m like, ‘I guess that’s true!’ But to get back to what you’re asking: There’s nothing else to focus on! You’re in this one place, you’re there to make the music and to be around your people, your group, and there’s nothing that takes the focus away. Everyone who’s there, Cody, his fiancee, and neighbors that are coming by, they’re interested in just the music. So it was an experience. The whole place was a total experience, and I think it made us really dive into, ‘OK what are we trying to do together?’ and it really got us into our roots and rural sounds that provoked us to write more and write better together.

SK: Totally, part our goal was to strip a lot of the excess away and…get down to the core of what this band does. We dug deep and asked, ‘What are the essentials here?’ In order to actually dive into that, we had to create a process where we stripped it down to the essentials: one tape machine, a few mics to record in the living room, and we wrote a lot and fleshed out pretty much all of the songs while we were there. It was a really liberating way to go into it together.

The Bay Bridged: How long were you guys down there for?

SK: We did two, four or five days stints. We came down for one long, long weekend and then for another one and you know what we’ll probably go back! It’s a totally awesome, awesome place to just dive in. We finished the songs up in Oakland with Jay Pellicci. It was one thing to discover this new connection between all of us in Visalia and then bringing that home and taking it with us, that was really exciting to me to take all of that energy and bring it with us.

The Bay Bridged: I definitely think that’s an important part of any experience — life-changing breakthrough or not —being able to hang on to it and apply it beyond the experience itself is a priceless part of the growth that comes with having it in the first place.

Both: Totally, exactly.

The Bay Bridged: Do you have any local area bands that you used to look up to when you were getting started that you feel are more like peers and friends now?

SK: Andy, from Vetiver, he was always doing some really cool, interesting-sounding stuff and we’ve slowly gotten to know him over the last year or two and had a few writing sessions and finally played with him at Mount Tam with Jim James and Bob Weir and Phil Lesh at Preservation Hall. That was just a great lineup and people that you hear about that are actually doing something and then getting to hang with them, Mike from Geographer is another one — and to become friends, too. There’s only so many people that are still here and who didn’t move down to LA so it’s like we’ve got to band together.

The Bay Bridged: Right on! Follow up on that, do you guys feel like you are becoming that band for any younger bands you see coming up in the Bay Area or otherwise? Like do you feel you’re mentoring at all to any up-and-coming rock and roll bands?

VD: I don’t think we think of it that way, but we’re always excited to hear when there’s a new band coming in San Francisco. We go to check them out. I thinks its such a great history here of rock and roll lineage; we’re happy to be a part of it and bear the torch in whatever way we can.

SK: The opener for the Independent show, Thee Commons, those guys are on the same agency with us and they opened for us in Phoenix and we were blown away. They’re so good, we had to bring them back for the SF show. They’re kinda weird

[and] psych-ey too, so we were like, ‘As long as you’ve got that element of psych, you’ll do well in San Francisco.’

The Bay Bridged: Last question that I’ve got: I want to ask about this — only because it’s mentioned in the press release, though, so I’m assuming it hasn’t been totally common knowledge — but Shannon, can you talk a little bit about what it’s like having had 11 heart surgeries as a rock and roll drummer singing lead? I feel like so many people are afraid to push themselves, and here you are literally pushing your heart as hard as it can go, every other night. That’s got to be exhilarating.

SK: Right, OK. Well just to clarify, because that kind of gets twisted sometimes , I’ve had 11-12 surgeries and procedures and one open heart surgery — multiple surgeries, only one open heart. There’s an article that came out saying I had 12 open heart surgeries and I was like ‘That person would not be alive!’ But yeah, I think what it does is it makes me really thankful to be able to play all of the time and thankful to be around guys like Vince and and everyone in our band that’s so good, it’s just a good collection of friends, and what’s cool about our band is that we started more as friends than as a group of musicians who communicated. It’s become a way better band than I think it would have been otherwise. As a group we really do care about each other and love each other and to play in front of people and sing to and with and about people that you care about — I don’t find that hard to give up at all, you know? You never know when you might get sidelined. Heart things just sort of come up from year to year and I’m feeling really good right now and I’m in a really good place, but that’s why you’ve got to take advantage of every day and every show. That’s whats fun with Vince and I, we do the lyrics, and we write about things that are important to us and we don’t want to just have some filler throwaway lines because we care about each song we’re singing, and you gotta believe what you’re singing. And when people come to listen to that, you gotta give everything.

VD: we’re lucky to have a group of dudes who do it for the right reasons. It is amazing to see how Shannon does it with his heart conditions, for sure. None of us ever think about that, it’s just like, he’s so not — his energy is so high, we never think about it until an interview comes up and it’s like ‘Oh yeah, Shannon’s got a heart condition.’

SKn: Yeah, thanks for the reminder, Josh!

The Bay Bridged: My bad!

SK: It’s all good, and that’s whats great about it, you let it all go and you forget about it. You play hard and sweat it out.

VD: Music. Music will heal ya.

The Stone Foxes’ Visalia EP Release Party, Thee Commons, Jonny Ramada
The Independent
November 17, 2017
9pm, $22 (21+)