I’d interviewed The Cold Stares back in May. Quite a bit has transpired over summer for the band and their new EP, Hot Like Waco, just dropped. My short review is “It fucking kicks ass.” You can listen to two tracks from the EP in full, below. But I strongly urge you to check out the EP.
Okay, then. On to the interview.
G: How have things been since the last time we did this? What kind of responses have you been getting from folks who stumbled into you online?
TCS: It’s very cool to get emails from places where you wouldn’t expect. We’ve gotten mail from Germany and Japan, and rural places like South Dakota in the states. The internet is the worst/best as far as helping working musicians. At the end of the day it’s very gratifying to know that regardless of geography or culture, we all respond to music. We’ve got fans from all cultures, races and ages, I’m extremely proud that we are able to throw that wide of a net, while still being true to who we are.
G: Can you talk a little about the Hard Rock competition? Would you say being part of it has opened doors for you in ways you hadn’t anticipated?
TCS: Well, we both hate contests. But we did know going in that if we could win Nashville it would mean a ton of press, and that’s why we did it. Within a two week period of time we did more interviews and TV/Radio spots than most bands do in a year, so in that aspect it was phenomenal for getting our name out there. And I have to give it to our team, Kate Richardson our PR rep was brilliant, Hard Rock Nashville and Lightning 100 as well. We all worked our arses off. It was very humbling how many people got behind us and campaigned for us to win. We stayed in the top four nationally the entire time, but to us honestly winning Nashville was the crown for us. Not trying to diss any of other bands that were in the finals, but honestly speaking none of those bands were as good as the bands we beat in Nashville. Nashville was decided by industry judges, and not online voting where the music wasn’t as important.
Nashville is really the hot spot in the country right now for rock and roll. Spin magazine and a lot of other publications are recently commenting on that. So yes, the Hard Rock thing really helped us get our name out. But the thing that has helped us more than anything is that our fans want to turn other people on to our music. I think it’s unique enough that a lot of people feel like they’ve discovered something, and that is great for us. I could brag on all the famous folks that have been out to our shows in the last 6 months, but I’d rather brag on the not so famous fans that knew the famous folks, and drug them out to see us. This whole thing really epitomizes the grass roots fundamentals.
G: I know it’s been only a few months but how have you, or the band, changed or evolved sound-wise? Did you retool your approach, tried new things, discarded some things that didn’t work? Referring to both gear and technique.
TCS: We’ve played so many dates in the last year and it’s definitely made us a better band. Sound wise we are sticking to what we do. We have branched out a little with tunes like “Red Letter Blues”, and a few others live, but I’m not that interested in taking it too far away from where we started. We’ve had a great response doing what we do, and I think the formula is there. No one wants to hear Muddy Waters do ballads. Or hear a techno version of Derek Trucks. I hate those albums where the first three tracks rock, and then they’ve got the ballad, and the radio tune. I much prefer an album like The Cults “Electric” where every tune is a punch to the face.
Gear wise I’ve tried some different things, but nothing I’ve stuck with. You don’t hear Rich Robinson or Angus Young change their tone around a lot, and I’m kind of from that school.
For this project I’ve really got 2 distinct guitar tones that come from my main De Lisle amp and a solid state monster that I use live. And then I’ve got the bass rig that is really what separate’s us from other 2 piece bands. Sonically we are a four piece band live.
I’m still endorsing and using the Campbell American Transitone for my main guitar. I think we have a unique approach and I think the Campbell’s being such a unique design, fit my style well. Both Campbell and De Lisle are top notch American companies and got behind us from the start before the success we’ve had. I have a love affair with the guitar, and you won’t see me playing some piece of shite Montgomery Ward live just because I’m trying to be cool. It’s like going into a sword fight with a letter opener. De Lisle is working on a new blues oriented amp called a “Morganfield”, that I’ll be adding to the line-up. 18 watts, class A, nice trem and verb, and a 15” speaker.
G: So let’s talk about the EP. Why an EP as opposed to a full-length album? How have you approached producing this differently than your previous recordings? Were some things refreshing, some frustrating?
TCS: EP – Well for a number of reasons. Marketing mostly. If you have a LP that has 13 songs, and its 15 bucks, a lot of people will buy three songs on iTunes and say they’ve figured you out.
We don’t want people to buy Jesus’ Brother James and think they know us. Red Letter Blues may take an extra week of listening, but it’s worth the time invested. So by putting out an EP and not making the singles available, you have to buy into four songs. We are banking on pulling you in with those four as a fan. And it’s only 5 bucks. And then we can release 2 EP’s a year, keep momentum rolling, instead of releasing one LP a year and things getting stagnant. Digital downloads has just changed everything, and the smart folks will evolve.
Production We are still studio pups. The first EP we went into a room at SUMA played the songs, asked Paul if that was a good take, he would nod, and we’d move on. No producer, no overdubs, nada. This time we wanted to think out the sounds a little more and produce it ourselves a bit. Since the SUMA EP I had changed up my gear some and I wanted to concentrate a bit on the guitar tones as well, which I was unhappy with on the first record. We still went into Indy and plugged in, and played live while they tracked. The only difference is we spent a little more time pre-green light dialing in the sounds, but even that was really done in the garage before we went up. I still don’t think we are at a point where we are getting what we are hearing in our heads, but it’s a progression. The next studio trip we’re tracking in Nashville, to tape, and with a producer that will play the role of Colonel dictating how things are done.
Refreshing/Frustrating– Refreshing because this time we had played the tunes for months in clubs and really could PLAY them. Most everything we did was first take stuff. We’ve been playing together in this project for a couple of years now, but have done more dates than the other bands I’ve been in over a 5 year span. So we are pretty comfortable and tight now to our own standards. I think the frustrating part was after feeling like we had really tracked well, we weren’t hearing that fidelity that we wanted in the end result. So we spent some time working with the Johnson’s on the mix until we felt better about it. Wasn’t really anyone’s fault, I think we were just all hearing it a bit different. And in the end, all recording was done in one day, so not so much different than SUMA except time put in after the fact mixing.
G: The sound on this new EP is heavier and crunchier, if I may, than before. You’ve packed each song with some amazing hooks.
TCS: Thank you very much. I think the main difference in the heavier/crunchier bit is just my gear. The first EP I recorded a Firebird into an old Vox AC30. I wasn’t thrilled with the sound, but was kind of trusting Paul’s ears on the tone. I think in the end Paul was trusting mine. (laughing). On this EP I had the De Lisle Amp dialed into my tone, and was able to use the Campbell’s that I’d been used to live. Pop Machine has an ungodly amount of vintage amps and guitars at disposal, but I cut all main guitar tracks with the De Lisle, and used the Transitone and a Caledonian that Dean was kind enough to let me record with. I wanted to bring the guitars up a bit in the mix and focus on that more in the recording. It’s not exactly where I want to be, but I am much happier with it than the SUMA EP.
I never set out to write something with a hook, or something catchy. I just open myself up to the process, and what comes out-comes out. I don’t think there’s any Cold Stares song that lyrically I just didn’t just sit down and write out start to finish. Some songs like Jesus’ Brother James, I had memorized in my head before I even wrote it down. Writing a line, adding a second, repeating those two in my head adding a third, etc. I am very proud of some of the songs lyrically like that, Jesus Brother James, or John from the first album- but I don’t always think the lyrics have to be mind blowing to make a great rock and roll song. Looking at most of our song structures they are almost punk like, not really anything outside a couple are more than 3 minutes. So I think they have more of a chance to be catchy because they are meat and bones. And obviously I have no one to stand in for me for an extended solo. (smiles)
G: Would you mind giving us a little background on:
a. Black Angel b. Jesus’ Brother James c. Red Letter Blues d. Release You
Note: “Buy the whole set” link above will take you to the band’s CDBaby Page, not Guitarkadia’s.
Black Angel – I wanted a tune where we reversed things a bit. Usually I’ll have 1-2 guitar amps in the verses, and then bring the bass in on the chorus ala “Highway to Hell”. This one the bass is in the verses with the guitar and then drops out of the chorus for more of an Iggy Pop type feel with the hand claps. Lyrically it’s just speaking about a dark crutch you keep returning to, and hate yourself for doing so.
Jesus Brother James – I was listening to AC/DC’s “Flick of the Switch” around this time, and I think that’s where the main riff came from. Chromatic bridge section has my Black Crowe’s influence. The chorus is just that heavy 70’s guitar rock groove that I dig. Lyrically when I wrote this I knew it was very special. A lot of times really early in the morning a whole song will come to me like a dream, or a movie scene. A lot of my songs are visual to me, and this one I could taste the desert sand. I wrote the entire song in five minutes in my head, and then put it down, picked up the scratch pad the next day and really had the chills. To me the song just brings up the point that someone did live in the house with Jesus, grew up around him, was witness to these things he did.
Red Letter Blues– I wanted to go back to my early Delta influences on this one, so lyrically a lot of it derives from that Son House type imagery. I was also reading a bit of Poe, so the letter reference is two fold, a written letter from her to him ending things, and a “red” or scarlet letter for her to wear signifying all her running around. Musically we wanted to play around with the middle section, and I had toyed with that eastern scale structure, so we incorporated that. The heavy chorus section is influenced by a live album I always loved by HSAS, an eighties Sammy Hagar and Neil Schon one off thing which was actually the first concert I had seen on TV. Brian really kills it on this one drum wise and to me is kind of his signature piece as well.
Release You – A bit of Zep’s “How many more times”, a bit of Van Morrison’s “Gloria”, and quite a bit of lust. I’ll leave this one at that.
G: What’s next for The Cold Stares? How’re you gearing up for 2011?
TCS: Recording with Mark Neill in Nashville and another recording project with Tres Sasser and Chris Grainger in the spring. Touring as much as possible in this area, and hopefully pitching these EP’s to secure some deals to go on to tour nationally in 2012 for the entire year. Nashville is really the hot bed for rock right now in the states, so we want to spend at least the next 6 months finishing building our base here and maybe 200 miles out. We can’t really travel to another city and set up any better show than we can play in Nashville to be honest.
G: Starting a new 1,2,3 section –
a. One song, other than your own, that describes the year 2010 for you.
Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac “oh well”
b. Two words you’ve grown close to this year.
c. Three people you’d like to meet as you look forward.
Billy Gibbons, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck. Jeez that was easy.