Music with a purpose. Music that enticed me to stomp those two *left* feet. I was seeking. I was searching.
Enter my introduction to Shannon (drums, harp, vocals), Spence (lead guitar, vocals) Aaron (bass guitar, vocals) and Elliot (Rhodes piano, organ) of the San Francisco-based band, The Stone Foxes.
I met these fine gentleman at the KQED studios recently. My job was to profile artists that sing about California. I found my group.
Never heard of them? Oh, don’t worry. You will. This blues-rock band is coming to a small venue near you. May 4, Fillmore. Be there.
Before I go on, it’s time to clear my conscience.
Gina’s Shameless Confession #1: I have since developed a secret crush on The Stone Foxes. They rock my world…and my iPod. Guess it’s not a secret anymore.
Now, now. I promise. This is not some crazy-stalker obsession. According to the Wikipedia gods, “celebrity worship syndrome” is an obsessive-addictive disorder in which a person becomes overly involved with the details of a celebrity’s personal life. Don’t worry Shannon. I promise I won’t be peering into your bedroom window with binoculars. Well, at least not while I’m writing this blog post….
Gina’s Shameless Confession #2: I rock out to them in the shower, singing along with my less-than-American Idol voice. Why? Because they are cool. Why else? There’s just something about hot water and an audience of one, usually my pug staring at me, head tilted and howling, that makes me sound so much better.
Now that that’s off my chest…..
Brothers Shannon and Spence Koehler each have a unique style. If you saw them in a crowd, you probably wouldn’t guess they’re related.
A co-worker commented Shannon reminds her of the old Brawny Paper Towel guy.
Remember him? Outdoorsy, lumberjack heartthrob? (Not the most recent clean-shaven, revamped Brawny 2.0 version with a Queer-Eye makeover).
I could see her point. Shannon’s got a rough exterior, fair skin, blond hair and a mountain man-esque quality. I could just as easily see him playing drums as chopping wood with a large hatchet.
I ran the Brawny man description by the Foxes and it spawned a cacophony of laughter. Apparently, all the members have nicknames. Shannon’s include “Big Thumb” and “Charlie Meatloaf.” Spence is known as “Tim Lincecum, before he lost those long locks. Aaron is playfully called “Midget” “Elf,” or anything else reflecting his vertical challenges. (Although, he reminds me much more of a young Joe Pesci or a Jersey Boys cast member). And Elliot.—he’s referred to simply as “The Dentist.” Why? That’s as unclear as Mr. Big Thumb Charlie Meatloaf’s moniker, but one thing is perfectly clear, these guys all have fun.
But, back to Spence for a moment--he’s different than Shannon. Long, dark hair, black rimmed glasses that Shannon sometimes wears in jest. He’s also more soft-spoken than his brother.
When these two unseemingly related men get together, the familial relationship becomes obvious. Shannon likes to play jokes. Spence is usually the brunt of it. Yet, the brothers are in complete harmony with each other both in life and on stage.
“Yeah, he gets on my nerves sometimes,” Spence said. “But we’re best friends.”
Aaron Mort, longtime band member, confessed he’s been witness to several acts domestic battery between the siblings. Don’t worry. It’s more brotherly love type violence….and it sometimes involves cooking utensils.
“I’d call it Saturday morning cartoon violence. Shannon will grab a spatula and the fun begins,” Aaron said.
I learned a lot more during my interview. The Koehler brothers were destined for musicianhood from an early age.
The boys started playing music together when they were wee lads in a place called “Toll House.” Like a character from a Mark Twain novel, they lived a classic American childhood. Think dirt roads, farms, a fishin’ hole and ye ole’ general store. The nearest neighbor was 20 minutes away.
To put this in perspective, the unincorporated town is 220 miles from San Francisco, east of Fresno.
“We grew up on 40 acres of rolling hills,” Shannon recalls. “There was no going out to get ice cream. Mom said no video games. All we could do is play in the creek and play music.”
No, this isn’t the town that spawned those sinfully delicious chocolate chip cookies you find sitting in your pantry. Apparently they get that question a lot.
Even the town’s name is a misnomer---no toll roads. Starbucks and McDonalds have never soiled their land. There’s one gas station with one pump and one post office. Yep, these are a people of tradition, high up in the Sierra Nevada. A rugged sense of individualism defines their culture.
With this backdrop, the boys began playing music in middle school. Then, their dreams expanded.
The Koehler brothers moved to San Francisco for college and experienced extreme culture shock. They were wowed by the big buildings, the nostalgia and the iconic baseball team.
But, they noticed something else. Homelessness. Everywhere. Not just homelessness and poverty, but a complacency towards the individual, the human aspect of the person sleeping on the sidewalk.
Shannon would walk by the same homeless man every day. And every day he would just pass him by without acknowledging his presence.
“We see a lot of people just going to work everyday,” he said. “Folks are reaching out in need and we just walk right past them. Our eyes don’t divert to them. We just make a beeline to work.”
He started feeling desensitized. The band began to thrive. They cut two albums and were achieving success playing such venues as the Stern Grove Festival and Outside Lands.
But, the memory of that homeless man was etched into Shannon’s psyche. That feeling compelled him to compose the lyrics to my favorite song on the newest album, “Goodnight Moon.”
“The song is the story of someone who is trying to find a place to sleep,” he said. “He may be suffering from some mental illness. Maybe he gets lost and can’t make it to a shelter so he ends up sleeping on a sidewalk.”
Brawny, Lincecum, Pesci and the Dentist didn’t just write a song. They took several steps further. They’ve partnered with the non-profit SuperFood Drive to help alleviate hunger.
This spring they’ve been on tour from Fresno, where it all began, to New York City. At each show they’ve asked fans to bring healthy, non-perishable foods to help those in need. The food then gets donated to a local food bank. They want to raise awareness and action around healthier communities, especially low-income and homeless people.
Oh, and the band volunteers at a homeless shelter.
There are so many more reasons I fell in love with The Stone Foxes.
Perhaps it’s because one of their songs, “Beneath Mt. Sinai” is on my favorite television show, Sons of Anarchy. Season 2, Episode 204, “Eureka” episode.
Or maybe it’s because the guys love ice cream. Ice cream. Yes! I love ice cream too! Shannon, marry me! We can have an ice cream wedding cake. Kidding. Only kidding…..
But mostly, I dig these guys because they are genuine. Because they care and are humble to their success.
Also, because they are my screensaver on my iPad. Oh, and my phone. Also my computer. At work…and at home. They are my ringtone. My Facebook cover photo. That’s not excessive, right? Right? Oh boy. Maybe Wikipedia was onto something.