The Stone Foxes aren’t just living proof that rock is alive and well: They also stand as evidence that making a living as a band doesn’t always mean being dependent on a record label. For this San Francisco sextet, mind-blowing live shows, tenacious attitudes, and healthy doses of positivity have served them just as well. It also doesn’t hurt that their blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll has been picked up to soundtrack commercials for everything from Levis and Jack Daniels, to JanSport and BMW, as well as used on TV shows like Sons of Anarchy and Shameless. Frontman Shannon Koehler explains how the band, which is still independent, has made it so far on their own.
All Shook Down: With the state of the music industry today, do you think playing live is still the most important element in making a name for yourself?
Shannon Koehler (vocals, guitar): For us, being a rock ‘n’ roll band, the live stuff is huge. I love writing, but for me, there’s that special place where you can unite the crowd, and that’s my heart. When it becomes ‘We’re one group of people feeling this thing’, when you break all the walls, that’s what it’s all about. I think the live thing was enormous for us – just to find people that believed in us. When you find the people that do, you can create a team that won’t break around you, and that’s huge.
[jump] How do you even begin to build a “team” as an independent band?
SK: When I was an intern, it was my job to hand out stickers for [The Bone] radio station. One day, I had to do that at a Hooter’s where they were picking the ‘Rock Girl of the Week’. Our now-manager was one of the judges. I didn’t know him, but at the end of the night, he needed a ride back to the station, so I said, ‘I’ll take you’. So the whole ride, he was like, ‘I feel like a piece of shit and I’ll never work at a Hooter’s again! I feel sick about myself!’ and then right at the end, I was like, 'Right. Now here’s my demo!” That poor guy got a million demos every day, but once we got him out to a show, our team came together.
Who else do you have on your team?
SK: Outside the band stuff, it’s our manager, our booking agency, our lawyers, our publicist, our music publishing company, then guys that help us out with lights and sound – like George Rosenthal at [recording studio] The Complex, where we recorded our new record. We try to stay local and find people that really believe in it. Oh, and we have an investor…
SK: Yeah! That’s the playing live thing again. We were at South By Southwest, he was in the crowd, he became friends with our manager, and he has a long list of music technology companies that he invests in. He wanted to see what it was like to invest in a band.
A label owner once told me that the only real money left in independent music is by getting on a soundtrack or commercial. Would you agree?
SK: Well, it’s a huge piece of it. The majority of our ability to do this on our own has been getting licensing for commercials and stuff like that.
What’s the process of getting your song on TV?
SK: Honestly, they just find us and call us directly. I don’t know how that happens. Some of it, I do think, is the road dog mentality paying off. The Jack Daniels thing came about because a radio DJ recommended us to an ad agency.
That commercial must have helped in terms of exposure…
SK: I think there’s definitely people that heard about it and then called our manager and said, ‘We wanna use this…’ But one came up because we popped up on Spotify on a random playlist and the right person was listening. It can be really random, but that just means that every little bit you do as a band helps.
I think it’s intimidating for most bands to even consider going full-time without having a label…
SK: Here’s what it is: If a great label came to us and offered us a great deal, we’d say, ‘Well, hell, yeah!’ But until then, we’re going to say ‘no’ to bullshit and do this on our own terms because we can. I understand that we’re pretty lucky to be able to do that. A huge tip for any band is to remember that you can say no. For example, if a license comes to you for a shitty company, like, if Wal-Mart comes up and says, ‘We’re gonna give you $100,000,’ what are you gonna do? I’d like to think that I would flip over a table and throw my coffee in their face because you have to draw a line somewhere.
The way you released your latest album Twelve Spells – with the free First Friday releases – was really smart. How did that come about?
SK: We were in a unique position because each guy – Brian, Ben, and Vince – joined up to the crew one-by-one. So over this two-year period, we recorded the songs one-by-one, and, at the end, we had this sort of collection. It feels like a representation of how the crew banded together, and it chronicled the birth of whatever the hell we are now, so we didn’t just want to sit on it.
What can we expect from the New Year’s Eve show at Slim’s?
SK: It’s going to be a big assembly. We have the five guys that tour now – Vince, Ben, Brian, Elliott, and myself – but my brother, who still writes with us, is going to come play and I don’t want to spoil it, but there will be lots of special appearances, special tunes, and we’ll just play as hard as we can. I might even make out with somebody!
It’s New Year’s Eve, so you kind of have to!
SK: Yes, but I want it to be my true love. If not, that’s fine – we can agree to disagree later on (laughs) – but if someone tells me, ‘I’m your true love!’ I’ll say, ‘Sweet!’ because that’s what I’m looking for.
Anything else we should know?
SK: Yes. We collect food at every show – non-perishable, healthy goods – and then we take it to a local homeless shelter. We do this at every show, and we’ll be doing it on New Year’s Eve, so check your cupboards.
That’s so cool.
SK: I think a lot of people are searching for community, especially in San Francisco because there’s so much gentrification and wealth inequality. Musicians are getting pushed out because of the rents, but it’s important to remember music’s role in keeping the community alive. It’s important that we remind people that it’s not all gone.
The Stone Foxes, with Tumbleweed Wanderers and Coo Coo Birds play at Sim’s on Thurs., Dec. 31, at 8 p.m. $40–64.95; http://www.slimspresents.com/.