STONE WHISKEY – Wild Moonlight Troublemakers
May 25, 2021, a year ago
Roaring out of Raleigh, North Carolina, Stone Whiskey is one of the most promising new hard rock bands to emerge this year. Their sound is comparable to both Australian rabble-rousers The Poor, and San Francisco’s long since defunct Sea Hags. Add an abundance of original six-string energy, and Stone Whiskey is equally welcome in biker bars and at backyard BBQs. Guitarist Bill Spears and vocalist Alan Rueda recently spoke with BraveWords about their just released debut album, Rebels Of The Sun.
BraveWords: The opening song on the album, “Into The Moonlight”, contains the line “Downin’ bottles of Night Train” – an obvious Guns N’ Roses reference. The song “Nightrain”, from Appetite For Destruction, is an homage to Night Train Express, which is the cheap citrus wine the band used to drink during their early days in Los Angeles.
Alan Rueda: “Yeah, the story behind that song is, a buddy was telling me that there was this dishwasher at a restaurant that he used to work at in Myrtle Beach when he was a teenager, that was just the worst influence on kids. He would buy them drugs, and they’d do them in his van in the parking lot; they were drinking too. The Night Train thing was definitely an homage to GN’R; I threw that in there as a shout out. That’s definitely one of the driving forces behind our influence – GN’R, AC/DC, any of that ‘80s hard rock. The stuff that I grew up listening to is the stuff that I listen to still to this day, like Badlands and Ozzy; even the Hollywood Rose stuff before Guns N’ Roses, Rose Tattoo. All those bands are huge as far as what I listen to.”
BraveWords: Stone Whiskey chose to independently release Rebels Of The Sun. That seems to be a lot more common these days, especially with Dirty Honey having such tremendous success as an unsigned artist. Tell me about the decision to do it all yourself, and what that road’s been like thus far.
Bill Spears: “The labels that had interest in us, it really boiled down to not being financially welcoming at all. The best deal was a 30 / 70 split, but no money for promotion or PR, or anything. Some of the other labels took a 50 / 50 cut, but they don’t really give you the money you need to promote; anything they spend is really a loan that you have to pay back. Really, it just made more sense for us to do it on our own. If you’re not in the big leagues with the big money behind you, it’s almost counter-productive sometimes to try to come out of the gate with a label.”
Alan: “Just to add to that, after searching and talking to people, we realized that what some of these labels are offering, we can do ourselves anyway. Why get stuck with a label when we can do all our own artwork, all our own graphic design, build our own websites, do our own marketing and PR? If needed, hire a PR company to help get that out there. At what point do we need a label if we can do it all ourselves? Other than maybe helping us get our name out there and helping us get on some bigger shows. But even then, we’ve been hit up by promoters in Europe, and here in The United States – they want to get us on some of these festivals. We just don’t want to be locked into some contract and not be able to do what we want to do with our music. That’s really what it boils down to.”
Bill: “It was the right fit for this album to self-release. I’m not saying that a year down the road, if a label comes along and wants to take us to another level… of course, we’d be willing to talk about that. But this particular album, and this release, the people we were talking to… it just made the most sense at this time in our lives.”
BraveWords: Furthermore, you’ve got Anthony Focx producing, mixing, and mastering. The recipient of 17 gold and platinum awards, Focx has worked on over 500 releases, including titles from Buckcherry, Vince Neil, Aerosmith. How did you get hooked up with him?
Alan: “Good old-fashioned email.”
Bill: “I was a fan of his work for many, many years. When we started thinking about somebody to produce the record, he was top of mind for me because I’ve always wanted to work with him. I reached out and sent him a share of our demos. We just started talking, and it worked out great.”
Alan: “He took it and just made it sound pro. It sounds like any other great album I’ve heard, as far as quality, just sound wise. He took what we had and made it sound great! He was really easy to work with. He’d give us his suggestions as to what he thought he might like, and if we didn’t like it, he was okay with it.”
Bill: “There’s so many people out there that could mix things, the way the technology is. But you can’t compete with the kind of experience he has; you can’t argue with it. And the ear that he has to EQ everything perfectly.”
Alan: “Honestly, we had very little feedback after we handed off the stuff and he sent us back the initial mixes. It was like, ‘That sounds great!’ Done, move to the next one.”
BraveWords: Let’s go back in time a bit. Although Rebels Of The Sun is the debut album from Stone Whiskey, it isn’t the first band for either of you guys. Share a bit of your history with us if you will.
Bill: “I guess if you want to go all the way back, I started playing in original bands in Baltimore and the Washington DC area where I grew up. Then I relocated to North Carolina, at some point I got a job in a tribute band that made big money and played big shows. It kept me busy every weekend, and several years of my life went by. I wanted to get back to writing my own music again. While it was fun running around the country playing these songs, it’s not as satisfying. And me and Alan were at a party together; we knew each other, we were friends. But we’d never played together before. We just started kicking around the idea of putting together an original band. So, we wrote a few tunes, just me and him, to see what would happen. It was cool! We immediately said, ‘Who’s going to be in this thing?’ And we recruited the other three guys (guitarist Chris Clark, bassist Jim Hunter, and drummer Mike Ropelewski), who we’re friends with. It came together really quick, to be honest.”
Alan: “I’ve been a musician all my life. I’ve been on the North Carolina scene since the late ‘90s. Started in a band called Direct Frequency, then I ended up singing in a thrash metal band called Hellraiser – we were together for pretty much ten years. Got some regional recognition, but it kind of just fizzled out. Over the past five to seven years, until Stone Whiskey, I’ve been in a band called Dirty Remnants. We started as a cover band, doing the ‘80s B-sides. Stuff everybody kind of knows, but you didn’t hear on the radio, like old school Scorpions, Badlands. Songs from that era that you don’t really hear that often. We’re still kind of together, but not full force as we were before. So, me and Bill started talking, and that’s where Stone Whiskey came from. Us saying, ‘Let’s do a cool hard rock band.’ Let’s write some tunes together and see if something happens… and here we are today. We’ve just released our first album.”
BraveWords: The first album is titled Rebels Of The Sun, and there’s also a song called “Rebels Of The Sun”. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Bill: “That was probably the last song written, I think. It’s just such a cool name.”
Alan: “It’s kind of a funny story. When we’re demoing the stuff and I don’t have lyrics, I’m just off the cuff, not even saying real words. Bill and his wife were riding down the street one day and she thought that I said Rebels Of The Sun, and it stuck. We built the lyrics and the song around it, and it’s now the name of the album.”
BraveWords: In the mid to late ‘80s, the power ballad was compulsory. It was usually the third single to be released from an album, which is not the case for Stone Whiskey as “Empty Eyes” is the third single. However, Rebels Of The Sun does contain a power ballad, namely “Feels Like Yesterday”. Did you make a conscious effort to write a ballad?
Bill: “I think people are missing that. Like you said, that was a staple. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hard rock or metal band, you always had that ballad that reaches other people and other genres. I guess it was a conscious effort. It wasn’t contrived like, ‘Oh we have to have a ballad, let’s try to force one out.’ I’m a fan of ballads and acoustic guitar; it just kind of happened. It is going to be the fourth single; we already filmed the video for it. It’s being edited now.”
Alan: “It did kind of come naturally. With what our influences are, this album needed a ballad. Again, what Bill was saying, it was kind of a staple from what we were growing up listening to. Me and Bill got together, and he had an acoustic riff he was working with, we started jamming on it, and it developed into a ballad that’s on the album. We’re not sitting here saying everything’s got to be hard rock, we’re going to bring it back a notch and show a little bit of our softer side.”
BraveWords: Stone Whiskey upped the ante on “Feels Like Yesterday” by including piano and strings; it’s not just acoustic guitar and vocals.
Alan: “Yeah, we sent it off and we had kind of toyed around with the idea of adding that. Originally it was like, we need to start acoustic and gradually build up to where at the end it’s full on. We sent it off to get mixed before we added that. Focx came back and was like, ‘What do you guys think about adding keys to this?’ We originally thought about it but didn’t add it, we’ll try it. We had a friend of ours, Dina Altum, who’s a great musician. We reached out to her, and she was more than happy to arrange the strings and the keys. Once we heard it, there was no questioning whether it should be there or not.”
Bill: “It’s the only song on the record that has a guest musician. When Anthony first mixed it, the idea was just very lightly in the background. When we heard it, it sounded so cool, you’ve got to turn that up and make it a stronger part.”
BraveWords: Let’s talk about the videos. You’ve already released three, and as mentioned, a fourth is coming soon. Stone Whiskey is planning on filming a video for each song on the album, which equates to nine videos in total. That’s a lot of work!
Alan: “It’s a big goal, and we’re halfway there to meeting it. It’s a good way to keep attention on the band. People’s attention spans these days don’t last very long. So, the idea is, here’s the album, but if we keep hitting videos every month or two, whatever the schedule allows, by the time it runs its course, we’ll be into releasing the second album. There won’t be this lull where three years go by and it’s like, who’s Stone Whiskey? It’ll keep the name there.”
Bill: “With the nature of things today, if you don’t have a video – or multiple music videos – nobody’s going to be checking out your website or going to your page. You’ve got to have that kind of content these days. We just happen to have some very cool friends that are videographers, so it works out really well.”
BraveWords: What are the origins of the name, Stone Whiskey? Even if you’ve never heard of the band before, it’s the type of moniker that when displayed on a marquee, is capable of drawing people into the bar. Where did it come from?
Alan: “A lot of brainstorming and a lot of names that were not so good. It’s hard to find a name that doesn’t exist already, that’s still cool. It took a couple months for us to come up with it.”
Bill: “It got to a point one time where we were seeing who could come up with the most ridiculous name, just for laughs. But the actual name, we wanted it to be… like you said, something that screams rock ‘n roll. Not something over-complicated, we don’t want the name to be a sentence long. We want it to be simple, and cool. This is our brand.”
BraveWords: Distilling your own signature whiskey would be the ultimate merch.
Alan: “It’s definitely been talked about.”
Bill: “We need to start this now, so by the time it’s ready… I don’t know if it’s a realistic goal in the near future but that would be awesome!”
BraveWords: What’s your whiskey of choice?
Bill: “Jack Daniel’s – the good old fashioned.”
Alan: “We drink a lot of that at rehearsal – by the gallon, usually.”
BraveWords: The CD and digital versions of Rebels Of The Sun are out now, with the vinyl coming soon.
Alan: “We should have a vinyl release coming in mid-July. That’s in the works right now. Keep an eye on our website stonewhiskeyband.com."