It’s not just great song writing, warm guitars, a nut-tight rhythm section, and the occasional blues harp riffs that make The Stone Foxes’ so good; the Bay Area band consisting of brothers Shannon and Spence Koehler, and Aaron Mort have captured something else on their recordings and live shows that makes them huge, and very, very cool.
Listeners sense it right away. There’s a genuineness here that’s rare and refreshing, and it’s something that can’t be achieved simply by grabbing a couple of vintage axes and plugging into a stack of tube amps. Because while The Stone Foxes may be influenced by the greats of the late 60s and early 70s like The Band, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin, they never sound like they’re trying to be anything but exactly who they are. But then they don’t need to: their style of blues-rock stands on its own.
Still though, there’s something about their sophomore album “Bears & Bulls” that sets it well apart from other records. And to understand what it is, what makes this record so unique, so good; you need to know how The Stone Foxes approach their music.
“We’ll never be a traditional studio band,” says Aaron.
“The songs are worked out on stage and are meant to be played live,” adds Shannon.
That makes perfect sense to anyone that’s been to one of their shows: it’s clear the Foxes care far more about performing their music for living, breathing human beings than an empty room filled with microphones.
So rather than holing up in a studio, writing songs in a void, then cutting an album and touring it, The Stone Foxes work their new material out on stage over a period of months, playing it for their fans. And that’s part of what makes their shows, and this new record, so special. Each song in their arsenal has evolved organically over time, taking on a unique personality while retaining the core DNA that makes it a Stone Foxes original. Every song, every lick, every fill on Bears & Bulls has had its own unique path to maturity, taking the energy and feedback from the live experience and making it a critical part of the music.
When it was time to cut the record, the band knew that in order to capture the real soul of the music it would be critical to maintain that energy, those unique aspects of each song. So Bears & Bulls was recorded with virtually no overdubs, at a studio they built themselves.
“We found mattresses, put them against our garage walls and used planks of wood as dividers. Then we played the songs live and let the sound bleed in the mics,” says Shannon.
As a result, Bears & Bulls is an audio snapshot of exactly who and where The Stone Foxes were musically when they recorded it. They were all living together, listening to the same records, and singer songwriter Avi Vinocur was a member of the band at that time. It’s a reflection of their live show and a tribute to the interplay between musicians and fans. It’s a moment in time captured digitally, then mixed by Alex Newport and mastered by John Cuniberti in beautiful, warm, old-school analog. Just like it should be.
Spence Koehler, who along with brother Shannon grew up in the Sierra Foothills before moving to the Bay Area a few years ago, points out another thing about the new record that makes it unique. “You know,” he says, “all the instrumentation on the recording is the same as it is live.”
Right, the instrumentation thing: The Stone Foxes don’t have a set lineup on instruments. Since each song is unique, who plays what changes depending on the song’s personality. Shannon may come out from behind the drums to sing and play harmonica. Aaron and Spence regularly swap rhythm, lead, and bass duties, and every member sings lead on at least a few songs. But it’s no gimmick: like everything The Stone Foxes do, the instrument and vocal changes are a function of the natural evolution of their music and what works best on each song.
“It doesn’t matter who writes the lyrics,” says Shannon, “if someone else has a better voice for the song, they sing it.”
And the way they play it live is the way it’s laid to tape.
So you’ve got this band of players that can actually play, writers that can actually write, none of whom seem to have much ego: it’s about the music and the band over all – not the individual. You turn them loose to create songs that evolve and mature over time, then you drop them in a studio to track a record on their own terms. As it turns out, what you end up getting is something way deeper and more heartfelt than most bands ever deliver.
You also get a hint of what they’ll become. Because this collection of songs, from the raucous fun of “Stomp” to the slow grind of “Through the Fire” from the bad ass lick that opens “Patience” to the down and dirty blues of “Mr. Hangman” could only have been created by a band that’s fearless about following their music where it leads, and has the skills to share what they learn on the trip. And it’s a trip they’re still taking: The Stone Foxes and their music continue to evolve, and continue to deliver live shows that blow the doors off of venues along the way.
When asked if there’s one thing that they want their fans to know, there’s no hesitation: they say they have a huge amount of fun playing live, loved capturing their work on the record, and that they wouldn’t be doing any of this if they didn’t.
Really though, that’s completely unnecessary to mention: one listen to the record, one visit to a gig, and all that is clear from note one.
Bio written by Bradford Schmidt
“The four San Franciscans in The Stone Foxes have an energetic style that’s rooted in swampy, foot-stomping blues-rock. Their freshly released sophomore album,Bears and Bulls, tackles ambitious arrangements with diverse moods ranging from acoustic twang to thunderous electric-guitar riffs.”
"The Black Keys' new album...Dead Weather's Sea of Cowards...The Stone Foxes' Sophmore album...these groups' popularity may be the most exciting thing in music since Zeppelin."
"Mr. Hangman - The Stone Foxes...this ripping jam, a rant against the death penalty, is irresistible."
"In a time of laptops and drum machines, the roots-blues the band plays is a welcome change. Enthusiastic and talented, the Stone Foxes knocked it out of the park for the release of Bears & Bulls."
"Bears and Bulls, their latest release, rules...Catchy songs like ‘Young Man’ and ‘Patience’ will have you playin' air guitar in front of your mirror. Then they break it down to a very bluesy song ‘Easy,’ with so much emotion behind the arrangement and singing that it may provoke a tear."
San Francisco Chronicle
"One wouldn't expect this NoCal quartet to outdo their self-titled debut but with Bears and Bulls they most assuredly have. Brimming with confidence, precision and enough scruff and git to make Mick Jagger smile, Bears and Bulls is a scuzzy, greasy, summer opus and just the kind of thing to keep this band on the national radar. If this doesn't turn some heads, what the fuck will?"
"The gutbucket six-string riffs and soulful shout-singing on tracks like "Stomp," "I Killed Robert Johnson," and "Little Red Rooster" show this band of twentysomethings has been pounding the old-time gospel — Stones, Zeppelin, Aerosmith — since kindergarten. In much the same way Jack White salvaged dinosaur guitar jams from the ashes of 1980s Arena Rawk excess, the Stone Foxes use these grooves to tell their own contemporary San Francisco stories."
The SF Weekly
"Classic rock minded but sonically curious like modern boys tend to be, Bears & Bulls is one of the best records to slide across the JamBase desk this year."
"The Stone Foxes' kick out the blues powered jams with a precision and passion that is usually the stomping grounds (no pun intended) of rock veterans. It's been a while since the blues have sounded so fresh, so good and so modern."
"The Stone Foxes have serious chops and they know it. Such triumphal lyrics as I killed Robert Johnsonshould be a clue. The whole album is like a quick trip back to the drugged-out, laid-back Seventies. If only more bands still made records like this."
The East Bay Express
"...this group of four upstarts from San Francisco is poised to go ka-boom behind their juggernaut sophomore album, “Bears & Bulls,” which contains perhaps the best blues-rock tune of the last 20 years, “I Killed Robert Johnson.”
"Most of 'Bears and Bulls' sounds like it could’ve been recorded in Muscle Shoals, Alabama in 1970—but the Foxes bring a rawness and an unpretentious gang mentality (they swap instruments freely, and all four take turns at lead vocals) to their music that keeps it fresh. 'I Killed Robert Johnson,' a witty new spin on the old bluesman myth, is an obvious highlight, but so are folksier numbers like 'Easy' and barn-burners like 'Young Man,' which recalls Kings of Leon before they cleaned up for Top 40."
"The Stone Foxes are one of the niftiest new rock bands to rise up in the Bay Area scene in recent years."
"Check out their kick-ass track I Killed Robert Johnson and let their pure rock sound travel you back...Fecking yeah!"
"This band impressed me with their debut, and 'Bears and Bulls' proves that they weren’t a one-record-only group."
"All right, comparisons to The Rolling Stones might be a bit hasty, but if rock ‘n’ roll needs a savior — and sometimes it feels like it does these days — The Stone Foxes make one incredibly compelling case."
The Daily of the University of Washington