Posted in Whathaveyou on February 12th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Always cool to see good bands hitting the road together, and Lord Fowl and Freedom Hawk will be joining forces with some killer acts along the way, including Ape Machine, who just signed to Ripple Music, and their Small Stone labelmates and stewards of Texas heavy, Wo Fat.
Joining them on the trek will be North Carolina’s Irata. Dig the sass in the press release below:
Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata to Tour Your Pants Off
During Small Stone Records time the Ides of March circa 2013, Freedom Hawk hath been summoned by the Lord Fowl to bring their fuzzy, groovy, soulful heavy rock vibes with the reincarnated Irata coming along to help carry the torch. This spring they commence a sensory experiment, a flashback of sorts to an age when there was no CD players, smartypants phones or 24-hour news cycles.
Cruzin’ shall commence in cities Down, Left and Middle with a range of cohorts from Aethenoth to labelmates Wo Fat and like-minded Austrian groovehounds Been Obscene. Fests and showcases will be played, brains will be blown and hearts will be broken. Dig it if you dare:
Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl & Irata: SXSW & More 03/08 Chapel Hill, NC @ Nightlight w/ Collossus 03/09 Murrell’s Inlet, SC @ Rockin Hard Saloon 03/10 Columbia, SC @ New Brookland Tavern w/ Carolina Chupacabra 03/11 Athens, GA @ Caledonia Lounge w/ Savagist, Guzik 03/12 Birmingham, AL @ Nick w/ Aethenoth 03/13 Lake Charles, LA @ Luna Live w/ Large Marge 03/14 Austin, TX @ Headhunters – Small Stone SXSW Showcase 03/15 San Antonio, TX @ Nightrocker Live – SXSA Small Stone Showcase w/ Wo Fat & Las Cruces 03/16 Austin, TX @ Scoot Inn – Converse/Thrasher “Deathmatch” @ SXSW – The Power of the Riff – Free Day show 12-4pm. 03/16 Fort Worth, TX @ The Grotto – Fuzzed Out! Fest w/ Wo Fat and Southern Train Gypsy, Ape Machine, Been Obscene, Mothership 03/17 Nashville, TN @ TBA
Come Rawk out with your Hawk out, Bow to the Fowl, and rock Irata more!
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 21st, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster
Truth be told, they’ve been putting on shows during SXSW since 1997, but 2013 makes it a full decade that Small Stone has been doing an official SXSW showcase, and the venerable Detroit imprint are celebrating in style. I always get a little wistful thinking about my days in Austin at these parties — I went four years from 2003-’07 — and from seeing Suplecs touring on the strength of a post-Man’s Ruin demo to watching Sasquatch and The Brought Low lay waste to the room. Good friends, cheap beer, occasionally Mexican food. Some of the best times I’ve had at shows were at those things, and not just for the refried beans.
I won’t be making the trip this year, but consider it highly recommended nonetheless if you can get down that way. Brian Mercer has once again provided the poster for the shindig, which is below, followed by the lineup and set times:
Marking 10 years of official SXSW showcases, Detroit’s Small Stone Records returns to Headhunters (720 Red River) on March 14 with some of the finest in heavy rock. This year’s Small Stone showcase is headlined by New Orleans veterans Suplecs and Connecticut upstarts Lord Fowl, and features Virginia’s Freedom Hawk and Texan natives Wo Fat along with Luder, Supermachine and Mellow Bravo. For lovers of classic guitar and motor-ready grooves, it gets no better than Small Stone, and with a decade under their belts, they still throw a party like none other. Expect the epic.
Date: Thursday March, 14th, 2013 Venue: Headhunters – 720 Red River – Austin, TX – 78701 1 am: Suplecs (New Orleans, LA) 12 mid: Lord Fowl (New Haven, CT) 11pm: Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA) 10pm: Wo Fat (Dallas, TX) 9pm: Luder (Ferndale, MI) 8pm: Supermachine (Dover, NH) 7pm: Mellow Bravo (Boston, MA)
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 28th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
A friendly reminder that this very Saturday is Small Stone‘s showcase at The Magic Stick in Detroit. Since the one in Boston earlier this month was such an unholy good time, I can only heartily recommend that the entire Midwest shows up and prepares itself for riffy communion. Even if The Obelisk wasn’t presenting it, it’d still be a kickass rock gig, and probably as far east as we’re going to get Sasquatch anytime soon.
Label honcho (and Luder guitarist, as it happens) Scott Hamilton was recently interviewed by Detroit’s Metro Times about how he manages to thrive where so many others have succumbed to the likes of internet piracy, generational disinterest in rock, and so on. Pretty fascinating read, but before you click over, make sure you’ve got the skinny on the gig Saturday, because you don’t want to miss it.
Since many folks have been asking us for a few years now, we have finally caved in… So here it is in all its glory, a full blown SSR Showcase in the state that we actually live in. We have put together a top notch line up which features the return of New Jersey’s Halfway To Gone for the first time since 2005! Come early, stay late… The Magic Stick is great venue, and the drinks will be flowing at reasonable prices too… It should be an epic evening of rawk… Hell, we might even have copies of the new album from Five Horse Johnson at the show too.
Halfway To Gone (Long Branch, NJ) Five Horse Johnson (Toledo, OH) Sasquatch (Los Angeles, CA) Freedom Hawk (Virginia Beach, VA) Luder (Ferndale, MI)
Doors: 7pm Tickets: $10.00
The Fine folks over at Tito’s Vodka are helping us and the Magic Stick will have Tito’s Drink Specials All Night!
The loot was manifold. Priority Mail flat-rate boxes spread across a long table in a dining room, packed full of old promos from years past. Many of them were familiar to me — sleeves of this or that label release, jewel case demos from just a few years back when such a thing didn’t seem outlandish. Bent-corner digipaks, some of records I’ve known, enjoyed, reviewed, or put on an office shelf to languish, and many others unfamiliar, new names, or older releases from recognizable purveyors of the peculiar styles that were once lumped under the general banner of the old StonerRock.com.
Small Stone bands — Roadsaw, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk — played through computer speakers, which was appropriate, since it was the same night as the Boston Small Stone showcase at Radio. This, however, was earlier in the afternoon, and the boxes, the table, the computer speakers and the lovely house in Massachusetts in which they all resided belonged to one John Pegoraro, also known as Arzgarth. The promos were discs he’d accumulated over the years writing for the aforementioned and still-missed outlet, and I was more than happy to give them a good home.
There was some genuine treasure in the mix, and some albums Johnseemed loathe to part with — a feeling I can certainly understand, owning as I do many CDs that I’ll probably never want to listen to again and still others I never listened to in the first place and yet can’t seem to wrap my brain around getting rid of. Not to say anything against Mountain Mirrors or Whoremaon or Dark Fog or Lost Youth, whose discs I haven’t even had the chance to hear as of today, but it was probably harder to let go of older stuff like Bible of the Devil‘s 2002 sophomore outing, Firewater at My Command, Throttlerod‘s By the Horns1999 demo, Freedom Hawk‘s Universaldemo or Roadsaw‘s Takin’ Out the Trash. No joke, I was honored to be able to take these things and the rest with me when I left.
Along with stuff by Slomatics, Assrockers – from whence Borracho sprang — and Michigan devil worshipers Beast in the Field (their first and third), those were some of the highlights of the haul, but things like Mean Mother ‘s 2009 self-titled, the self-titled Telestrion and a promo-only copy of Yellow #5‘s Demon Crossing, which featured Brant Bjork on drums and Dave Catching on guitar and basked in Palm Desert weirdness, were a boon as well. I grabbed the first Mind Funk, which was recommended to me a long time ago, two records from Iron Giant, the self-titled Maligno, some Hawg Jaw, an L7 live record on Man’s Ruin, and stuff by Lords of Bastard, The Red Plastic Buddha, Obskuria, Upwards of Endtime and The Valley as well.
Collector’s impulse, which I suppose is what had me there in the first place, led me to pick up the jewel case promo of the self-titled debut from Kalas, released on Tee Pee in 2006. The band was a side-project for Matt Pike at the time, and I already own it — I actually never got a full-artwork copy, so now I just have two of the promos — but it’s not something you see around, and again, I figured better to have it than not. You never know when a meteor will strike the ‘Ka-Ki’ shelf and you might need a replacement waiting in the wings.
It was an exceptional opportunity from an exceptionally good dude (you can read Arz‘s review of that night’s showcase here), and I look forward to continuing to dig through the box, pull out discs at random, and enjoy listening. I’ve got a ways to go, but if it’s a long haul, count me in. Thanks John for the chance.
Posted in Reviews on November 5th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
It was the night of a thousand riffs. At very least 100-150 very well purposed. A Small Stone Records showcase is always an occasion and this year’s Boston to-do was no exception. The scene was the Radio bar in Somerville, and though The Brought Low dropped off at the last minute owing to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lineup boasted nine bands — Boston natives Mellow Bravo stepped in to fill the hole, playing earlier than the NYC trio would have — and it was front to back quality between them, Blackwolfgoat, who opened and also played in between sets, Supermachine, Infernal Overdrive, Lord Fowl, Freedom Hawk, Roadsaw, Lo-Pan and Gozu.
What do you do with a night like that? Well, you drink. And I did. Hard. I have a tradition — someone choosing their words less carefully might call it a “habit” — going back nearly a decade at this point of showing up to Small Stone events and promptly getting obliterated. At last year’s Philly showcase (review here and here), I played it cool for the most part. Less so this weekend. Maybe it was just that it was Saturday and I knew I had Sunday to recover, maybe it was the fact that I still didn’t know if the power was on back home yet. Whatever it was, I opened a tab and didn’t look back. My storm-refugee ass needed a night of reckless abandon.
After being dropped off in front of Radio by The Patient Mrs. as though I was on my way to my first day of kindergarten — schooled indeed — I walked in to find Darryl Shepard of Blackwolfgoat early into his set. Downstairs in the basement, a matinee of three sets of Beatles covers would soon give way to a sweaty, smelly night of punk rock. Seems as good a jump-off point as any, so here goes:
With a cocktail straw in his mouth and a bounce in his step (minus the bounce), Blackwolfgoat‘s lone resident, Darryl Shepard — also of currently of Black Pyramid and Milligram and formerly of Hackman, Roadsaw and no shortage of others — showed off some of the latest wares from his one-man act. Shepard would soon adjourn to Radio’s semi-balcony off to the left of the stage, where he’d sit at the ready and wait to drone out a tune or two between other acts, but before he got there, he played some material from last year’s Dronolithand some newer stuff. The newer songs find him using more dynamic loops, setting a droning bed for himself and then launching into — in at least one instance — a grandiose classic rock solo over it. It was awesome to see, and the melody in that solo and around it proved just one more way the project is expanding sonically. He’ll reportedly be recording soon, and of course that’s something to look forward to. Pretty much any day you get to see this dude play guitar is a good day. If you get to see him do a full set to start a show and a bunch of mini-sets between seven or eight other acts, well then, all the better.
There was an interesting mix of stage presences when it came to Boston’s own Mellow Bravo. The first full band on the bill was also the newest to Small Stone‘s roster save for Supermachine, who followed, and they released their self-titled debut album (review here) on the label via a Mad Oak Recordings imprint earlier this year. In the case of charismatic vocalist Keith Pierce and guitarist Andrew Doherty, they seemed birthed of Boston’s formidable hardcore/metalcore scene, whatever soul records they may have dug into since those days, keyboardist/vocalist Jess Collins came off more on the heavy metal end, while guitarist Jeff Fultz (ex-Seemless) had the lead licks and enviable hair of a modern classic rocker. Mix all that with the rhythm section of sunglasses-clad bassist Seager Tennis and drummer Dave Jarvis, and it’s a strange six-piece stew resulting from Mellow Bravo‘s recipe. Nonetheless, they were resoundingly cohesive, putting on a professional show — staged in parts, like when Collins came out from behind the keyboard to front “Ridin’” — and looking like a band who should and expected to be paid for their work. “Love Hammer” was a highlight, but really just one of the memorable songs on their debut that the band did well bringing to life.
There are few phrases that will earn respect in my book as quickly as “ex-Scissorfight.” In the case of label newcomers Supermachine, bassist Paul Jarvis and guitarist Jay Fortin were founding members of that most excellent New Hampshire outfit — both also played in Mess with the Bull – and so interest in what they might be doing musically was automatic, especially as this was my first time seeing them or hearing any of their songs. Joined in the four-piece by drummer Mike McNeill and vocalist David Nebbia, there was a moment where I stood in front of the stage at Radio and was reminded of hazy afternoons and evenings at Room 710 on Red River in Austin, Texas, at many a Small Stone showcase years back there, when I was still relatively just getting my feet wet in terms of appreciating and being exposed to this kind of music. If that’s a long way around to saying Supermachine sounded fresh, so be it. Their performance was organic and unpretentious — though there was no question which of them was the lead singer, even before they got on stage — and while they seemed to still be feeling out their identity as a band, they gave a good first impression.
True enough, I’d had some beers by the time Infernal Overdrive started playing, maybe visited the basement Beatles show downstairs to weird everyone in the room out by singing along to “Can’t Buy Me Love” way louder than was called for. I nonetheless recall being entirely of sound mind when I scribbled my first note about Infernal Overdrive‘s performance. It was as follows: “New shit is right on.” I stand by that 100 percent. They might need to hit the road for a while to really step into what and where they want to be as a band, but short of that, they’ve got their aesthetic down. No less so at Radio than at Stoner Hands of Doom XIIin September. Part of me wants them to just go ahead and get the next record out so they can start closing with “Viking” already, but as the room was beginning to fill up, the Jersey/Massachusetts-native double-guitar foursome treated an eager and thirsty crowd to “Motor” and “The Edge” from their Last Rays of the Dying Sun2011 debut full-length (review here) and those songs rested well alongside newer cuts like “Quints Revenge” and “Ride to the Sun.” As ever, they tore through their set, capping with the cowbell/fuzz swiftness of “I-95,” which set the stage well for Connecticut’s Lord Fowl, who followed.
Continue to impress. Despite an apparently ongoing throat problem for guitarist/vocalist Vechel Jaynes — I actually take it as a sign of someone giving a shit both about what they do and what I think about what they do when artists tell me about their various injuries, illnesses, aches and pains; that kind of thing can be good to know sometimes, though Jaynes‘ trouble did little to hold back Lord Fowl at Radio — the New Haven, Connecticut, four-piece dove headfirst into material from their Moon Queenlabel debut (review here), rising to the occasion of directly following Infernal Overdrive and making me remember why I like this kind of shit so much in the first place. They also gave a fitting sequel to when I saw them at SHoD XII, guitarist/vocalist Mike Pellegrino comfortable as he always seems to be fronting the band alongside Jaynes while bassist Jon Conine and drummer Don Freeman locked in grooves thick and slick in equal measure. “Streets of Nevermore” was a highlight, and the one-two punch of “Quicksand” and the insistent swirl of “SOS” was no less engaging on stage than it was late into Moon Queen. I wondered a bit what their next album might bring, if they’d keep to a thematic, semi-psych heavy rock approach or branch out elsewhere as they move forward, and then The Patient Mrs. showed up looking all fine and I got distracted. Ha.
Quietly, more than a year had passed since I last caught Virginia’s fuzz buzzards live, but Freedom Hawk were the most in their element at Radio that I’ve ever seen them. The songs from their Holding On 2011 label debut (review here) have cooled and tightened into a fine, viscous ooze, and the set had more than a few killers to it, including the recent video track “Indian Summer.” They’re a good band, and fresh on my mind as I’d just that very afternoon acquired their first demo in a haul of old promo material (more on that tomorrow), so I was glad to have our paths cross again at last. A less raucous delivery than either Lord Fowl or Infernal Overdrive – both of whom put on a hell of a show — Freedom Hawk were nonetheless in the right place at the right time. The crowd was boozed and well warmed up, and Freedom Hawk‘s “all fuzz, no bullshit” was right at home, guitarists TR Morton (also vocals) and Matt Cave leading with ’90s-style stoner rock riffing while bassist Mark Cave and drummer Lenny Hines provided weight and pulse to the rolling groove. I don’t know if someone thought they were being clever by playing Ozzy before they went on (Morton‘s vocals being geared in that direction), but Freedom Hawk showed they’re moving more toward becoming their own outfit and incorporating whatever influence it might be — Ozzy, Fu Manchu, Kyuss, etc. — into a sound more fully theirs. Worth noting that at this point there hadn’t yet been a band whose next album I wasn’t stoked at the thought of hearing.
In true showcase fashion, Roadsaw delivered a set that not only showed why they’re the godfathers of Boston’s heavy rock scene, but ran a gamut through their own catalog — opening with “Look Pretty Lonely” from 2008′s See You in Hell!, and also including “Keep on Sailing” and “Thanks for Nothing” from 1997′s Nationwide — on which Shepard joined on lead guitar from his spot on the balcony — “Buried Alive” and “Disconnected” from 2007′s Rawk ‘n’ Roll, “Monkey Skull” from 2012′s Roadsaw EP, and “Weight in Gold” and “Long in the Tooth” from their 2010 self-titled full-length. I said earlier this year at London Desertfest that I wanted to see them on their home turf, and I was glad to have the opportunity at last. If it’s any indicator of how it all went down, they delayed the start of their set to get another round of drinks. Yes, it was that kind of party. The stage at Radio wasn’t as small as that at the Small Stone showcase in Philly last year — it was somewhere between that and the more spacious at the El ‘n’ Gee in Connecticut, where SHoD was held, and which Roadsaw also played — so I didn’t think vocalist Craig Riggs was about to bean bassist Tim Catz or guitarist Ian Ross with his spinning microphone (ever-shirtless drummer Jeremy Hemond being well out of range), but they made short work of it nonetheless, and even went so far as to bring up Infernal Overdrive guitarist/vocalist Marc Schleicher for an encore of “The Gentle Butcher,” from Nothing that a Bullet Couldn’t Cure by the band Antler, of which he, Ross, Catz and Riggs were a part. As ever, they were in classic form.
A scant two weeks before leaving for a tour with High on Fire and Goatwhore that will have them playing in the biggest venues of their career to date, Columbus, Ohio’s Lo-Pan looked ready. I think they’ve already discovered that the reward for the hard work they’ve been putting in over the last couple years is actually just a bunch of even harder work, but they seemed hungry nonetheless. It had been more than a year since I’d seen them as well, and along with a new shorter haircut for guitarist Brian Fristoe, they had two new songs in the set alongside cuts from 2011′s brilliant-and-yes-I-fucking-mean-brilliant Salvador(review here). Both “Eastern Seas” and “Colossus” had Fristoe‘s steady progressive-edged fuzz, made thicker by Skot Thompson‘s basslines, but seemed to push vocalist Jeff Martin farther into his range as well as Jessie Bartz — front and center as always — tied it all together on drums. As I told Bartz when they were done, I’d like to hear them 85 or 87 more times before I make final judgment, but they sounded pretty dead on, and fit well with “Kurtz” from 2009′s Sasquanaut(which Small Stone reissued) and “Chichen Itza,” “Deciduous,” “Bird of Prey” and set closer “El Dorado” from Salvador, all of which remain as powerful in a live setting as they were the first time I saw them. Lo-Pan was my only real headbang of the show. When they were done, I stumbled my drunk self around the side of the building and threw up barely a fraction of the beer I’d drank, taking care to keep it out of my hair and beard, then went back inside, washed up downstairs while trying to ignore the stench of punker sweat, lest I retch again, and headed back into civilization in time for the start of Gozu, who rounded out the night. I’d been a wreck despite having my last beer sometime during Roadsaw, but with just one band still to go, there was no turning back now.
Much to his credit, it was Gozu guitarist Doug Sherman – he of the perilously short guitar strap — who put the whole gig together. From the second I was walking into the venue, way back before anyone played other than Blackwolfgoat, before all the beer, the barbecue, the more beer, the rock and roll and the more beer, Sherman was outside greeting people, there the whole time, and he and his band very quickly showed by they were just right to close out. Guitarist/vocalist Marc Gaffney (above, left) has a subdued presence on stage, quiet and reserved — a good balance for Sherman‘s energy — and his performance has been spot on every time I’ve seen him, making vocal up and down vocal dexterity look easy while also joining Sherman on guitar and driving the songs forward with driving riffage. Bassist Joe Grotto was a new addition to the band since I saw them in March — also at Radio, as it happens — but he fit right in the rhythm section with drummer Barry Spillberg, and being revived following my ritualistic purge, I was in decent enough shape to appreciate their even-thicker take on “Meat Charger” and “Meth Cowboy” from their 2010 Locust Seasondebut (review here), on which they were joined by Ian Ross of Roadsaw (above, on right guitar). Their sound is too thick to really be a boogie, but that forward motion is there, and Gaffney brings a sense of drama to their choruses that stood them out from everyone else on the bill at Radio. They had a couple new songs as well, and whatever they do next, it’ll be a welcome arrival.
I know I post a lot of shit about Small Stone bands. I go see them play when I can, I review the records, I do interviews, post tour news, posters, and so forth, but the fact of the matter is this: That’s not coincidence. It’s a short list of American labels contributing anything of merit to the genre of heavy rock — by my estimation there are maybe five, with a few others who’ve glommed onto this or that trend within the sphere of Riff — and Small Stone are right there at the top. From the label’s days providing a haven to bands like Acid King and Sons of Otis in the wake of Man’s Ruin‘s demise, to fostering its own upstart acts like Sasquatch (not that they’re upstarts now, but they were when their debut was released), Infernal Overdrive, Gozu, Lo-Pan, Sun Gods in Exile, and Lord Fowl, while still keeping a commitment to what he does best, label head Scott Hamilton has patronized some of the best American heavy rock out there today, to the point where “the Small Stone sound” is an influence unto itself for bands around the world to pick up on. To be perfectly honest about it, it’s a cause I feel is worth supporting.
Small Stone’s next showcase is in Detroit at the Magic Stick on Dec. 1. More info here.
When the show was done, I was so tired I thought I’d fall asleep walking to catch a cab back to the hotel. There were goodbyes to be said, tales of hurricane survival to regale with and be regaled by, and a bar tab to close out, but I was quick about it, and before too long, The Patient Mrs. generously corralled me into a taxi. I was more lucid than I had been at several points in the evening by then, but still, sleep came as quick and as heavy as the riffs still stuck in my head. We had to drive back to Jersey on Sunday and figure out if the lights were back on yet after the storm (they were as of that afternoon), but if that was to be the finale of “refugee living,” I didn’t make out so bad.
Posted in Whathaveyou on November 1st, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster
I’ve never been to a Small Stone showcase in Boston before. Sure, I was at both nights of the Philly one last year (review here and here) and I caught Gozu and Infernal Overdrive together at Radio this past March (review here), and looking at the list, the only band on it I’ve never seen is Supermachine — and I saw Scissorfight, from whence they come — but still, Boston’s a different beast. To tell you the truth, every time I hit the town, I feel a little bit like I’m going to get my ass kicked.
Perhaps then, it would be wise for me to hit the warm-up show slated to happen one day before the showcase proper. Elder (who so far as I know are not on Small Stone) and Infernal Overdrive will play at the taqueria No Problemo in New Bedford at 10PM. If you’re north of there, Gozu and Freedom Hawk will be on a bill at Asylum in Portland, ME. Drummer Mike Bennett of Infernal Overdrive posted the following notice and flyer:
Tomorrow night there will be a few warm up gigs starring some of your favorite Small Stone bands….
Asylum -Portland, ME w/ GOZU, Freedom Hawk, Murcilago and Whitcomb No Problemo – New Bedford, MA w/ Infernal Overdrive and Elder….. All leading up to the big event Sat. !!!
And then of course there’s the showcase itself on Saturday at Radio in Somerville. As awesome an assemblage of Small Stone acts as I’ve had the privilege to see. Here are the details, courtesy of the Thee Facebooks event page:
Nov. 3rd-Radio, Boston Small Stone Showcase 10 dollars!!! Dudes- BEER-PETTING ZOO!! Purchase Tickets HERE:
One thing there’s more of than you’d expect in Freedom Hawk‘s new video for the song “Indian Summer?” Hugs. The song comes off their 2011 Small Stone debut, Holding On (review here), and the clip features a sort of literal interpretation of the title, but is pretty cool anyway, as the band is all in the dunes and whatnot and of course the track rules. That always helps, unless you’re trying to get Freedom Hawk out of your head. It probably wouldn’t help that.
Directed by Keith Jackson, here’s “Indian Summer” by Freedom Hawk. Enjoy:
Freedom Hawk will also be at the 2012 Small Stone Boston showcase, Nov. 3 at Radio in Somerville. More info on that here.
Brian Mercer (interview here) killed it this time. He really, really did. Check it out. Small Stone‘s Boston showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio, with Gozu, Lo-Pan, The Brought Low, Roadsaw, Freedom Hawk, Lord Fowl, Infernal Overdrive, Supermachine and Blackwolfgoat.
You might also note whose logo is on the bottom left. Bad ass. Can’t wait to get me one framed and then not have a house to put it up in (zing! Oh wait, I just zinged myself, damnit).
Showcase is Nov. 3 at Radio in Somerville. For more info on it and on the upcoming Detroit showcase, which I’m just waiting to get up the courage to ask Halfway to Gone for a ride out to, hit up Small Stone on Thee Facebooks.
Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.
Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”
That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.
One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.
Here they are, ordered by the date of release:
1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)
Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.
2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)
Personally, I think 2005′s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009′s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.
3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)
In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.
4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)
The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.
5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)
I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.
6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)
Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.
7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)
It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.
8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)
Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.
9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)
It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.
10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)
If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011′s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.
That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘sSongs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.
And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.
Posted in Reviews on September 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
I don’t know if being so late to Kyuss Lives! the other night made me more in a hurry to get to The M-Room for the start of the Small Stone Records showcase in the Philadelphia Film and Music Festival or not, but considering that it took me an hour to go seven exits sound on the Garden State Parkway, I was glad to have allotted myself the extra time. It being my second time in Philadelphia in a week, the drive was familiar, and once I got on the Turnpike, not bad in terms of traffic, but it was moot anyway, since (as I found out upon arrival) the first band wasn’t going on until 8:30 or so.
There were a couple years there where I never missed a Small Stone showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas. It was 2004-2007, and I still consider those to be some of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Memories of those days and nights (hazy at times) came back throughout the course of the evening, but it was a different kind of vibe altogether in Philly. The M-Room is a small place, essentially a bar split in half with a pub on one side and the venue on the other. The space where the bands play is rectangular, and the stage has a kind of divot cut out the right side. For being small though, it’s got decent sound, as I found out earlier this year when I drove down to see Lo-Pan and Backwoods Payback do a show together.
Both of those bands played last night, as did Virginian rockers Freedom Hawk, New Orleanian mainstays Suplecs, and my current home-state heroes, Infernal Overdrive, who kicked off the night. Their set seems as good a place to start the notes as any, so here goes:
Infernal Overdrive: They’re Jersey‘s rock hope. They don’t yet have a record out (it’s reportedly being mastered), but I’ve heard some of the tracks, and if their live show is anything to go by, the thing is going to smoke. Fronted by the classic rock charisma of Marc Schleicher (ex-Cracktorch), they were perfect to start the night off, and their album has quickly become an anticipated release for 2012. As drummer Mike Bennett launched into a solo toward the end of their set, Schleicher — whose brother Keith more than ably rounds out the rhythm section on bass — jumped off the stage and danced his way through the crowd like a stoner rock James Brown. I’ve seen him do it before, but it’s awesome to watch someone have so much fun making good music, and with the show-stopping lead work of guitarist Rich Miele, Infernal Overdrive‘s potential was practically dripping from the ceiling. Killer band. If you don’t know their name yet and you dig the rock, you will.
Freedom Hawk: Hard to argue with straightforward fuzz rock topped with vocals that sound straight off Bark at the Moon, and that’s what Freedom Hawk does best. Their first album, which came out on MeteorCity was a little less realized than the new Holding On, but the four-piece’s development has taken a really interesting course. Like Sheavy before them, they’ve successfully partnered stoner riffing with an early Ozzy Osbourne vocal approach — guitarist T.R. Morton does it really well both live and on record — and their set was strikingly tight. The last time I saw them was a few years back in Manhattan, and they were all around a better band this time, guitarist/bassist brothers Matt and Mark Cave were in tandem enough to underscore the relation, and drummer Lenny Hines very casually kicked ass. Seriously. He was casual about it. I don’t know how else to say it than that.
Lo-Pan: I’ve said an awful lot about Lo-Pan this year, but what struck me most about this set, aside from the fact that I could see Lo-Pantwice in the same week and still be way into it, was “Bird of Prey.” Not three days after seeing Kyuss Lives! do “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” and “Bird of Prey” was better. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s honestly how I feel about it. So much of their material is upbeat, quick — it kind of rushes at you as they play it — and then the big slowdown in “Bird of Prey” is a completely different atmosphere and the hard-touring Ohio foursome have mastered it. Their set, as ever, was a highlight of the night. I don’t even know how many of their shows I’ve caught at this point — frontman Jeff Martin told me before the show started that he’d seen more of me in the last two months than his family — but the songs haven’t lost any of their power for the increasing familiarity, and I find I’m no less excited about Salvador today than I was when I first heard it toward the end of last year. If it wasn’t so much work on the band’s part, you could almost call it magic.
Backwoods Payback: Were the local draw as much as anyone was. The West Chester, PA, two-guitar four-piece play so loose that you think at any point the whole song could just come apart as they play it. What makes them works so well on stage is that it never does, but every time I’ve seen them, it’s looked like the band just wrote these songs an hour ago. They have a freshness and an energy to them, and I’m apparently not the only person who thinks so, as they pulled in the biggest crowd of the night. Of all the bands on Small Stone‘s roster currently (and it’s a packed lineup), I feel like Backwoods Payback could really go anywhere with their sound. They have a kind of country underpinning that’s bound to poke its head up sooner or later, and frontman Mike Cummings looks ready to break out an acoustic guitar at any moment. They’re a fascinating act to follow, but more than that, their rock is damn heavy. It was a tough spot for them to be sandwiched in between Lo-Pan and Suplecs, but they gave a solid showing, as always.
Suplecs: At one point during their set, Suplecs guitarist Durel Yates made mention of the band’s being used to playing three hours at a clip in New Orleans. Watching them both in Philly and earlier this week in Brooklyn, I believe it. The set they played at The M-Room wasn’t a completely different list of songs, but they definitely took it in a different direction, and where in Brooklyn, I’d been struck by the variety in their material — the jams, the punk, the stoner — last night it was more straight up rocking. “Gotta Pain,” “Stand Alone” and “Tried to Build an Engine” from Mad Oak Redoux were highlights, and they made it readily apparent why they were headlining instead of playing anywhere else on the bill. Having not seen them in at least six years (Tuesday notwithstanding), it was interesting and encouraging to see them as the statesmen of the Small Stone lineup, even though they just put out their first record through the label. They still threw some jams in at the end, and they killed, plain and simple. When they finished, the crowd shouted for one more song, and they delivered yet again. For a band that’s had so much bad luck in their time together — from the dissolution of Man’s Ruin Records just before a European tour to Hurricane Katrina more or less derailing them entirely — you couldn’t help but be glad they were getting their due at The M-Room. Great band. They need to put out another record before half a decade has passed.
I said my goodnights and marched back to my car — parked right outside Kung Fu Necktie about a block away — just in time to see the young woman in parallel parked in front of me back into it. There was no damage, and I’d just gotten a sandwich I was going to have for a late dinner, so I waved her off after only the most cursory of “What the hell?”s and made my way back to the hotel, to futz around with pictures and eventually crash out in anticipation of getting out before noon checkout today. The short version is it worked out.
One more night to go tonight. I’ll have a report at some point tomorrow of tonight’s bands — no later than Monday. For now, there are a few extra pics after the jump, so please, enjoy.
Posted in Whathaveyou on September 22nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
It had been my hope to post these Freedom Hawk tour dates earlier in the day, so as to better highlight the fact that their run of shows in support of the righteous and recently-review’d Holding On full-length began tonight with a show with The Atomic Bitchwax and Karma to Burn (also reviewed recently, as it happens) at the Jewish Mother Backstage in Norfolk, Virginia. Well, as I type this, Freedom Hawk is probably done with their set, but if you missed them tonight, there’s a slew of other killer shows they’re doing where you can make up for it.
Dig the informative nature of this poster — IF YOU DARE!
Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Virginian four-piece Freedom Hawk began to carve their name on the American riffy consciousness with 2009’s self-titled full-length, released by MeteorCity. That album earned generally favorable comparisons to Fu Manchu (from me as well), and on the follow-up, Holding On, the double-guitar unit maintain that smoothly-grooved sensibility, adding to it more memorable songwriting and a vocal approach from guitarist T.R. Morton that inherently reminds of Ozzy Osbourne’s early solo work in both cadence and tone. On first listen, that’s going to be what most stands out about Holding On. The production of Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure), who also helmed the self-titled, and the mix of Small Stone’s house engineer Benny Grotto of Mad Oak Studios push Morton’s vocals to the fore, and whether it’s “Faded” bringing to mind “Diary of a Madman” with its backing track later on the album or the earlier “Living for Days” copping a feel off “Bark at the Moon,” Freedom Hawk have a clarity of purpose in their use of the Ozzy influence that’s hard to ignore. It’s a twist on, “Well, if it was good enough for Sabbath,” and to Morton’s credit, he’s able to pull off the style better than anyone I’ve heard in the genre since Sheavy’s Steve Hennessey, and able to do it while also busting out a slew of quality riffs on which Holding On’s 13 tracks are based.
It’s a rock album in the tradition of rock albums. Nine of the 13 cuts are between four and five minutes long, and all of them – the exception being the 1:50 interlude “Zelda” – have a classic rock accessibility that will no doubt set many to bemoaning the state of rock radio. Morton and fellow guitarist Matt Cave work well off each other in terms of riffs and solos, and lead the way through straightforward heavy rock the diversity of which isn’t immediate, but which works nonetheless in a variety of moods, from the mid-paced stomp of opener “Thunder Foot” to the barn-burning “Living for Days” (the shortest non-interlude at 2:50), which follows immediately. The rhythm section of bassist Mark Cave (brother to Matt) and drummer Lenny Hines provides stability beneath the riffs, but the songs have an innate sense of structure as well, so it’s not like they’d fall off the rails otherwise. Not to say Hines and Mark don’t contribute – the tonal thickness of the latter is essential and Hines’ pulsating kick is like the floor on which the wah-infused boogie of “Bandito” plays out – just that the material on Holding On is built around solid verses and choruses, not meandering jams that require the bass and drums to ground them in order to establish some rapport with the listener.
With “Edge of Destiny,” the pace cuts somewhat from “Living for Days,” but Freedom Hawk’s ability to write the noted solid choruses comes to the fore. I’ve found in sitting with Holding On that the songs are not so much breaking new stylistic ground as they are digging into what’s already been done in order to create something memorable and distinct from it. The album is a grower in the sense that the more you listen to its tracks – and like a lot of Small Stone’s output over the last few years, it is very much a collection of tracks despite an accomplished flow between them – the more they leave an imprint on you, so that the grown-up punk of “Her Addiction” (a highlight for Hines in showing off his endurance) doesn’t stand itself out from the rest of Holding On until you’ve been through the album a few times, but ultimately proves worth the several listens it takes to get to that point. Morton, the Cave brothers and Hines have a lack of pretense that’s pervasive, and as “Zelda” – which is probably their most Sabbathian moment, with piano and guitar interplay that could’ve set up any number of Master of Reality’s heavy groovers – gives way to the album’s strongest movement in its midsection, Freedom Hawk have only just begun to show off what they can do within the parameters of their genre.
Posted in Whathaveyou on January 11th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster
Heartfelt congratulations to Tidewater, Virginia, outfit Freedom Hawk, who’ve signed with Small Stone Records for the release of their impending new album. Freedom Hawk‘s driving fuzz rock is a killer fit for the label, and I know I’m not the only one who’s really looking forward to that record coming out.
Way to go, guys.
Here’s what Small Stone had to say about it on the Facebooks:
Please welcome Virginia‘s Freedom Hawk to their new home at Small Stone… Good guys, Good band, they are going to fit right in!
Virginian rockers Freedom Hawk sent over a link to a YuberToub clip of them recording their new album with Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure, etc.) at his Sniper Studios. Bassist Mark Cave had this to say about it:
Freedom Hawk is currently recording a new full-length album (12 songs) with our friend and co-producer Vince Burke/Sniper Studios (Hail!Hornet, etc.). Our drummer Lenny put together a DIY video of some of the sessions — including some snipets of some of five new tunes: “Thunderfoot” (opens), “Indian Summer” (Lenny‘s drum part), “Edge of Destiny,” “Flat Tire,” and closes with “Standin’ in Line.” Take it easy on us…. it’s not complete, final mixed or mastered.
Posted in Reviews on October 30th, 2009 by H.P. Taskmaster
6:45AM: If I said to you, ?Hey, it?s a stoner rock record,? would you be surprised?
Freedom Hawk, out of Tidewater, Virginia, are a four-piece on a mission geared toward ?90s stoner space with just a touch of southern flair. Their self-titled MeteorCity debut, following last year?s nine-song Sunlight on Magic Lady Records, hails a ride in Fu Manchu?s boogie van while jamming out on garage-flavored Sabbath and putting back a couple of Legend brews, raising hell through the countryside.
Vince Burke (Beaten Back to Pure, Hail!Hornet, etc.) recorded, mixed, mastered and remastered the totality of Freedom Hawk, and he did a noble job of bringing forth the Orange-colored fuzz. I caught the band last year in New York after it was announced they?d be working with MeteorCity just to check them out, and compared to their live show, Freedom Hawk on record is a little tighter. Guitarist/vocalist TR Morton runs his voice through a processor basically throughout, and though that can get tiresome, it?s nothing unbearable, especially for fans of Sheavy or the aforementioned Fu Manchu.
Compiled from past EPs both self-released and not, most of Freedom Hawk — ?My Road? and closer ?Hollow Caverns? excepted — was recorded in 2006. No doubt the band thinks they?re beyond this material stylistically by now, but that doesn?t mean faithful heads can?t dig into what they have to offer. Along with Morton, Cave brothers Mark and Matt on bass and guitar, respectively, and drummer Lenny Hines are obviously capable songwriters; a track like centerpiece ?Ten Years? moving deftly through a stream of smooth-styled stoner rock just in time to set up the dirtier, even riffier ?Bad Man? that follows. For beginners and newcomers to the band?s recorded output, like me, it?s a good place to start.