This article was originally published in online magazine Pointless Banter on May 6, 2006.
“Inspiration is a funny thing. You never know what wild thought is going to make a decision for you.” – Stacey Rogers, Five Smooth Stones
Five Smooth Stones are a band from here in the Treasure Valley, and have the interesting distinction of being both one of the most popular bar bands to go see, and also the one with some of the most potential. Truly one of the area’s best-kept secrets, these guys have been rocking it under the radar like it was 1999 since, well, it was 1999. So I approached Jack, Stacey, Tony, Danny, and J.W. for a blind interview. They would each answer the same ten questions and submit them to me, and none will know what the others said until I publish this interview. You think that five people in the same band might have a lot of the same things to say? Not so. (Commentary by band members was only edited for length, and only occasionally.)
|Photo: From left, Danny, Stacey, Jack, Tony, and J.W.|
E: So, you guys are essentially a cover band…how do you choose which songs you pick to learn and play? Is it a democracy? What music do each of you come from, and are your individual tastes quite a bit different from one another’s?
Jack (Rogers, bass guitarist and vocalist): We pick songs that we like, and that we think the majority of the crowd that comes out to hear us will like also. We do come to a consensus on most of the songs. I do not really have a musical background. I listen to what I like (bluegrass, metal, country.) I think our taste in music varies widely.
Stacey (Rogers, keyboardist and vocalist): We just have a large list kept on the rehearsal room wall with potential songs we would like to do. When we decide on one, we just do it. My musical background is this: I had classical piano training from 2nd grade to my senior year. I was a total choir geek – I lettered in music (I can’t believe I’m telling you this) so I sang in every choir available. Jr-Sr year I was involved with a jazz performance choir (and I will be a terrible boorish choir geek dumbass and drop a name here) and say that Curtis Stigers was three years ahead of me and involved in that same jazz group when he went through school. I would have to say that as a band our tastes vary but we all have a love for all kinds of good music.
J.W. (Wilburn, Drummer): Never really had a song that someone in the band didn’t want to learn. I guess mostly the new songs we learn are suggestions from the crowd. A couple of times there have been songs requested that we are currently working on (not ready to play yet) and the ones we don’t know, we start working on them at some point. I come from a progressive rock background (Dream Theater, Rush, Ayreon, Kamelot), but I think we each have a slightly different taste, which makes us dynamic. Everyone brings something different to the table.
Danny (Mogford, Guitar): It’s mostly a democracy, and we rarely overrule someone who wants to do a particular song. Our tastes do differ, but we all seem to like a lot of rock and metal, so we generally stick to that material.
Tony (Anderson, Guitarist and Vocalist): Our songs are chosen by pretty much what each individual brings to practice. As far as decisions on songs or anything else we always decide together. Our individual tastes are fairly similar for the most part. Obviously we have our own individual likes and dislikes.
E: What song that you play gets the biggest crowd response?
Jack: “Every thing about you” – Ugly Kid Joe
Stacey: Depends on the crowd. I’d say “Walk”, by Pantera.
J.W.: Depends on the crowd. We have gotten great responses with songs from ZZ Top, Black Crowes, Tom Petty to Metallica, Megadeth, Pantera.
Danny: For headbanging, Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” For dancing, Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
Tony: That’s a tough one. It depends on the crowd, mood and other factors. Sometimes a crowd will go nuts over a song that we don’t usually get a huge response from and vice versa.
E: Many people don’t realize that cover bands are some of the hardest working bands in the business – whereas a touring headliner plays for forty minutes a night and is done, a cover band often has to come up with 4-5 completely different sets, and play all night long. What’s the most difficult thing about that? What’s the best part of what you do?
Jack: We have about 8+ sets of music now, but singing has to be the hardest part for me. Sometimes after two nights in a smoky bar, my voice just doesn’t want to cooperate. There are three of us that sing, so we get the job done one way or another. The best part is being flashed a nice set of tits from the floor. Did I just write that? I meant to write, “an energetic, enthusiastic crowd.”
Stacey: For me, the hardest part is keeping the energy up and the vocal stress to a minimum. The best part is we never have to repeat songs night after night unless we want to. And we can “tool” our sets to the mood of the crowd.
J.W.: The most difficult thing is that we all work regular jobs so when we have gigs up to four weekends consecutively, it can become hard. But the most important aspect is that we do this because we love to play music and I would say that we are a very tight-knit band. We enjoy each other very much and do a lot of activities together besides music. It would take something drastic to separate us and in my experience, not many bands have that cohesion. I certainly have not been in another band that has the chemistry we do.
Danny: Building up a song list was a challenge for us in the beginning. When we started, I wasn’t very comfortable on my instrument, and didn’t really know any songs. Once we got the song list established, it was still difficult to read crowds and know what to play to keep them interested. One of the best things is being able to see all of the progress that we’ve made. We learn songs much more quickly and are a lot more confident in our ability to win crowds over.
Tony: The most difficult thing was building a song list, but now we’ve got over 80 songs and are always adding on. One of the best parts of what we do is that we are not out on the road pushing to get known. But the best part is, I can’t think of a group of people that I’d rather play music with. We’re a family.
E: Okay, I’m going to ask the obligatory music snob question, but I will get away with it because I know you guys write original music as well: There is a stigma among musicians (read: elitists) that cover bands lack the credibility/originality/etc. of “real” bands, and that music, as an art, should be about creating your own, not rehashing others’ art. What is your response to that?
Jack: You try and come up with 80 original songs (they have to be good ones) in different styles to try and please a crowd that has a wide musical taste, and work a full time job, haul your own music equipment to the gig, and set it up, play for 4 hours or more, 2 nights in a row. Some people like what we do. Some people don’t. Besides some of those “real” bands do other writers’ songs themselves. You try to get Metallica to the Monkey Business once a month for what we get paid.
Stacey: Songs are stories. I have TOTAL respect for anyone that gets up onstage to spin a story. I happen to like the story of Arthur, Guinevere, and Lancelot. This story has been rehashed a million different ways; I enjoy the spin. Even “elitist” musicians have influences and you can’t tell me that they don’t plagiarize their influences to some degree. There’s a saying that “Imitation is the highest compliment that can be paid” (or something like that.) The stories we tell always have the Five Smooth Stone spin on them and are always meant as a compliment. As to credibility/originality/etc., life is too short and there is a vast and phenomenal amount of awesome music out there. Why limit yourself?
J.W.: I look at it like we are playing music that we also enjoy listening to. We aren’t going to play songs that we don’t like. We have written some original songs which have gotten good responses from various crowds, but look at some of the major touring acts that have covered other people’s songs: Metallica, Dream Theater, Van Halen just to name a few. They did it as a tribute to those artists.
Danny: I agree that playing cover songs is not as artistically credible as playing original songs. But as a cover band, our main emphasis is on entertaining people, not presenting ourselves as artists. I do think that everyone in the band is able to express themselves musically to some extent. We don’t stay all that true to the original versions when playing a lot of the songs, and we all have the freedom to come up with our own parts.
Tony: I disagree. I think there is a place in the music world for whatever people love to do musically. If you have the time to do only original music, all the power to you. But I don’t think being a cover band has anything to do with lack of talent or originality. (I’ve heard cover tunes that were better than the originals.)
E: Bar-goers are a notoriously rowdy fan base. What’s the best and the worst experiences you’ve had with your fans?
Jack: You mean besides the aforementioned TITS? We go to Cottonwood (Idaho), and play the annual biker bash in the Royal Room every year – July 14-15 this year. That is a very good time. I cannot think of a bad experience with fans. Maybe the time I almost lost my pants and shirt to a fan in the alley behind the Athena Club. She just didn’t want to take no for an answer, and I so hate to disappoint the fans. (Note from E: The elaboration of this story, which Jack chose not to include, goes that the woman accosted him in the alley and demanded that he “trade pants” with her.)
Stacey: The best is having every single soul in the bar singing along, smiling, dancing, and enjoying themselves. The worst – we cover “Ballroom Blitz” and I sing it…it seems that if a fight is going to break out, it is during that song. Can’t we all just get along? By the way, if you knock my keyboard over, I am going to kick the effing shit out of you.
J.W.: Some fans occasionally have a little too much to drink, which we don’t like to see. We want everyone to have a great time and not get into trouble. But the good experiences we’ve had far outnumber the bad. There have been some truly comical moments where I had trouble keeping time from laughing so hard. Such as a guy dancing to Social Distortion’s “Highway 101″, where he felt the need to show half of his bare butt to everyone, in addition to spanking himself while he danced. Hilarious.
Danny: There is “good” rowdy, and there is “bad” rowdy. Drinking is a factor. We’ve definitely seen a few fights break out, and the durability of our stage equipment has been tested a few times. The worst I’ve seen would have to be the bloody mess I discovered after a particularly ugly men’s room beat-down. Blood was on the floor, the walls, the sink, the mirror…unpleasant. The good stuff is that for some reason, from time to time, people like to remove their clothes for us. I don’t understand it, but about half the time, there’s no reason to complain. Maybe it’s how people show their appreciation (inebriation?) for what we do.
Tony: The best experience so far was the first time we played to a bunch of rock starved people in Cottonwood. They made us feel pretty special. The worst wasn’t really all that bad. A couple of small fights in the crowd or maybe bad weather at an outside show.
E: Do you regret that it’s difficult to make yourself accessible to younger fans and therefore get your original music heard by your younger fans? (Difficult because you primarily play in 21-and-over venues, I mean.)
Jack: Because of the venues, we do not really have a young fan base. We are not really doing this as a springboard to bigger and better things, we play because we love doing it. I have a day job, I don’t need another job at night too. It isn’t about the originals, it’s about the music and getting to hang out with friends.
Stacey: Yes, however they turn 21 soon enough. Also, we try to play one or two gigs outside that our younger fans can come to.
J.W.: We try to play at a few places where the younger crowd can see us but it is difficult. Most of our fan base is the over-21 crowd.
Danny: It is a shame sometimes. We do play a couple of all-ages shows each year, but it would be good to play more often to younger audiences.
Tony: Yes, there are definitely times that I wish there were more opportunities to play for all ages. We do have under 21 friends (and our own kids) that would like to hear us play more often.
E: What’s your personal favorite song that you play, and why? Conversely, every musician has a song they’d love to cover because the part for whichever instrument they play really appeals to them, but they know they can’t pull it off. What’s yours? (I’ve always wanted to do a punk version of “The Devil Came Down To Georgia”, but I can’t play the fiddle riff on a guitar that fast.)
Jack: I like performing Whiskey in the Jar – I like the words and the music. It just works so well with my voice. Pantera’s “Cowboys from Hell” – I don’t know if I will be able to play the bass and sing that one.
Stacey: My personal favorite is “See Through My Eyes” – A FSS original – because the friend it was written for needs to hear it often. Maybe someday it will sink in! The one song I would love to do but know I can’t pull off is “Children of the Sun”, by Billy Thorpe. Well, let’s face it. There is a difference between live and session work.
J.W.: I have a couple of favorites, like AC/DC’s “TNT” to Ozzy. I think that “TNT” might be one of my favorites because I play it a little differently than the original (added double-bass and quite a few other fills to it.) The cover I would love to do is “The Glass Prison” by Dream Theater. I have quick feet, but nothing close to Portnoy. Also, Portnoy’s fills are mind-boggling to me at times.
Danny: My favorite one to play is “Automatic”, by Supershine. It’s one of our more obscure covers, and it has a cool, heavy groove to it. To me, the style sounds like a cross between Black Sabbath and The Doors. One of my favorite bands is Dream Theater. I’d love to cover some of their stuff, but many of the guitar parts are far beyond my abilities. I’m not ready to give up on that, though.
Tony: Boy, that’s a hard one to answer. I love playing so many songs. That’s what our song list is based on – songs that we love. For the sake of answering the question, I would say a tossup between Foghat’s “Slow Ride”, and Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls.” There are too many to list that I would love to play but can’t pull off.
E: When you write your original songs, do you write together? Where does the inspiration for not only your original music come from, but what inspires which cover songs are selected?
Jack: Tony is the one who has written our originals so far. I just do what they tell me. I know we don’t do the covers exactly like the originals. Sometimes I just hear different stuff in my head and do it the way I hear it.
Stacey: So far, we have not written together. Inspiration is a funny thing – you never know what wild thought is going to make a decision for you.
J.W.: I play to the song. When someone comes in with the basic structure and has an idea for how they want it organized, I will keep everything relative to the feel of the music. I don’t want too much or too little at the same time. For myself, it takes me a couple of months to write something that I am happy with. Even though we may play a song at gigs several times, I will do things a little differently each time. Deceiver (FSS original) was a work in progress for me for several months. The band still plays it the same way but the drum parts kind of evolved to what they are now.
Danny: Our originals were mostly complete before they were brought to the rest of the band. Of course there are always minor changes to the way it was written because of everyone contributing their style. I don’t know about the inspiration behind them – I didn’t write them. The way we choose cover songs is a lot of times a suggestion from a crowd, or us feeling like we should do more of a certain style and selecting them based on that criteria.
Tony: So far we haven’t written any together. We talk about it from time to time, but haven’t gotten there yet. My personal inspiration when writing just depends on what mood I’m in or what kind of day I am having. As far as cover tunes, just stuff we like.
E: When you’re listening to music in your cars or homes, what are you rocking?
Jack: Ozzy, .38 Special, Creed, The “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack, Nickelback, Alice in Chains, Breaking Benjamin, Bride, Rose.
Stacey: Right now I am really getting off on Porcupine Tree’s “Deadwing.” The whole album is inspiring to me.
J.W.: Dream Theater, Kamelot as of late. In fact, Kamelot is in my deck in my truck right now.
Danny: Lately, lots of progressive rock/metal. Porcupine Tree (Signify, In Absentia, Deadwing), Opeth (Ghost Reveries, Still Life), Riverside (Second Life Syndrome.) Also Depeche Mode’s new album (Playing The Angel) has been in my CD player quit a bit lately.
Tony: Oh man, that would be anything from country, to blues, to classic rock, to heavy metal and so on.
E: What’s the one song you do that you’d love to play for the original artists, just to see what they’d say (or because you think your version kicks more ass?) Come on, you know you’ve got one.
Jack: “Walk”, by Pantera. I think it sounds pretty good and I wonder what they might think.
Stacey: “Thunder Underground”, by Ozzy.
J.W.: “TNT.” AC/DC is a great band but the drum parts have always been pretty straightforward. I have always gotten a great response with the way I play it.
Danny: “New Girl Now”, by Honeymoon Suite. I think our version is pretty cool. I definitely prefer it to the original.
Tony: That would be Gordon Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” I’m not kidding you, we really play it.
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