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Cast the First Stone Foxes

The Stone Foxes' Shannon Koehler opens up ahead of Saturday's Casbah show



    Cast the First Stone Foxes
    Joe D. Barham
    The Stone Foxes play Casbah Saturday.

    The Stone cold Foxes, more like it. These babes are rock & roll to the bone, their sound and size growing in equal measure since brothers Shannon and Spence Koehler started the band some seven years ago, carrying with it all the weird and wild and wonderful of its San Francisco surroundings. Their latest release, “12 Spells,” came outta the womb in September 2015 as one of those drippy records that makes you feel sweaty regardless of climate. But lemme tell you: Casbah is gonna be hot as hell come Saturday, Feb. 27, when these baddies take the stage.

    Hot licks and cool tricks aside, the Stone Foxes are maybe one of the coolest bands, using their platform to encourage but not preach, spreading uniting vibes while playing some 100 shows each year. They’ve got this food drive campaign, for instance, built around the 2013 song release “Goodnight Moon,” to inspire fans to come to shows with non-perishable, healthy goods, which the band then donates to various food banks on tour. Small gestures in both song and action that promote community -- that’s what these dudes are about.

    With welcome candor and a joyful bounce in his voice, Shannon spoke with me from San Francisco just after returning home from the Stone Foxes’ first-ever European tour. Carrying subtle kindness and confidence throughout the conversation, fluid in ways both comforting and inspiring, Shannon offered casual nuggets like, “If you’re going to be part of these times, it’s good to be part of the solution,” and “You better have some passion behind the sweat,” his speech punctured liberally by mid-sentence laughs even when politely schooling me on inclusiveness.

    They may be some years in, but the Stone Foxes are welcoming a wave of newness -- whether that’s becoming a singing planet in a music video or learning to chant like the Brits -- and they’re staying grateful for it all throughout. Read on for Shannon’s words on tour life, new material, the significance of “12 Spells” and more.

    On tour life...
    You have to love it to do it. And I mean, we’re lucky enough to where it’s our jobs, so that’s awesome. But yeah, it’s kind of like being a vampire: You’re totally dead during the day, and you’re [laughs] in some contraption with a trailer on the back of it, and people ask, “Where are you going next?” And I’m like, “I don’t really know. I haven’t looked at what our manager told us.” And you keep going, and every night you’re gonna wake up and try to make this experience where it’s us and the audience, and you try to break that wall down, and it’s more of a community experience than anything else, and something that we want to remember. You have this super high high every night, where you’re gunning it, and then you die at the end, and you’re dead until 5 [p.m.] the next day. So yeah, you gotta love that to be able to do it. Thank god we love it.

    On writing new material...
    We’ve been starting to get back into the writing process even though I guess we’re four months out from having released [“12 Spells”]. So now we’re kind of transitioning back into that space and hunkering down wherever we can. That’s your job for three days is to drink a little whiskey and have hummus and carrots and that sustains you, and you just play, and we’re kind of ready to get back in that groove.

    On “12 Spells” as a new beginning...
    “12 Spells” was all about integrating new guys into the crew. My brother, who’s our writing partner now, and then we brought in Vince [Dewald] and Ben [Andrews] and Brian [Bakalian] over a span of two years, and so “12 Spells” is like the chronicling of how this new crew [which also includes Elliott Peltzman] came together. Now we’re in a phase where, OK, now we’re all together all the time. How does that writing process work, and how do we advance? “12 Spells” was the beginning, like a new beginning, so now where are we gonna go as a crew? It’s really fun to try different writing angles.

    On using the band’s voice and meaning it...
    Episcopal Community Services is the nonprofit in San Francisco that we work with quite a bit. So they made me Santa for their Christmas event this year. It’s kind of hard to be 28 and have that old man Kris Kringle voice. But I tried. So every show we still collect food, and we take that and on the road, we’ll go to the nearest food bank, we’ll drop it off. For us, we sing about things we’re passionate about, which are issues of our times and our generation. And I’m not saying there aren’t rock & roll bands doing it, but I don’t feel like we hear enough of that. And we feel like it’s part of our... I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s an obligation, but it feels like if you’re going to be part of these times, it’s good to be part of the solution and say something that you care about, and if you’re going to sing about it every night [laughs], you better care about it. You better have some passion behind the sweat. So our songs mean something to us, and we try to take those lyrics that mean so much to us and translate those into how the show goes and what the show experience is, so how we interact with people during the show. And we also want that to carry on. It’s about more than paying their ticket and sitting. We want to at least encourage people to help out, and from there hopefully folks get in the habit. And that’s part of it, to be an instigator.

    On being a singing planet in “Dying Star,” the band’s new music video...
    [Director Curtis Jaeger] said that everybody was going to be a singing planet, and then it just turned out to be just me, and I was like, son of a bitch [laughs]. Curtis is a great creator. The idea behind the video is, yeah, you don’t know how long your good times are gonna roll, so you make ’em count. That’s the idea. And then Curtis just ran with it, and was like, “Space?” And I said, “Space, cool. We all like space.” Our walk-out theme has been “Star Wars” for a long time, so we’re into the cosmic thing.

    On how touring makes the world smaller...
    It’s gonna be great to be back in America doing shows. ’Cause the UK was just a crazy surprise for us. The London show sold out. It was packed. It was nuts. It’s such a surreal thing. We’ve played the Casbah a lot, and it’s packed, and it’s fun, and people know the lyrics. And you go, yeah, it’s San Diego, in my home state -- I get that. And then you go halfway across the world, and there’s people singing your stuff, and the rooms are packed, and it really throws you for a loop. It’s -- I don’t know, how do you say it... It honestly just kind of blew us away. So yeah, it’s gonna be cool to come back and kind of fresh off the plane and get back to the grind in California. With a new perspective too… We’re all not so different. Going over there everybody’s so cool and sweet to us. It was pretty wild to go over there and have our minds blown, to be part of this, to know that that there’s folks far away who really appreciate what we do, and make those connections with people. It makes the world smaller in a great way.

    On learning new tricks…
    The people really chant out there, which I thought was really fun. I hope we can bring some of that back to the US shows ’cause it was [laughs] almost like a wild mob sometimes, and Vince and I would look at each other -- ’cause we’ve had to tell people to chill out at the Casbah, like, “Dude, you can’t mosh your elbow into that woman’s face.” But there, guys are chanting so loudly, and they’re moving around, and some girls are getting hit against the stage in the front, and unlike American concerts where people are pissed, they were pumped. They were like, “Oh yeah, that’s funny!” And we’re like, “No, your face got totally obliterated on this thing.” But it was kind of amazing. Up up, in northern UK, it’s this area referred to as Yorkshire. We started in on “Cold Like Killer,” which is moodier -- it’s one of our favorites to play. And we’re starting to mellow out, and they’re all chanting, “Yorkshire! Yorkshire! Yorkshire!” over and over again. And I was like, “Hold it, what are you guys saying?” And they had to explain, and then we chanted, “Yorkshire!” Hopefully we can bring that across the pond.

    On keeping the love alive...
    We got up there and had to tell them, “Hey, we’re the Stone Foxes, and we’re not the Trump Americans.” People get that. We’re from San Francisco. We bring a vibe of community, love and peace -- and sweat and rock & roll. We’ll say what we want to say inside the song, but we don’t get preachy. It’s not about dividing. It’s about finding a common understanding: The language is kickass tunes.

    The Stone Foxes play Casbah on Saturday, Feb. 27, with the Bassics and Spero opening. Doors at 8:30 p.m., 21+, $15.

    Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.