The Songs of Townes Van Zandt
Steve Von Till, Scott Kelly, and Wino
Written By Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop
From the beginning of my foray into writing for The Soda Shop I have had a compulsion to try and point out the kinship of various artists and singer-songwriters with our modern “doom” and “stoner” scenes. Conveniently, three monolithic figures of the scene have made a record that brings this idea directly to the table with the new tribute to Townes Van Zandt to be released on Neurot Records. (more…)
“Seems Like Forever Since I’ve Seen One Like This” – Stoner Rock’s Current Top 5 Vocalists
Written by Ian Gerber for The Soda Shop
It seems to me that the things that I really love about “Stoner Rock” are also the things that I end up hating the most. For example, I love that it is based on old school blues riffs. I hate it that it appears to only be about 10 different riffs to learn and then a band has mastered the style. I love that our bearded brethren skip on the love stricken, soft sided vocal stylings of the other so-called “rock” styles and lay it down with a fuck-it-all war cry worthy of a place in Valhalla. It also gets really old when track after track all you get is a guy screaming his lungs out into a microphone. If there is a way to ruin a good riff it, it is to have a lame vocal on top of it.
Since stoner rock is a genre that actually gives credit to the bands that have directly influenced the genre, here is a short list of 5 of the best singers/vocalists out there, most of which the new bands coming out today seem to derive their chosen style of testosterone driven riffing and hell raising. Of course I’m sure that there will be much dissent in the ranks and disagreement on who made or didn’t make the list, so leave a comment on who we missed. Without further ado…
Neil Fallon – I don’t know of a stoner band out there today that doesn’t love Clutch. It is hard to deny their influence, or escape it. While their style has changed and evolved over the years, the one constant has always been the pure rock fury in the throat of Neil Fallon. While he is blessed to have one the best collection of musicians playing in any genre today backing him up, Neil’s stage presence and vocal delivery is the stuff of legends. Neil trademark call and response style is evident in early recordings such as “Wicker”, but as the band shed their “hardcore” image for a funkier and more grooved out musical style, the more laid back (not to be confused for laying down), rhythmically complex lyrical content of a post-apocalyptic, sci-fi repertoire that started to surface around Clutch’s self-titled record spawned countless imitators. Whether you see him as the maniacal preacher calling the end of the world from the pulpit, the hell-bent drill sergeant barking out a constant cadence, or a doomsayer auctioneer with a supreme mastery of the English language, there is one thing for sure, Neil Fallon is the premier front man in Stoner Rock.
Scott Hill – The first time I heard Fu Manchu was like a breath of fresh air. Their undeniable mastering of the fuzzed out hard rock riff and psychedelic texture is nothing short of genius. It is no wonder that the almighty Fu has featured some of stoner rocks top musicians including Brant Bjork, best known as the drummer of Kyuss, and Ruben Ramano and Eddie Glass who split off to start Nebula. If you haven’t taken “The Action Is Go” or “In Search Of…” for a spin, you are missing a crucial part of modern stoner rock. At the front of the band, laying it down as hard as ever, is the one constant that makes Fu Manchu rock the boogie van harder that most bands out there today… Scott Hill. When he isn’t headbanging his heart out he is laying down quintessential and often imitated lyrics about aliens, UFO’s, hot chicks, and fast cars, all while rocking the audiences balls (or ovaries) off. His laid back delivery only gives way to the tasteful shouting that is used when the songs dynamic needs it. Somehow he still keeps his trademark California surfer drawl the whole time. While there aren’t as many imitators of his style as there are of say… Neil Fallon, his vocal delivery is just as import to the genre as anyone on this list. I guess you can say that his voice is rather unique.
Scott Kelly & Steve Von Till – What is there to say about Neurosis that hasn’t been said before? They have been called everything from art rockers to post-metal geniuses. There is no band out there that can top the shear brutality of their sonic assault or find their way into the beautiful psychedelic spaces that the band has mastered over their last few albums. While it might be cheating to squeeze a two for one out of Neurosis, I think that is fair to say that these two masterminds of doom are a formidable team and both deserve the credit. Only die-hard fans of the band seem to take the time to distinguish who is punishing the mic at any given time anyway. I think this a statement to the power and force that the band unselfishly wrangles for their fans and audience for every performance. It is hard to keep track with that much information being propelled at you at such great volume. The full on assault of the senses of their rare live performances is something that any true fan of music, in general, should subject themselves in a live setting at least once in their life. Even Leonard Bernstein had to check out Pink Floyd in their time. There isn’t a doom vocalist around who can top Scott Kelly’s unearthly growl in “To The Wind” or Steve Von Till’s piercing screams that have graced every album since before they started using synthesizers.
Al Cisneros – Along with fellow Bay Area maestros of doom, Neurosis, Oakland’s Sleep are a cornerstone of the Northwest’s now legendary doom scene. It is possible that Sleep just might be the most legendary stoner metal band ever. By now we have all heard the stories of recording their magnum opus, Dopesmoker, that have reached mythical proportions among stoner rock followers…so I will save your time and let you circulate them amongst yourselves. While it seems that Matt Pike gets most of the praise these days, due more to the success of High On Fire than his guitar work with Sleep, the real artistic direction of the band came from the reclusive Chris Hakius and Al Cisneros. Hakius’s drum work is a testament to the space and crushing power that a minimalist approach can achieve within a band (this is including he and Al Cisneros’s post Sleep project Om). Cisneros’s bass work is nothing short of a trance inducing, psychedelic experience whenever it is approached with a proper mind frame; sometimes it is a test of will power to listen to a twenty minute long song who’s main instrumentation is drums and bass. With all of this being said, it is easy to see that it is their instrumental prowess that propelled Sleep to the forefront of the genre. I think that it is a shame that Al’s vocals are swept under the carpet when discussing the projects he has undertaken. It is true that he has a limited range and they might not be the most pitch correct ever recorded, but they are a real and sincere display of performance art. His vocal style and the themes of his lyrics have all but given the go ahead for it to be cool for the up and comers in stoner rock to shout lyrics of dragons and extraterrestrial landscaped scenes. While Om’s musical prowess isn’t as widely hailed as Sleep’s, the quiet, dreamy vocals are a 180 degree turn around from Sleep’s bombastic approach. They are nothing short of perfect for a calm and relaxing night on the couch enjoying stoner rocks favorite inspirational pastime. Cisneros’s vocals have spawned countless imitators and I am sure that there are only more to come. Let it be said that he is the master of fantasy doom and just about everything else pales in comparison.
Jeff Martin – While Lo-Pan is a relative newcomer to the stoner rock scene, they appear to be on their way to being one of the genres brightest shining bands. It might be too early to make this call in earnest but they have one ace-in-the-hole that makes them worthy of mention among the best the best and that is Jeff Martin. I’m sure that many of you are quite familiar with their recent release “Salvador” and have also listened to “Sasquanaut”, as they have been featured numerous times on blog after blog, including here at The Soda Shop. Martin’s acrobatic and ferocious wail, while completely his own, is reminiscent of Maynard James Keenan at his best. However, his voice is more powerful and less…umm, feminine. There is also a hint of “Loud As Love” era Chris Cornell, which is to say when Chris Cornell was rocking really hard. Lo-Pan has been constantly compared to Only Living Witness and I find that to be fair, although I have only recently acquainted myself with them, especially in comparison to the crushing riffs and Jonah Jenkins’ powerfully sung vocals. If you haven’t witnessed Lo-Pan live, there seems to be plenty of opportunity to do so, being as that they are constantly on the road. Jeff Martin usually stands behind the band to belt it out, which is unusual, but definitely helps serve up some mystique for the band. I don’t know if this is because Lo-Pan is loud as fuck and it might be easier to hear himself from behind the amps (again, drawing my Maynard comparison) or if it is to try and do something different with the visual appearance of the band from the normal rock group set up. On record, as well as live, Martin has a surprising propensity to hit notes that most singers from any genre would find difficult to come up with, especially if you have a crushingly loud rhythm section and a guitar player who carries around one of the biggest guitar rigs that I have ever seen a band touring in a van haul around. It is refreshing that Martin also takes time to write lyrics that are more than just re-hashed World of Warcraft raids. He is a true vocal talent that actually sings, which is becoming rarer and rarer in these days auto-tuning and beer and testosterone fueled shouting and hollering. I’m sure that we will hear more from Jeff Martin and Lo-Pan over the next few years.