In preparation of their new album The World is Sleeping, Thieves & Lovers vocalist Stoner talked to ZRockR about their writing process, influences, and more.
ZR: So, Thieves & Lovers kind of started as a side project for you, so what caused you to make this your main thing?
Stoner: I was living in LA and was the lead guitar player in a band that was starting to get some notoriety. We were selling out shows and stuff; nothing huge, but we played the House of Blues on Sunset a few times. I wasn’t the principal songwriter in that band, and I was coming up with these songs that didn’t really fit the vibe of that band. I was also in school for the recording arts at the time, and one of my final projects was that I had to produce an album. So, I decided to take some of the songs I’d written and make it into a recording. I got some friends from the program so we could play them live, and the other band started to fizzle out. Thieves & Lovers got a good response, so it was kind of a happy accident.
ZR: So, now you are located in Pennsylvania. So, why the move from LA to out there, and has it changed your sound or influenced your music in any way since you’ve now changed your surroundings?
Stoner: No. I’m from Pennsylvania and have a house in LA, so I split my time. Most of the time I am on the East Coast, but I wouldn’t say it has influenced the sound. I will say though that traveling is one of the best things anybody can do for their personal growth. So, I’d say traveling in general has influenced the sound.
ZR: Where is your favorite place to go to, if you have one?
Stoner: I guess my happy place is the Central Coast in California. Not too crowded, nice beaches, and it gets chillier than people think. If I were to choose a place to retire, that would be it.
ZR: Any place you haven’t been that’s on your bucket list of places to play or go to write?
Stoner: I’ve been almost everywhere, but I’ve never been to New Orleans so I’d say there, and I’ve never been to the Pacific Northwest, so maybe Seattle. I love creole food so like 95% of my reason for New Orleans would be food related.
ZR: Haha, cool! And this will be the 3rd album you will be putting out, correct?
Stoner: Yes. The 3rd EP.
ZR: How has the music changed or progressed from the first record to now?
Stoner: I would say that starting as a solo project, it was acoustic based. Doing it with other musicians, I’ve always wanted to go heavier and cover the whole spectrum. So, it’s definitely evolving and moving towards more of an electric based sound, although I do a ton of acoustic shows.
ZR: What do you want to achieve with this next album? I noticed you don’t have a release date as of yet. Have you nailed anything down?
Stoner: We are still mixing. We have 1 song left and then some mastering. So, we’re shooting for July 6th or the following week. I don’t know if we will meet that. It keeps getting pushed back. I guess one of the cool parts of being self funded is that there’s no suits calling the shots. We don’t need to release anything until it’s ready.
ZR: Where do you guys see yourselves fitting into? You mentioned being self contained which is what a lot of bands do nowadays. So, where do you see Thieves & Lovers fitting into the love/hate of today’s music industry? Would you ever move towards a goal of being on a major label or are you happy just doing your thing?
Stoner: I think that’s a compromise all musicians make. You reach a dead end in terms of self funding where you can’t go any further without someone to bankroll it, but we are definitely looking to meet up with a label. At the same time, the terms would have to be truly beneficial. We don’t want to sign just to be signed. We’ve gotten some label interest, but it’s tough these days with things being so saturated and the way the industry is evolving. People feel they don’t have to pay for music. So, it kind of sucks being caught in a transition period, but we’d definitely look to sign with somebody when it’s right.
ZR: How is the overall writing process? Do you still take the reins on everything and delegate things to other guys in the band, or do you sit together? How does that work for you and for this album?
Stoner: It’s definitely more of a democratic process. That’s one of the cool things about having other people involved is when they don’t hesitate to tell you when something works or doesn’t. Generally, I do come up with a bulk of the ideas and then we jam it out. We sort of just come to middle ground. Playing something live is the best way to see if something works or not.
ZR: When it comes to playing live as opposed to the studio or even home, do you have any difference in gear? What gear are you using for the record? Do you have a particular amp or tone or anything like that that is your go to?
Stoner: That’s a good question! I love talking about gear! I don’t really have an allegiance to one brand over the other. I had a lot of personal selections. I have a Les Paul for the heavier stuff. I have a Strat, which is my favorite for sentimental reasons and because it is so light. The Les Paul is a bit heavy.
ZR: That, and a Strat you can kind of beat up and it loves you no matter what.
Stoner: I will say one of the issues live with having versatility in gear, is it can be tough to switch guitars mid set, because it affects the tone of the amp. EQ settings that work for the Strat don’t work for the Les Paul and vice versa so live I generally keep it to the Strats because it’s easier. I sort of homogenize the tone for live, but in the studio anything goes.
ZR: Is there anyone in particular, I know you listed Tom Petty as an influence, that in your tone or recording that has influenced your sound or that you try to go for? For example, you can tell an Eric Clapton riff from Steve Vai. So, is there anyone in particular where you’re like, “That’s the sound I want.”
Stoner: I wouldn’t say that. It’s just whatever the song calls for. A lot of my favorite guitar players, our music sounds nothing like them. Like, I’m a huge Eddie Van Halen fan. I would say like a modern Foo Fighters or Jimmy Eat World kind of sound.
ZR: Touching back on the Tom Petty thing, one of the questions I really wanted to ask you because on the Facebook page, you list “grain alcohol and Tom Petty” as influences. So, first off, what is your favorite Petty tune, and second, what alcohol would you pair with this record?
Stoner: I like all Tom Petty stuff. It’s hard to pick a song. I’d say out of the more well known stuff, “Breakdown”. There’s a deep cut called “Room at the Top”. I think they only did it live, but I love that song, and of course all the hits. In terms of alcohol, that’s more of a joke than anything.
ZR: I kind of figured, but if you could pair any with the record just like you would a meal, what would it be?
Stoner: Hmm… I think something kind of classy like a mojito, if it’s not too girly.
ZR: Hey! Doesn’t matter if it’s girly. It does the job, right?
Stoner: True! Haha.
ZR: So as far as this album goes, as opposed to others, how has it been in terms of enjoyment? Have you had more fun with this since you are kind of not necessarily a Veteran, but it’s not your first rodeo?
Stoner: I would say this is probably the easiest recording to make. Not only because of going to school for it and knowing the lingo, but I was working out of a studio where my compensation was free use of the studio. So, there really wasn’t budgetary restraints. So, I had the time to experiment, re-track, messing with the EQ. Sometimes things in the studio can be rushed whether it is time or money. That’s actually one of my biggest regrets with the Seasons record, the one that came out in like 2016. It was a shoestring budget and we just didn’t have the time needed. I started it in California and finished it outside of Baltimore, so some things got lost in translation. We had some issues with the basic tracking in California. So, it was a fixer upper in a way. I have considered if and when we do a full length, taking all the songs that work that we’ve been doing, and doing a re-record onto one album.
ZR: When you are writing, whether by yourself or with the band, when it comes to what goes on your albums and what’s not quite there or what may be a B-side or filler, is there a voting process? Is it more of a feeling? How do you determine what stays and what can be chopped up later?
Stoner: I would say it’s more of a feeling. We have some recorded songs that just kind of don’t translate live. More down tempo, acoustic vibes. They work at the right show, but generally there are some we don’t play live. The self titled track off of the new album The World Is Sleeping is a finger-picked acoustic, and I’ve played it a few times because it’s a solo piece, but at the same time there’s other instrumentation like strings that we just don’t have. Hollow is the wrong word, but without essentially 12 dudes up there with keyboards, it can be difficult to convey the same sort of feeling. It loses something. We wouldn’t be opposed to backing tracks, but it takes time, and if there’s a track you’re playing to that and not the other way around, and if it’s not perfect it turns into a Milli Vanilli type of thing. So, I guess minimizing problems is the goal.
ZR: Is there any covers you guys have thought about doing or is there one you’ve always wanted to do whether live or a B-Side on something?
Stoner: I wouldn’t say in particular. Covers can be tough to pull off. My favorite covers are the ones that don’t sound anything like the original. Like, the band Lit does “Pictures of You” by The Cure, and it sounds nothing like the original, but theirs is way better. It’s a total reimagining. We have some songs we could throw in, but we haven’t had the time to do covers. You just can’t cover some songs.
ZR: And there are some that just shouldn’t be touched.
Stoner: Yeah. Rather than looking like idiots, I’d rather play it safe.
ZR: Well, I think that is it. I don’t have anything else, unless there is something you want to mention regarding a tour or anything about the album?
Stoner: The 2nd single is called “Underneath” (released 6/22/2018). We had a busy June. Not a lot of touring, just more regional stuff at this point.
ZR: Any talks of hitting the West Coast and doing like LA or Portland or anything?
Stoner: I guess the biggest issue with playing out there is gear. One of the worst flight experiences I ever had was trying to bring my guitar on the plane, and I don’t want to check it. Using the house in LA as a base, I can have gear there and on the East Coast, but it’s pretty much been the Northeast.
Big thanks to Stoner for taking the time out to talk to us! You can check out Thieves & Lovers on Facebook, BandCamp, and Spotify! Keep an eye out for their upcoming album The World Is Sleeping this Summer!
PHOTO CREDIT: All photos ©Thieves & Lovers – Used with Permission
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