After outstanding year, Stone Foxes look to Outside Lands

One of the best parts of attending San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival is discovering up-and-coming bands. This summer, the Stone Foxes will exchange confined clubs for the open fields of the festival, as they entice crowds with twangy riffs and ’60s and ’70s crunch. The promising Bay Area locals have been crushing the club scene lately with their edgy, syncopated blues and will be playing other festivals this summer, ending with their Golden Gate Park debut. During an interview in their compact rehearsal room, bandmates Shannon Koehler, Spence Koehler and Arron Mort shared their thoughts on their band, songwriting, pickup lines and the future.

In an industry where synthesizers and beats have sparked a new era of music, the Foxes grounds themselves into in a more vintage vibe. “I think we have a lot of the same influences as other people,” said Aaron. “What’s different is how we interpret it.” If their focused perception is what sets them apart from the masses, then the Foxes have tapped a direct line into a southern stream of gritty rhythms.

These ferocious vibes are brought to life through their energy onstage. Their hard-hitting shows are spectacles that have garnered the attention of one-time tour-mates the Black Keys and Cage the Elephant. At this year’s SXSW, their explosive performance snagged them the spot on the new Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Whiskey commercial. Those attending Outside Lands will be able to see what all the fuss is about when the Foxes catapult themselves from one instrument to the next, trading vocal lines as they thrash away with old-school finesse.

Although instrument-hopping is an integral part of a Foxes show, there is always a natural difficulty in playing an instrument that isn’t familiar. Spence described how studying other musicians helped him become more comfortable playing bass on certain tracks. “I remember listening to Rage (Against the Machine) in high school and wondering how the bass hit so hard,” he said. “I realized that it’s because (bassist Tim Commerford) is locked into that kick drum every single time.”

Whether in learning a new instrument or tearing up a show, the Foxes approach everything with a light-hearted attitude. The inside jokes and animated story recreations brought a lively yet relaxed mood to their drab rehearsal space. From creating “kosher” pickup lines (“may I finagle your vagina?”) to retelling how they narrowly escaped a hillbilly brawl, Spence said that they “try not to make things so heavy that it’s not fun.” The group doesn’t approach performing as a serious, business-like drudgery either. Like anything they do, Shannon said, “We always try to have a good time when we’re playing.”

As upbeat as the band is, they have recently been dealing with a falling-out with their fourth member, Avi Vinocur. Vinocur’s departure has far from derailed the Foxes. The absence has given the group a refreshing energy to refuel their coarse country-swag. Vinocur’s withdrawal has brought “an interesting clarity that comes from having only one person playing each instrument at any given song,” said Spence. Fans seem to have taken a liking to the change as well, telling the group they sound heavier as a trio. Along with their newly-acquired brawn, Shannon said that they “have been able to test out more new material during shows, which we’ve been stoked about!”

There have been a plethora of gigs to test out their songs as the San Francisco powerhouse have been on a nonstop tour since their latest effort, Bears & Bulls, was released back in July 2010. The band said that until last month, they never had the luxury of being able to comfortably sit down and write. They managed to squeeze in songwriting whilst “paying the bills” (their maxim for playing gigs), using the crowd’s feedback to gauge if the song was a keeper.

During a small break in April, the Foxes were able to catch their breath and embrace their creative side by building a mountain of new jams. They are also toying with some adventurous ideas for the future: Aaron says he “always liked the idea of a concept album as a future EP idea,” while Spence commented that he “should get to write a song about cars and girls.” The other two mockingly shot down Spence’s idea, saying he should stick to his concept for fictional vegetable hero Jimmy Stringbean.

While fans anxiously wait for Jimmy Stringbean to reach fruition, the Foxes have already begun touring again. They’re especially excited to tour the South, unknown territory for the vulpine rockers, where their heap of fresh tunes will grace the set-list in addition to their usual repertoire of distorted fuzz and scraggly funk. A dream come true, Aaron and the Koehler blues brothers will eventually come full circle to SF where they’ll play at Outside Lands in August.

“Outside Lands is one of those bucket list things for us,” said Spence. The Bay Area festival will now join the Foxes’ ever-expanding list of shows that range from satisfying accomplishments to outlandish ordeals: “It’s interesting to see the polar opposite of shows you can have: playing with the Black Keys one day, but the previous weekend playing in the woods and nearly getting knocked out in a bar fight. Makes (our shows) interesting.”