Classic Rock Devotees Stone Axe Let Their “Stay of Execution” End (Early Album Stream)
Discovering the first Stone Axe album in late 2009 was a revelation; decades of both individual and collective classic rock worship had finally reached its logical conclusion. A band that could only exist in 1971 had crossed the Rubicon and entered the 21st century, bell-bottomed and sideburn-ed, emerging from a time machine fashioned from Paul Kossoff’s ’59 Les Paul and the Mystery Machine. Not only did Stone Axe stand on the shoulders of giants, they swam through the bloodstreams to a vibrant heart beating to the cadence of “Mississippi Queen”’s cowbell.
In their all-too-brief existence, the band–songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tony Reed and singer Dru Brinkerhoff, occasionally joined by session and live musicians–found a sizeable cult following and cranked out two full-length albums, loaded wall-to-wall with name-that-riff odes to Bon Scott's AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Free, Mountain, and every other dusty record in your cool uncle's vinyl collection. Now, more than a decade after Stone Axe seemed to fade away, Stay Of Execution serves as a final statement on what Reed wanted to convey with his side project, yet calling it that feels like a disservice to a project that captured the essence of a time and place better than most musicians’ main gigs.
While the back half of Stay Of Execution contains previously released (though hard to find) material, the first four tracks are seeing daylight for the first time. Unsurprisingly, they run the gamut of hard rock/proto-metal influences from Nazareth and Seventies Judas Priest to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Blind Faith. Have you 'heard it all before'? Sure, but that misses the point. Stone Axe exists not to innovate, but to celebrate. And when it’s good, brother, it is good. Listen to an exclusive full debut of Stay of Execution and read an interview with Tony Reed below.
Stone Axe has been more or less dormant for the last decade, so I'll get the obvious question out of the way first: why release this album now?
It was a contractual obligation I had with Ripple Music. When Ripple let Mos Generator out of our contract to sign with Listenable Records, we did it with the agreement that Stone Axe would deliver another album. It wasn’t a stern agreement because we are all good friends but recently I felt like it was a good time to get these songs released so I wouldn’t need to think about them anymore.
I noticed Side B are deep cuts from some previous splits and singles, but the first four tracks are totally "new" to the public. How did you decide which of the previously released songs would make it onto Stay Of Execution, and are there any other Stone Axe originals still locked away in the vaults?
I chose those songs because I wanted them to have a second look (or listen). They are some of my favorite songs we ever did. I am particularly fond of "For All Who Fly."
Stone Axe came about during another turn in the "rediscovery" cycle, when it seemed like lots of people once again figured out there were a ton of great bands back in the day that never got their due. Which musicians or bands from that classic era mean a lot to you, who you also believe are still underappreciated or overlooked?
A full blown discussion about music of the seventies would take many hours :), but I will tell you the direct influence on Stone Axe, and that was Free. In 2007 I was in a record store and the clerk was playing the self-titled Free from 1969 and I was very inspired. I was well familiar with the band but not so much with this album. I left the record store and started writing songs in a more classic rock style. Initially, They were meant for Mos Generator, and some of those ideas ended up on The Vault Sessions (aka The Lantern) but once my writing in this style kicked into overdrive I wanted to keep the songs for another project. During the development of this project I was listening to a lot of Free, Cream, Faces, early Thin Lizzy, Mountain, and tons of other late sixties, early seventies blues based rock. I was also a big fan of the underground progressive blues and downer rock bands of the seventies. Artists like Bloodrock, Captain Beyond, Leaf Hound, Pentagram, Iron Claw, and the one and only...Necromandus, were just a few of many bands that inspired the Stone Axe formula.
When I heard the first Stone Axe record back in 2009, I immediately played it for my father. He was shocked that it was a new release; he thought I had dug some obscure vinyl from the early '70s out of his record collection. Your main gig in Mos Generator obviously owes quite a bit to the classics, but Stone Axe is a direct line to that first post-Woodstock wave. Do you have a different approach to the songwriting when it comes to Stone Axe and, as the only other constant member of the band, how involved was (vocalist) Dru Brinkerhoff?
In Stone Axe, musically, I didn't have to answer to any other musicians. I wrote and performed all of the music on the studio recordings (with a few minor exceptions) so that gave me a different kind of freedom that I didn't have in Mos Generator or other bands I was in. As far as the process goes, I would write, arrange and record complete songs and then give them to Dru to write vocal melodies and lyrics to. Sometime I may have given him direction like "sing it like Paul Rogers" or something like that but for the most part, Dru came up with all of the melodies and lyrics and would usually lay down a track in two or three takes. We had no studio band so there was no rehearsing of the songs before they were recorded. Dru and I worked very well together.
There have been certain songs over the years that have incredibly specific vibes; the full-on Thin Lizzy worship of "Those Were The Golden Years" and "Riders Of The Night" being the best song Free never wrote come to mind. I hear similar things on Stay Of Execution, like the spirit of Tom Petty on "Lady Switchblade" and Black Sabbath IV-isms of "Deep Blue". Were these conscious decisions? Did you ever sit down and think 'I'm going to write a Leaf Hound song today'?
We called ourselves "Seventies Rock Preservationists" and practically dared our listeners to tell us where everything we wrote came from. I would definitely sit down and consciously write a song in a certain style. If I was vibing on a song and thinking "damn, I would love to write something with this feel", then I would. A few songs in the catalog really stick out as using that concept.
The album title, Stay Of Execution–that could mean a few different things in this context. Could that imply there's more life for the band in the future?
It means that the unreleased songs have been sitting around long enough. They have had their Stay of Execution and now need to see the hangman. For the record.. there will be no more Stone Axe activity as far as shows or new songs. Although it's cool that these songs are finally getting released, the band and concept ran its course over ten years ago.
Stay of Execution releases March 18th on Ripple Music.