It’s an unseasonably cool late-April day at the infamous Machine Shop Concert Lounge in Flint, Michigan. I take a seat in the venue where, in a matter of hours, 12 Stones will go on to deliver an absolutely incendiary performance in support of Memphis-rockers, Saliva. Within moments, I’m greeted by 12 Stones drummer, Aaron Gainer, who has recently rejoined the band after a brief hiatus. His soft-spoken demeanor betrays the rock star appearance of his long blonde hair and tattered jeans. We commiserate over the early exit of our favorite hockey teams (Red Wings and Penguins) from the NHL playoffs while singer/guitarist, Paul McCoy does a quick sound check with his new Michael Kelly guitars for which he has just garnered an endorsement deal.
For the boys in 12 Stones, it’s a new day. From an explosive new record and record label, to new endorsement deals and even a new bass player, there is a renewed sense of energy for these 10-year rock veterans and they are looking more bulletproof than ever.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): Let’s start with the new album, Beneath the Scars, which is set to drop on May 22nd. What can fans expect?
Paul McCoy (PM): We did some different things on this album. We incorporated some loops and strings this time around, which was different for us.
BRB: So would you say that the technology influenced the material this time around?
PM: Kind of, but I think it’s more about us keeping an open mind and a willingness to try new things. We had talked about trying to do some of these things in the past, but we were always thinking about the live show and trying to make sure whatever we put on the album was something we could play live. So now we are running some loops in the live show and just trying to do some new things.
BRB: How has the move from Wind Up Records to EMG affected the band in relation to creating the new album?
PM: Well, it’s hard to say. It was a big change for us. When we had made the decision to leave Wind Up, it wasn’t easy. They had been the only people we had worked with for eight years. We didn’t know if anybody would be interested in us or not or what that would mean for us as a band, but the people at EMG were interested and they’ve been great to work with and very supportive. As for making the record, I’m not sure. I just know that we were excited to get back to work again. After 2.5 years, it seemed like a long time. We at least knew that we could get down to making a record and taking it on the road and seeing the fans again.
BRB: For the new record, you guys worked with Skidd Mills again. He’s been one of the most sought after producers of the last five years, working with bands like Saliva, Egypt Central, Saving Abel and so on. What’s special about him?
PM: He’s just so knowledgeable and efficient. He knows the technology really well and he makes everything very comfortable. For example, this time around, I tracked all the vocals in the control room right next to him instead of being in a vocal booth with the glass between us and going back and forth. So I could do a take and hear it right there after I did it.
He’s got such a good ear, too. He can—I’m not sure this is the right way to put it—“polish a turd.” I mean, you could put down some takes, whether it’s vocal or guitar or whatever and he can use the tools to take what you have and make it sound like the sound that you hear in your head, so you don’t have to keep retracking over and over to get that “just right” sound.
Eric Weaver (EW): It’s nice to be able to move quickly like that from song to song. You feel like you are working with someone who gets it and, from a practical standpoint, when you are paying for studio time by the day, it’s important to work with someone who helps get the sound you want and does it quickly.
BRB: You guys write about socially-aware and spiritually-aware topics. You have gone on the record as saying you are not a “Christian band,” per se, but what has it been like to walk that tightrope for years?
PM: We appreciate all of our fans. Some have come to us because we write about topics that are relevant to them as Christians and that’s okay with us, but I don’t feel comfortable stepping up as a leader of something like that, because I don’t know enough about it and I don’t want to be perceived as hypocrite when I make mistakes.
I grew up as a Southern Baptist and was in church twice a week growing up, so it’s something that’s been a part of my life. We are all human, though, and those are the things I try to write about; the things that make us human. If you read the lyrics, I don’t think they are preachy. They ask questions like, “How am I going to get through this,” or “Where do I get the strength?” I think these are questions that all people relate to, including devout Christians.
I don’t want to write about sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. When I look back at this part of my life, I want to feel like, when I had the opportunity, I had something to say. I want to feel like I used my position to make connection with people and wrote about something important.
EW: We have people come up to us at shows and tell us, “That song got me through a really rough time in my life,” or “I heard that song at a time that I really needed to hear it,” or sometimes even, “That song saved my life.”
PM: If a song only helps one person or five people, then I feel like we are doing something positive. If some kid identifies with it and it make makes a difference in his life or gets him through some struggle, that’s a few kids who, you know, who knows? Kids can be mean. People can be mean. It can be really hard out there.
BRB: You just said, “Kids can be mean.” Let’s talk about that and the “I’m Like You” anti-bullying campaign you guys did. How did the idea come about and, of all the possible worthy topics to address, why this one?
PM: Well, first of all, we have kids. We’re parents and our kids are getting to the age where they understand this kind of thing and I want them to know where we stand on this and that it is not okay. I had great parents; I knew they always had my back. Not every kid has that. Kids need to know they are not alone and that there are people who understand what they are going through. They need to know that it is not okay to bully or be bullied.
Personally, I got bullied a lot when I was a kid. I was deaf in my left ear and had to have some surgeries on it. Sometimes my ear would drain and stuff would run down the side of my face and I got bullied for that for years until I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore. I sort of became a vigilante and started “taking care of my business on my own time.” And sometimes, I would take care of other kids’ business, too.
The thing about bullying, though, is that that there isn’t anything wrong with the person being bullied. You could be the richest person in the world, or the smartest person on the world, or the most successful person in the world and somebody will find something to bully you about. It so common and there is no reason for it.
BRB: Band membership in 12 Stones has seemed like a revolving door at times, with some members leaving and new ones joining and some members departing, then returning later. How does this affect momentum? Do you feel these changes bring energy or is it sometimes difficult to get everyone on the same page?
PM: It’s a challenge sometimes. With Eric and myself being the guys who have been through it all since day one, it can be challenging. You do a lot of teaching. For instance, our new bass player, Will (Reed) doesn’t know all the songs. So we get requests sometimes, but we can’t just drop them in the set list yet. It comes with time.
No matter who is the band, though, we just strive to put the best out there, whether it’s that one riff or that one lyric that people can grab onto.
BRB: It’s interesting that you say that, because it seems like music, perhaps more than other art forms, has that ability to grab you. That one riff or that one lyric can hit something inside you that makes you have a physical reaction, whether it sets off an adrenaline rush, or makes you want to cry or whatever.
Aaron Gainer (AG): It does. It changes your thought processes. One line leads to something else or the way certain parts come together trigger new possibilities and soon you find yourself in new place you might not have been if not for the music.
PM: I remember when I was 13 and I had this little amp with a headphone jack. I’d go to my bedroom at night and my parents thought I was sleeping, but I had my headphones plugged in and I was playing some of the worst guitar you ever heard! But it was so good for me. It was like therapy. Just something about playing felt so good and it didn’t matter that the playing was terrible.
BRB: Okay, back to the present. How great is it for you guys to be on this tour, already being friends with the guys in Saliva and Royal Bliss?
PM: I think it’s great. It’s been so long since we’ve been out here that having friends out here with with us on the road makes it seem like it hasn’t been years. For us, though, just getting to meet the fans again and talk to them feels good.
We judge how we are doing by what happens at our merch booth. I’m not talking about just how much we sell, but by the number of people who enjoyed what they saw on stage enough to come back and say hello to us, maybe get a picture or have us sign something.
We had a guy at a recent show come up to us with two shirts on his arm. He said, “Before tonight, I didn’t like you guys. After watching you up on stage, though, I’m a fan now.” That right there lets me know that the hard work we are putting in is paying off. After 10 years of doing this, we’ve been fortunate enough to win some fans like that almost everywhere we play. And after 10 years, it still feels just as good as the first time.
BRB: Is there anything we didn’t cover that you want to mention?
EW: Just that the album, Beneath the Scars comes out on May 22 and that all your readers should come out and get it, then see us when we come to town.