For a decade, 12 Stones has been churning out records and carving out a name for themselves the old-fashioned way: by touring their asses off. This year has been no exception. With the recent release of their fourth studio album, Beneath the Scars, the guys have been out on the road winning over more crowds and proving why, a decade after they hit the scene, 12 Stones has become a must-see act.
We talked with 12 Stones back in April and vocalist/guitarist, Paul McCoy and drummer, Aaron Gainer were gracious enough to take some time to meet with us again to talk about, among other things, songwriting and the trials of being on the road.
Blog Rocking Beat (BRB): The last time we talked, you guys were just getting on the road again. It’s been a couple of months since then. Are all the kinks worked out?
Paul McCoy (PM): Yeah, this is show number nine so far. Once you get that far back into it, you really feel like you’re into it.
Aaron Gainer (AG): Yeah, you really get fine-tuned. All the kinks are worked out. All the dust bunnies are gone. You go through nine shows in nine cities and you really feel like you are back in shape.
BRB: Paul, you recently switched to Michael Kelly Smith guitars. Nine shows into the tour now, how are those working out for you?
PM: Great. I love them. I have names for the them. The black one is called Murderface and the other one is called Betty White, because it looks vintage. But they play great. I love them.
BRB: Let’s talk songs. How do you guys know when a song is “ready”?
PM: In this band, we’ll write a song until the wheels fall off. We’ll write it. Unwrite it. Rewrite it. Share a piece of it into another song. Borrow a piece from another. And you can do this until you finally say, “Enough, that’s how the song is going to be.” But, even after that, it’s never really done, for us. If you let me, I could work on one song for two years.
AG: Then, when you get out on tour and play it hundreds of times, you start to inject things that you maybe didn’t think of when you were first recording it. These are mainly things that don’t change the songs, but add flavor here and there. Like on “Soulfire,” we’ve learned to stretch out the instrumental section and jam out over it and let things happen a little more organically.
PM: That’s important for us. It’s the emotion and the feel of the song. You can add a million different elements to a song. In the end, for us, it’s all about going out there with two guitars, a bass, drums and a voice. Everything we do on top of that is icing.
BRB: I think there is a misperception that because a band has a song on the radio and a tour bus that they are rolling in cash and everything is great, which is far from reality. You guys are out their working really hard to make a living like the rest of the world. Have any of you ever thought, “I just don’t know if it’s worth it anymore”?
PM: Just about every day.
AG: I know I think about it a lot.
PM: It’s not so much “Is it worth it,” though, it’s more about “Can you do it?” For us, it’s always worth it to go out and meet friends and fans. It’s worth it to hear that we wrote a song that means something to them or changed their lives in some way. The way everything goes, though, at the end of the day, it’s hard to survive out here. People may think that we have five cars or multiple houses, but it’s not like that all. It’s nowhere near that. I don’t even have cable at my house right now.
AG: But that’s not that bad; you watch way too much television, Paul.
PM: Hey, I like television!
AG: Back to your question, the other aspect of it, though, is that there is the financial struggle. And there is the fatigue struggle. Then there is the struggle of being away from your family. I thought I was going to be able to see my son in August. I found out two days ago that I won’t. He was extremely excited, but now I have to explain to him why his dad won’t be able to have the trip with him in August. It’s just tough stuff. And it’s a reality every day. You enjoy that time you are on stage, but the rest of the time, you are aware of the challenges. You try to forget the things that hurt and enjoy the things you can.
BRB: Building on that, then, we recently talked with Rick Allen of Def Leppard and asked him what keeps them going after they have accomplished nearly everything a rock band can accomplish. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “We do this for each other now, because we are friends.” A decade into this, do you ever get that? Do you look at each other and think that 12 Stones keeps going, in part, because it is part of your personal friendships?
AG: I think we had those types of experiences more when we were younger and growing up together while becoming a band and coming of age, especially when it came to things like releasing a record. Now, all of us have been doing this long enough, we all understand what’s a “given.” We know what’s expected. Still, I don’t like a lot of things that happen peripherally in this business, but I love playing drums.
PM: I love when you play drums, too. It really fills out the sound.
BRB: After having done this for about a decade now, what still surprises you?
AG: It’s been rough for everybody. One thing that surprises me still, is when I meet someone who says, “I started listening to you in junior high school,” and they have their kid right next to them! It’s amazing to me what can happen in a span of 10 years, but it’s awesome that they have stuck with us… and they are bringing their kids.
BRB: If you could talk to the 12 Stones of 10 years ago, what would you say to them?
PM: I’d punch them in the face! I would really punch me square in my face. Seriously, though, I’d tell me to put my money in the bank.
AG: We were told to do that by Cowboy Mouth, the first band we ever went out with, and they weren’t shy about it either. Fred Leblanc and the guys in Cowboy Mouth put a finger right in my chest and said, “Put your money in the bank, you idiot!” They were serious, because they knew. It was a cool thing that they warned us, but, you know, it didn’t happen.
Younger bands ask us for advice and we tell them the same thing, too. We tell them that and I tell them to stay single.
PM: What I tell them is, “Put your money in my bank.”
AG: Yeah, put your money in my bank and stay single. Do you want to be a husband or do you want to be in a band? Maybe we just can’t have it all at the same time. Do one thing for awhile, then do the other. I wish I would have known that.
BRB: Is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to?
PM: We run our own social media. We try to be very involved with our fans as much as we can. We’d also like people to just come out to live shows, whatever band it is. It’s doesn’t have to be 12 Stones, although that would be nice, but it would be nice to build the genre and support the bands that are out there. It’s nice to buy the CD and crank it in your car, but so few of those people come out and pay for a ticket and actually interact with guys like us.
AG: I’d like to piggyback on that and say there seems to be this perception that there is this competition between bands. To me, I don’t see that at all. There are people who like music and if you write something that connects with them, they’ll like it. It’s not about who is better than who. We all like each other.
PM: That has always been my thing. You open for a band or tour with a band for three months at a time and you get to know them like your own band at some point.
AG: And when they do well, you’re happy for them. If they get that gold record, you are genuinely happy for them. It’s not like, “Hey, they took our fans!” It’s not like that at all. There’s room for everybody.
12 Stones newest album, Beneath the Scars is in stores and on iTunes. Catch them on tour this summer and support live music.