On the last day of the tour with Blameshift, Digital Summer and Throwing Graving, front man of 12 Stones, Paul McCoy, sat down with Target Audience Magazine to discuss 12 Stone’s latest release, Beneath The Scars, how touring life and home life collide and words of wisdom.
Interview and photo by Danielle Boise
Since the inception of the band in 2000, you’ve been steadily putting out albums since your 2002 self-titled album, 12 Stones and now with your 4th full-length studio album, Beneath the Scars; how do you feel the sound and style has evolved over the past decade of recording together as a band, especially with the newest member, Brad Reynolds joining the band in 2011?
Well, it’s been a crazy ride. When we first started, I was nineteen years old. I didn’t really know anything I was doing in the studio. I kinda was just a kid out of high school working with this huge studio in L.A. I went in a did what I was told and as the years went over, I started to realized I could have a little bit more control over what happened in the studio. I could voice my opinion and not just go “ok, was that good? Is that ok?” So I think being able to put our honest opinion in what we think about our music into the process is very helpful.
Beneath the Scars was released in May of this year. This is the first album since your departure with Wind-up Records after working with them for 9 years; how was it creating and working with EMG (Executive Music Group) to create the latest album?
It’s cool. It’s definitely a different vibe. It’s a much smaller label, but we have much more hands on with the people that run the label, it’s good. The record has only been out a few months now, so still the very beginning phases of that relationship.
How was it different this time around working with a new record company and did it feel like you were starting all over again, which allowed the ability to create new vigor and vitality within the recording process? Or was it more like because you’ve already gone through the process of recording did it feel like it was just another label so it didn’t matter in the end?
No, it definitely was starting over for us. You know we spent 8-9 years with a company and it becomes a family, you just know how it all works. Then you go to something brand new. It’s definitely a new experience and it did bring a little bit of a fire out of us to try to really throw it out there. We did the record with Skid Mills, who did our third record, so we had the familiarity with him and the process of how to make a record with him.
What was the “ah-ha” moment when creating the album, where everything came together in one cohesive process?
For me the “ah-ha” moment was when we got the orchestra to do some of the songs. It really tied a lot of that stuff together when I heard it. Because you know a lot of people these days use digital strings and it’s really easy to just play keyboard. I mean we had a real orchestra come in and do it. So when I heard that I was like “oh wow,” it really just brought all that together for me.
I’m curious, when you started to compile songs for Beneath the Scars, how many did you have before you cut it down to the 14 tracks on the album and how did you decide that these 14 tracks come together to tell the story you wanted to tell?
We had over 40 songs when we went in to make this record in bits in pieces; none of them were complete. Actually most of the record we did a lot of co-writes while making the record. Songs like, “Infected” and “Bulletproof” we wrote in the studio. We came in with 40 songs and we sat down with our label and Skid. Everyone started selecting what songs they like, “oh I like that one let’s put it on the list.” We started shrinking the list down more and more.
A lot of songs were written while we were in Nashville. We had a guy named Blair Daily came in as a co-writer. He brought in some great material and we were like “oh, wow,” so we got rid of some of the ones we thought were good and basically beat him while we were there.
Is there a song in hindsight that you wished you had subbed out or are you thrilled with the final product?
I’m happy with it. You know there’s always going to be, every musician always has there “ah man I want to play this, I want to play that, I’d like to do this.” There are songs that didn’t make the record that I wanted to make the record. That’s just part of the process, you know? I am thrilled with the final product though.
How do you find the balance between putting on harder songs, for instance you start off with “Infected” which has an abrasive, in the best possible way, quality to it that really kicks the album off in style with the fast reverb and strong lyrics, but then by the 3rd track, “For The Night” it feels more like a message song and then there is “That Changes Everything” which has an almost ballad quality to it. So I guess the question really is; how do you balance out moving between the different levels of emotions from faster to more gentle tones as a whole within recording an album?
I think it’s just being in the moment. Realizing that I love ballad songs and I love really heavy songs and that’s why throughout the years we will have some records like, Anthem for the Underdog, had several more ballads with a slower tempo, where Potter’s Field, had a lot of high energy stuff. This record for me was that combination of putting the two worlds of 12 Stones together.
There were a lot of times on a record where it sounds clean. Then live, when we play everything that is heavy and loud and abrasive and in your face and then we depart and go to songs like, “Bury Me” and “That Changes Everything” and it’s like “what just happened?” You feel like you just got punched in the face and then all of a sudden it’s calming and relaxing.
We always try to have something worth saying in every song. Songs like “Infected” being angry in the way the world is. That emotion comes out as angry, abrasiveness and not being ok with it. Then songs like, “For The Night” is one of those songs where you really want people to take in what’s being said and not necessarily the sound to hit you in the face, but more the meaning.
Which song is your favorite off Beneath the Scars and what is the back story behind that song, how did it come to exist?
I’d probably say that my favorite song on the record is “That Changes Everything.” Its song I have had for probably five years. I just kept working on it at my house; recording it in my walk-in closet (with a chuckle). This song is reality for me. It talks about mistakes I’ve made; realizing that it’s not about me. I have a little girl, I have a family. So I took all the mistakes I made and kind of held them in. When I realized that other people were hurting because of this, it made me go “oh, wow it’s not about me.” That’s like one of those songs that really it’s real.
How does the song writing process work for you? Does the idea come fully formed or is it a matter of sitting down and devoting the time and energy into crafting the song(s)?
Some songs write themselves for us. Some songs you hear a bit of music and go “I got it” and it just comes out. Some songs take a little more effort. There are some songs on the record, like for instance the song “Psycho,” “Psycho” was called “Animal” at one point. We re-wrote the song lyrically probably five times. Finally one day, Justin, our old guitar player, came in and said “I got it, the song is done. It’s called “Psycho,” here it is”; and that was the song. Some of them where very organic and it just happened, like “That Changes Everything” that was a song that just fell out on to the paper for me, you know.
Justin did a lot of writing on this record lyrically, which was something that was new for me. Normally I do 95% of all the lyrics and if I get stuck I have the guys come sit with me and we’ll chime through some stuff, but this record was a process where we all sat in a room with our computers and went “what are we trying to say here? Where are we trying to go with this or that?” It was definitely a different thing for us to do.
What do you think the theme of the record is for you?
For me, personally, I think it’s about overcoming everything that is thrown at you. Overcoming it with anger or you overcome it with sadness or whatever it is. It’s about keeping your head up and persevering and forcing yourself through the tough times.
So you are out on tour now until the middle of October…
Actually, we are about 6 weeks into this one, today is actually the last day of this tour and then we leave in 36 hours for another tour. Right now we are booked all the way up till Christmas. We are kind of are staying busy (with a laugh). We are going to stay out as much as possible to promote this record and try to get back in the groove of playing in front of people.
How does it feel shifting gears from “normal” life to out touring and how do you find the balance between the two because there is a public persona where you are out on stage and then there is your private life – your home, your daughter they are very separate worlds I imagine. So how do you find keeping them both, not only alive, but completely balanced?
I don’t think you can keep them completely balanced. Sometimes work takes over and you have to do it, I mean I’ll be gone through December. I’ll be home sometime tomorrow. My daughter’s first day of school is tomorrow. I’ll get her off the bus after school and hang out with her and then less than 24 hours later I’ll be getting back on the bus and leaving again. Unfortunately, and fortunately my family understands what I do and how important it is for me. I’ve got a great support system, my parents are amazing. My daughter lives in the same neighborhood as my mom and my sister, so she has her grandma and her cousins and everybody right there to help out and keep her distracted.
I try to bring her out as much as I can to shows, she’s a little rocker. She’s seven and she’s already writing songs. She’s got a little sketch pad that she brings to me and is like read it and then sits in the corner waiting for my response, it’s always amazing. She came to a show not long ago and got up on stage with me. I thought she was going to be shy and she was up there giving them the rock horns and getting people to jump around. So, I got a little bit of trouble on my hands with that one there.
And she’s only seven.
I know. It’s scary.
Who is inspiring you right now in the world of entertainment? It doesn’t have to be just music; it could be art, authors, television, movies – just something that you are drawing your inspiration on a personal and professional level?
Some many things, I’m so deep into the music world side of things. I love television and movies and things of that nature. I don’t know individually, I think there are so many great bands that are coming up. For me, what inspires me is working hard and seeing people that, for instance, I don’t have a car, I have nothing to my name, but I come out here every day and try to give my best and it’s the same for bands like, I Am Empire, which is playing here tomorrow night.
Some bands that are coming up, they work hard and they put so many things aside to have this. This life isn’t for everyone, it’s a select few that can do it with any kind of longevity and keep their sanity. So for people that can come out here and live this type of life, not know where you are going to eat or go to the rest room or how you’re going to survive the next day, but just pulling through it – that motivates me.
If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing to partake a bit of wisdom upon yourself what would it be?
Put your money in the bank. I got my record deal when I was nineteen and I had no idea what I was doing. I got my first royalty bonus check, and I was like “woo-hoo.” In my mind this was the first of many and there was not. It was the one and only and I blew through that thing so fast. I was a nineteen year old kid, I didn’t have more than $150 in my bank account growing up, so to get a huge check. I bought a car, buying things for all my friends, living it up. Fred LeBlanc, from Cowboy Mouth, when I first meet him he kept telling me over and over again to put my money in the bank. I was like “no, I’m not listening to you,” sure enough he was right.
Is there anything you would tell beyond that – for instance, some 19 year old kid comes up to you and tells you that they are in an amazing band and asks you what should I do, where should I go, should I pursue it? What do you tell them is the one bit of info that someone else gave you?
Do it for the right reasons. Don’t do it for fame, money, girls and crazy stuff. Do it because it means something to you. That’s all we have out here. We’ve got the music, each other in the band. I see so many bands that don’t like the other guys in the band, but they perform together. It doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re not enjoying it, then why do it. I see a lot of kids coming up, they all want to be rock stars with sex, drugs and rock-n-roll; the whole thing. Those people come and go so quickly because there is no heart in it, there is no reality to what they are trying to do.
For me I tell people, my daughter, you can do anything you want, but do it because you want to, don’t become a doctor because you think somebody wants you to be a doctor. With my daughter, it’s as simple as when she was growing up; I have a strange way of parenting, but I told my daughter when she was younger once she started school, that she could stay up as late as she wanted, but in the morning I’m coming to wake you up at this time. So the first couple of nights she stayed up until midnight or later playing in her room. The next morning she was all cranky, it took about three days of that. But now she takes herself to bed at 8:30 every night now, reads a bedtime story to me, whether I am home or if it’s on Skype. She’s learned how to do these things because you give them choices, “do it the way you think it should be done and there is consequences and rewards for the right and wrong decision.” Same things go for the bands, if you do it for the right decision, then there are rewards there for you, you’ll have that love that of what you do. If you do it the wrong way, there will be issues.
I was researching the back story of the band in preparation for this interview and while researching the band it came up that you are part of the Christian post-grunge hard rock band. There is all these labels and such. The labels kind of make me crazy because it feels like it is just filler in where writers don’t know what to say, so they create this really long line of description that doesn’t mean anything.
With that said, how do you feel being part a Christian post-grunge genre within the hard rock realm and do you feel it hinders or draws a bigger audience to your core base?
I think it’s a mix bag as far as that goes. We’ve had some people come to the show and go “you guys are a Christian band” and I’m like “No we’re not” and then they don’t like us. For me it’s like, you thought we were great ten minutes ago and then when I gave you honesty, we’re not a Christian band, now you don’t like every lyric that meant something to you, now means nothing because we’re not what you thought.; but we are. We are exactly what you thought because you heard the music and you liked it. I always use the analogy when people come up to me with that kind of an attitude, “do you only use Christian plumbers?” I mean when pipes break at your house, does it have to be a Christian plumber who fixes it.
Let the work speak for itself let the songs speak for themselves; if you like the music, then be a fan of the band. On the other hand, if you listen to our music and it helps in you in a spiritual level or it does anything for you religiously, I love that, it’s great. I grew up in the church. I have no problems with that at all. I like the people who get something spiritual out of it, yet at the same time, I’m not going to boycott people who don’t get something out of it. It blows my mind that have people come to a show and be so into it and then figure out that we’re not a Christian band and then just freak out. It’s bizarre.
I’m with you on the label thing. We’re 12 Stones, we sound like 12 Stones, post-grunge, Christian, hip-hop, polka – whatever you want to call it, we’re 12 Stones. That’s what we’ve always been and that’s what we’ll be until we play the last note.
I’m curious, I listened to the whole album several times and then I started researching and was like oh really (reference to the post-grunge Christian hard rock band) and was like oh really and went back to listen to the album again and could see both sides.
I wrote a lot of lyrics with religious undertones. Like I said, I grew up in the church. For me a lot of the religious content in our music is questions, like how’s this supposed to work? We don’t do “Hallelujah” or “Praise Ye Lord” in our music, but it’s like, “if I fall will you be there for me.” All these things I’ve been told my whole life, what does it mean? What does that mean? There are definite religious undertones within the lyrics, more so than earlier records. It’s just one of those things.
Do you think it’s a spiritual journey more so than a religious one?
I do. For more personally I think spiritually and religion should be individual. You should be able to believe what you believe. I’m a very, very individualist in that mind frame. Whatever you are into you’re into. I should be able to believe what I believe. I find that judgment comes from everywhere.
It doesn’t matter if you’re Christian or not Christian; somebody somewhere is not going to like what you think. Can’t make people happy, you just have to worry about what you believe in. It’s tough to think about where the world came from, that’s something to wrap your head around as a human being. It blows my month to even fathom the creation of the world. It’s just one of those things I guess.
Do you have any last words?
We run all of our own personal media, so you always hit us up on there. Just come out to the shows, tell people to come out. That’s the thing.
12 Stones is currently out on tour through December, for more information on the band or to find show dates, visit www.12stones.com.