IN FOCUS: THE STONE FOXES
In 2013, The Stone Foxes visited homeless shelters throughout the country, where they invited people to join them in singing “Goodnight Moon,” an original song by drummer and vocalist Shannon Koehler. The tour culminated in the creation of a music video featuring a diverse cast of singers and musicians from different shelters. We spoke with Shannon about the story behind the project, his experiences at the shelters, and how the band encourages fans to get involved.
GreenNotes: Who are The Stone Foxes?
Shannon Koehler: We are a straight up rock and roll band out of San Francisco. We started out a little more like heavy blues, but we’ve found ourselves at a place where we just like to have fun and do the things we love about rock and roll. We also like to sing about things that are important to us. It’s all about making that great connection with fans—the kind of connection that makes for a great community and makes everyone “feel alright,” as Tom Petty likes to say.
GN: What’s the story behind The Goodnight Moon Project?
SK: I came from a really small place, up in the foothills of the Sierras. There wasn’t anything close to resembling a city out there. Then I moved to San Francisco for college, and the biggest piece of culture shock was the amount of homelessness. When you walk through the city, you see how absolutely nuts the wealth disparity is. Then, after a while, you become extremely desensitized. In my own experience, you get to the point where a person is asking you for change or something, and you’re not even looking at them. When I realized I had become that desensitized, it made me feel pretty sick, and I was inspired to write a song from the perspective of someone who is homeless. Of course, I am very lucky: I’ve never personally felt the kind of pain that someone who’s had to be homeless has felt. But I think music is a great way to explore emotions and try to assume the shoes of somebody else, so I wrote a song. Then GreenNotes started talking to us, and we thought, “Let’s do something about what we’re singing about. What can we do that would allow our fans to put a face to the need out there?” And that was the real goal behind making the video. We wanted to go to shelters and get faces seen and voices heard. I think when things become personal, and you listen to people’s stories, that’s when real understanding starts to come about and real community starts being made.
GN: What was the response from people at the shelters when you expressed that you wanted to play and sing together?
SK: The response was amazing! People are so talented. A lot of folks have great voices but have never really gotten the opportunity to sing. When we started to hear people’s stories, it was a really emotional experience. For example, the refrain of the song is, “The nights are oh so cold,” and there was an extremely sweet guy named Walter who told me, “Man, I have a friend who passed away underneath the highway because cops made him move away from a warmer spot in the city.” And that just flipped me out! When you hear those stories, things become so much more real in your mind, especially coming from somebody who you are talking to and playing music with. When you hear a teenager, a 50-year-old Hispanic man, a 30-year-old black man, and a 25-year-old white man all tell their stories— whether they’re struggling with mental health, or poverty, or abuse—that just changes your perspective of, “What is homelessness?” Your stereotypes come crashing down. Homelessness affects so many different kinds of folks, and the stories are all so relatable. It could happen to anybody.
GN: In your opinion, what are the most effective ways to help people who are experiencing homelessness when you’re passing by on the sidewalk?
SK: That’s a good question. The main thing that I took away from talking to different folks is to remember that everybody has a name, a story, and a voice. I think we just need to keep a little Golden Rule reminder in the back of our minds and remember that everybody deserves to be treated with respect. I don’t know if there’s a rule as to whether it’s best to give money, or food, or things like that, but I do know there are a lot of great organizations trying to get people back to work. There’s a great group in San Francisco, called the Episcopal Community Services, who has an amazing kitchen where their residents and other clients can come and learn how to work in a kitchen. There are so many restaurants in town and so many jobs to be had! So there are culinary teachers there who get people ready to work right away. Or there’s another program in San Francisco that is converting buses into showers. What we do as a band is, whatever show we’re playing, we ask folks to donate healthy food, and we’ll give them something in return, whether it’s a 7” record or a poster. Then we’ll donate the food to a local non-profit.
GN: Do you ever bring up the subject of donations on stage?
SK: Absolutely! We’ll thank folks for donating food, and we always go over to the merch table after shows too. We just want to cultivate that culture so that when somebody says, “Hey, the Stone Foxes are playing,” that means “Check the pantry,” because you could get something cool at the show and do something good for your community at the same time. It kind of feeds into the music too; it’s not isolated to just the merch table. When a culture of giving is permeating the air, you can feel the energy from people. The music feels good, the vibe feels great, and people feel like it’s about more than just a couple of amplifiers or some dudes in a mosh pit. It’s about something real; it’s about helping each other out.
GN: Have you ever considered getting fans or shelters involved in other ways?
SK: Yeah, for us, this is a starting point. Right now we don’t wanna make things too complicated yet. We just wanna make sure that people understand and get in that rhythm. I think we’re starting to get there. What I would love to do is have different shelters come to the shows and have a table with us at our merch booth. Then we can get people partnered up with a local shelter in their own community that’s doing cool stuff. We can say, “Here’s something you can do to make a difference, and not just whenever we’re in town. You can make this a habit in your life.” To see different shelters promoting themselves at the shows and finding those connections—that would be great.
GN: Do you have any tours coming up, or any new music coming out soon?
SK: Yeah! We have the real night-time official kind of thing at SXSW this year, which I’m really stoked about. We’ve also got some tours going on in the summer. For our new record, we’re releasing a
single on our website on the first Friday of every month. That started back in September, and in August we’ll release the full record, which is called Twelve Spells. So there’s always something new and fresh coming out. We’ve also got different videos coming out, and our great friend Juliana, who is our art director, creates different creatures for the cover picture of each song. The music is a little more punky than it was, but at the same time we don’t really want to limit ourselves. What’s so great about rock and roll is there’s so many ways to do it. As long as our energy is there, that’s sort of what it’s about. So Twelve Spells will be coming out all year.
The Stone Foxes’ upcoming album, Twelve Spells, will be released in full in August 2015. In the meantime, you can check out the pre-released tracks on their website: www.thestonefoxes.com. Follow the band on Twitter @TheStoneFoxes.