From Wando to Bonnaroo – Charleston’s Stop Light Observations is a musical force

April 21, 2016

By Mark A. Leon - Photo Credit: Stop Light Observations 2015 by Vincent J. Musi

By Mark A. Leon – Photo Credit: Stop Light Observations 2015
by Vincent J. Musi

This Friday, April 22, Charleston’s Stop Light Observations will be lighting up the Charleston Music Farm with a sound wrought with angst, passion and energy.

We had an opportunity Monday evening to sit down on conference with the band while they took a break from their rehearsal in John Keith Culbreth’s home overlooking the marsh in Old Village.  The band was pumped full of musical adrenaline as we opened the dialogue anxious to kick off what expects to be a big weekend with a show in Columbia, SC, Atlanta, GA and the much anticipated Charleston Music Farm show Friday night.

What are your expectations for Friday’s big home show focused on the promotion of your new upcoming album expected later this year: Very simple, show the home town crowd an explosion of musical talent from a band celebrating their Southern roots.  From their first gig at the old Charleston Beer Works, to Awendaw Green to Bonnaroo, SLO has matured to a new level of musical expression.

Most of the lyrical inspiration comes from the mind of John-Keith (Johnny), lead keyboardist and songwriter.  Specifically, we spoke about the first release off their upcoming album Toogoodoo,  Dinosaur Bones. With lines including, “Decorated on the outside, but empty in my core.  I feel so extinct, I’m beginning to think I am a dinosaur”, the somber message and raw powerful chords are demonstrate a new level of maturity in the evolution of this band.

As multifaceted Louis Duffie explained the development of this track saying, “Johnny wrote that song so I know it has a personal meaning to him, but as for the music it always had a somber feel to it. It evolved into something far greater though once we started to record it out at Toogoodoo. That soft, mellow feel was mixed with this powerful chorus and bridge section that you hear today.  Johnny comes with a soft structure and some lyrics and then the band jams it and each person puts a little of their own secret 11 herbs and spices. Then once a semi concrete song is there we just keep playing it until it’s the best it can be.”

The name Stop Light Observations took on a number of face lifts over the years including Tru Colors and thanks to the infinite wisdom of Hootie’s Mark Bryan, that name was short lived.

CD: Tell us about your experience playing Bonnaroo.

SLO:  “Hate to be cliche but playing Bonnaroo was, at the time, the biggest dream come true. Just three years prior we went to the Roo and witnessed the raw energy of a music festival and saw great acts like Kings of Leon, Weezer, and Flaming Lips absolutely melt the stage.  For me, that year really inspired me to not only play music but perform for people because I saw what joy it brought to people, including myself.  Also the year we played at the Roo a large number of friends and family made the haul so it kinda felt like we were at the Barn Jam at Awendaw Green with all those friendly faces in the crowd.”

CD: What inspiration do you draw from the crowds during your live performance and what do you want them to take away?

Louis (SLO):  “The inspiration that we draw from a crowd is their energy.  It’s probably safe to say for any musician that if the crowd is digging the show then you the musician are going to perform and enjoy the moment even more.  As for what I want people to walk away from our concert is the feeling of “what did I just watch?  I’ve never seen a concert quite like that, and when’s their next show”

Well ole Johnny boy wrote those lyrics and rarely explains his songs so I hope he answered that, but as for when we’re performing songs that have that emotion we’re trying to take people past their boundaries and “lose themselves”.  Each song has a different message but the overall message of a show I would say I do whatever you want, express yourself, and dance your ass off because no one is there to judge, but to have a fucking epic time dancing and listening to music.

Cubby (SLO):  The main inspiration I personally draw from the crowd is when I see a really enthusiastic fan lose themselves in the spirit of life, and then watch the spirit trickle into the people surrounding them like a positive infection.  I have seen one fan change the entire performance.  This gets me head over heels and inspires me to match their energy and point them out and have subconscious conversations to push them even harder in the spirit in hopes that they will push me even harder.

Photo by Alex Boquist

Photo by Alex Boquist

CD: Who are you key musical influences?

SLO:  “As a whole we were influenced by Kings of Leon, The Strokes, Led Zeppelin, My Morning Jacket just to name a few.  In our earlier years we listened to a lot of Sublime, some Band of Horses, a lot of 90’s and early 2000’s rap.  In this upcoming album I think some of our early influences shine through because we as musicians I think we’re trying to go back to the early days, our roots.”

Cubby (SLO):“To answer the question primarily for me (lyrically) is Biggie Smalls, Bob Dylan, Jack Johnson, Isaac Brock, Jack White, and John Lennon. Musically it would be 70’s Rock, 90’s and early 2000’s Hip Hop, and 90’s and 2010’s EDM. Specifically Led Zeppelin, Kings of Leon, The Pixies, Nirvana and The Beatles.”

CD: Where are your lyrics derived?

SLO: “The songs are driven by story and the curiosity for life’s questions.  The lyrics are the reflection of what we see around us. The world is changing so quickly that no adjective can do justice to describe its profound change and in return many of us are being left behind and unnoticed.  A massive thrive for spirituality is growing while ironically a massive interpersonal disconnect to life is growing due to technology and this ever-growing fast pace of life.  The angst comes from this. It is call for help from others for strength to grow, as well as a helping hand to help others who are on the same chase for life’s fruit.  To experience a community of like and unalike minds coming together through art is the ultimate goal and the lyrics desire this.”

CD:  Do you have any words of wisdom about life?

Cubby (SLO): “My life goal is to die with a smile. As of today that would include jamming with all the home boys on our compound back porch as a 99-year-old man tokin some chronic purpy dogs, sippin’ a Miller High Life, and holding my current dream woman of 8 years as all us wrinkly ass SLO bubbas perform for all of our great gran babies.”

CD:  What does Charleston mean for you as a band?

Cubby (SLO): You have no idea.  No words can answer this.  Art is the refection of the reality in which we live in.  The reality we lived in is Charleston. SLO is Charleston”

Louis (SLO):  “Charleston has morphed this band into what it is today.  They say it takes a village to raise a child and in a sense I feel we’ve been raised by Charleston. This city and its people have given so much love that it’s hard to put into words the emotions and gratitude I feel for Chucktown.  Would not want to grow up anywhere else in the world!

Photo by Alex Boquist

Photo by Alex Boquist

As I spoke to the band mates in the forefront and back of the room chiming in while tuning their instruments, there was a brotherhood of respect and admiration for each other and with their responses, it was clear that carried over to their fans.  I asked the band about being born into the online video and digital age of music and the response resonated loudly: “Online and digital will live and die, but now we feel the music is speaking for itself.”

At the conclusion of the interview, I listened to their album Radiation a second time.  This time with my eyes closed, listening closely to the marriage of music and lyrics.  As I took in The Maze, I absorbed the transitional sound of the decline of 80’s rock and the birth of early 90’s grunge.  Daydream delivered the somber serenity of Sigur Ros with the soulful voice of Pete Yorn.

Our lives are the collective culmination of millions of individual moments stored in a memory bank and SLO is an explosion of  musicians, maturing with each individual moment and translating the pain, joy and everything in between into an eclectic tour de force of musical declaration.

If you have not yet seen Stop Light Observation, reserve Friday night and see why the Charleston music scene is alive and well.

Stop Light Observations Tracks – Soundcloud

Stop Light Obervations Ticket Information

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