News

Live & Listen's 'Bands You Should Know': Stop Light Observations September 09, 2016 15:14

-

Live & Listen is pleased to continue a new weekly feature known as Bands You Should Know. This new concept will highlight a different band each Friday with an interview, general background information, current happenings, as well as videos and audio from each band.  After nearly two years of various interviews and artist spotlights, we feel that installing a consistent weekly feature is the best next step for Live & Listen.

For our eighth edition of Bands You Should Know, we sat down with John-Keith Culbreth aka "Cubby" (piano/synth/vocals) of Stop Light Observations, a Charleston-born band that we feel is on the cusp of becoming the next big thing.  We were first introduced to SLO as an opening act for The Revivalists in 2014, and it has been a pleasure watching their constant success since then.  With a modern rock sound reminiscent of bands such as Foster The People, The Raconteurs, and My Morning Jacket, this band carefully crafts its unique sound through each original track.  Stop Light Observations brings a fresh, innovative element to the table, with just the right amount of mainstream appeal.  Don't miss the bus on this band, as they're on the fast track to years of rock and roll success.

Interview by Jordan Kirkland: Live & Listen
-
The idea for Stop Light Observations was born many years ago, when you guys were just teenagers.  The pieces of the band ultimately fell in place in the years that would follow.  Tell me a little bit about how this band came to be.
 -
Cubby: We grew up in Old Village, which is kind of the first settlement of what would become Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  Louis (Duffie), the lead guitarist, and I were kind of learning to play guitar at the same time, and we were best friends growing up.  We were always fishing, playing basketball, and just being super active kids.  We were super competitive, and we started to become competitive with guitar.  That's when I started songwriting.  I remember hearing Bob Dylan's song "Hurricane," and I really wanted to try writing a "story song."  I started writing songs, and when we were 13, I told Louis, "Let's join a band."  We were in middle school and started having band practice twice a week, and the rest is really history.  Members starting joining, and most importantly, Will Blackburn, our lead singer, joining in high school after I had a dream.
 -
I heard Will sing one night, and I had always planned to be the lead singer of the band.  Then one night, I heard Will sing.  I went to middle school with him and knew him well.  I had no clue that he could sing.  Anyway, that night in my dream, God came to me.  I'm not even religious, but it was this super unfamiliar, spiritual, vivid dream where the presence of God came to me and told me, "In the morning, when you wake up, you're going to call Will Blackburn and ask him to be the lead singer of your band."
 -
So I woke up and...you know sometimes you wake and think, "Oh that was a funny dream," but once in a while you have that dream that really shakes you up.  It was like that.  It was super heavy.  I gave him a call immediately and asked him if he wanted to come jam.  So he came over, and before he left, I asked him if he wanted to join the band, and he said yes.  So about six months later, we had our first show at a ice cream shop on Sullivan's Island.  I used to live in Anderson, South Carolina, which is about four hours away from Charleston.  I grew up next door to my preacher, who was Preacher Wilson.  
 -
After the show, Preacher Wilson was there.  My dad was there, and he saw him and asked him what he was doing there.  Preacher Wilson explained that he was there to see his grandson, who was the lead singer of the band.  Anyway, every weekend when we were kids, Preacher Wilson would have his grandson Will come over to his house, and long story short, I had grown up with Will as a little boy for years and totally forgot about it.  Years and years later, in the band together, after God told me we were supposed to be in a band together, I find out that this guy had been my very first friend as a little boy.
 -
Watch Stop Light Observations' music video for "Dinosaur Bones" here:
-
- -
That is unbelievable.  
 -
Cubby: Yeah. So crazy.
-
I've asked this question to a lot of bands at this point, and that is easily the best story that I have heard regarding how a band has come together.  Wow.
 -
Cubby:  Yeah.  It's really crazy.  Will and I have such a cosmic relationship.  All of the time I feel like I am getting to spend time with the next greatest rock singer of all time.  I'm really picky about singers, and something about him is just special.  He has a way of letting his spirit go through his voice.  If you get to know him and spend enough time with him, you realize that he has no clue either.  It's not like he's practiced and gained this incredible voice, it was just given to him.  No vocal lessons or anything.  The whole story behind it and how we grew up together...I get these werid deja vu moments where it feels like it was so meant to be.  That's kind of the main thing, honestly, that keeps me going and makes my drive and ambition to really take this to the top as high as it is.
 -
The way you describe it definitely sounds like the beginning of something great.  I feel like so many of the great rock vocalists come from a similar place.  It's a gift and not something that came through years of vocal lessons.  So, when did you guys finish high school?
 -
Cubby: We graduated from Wando High School in 2010.
 -
Did you guys all end up going to the same college?
 -
John: No.  Only I went to the College of Charleston.  Louis went to Clemson, and Will actually went to Noles for a year.  That was really the point where I thought that the band was about to end.  I thought it was really coming to an end, and I was sitting at the four-way stop light in Charleston at Houston Northcutt, where there was this guy named Hassie Holmes.  I'm not sure if you've heard about this guy, but he was this old black man, who for 25 years in Charleston sold the largest stack of newspapers you've ever seen.  Every day.  He had thousands of daily newspapers and literally never sold any of them.  He was this crazy character. 
 -
There were all these rumors that he was a genius that graduated with a degree in electric engineering.   People would say that he was so smart that he just went crazy.  So one day I was looking at him, at the stop light, and I thought, "No matter who you are in life, or how fast your life goes by, or how powerful, rich, or poor you are.  We all sit and listen to this little light hanging up in this sky and have this brief moment to just really stop and make these stop light observations."  I looked over as Hassie and said, "That guy is probably the king of stop light obersations."  That was when I came up with the band name, and that was really a turning point.  It felt so meant to be, and I called up all of the guys and told them that we were renaming the band "Stop Light Observations," and we aren't going to quit.  I suggested that we go record a demo, so we went a couple of months later and recorded The Zoo, then we recorded Radiation and Hassie Holmes, the guy on the cover of our first album.
-
 -
Wow.  That's amazing.  So that's what I wanted to talk about next; releasing your debut studio album, Radiation, in 2013.  I would imagine you guys had put together quite a bit of original material by that point.  Soon after, you were selling out The Music Farm and even appearing at Bonnaroo.  What was the recording experience like, and just how big of an impact did that moment have on the band?
 -
Cubby: I feel like we got an unusual amount of instant success on a DIY level.  That's what really kept us going.  Looking back on it, we released 26 recorded songs in a time span of ten months.  That's a lot of content.  I think that all of the hype came from releasing the music, and then after that, it took over two years to release another album.  So now, since we have released our second album, we're already preparing to record our third.  We want to make sure that never happens again.  We want to keep releasing content.  
 -
Once we recorded The Zoo, we started getting in the studio to do Radiation, and I really started to feel at home.  I'd never been in the studio before, and I felt like that was where I was meant to be.  I guess I started to realize my natural ability to produce and work in a studio; thanks to the sound engineers and studio owners around me.  That whole experience will forever be the stepping stone to what was a very impactful part of our lives.  So much fun.  So exciting.  So fresh.  So new.  It was kind of the seed and fire that helped us realize that this was what we were supposed to be doing and just to keep going. 
 --
I can only imagine.  That's a lot of big moments happening at once.  So, since then, I know that you guys have recently linked up with Mark Bryan from Hootie & The Blowfish, who is now managing the band.  How did you guys hook up with Mark, and how have things progressed since?
 -
Cubby: I think that he's kind of been our savior.  I sent him the album, and he was just completely ecstatic about it.  He wanted to shop us around for management and find the right manager for us.  I kind of relate it to the movie Hitch.  Have you seen that movie with Will Smith?
 -
I have, but it's been a while.  I think I saw it once, right after it came out.  
 -
Cubby: Well, pretty much in the story, he's helping this girl find a man.  In the meantime, he falls in love with her.  That's kind of what happened with Mark.  He was finding us a manager, and in the meantime, we kind of fell in love with him, and he fell in love with us.  We made a decision to stop looking for a manager and go ahead and call it a team.  We wanted to start working for the next album release.  He's never been a manager before, but I swear he is destined to be a well-known, great manager.  He is such a great people-person, and I feel like that is a really big part of being a great manager. 
- -
He's really authoritative too.  I feel like, as a manager, you have to be able to lay the hammer down. There are the stories of the asshole managers that get shit done, but they're just ruthless.  He has a certain, timeless classic...I don't know if you know who Dale Carnegie is.  He has a old school business mentality of being just a really all around, good person, and that's how you get stuff done.  It's been a really cool thing to be around.  
-
Watch Stop Light Observations perform "Aquarius Apocolyptic" at The Windjammer here:
-
 -
Definitely.  There has to be an even balance there, as is the case for most things in life. It sounds you guys found the right recipe, and that situation ended up working out the best way that it could. 
 -
Cubby: Yeah...I think so too.
-
I know that y'all's touring schedule has really expanded in recent years.  You have had a chance to grown and move far beyond the Carolinas.  How has this year panned out thus far?  What have been some of the highlights from the road?
 -
Cubby:  I think Brooklyn Bowl in New York has definitely been a highlight.  We always love playing in New York.  Also, Otis Mountain was a small music festival that we played less than a year ago up in New York.  It totally surprised us. Easily the coolest music festival that I've ever been to.  I highly recommend that you, and anybody else, check it out.  It's well worth the time.  Have you ever been to Burlington, Vermont?
 -
Unfortunately I have not.  
 -
Cubby:  So, pretty much, all of the Burlington people take a 30-minute ferry ride across this lake.  Then they take 30-minute drive up into these gorgeous mountains.  They go up into the middle of nowhere into the Adirondacks.  It's the most crystal clear sky that I've ever seen up there.  The festival is up on this young kid from Burlington's farm.  He throws together this music festival where there are no rules about headliners or anything.  They just pick bands that they like.  It has nothing to do with how big you are or anything like that.  They obviously can't afford to bring in big name acts, but every band that was there was one of the dopest, coolest bands I had ever heard.  It was like 2,500 raging Burlington kids.  That has to be the highlight of the past year.  
 -
For the future, we have about 30 shows on the books for this fall, and a decent amount of fraternity shows.  I love playing at those fraternity shows.  That what George (Claussen) is helping us out with right now.  I think that where even two or three years ago when we were playing fraternity gigs, it was just kind of a wild party, and they hired a band just to have background music.  I think that with the recent explosion of festivals, and I think Spotify has kind of turned every single person into an A&R person.  Every single person gets stoked about finding new artists.  The frat shows have kind of turned into these tiny music festivals.  That's the most exciting part to me.
 --
-
That's a great point.  I could kind of see that shift starting to happen when I was finishing college in 2009.  Everything was moving in the direction of these weekend-long parties with more strategic lineups featuring bands of actual substance, rather than an 80's or hip-hop cover band.  You started seeing those "festival-like" lineups with music that made sense flowing into one another.  That's a trend that I'm happy to see has continued.
 -
Cubby:  Exactly. It's a great thing to see.
 -
So aside from the busy fall tour ahead, what do you see as the overall vision and goals for the band over the next year.  What's on the agenda, as far as what you hope to accomplish and what you see as possible?
 -
Cubby:  In the next year, if I had it my way, I would definitely like to get on next summer's festival circuit.  I would like to shoot for the goal of playing on a late-night TV show.  I would also like to try to break a million plays on one of our songs, if not multiple songs, on Spotify.  That's really the hard line goals.  As far as more transcendental goals, just growing our sound and growing our vibe as a brotherhood in team.  Getting closer to one another and developing our musicianship and song-writing.  Getting back into the studio and starting to record our third album.
-