Going backwards into the deeper, darker roots of ROCK!
by Todd k Smith onboard with Tony Reed
Bremerton, Washington in Kitsap County is a small town of approximately 35,000 on the state’s northwestern peninsula. Home to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard it is connected to downtown Seattle by a 55-minute ferry and, for our reference, is in close proximity to HeavyHead Studios. Therein resides composer, producer Tony Dallas Reed. Reed came to fame by joining Seattle-based alternative rock band Treepeople. The band lasted six years and three albums before disbanding in 1994. Reed next surfaced in 2003 with Mos Generator, a project he built around the remnants of Treepeople, Voodoo Gearshift and Mind Funk. Pushing a more traditional ‘70s rock sound they eventually released five records the most noted being Songs for Future Gods on Detroit’s Small Stone label (see our review here).
Half way through the fourth Mos record, Reed got distracted listening to his old ‘60s record collection. Inspired by the simplicity, yet the power within the vinyl grooves he started writing with greater purpose, determined to bring back the integrity of those early albums. What started as a side project with ex-Swinos singer Dru Brinkerhoff escalated into a full-time job. Calling themselves Stone Axe, the duo released their first LP in ’09 and wearing their influences proudly on their sleeves attracted the attention of the foreign press. “We’ve built quite a following overseas,” says Mr. Reed when we called to chat about his new opus Stone Axe II. “Classic Rock magazine has mentioned us a least three times in the last year and put us on their Heavy-Blues compilation disc that goes out to over 60,000 readers world wide.” Reed is an enigma with a single vision. He plays most of the instruments in the studio, writes all of the music and produces the band. In a live setting drummer Mykey Haslip and bassist Mike DuPont lend a hand but, for the day-to-day operations, it Reed’s baby.
“I started Stone Axe as a side project to Mos,” says Reed telling us the story of the band’s origin. “Dru and I knew each other for awhile and, even though he sang with a different style in his old band, I thought he’d be great slowing things down for a more blues vibe. We wrote a handful of songs when Roadburn records (a subsidiary of Burning World Records, Netherlands) came along and wanted to release the first single then the first record. The process was, and still is, that I write and record a song, send the mix to Dru who writes the lyrics and melody and he comes in and lays down the vocals. We work very fast, no rehearsal time, we just do it.” Returning to the old school way of making records the band try to produce quality recordings in the least amount of time. In the past 12 months they have released two long players, a seven-track EP and three singles (one of them is a split with Maine’s Sun Gods In Exile).
“My parents are music fans, so there was a lot of encouragement there. The genesis of my musical taste was in a weird Ronco compilation called “Rock Power” that my mom had in her record collection. My older cousin brought in Kiss and Rush. So, what we’re trying to do with Stone Axe goes deep. We’re not just skimming off the top of the 70’s sound.” Reed not only appreciates the sound of ‘70s rock, but the work ethic that surrounded the bands at the time. “Skynyrd, Cheap Trick, Kiss, they all released two albums a year - on top of a relentless tour schedule,” says Reed. “My goal would be to cut two albums a year. Grand Funk did two a year for three-four years. It pushes you to be a better writer and work under pressure.”
Reed’s day job is working in a studio, then he comes home and sets up in his home studio. “I love working with music all day,” he says. “I never get tired of it. I get so inspired that sometimes I can track and record a song in a couple hours. The first song on our new record (Stone Axe II), ‘Old Soul’ came out all at once, just so fast. To me it’s Paranoid-era Sabbath. It just captures that feeling. With the song ‘Those Were the Golden Years’ it was Thin Lizzy. I actually had to send it to some of my close friends and ask if it was over the top was it too close. It wasn’t going to go on the new album, but when I started sequencing the record it just had to be on it.”
Some may call it shameless but Reed defends the band’s perspective paying tribute to their icons. “On the first album it was all about UK band Free. I love their use of space. It’s very difficult to play with that much space, you have to have a tremendous amount of confidence. In fact, it’s that rhythm section that I ultimately want in this band. When I was 16 I wanted to play like the guys in Iron Maiden just as fast as possible. I didn’t understand the power in slowing things down until I was older.” He admits it’s difficult to teach that to the other band members. “The other guys have to learn my feel. It’s a challenge for them and me. I can never relax when I’m playing live ‘cause I want it to sound like the record. To the other guy’s credit we’ve never had anyone say we didn’t nail it.”
As a composer and songwriter Reed is already testing the water for the third disc. “I wouldn’t mind focusing on the harmonies a bit more something like Neil Young or the Eagles. People seem to be getting into the harmonies we do live so we could get deeper into that but it will always be heavy. I was also thinking of going more progressive. I have a couple mellotrons that I’d love to use. In my heart I live in London or at least the UK musically. Maybe that’s reflected in our music. I hope so because that music is such a big part of me.” Stone Axe has plans to play the UK as well as a West Coast tour with Saint Vitus. “We’re not really a doom band so we’re prepared for a backlash. However, we play the genesis of everything the doom guys listen to. What’s great about running this ourselves is we have a clear perspective. We know where we sell well and who our fans are and most of all, we know what we do best.”
Website: Stone Axe