RIYL: Alabama Shakes, The Black Keys, Cardboard Kids, The Black Crowes, Mona
Every now and then, I discover a new song from an unknown band that instantly hooks me. That was my experience with Seattle rock trio Stubborn Son and “The Broken Heart Proof,” the high octane, riff-driven single and first track off their newly-released debut album, Birthright (released independently, 7/17/2015). The twisting, overdriven opening guitar riff sets the tone for the entire record, immediately establishing Stubborn Son as a no-frills rock band who will melt our faces off with brash guitars and timeless blues-rock undertones meant to get our heads bobbing and our chests pounding.
Stubborn Son’s content comes from the heart, taking the form of stories, advice, pleas, and pledges. Their songs are honest and deal with everything from love, sex and relationships, to life changes, inner and interpersonal struggles, identity crises, and soul searching, making their music easily relatable to anyone who’s been a teenager or late twenty-something. Rock music has a long history of dealing with personal identity, and Stubborn Son attack that notion with vigor.
“If it’s pain that makes the love and a fever to prove it’s enough
I’ll be a lonely soul, a lonely soul
If a broken heart proves we’ve got everything to lose
I’ll be a lonely soul, a lonely soul”
– Stubborn Son, “The Broken Heart Proof”
“It’s time to go hunting for the devil
That lives inside my head
He lives right behind my eyes and whispers in my ears
Every night I lay down to bed”
– Stubborn Son, “Voices”
While Stubborn Son’s quest for internal meaning and identity is far from fulfilled, they have definitely achieved a clear external image. Their introspective, layered lyrics paint them as a band in search of something more, and their music offers a good time with the opportunity for emotional connection.
As far as independent debuts go, Birthright is nothing short of a perfect launch into the music world. It is not only a remarkably cohesive effort, but also the quintessential exemplar of a band finding their sound and digging deep into it. Through howling, overblown vocals and rough, crunchy guitars, Stubborn Son have built a musical signature that links them to rock and roll’s past while providing them room to trudge onward into rock and roll’s future.
Bands with big sounds tend to have a lot to say, and Stubborn Son are no exception. What better to introduce them to the world than with an in-depth interview on this, the release day of their first album? Atwood Magazine spoke to Stubborn Son’s lead singer and guitarist Garrett Lamp to learn more about the Seattle rockers and Birthright.
“The Broken Heart Proof” – Stubborn Son
A Conversation With Stubborn SonAtwood Magazine: Hey Garrett, great to meet you! I'm truly impressed by Stubborn Son. Birthright is your first effort?
Garrett: Yeah, as the band Stubborn Son, this is our first record. We got together and formed the band last January, and by November we were in the studio recording this album. It was pretty quick, but it felt right – so it worked out really well!
How did the band meet?
Garrett: Andrew (Knapp, our bass player) and I met through a mutual friend. I had just moved down from Bellingham, Washington and was looking to start a new band, and met with Andrew and we just hit it off right away. He was (and still does play) in a bluegrass band, but it worked out for the two of us to get together. Our approaches are different, but come together really well. Andrew mentioned his friend Blair was moving back from Malaysia, and the two of them had played music all through college together… It was kind of that magic moment with him!
So that’s the kind of long version of how we got together.
Let's talk about this picture I have of you three with the pick.
Garrett: We just thought it would be kind of fun – I found that ice pick in the bottom of my house in Seattle. We were moving some crap and I kicked that out of the dust, and thought it was awesome. We thought it would be fun to have Blair stab me in the chest and it’s actually Sriracha, and it got everywhere… It smelled spicy for a while after, but it was worth it.
One thing I really love about Birthright is the album's fluidity and roots in blues rock, and rock n' roll. What's your take on your musical style?
Garrett: Yes and no. We didn’t even set out to be a rock band necessarily, and that’s just what came out. It’s the extension of the expression, if you will; we definitely enjoy the classics as far as rock goes – and that stems a lot from blues – and I’m definitely, as a writer, captured by things that I feel have a certain soul to them, or feel to them; And I think that Andrew, who also does some writing, would probably say the same thing. We set out to make this record with Martin (Feveyear, our producer) and discussed doing it very Muscle Shoals-esque, moreso because we felt that was the truest representation of what we were doing and what these songs were.
At the same time, I wouldn’t say that three late-twenties guys from Seattle Washington know anything about the blues…
I noticed a lot of references to the devil in your writing.
Garrett: Yeah, it pops up in a couple songs! Some of it comes from, I think, the fact that in some capacity, everybody can relate with that. Not necessarily with the Christian devil, but something that embodies the devil – so that’s a big piece of it as well. A lot of my background, being raised in the Church, had that outlook, and trying to capture that in a way that is meaningful.
For example in the song “Voices,” that’s actually about overcoming that voice of self-doubt, that ‘you’re not good enough’ – so it’s a lot of that, using the devil as a metaphor or vehicle to get these things across. everybody has at least some exposure to that term or character.
There's also the theme of self-doubt on the record.
Garrett: This – Birthright – and the theme of the record had a lot to do with trying to write something about where we were in this point in life. It’s this kind of time where you’re in your late twenties and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on with you and the world around you, and trying to figure out the roles we should do and we’re told to play, and what it means to be unique in yourself. We knew that a lot of these songs embody that – from “Voices, “ to songs about ‘how did I get myself in this type of relationship again’ (“Fall for This”) – so from everything from self-introspection, to relationships, to “Thick as Blood” is about walking alongside a really close friend going through really tough times and trying to be a friend… From that, to songs about sex and songs about love, we tried to bring it all together to where we are from a standpoint in life. We wanted to make music that was from our standpoint.
Who were your influences?
Garrett: Everything from Led Zeppelin, Black Keys, Alabama Shakes to the early White Stripes to Rolling Stones, Benjamin Booker, to The SteelDrivers and Chris Thile. We kind of pull from everywhere – all three of us have a ton of musical influences that we play. We include things that we like and things that grab us.
We knew that we wanted that warm, good sound because it has a signature that puts it in a place.
What was your experience with the recording process?
Garrett: It was fantastic! We had a lot of fun. This was our collective first time in a studio, we worked with Martin Feveyear and it was a fantastic process! We tracked the whole record in 4.5 days and mixed it in another 4.5 days, and we did the whole thing to tape which was a blast. We just went at it – it was a really intense process and really focused, but it was great and a lot of fun. A lot of creative ideas bounced back and forth between the three of us and then our producer as well, and it was great to have a guy like that put his fingerprint on the record. The sort of blown-out vocal sound is the most obvious thing that Martin came up with that helps it sit in its place, and… yeah, it was just a really, really fun experience. we couldn’t have imagined that it would have gone so well. It was so fluid and easy. Each song was only three or four takes.
For “The Broken Heart Proof,” I have this old Harmony Archtop guitar that I got from this fireman up in Bellingham… Three of the songs on the album are slide guitar songs, and I originally played them on my Resonator guitar, but I picked up my Archtop and that tone nailed it. Having the room to chase down inspiration was really fun! It was work, but it wasn’t a chore.
Did you come in with all the songs prepared?
Garrett: Yep! we did some preproduction work with Martin and played through the songs, and right away he had some really cool and creative input as a new set of ears. We met with him a few times a month in advance, and then we walked into the studio with everything ready. So there weren’t many changes with everything once we got in; as far as budget and time constraints were, we knew it was going to be kind of quick so we worked hard to do everything we could in advance, so that when we went into the studio, we knew exactly what we were doing. We had the playbook all drawn up.
Why record to tape?
Garrett: Honestly, it was one of those things that wasn’t even a question. This studio has a tape machine and Martin works well with it… so it was just kind of a known ‘thing.’ It was going to be recorded to tape – we knew that we wanted that warm, good sound because it has a signature that puts it in a place… It’s organic, it’s familiar, and it’s right for the music. Also, there’s a really great restriction to having to use tape. We live tracked the whole album, but you can’t sit there and do fifty overdubs to get a part perfect; you do a handful of takes, and you do the best one. You punch in a couple mistakes if there are any, but that forces you to play really well, and you capture a moment – which was something that was really important to us. It’s a tool that enables you to do that, and on this record, we captured the lightning in the bottle. We had to do it all right, and play really well, and we did! It made it really fun.
Did the recording process have an effect on the live show?
Garrett: The biggest, most obvious change is the vocal effects to be able to better recreate the record live. We feel like we really worked out a really great signature sound, and we wanted to stay true to that. We wanted to make something that’s a studio piece, but we also want to have a shot at recording it live.
Would you say your music is a live recreation of the record, or the record is a recreation of the live sound?
Garrett: We kind of worked under a compounding way of working, where we wrote the songs, we played the songs, then we changed them to go into the studio, then we got out of the studio and solidified the songs… Because that experience solidified the studio really well, we started hearing new things we could do to the songs and have tweaked them since. So it’s not necessarily that one affected the other, but that it’s a forward motion that continues to build on itself. Recording the album really helped to solidify these ten songs, creating a really solid foundation for us to springboard off and do more with live. That being said, we really love the album, and it’s not something we’re trying to run away from.
What is your favorite part of the record?
Garrett: Ooh… [pauses] Let’s see… There’s a lot of tones that are really, really cool that get me. The tones of some of the guitar solos really get me, and the sound of the drums is so solid and huge that, for me, that really ties the record together with the bass tones that then sit on top of that… The opening of “Make Believe” also gets me every time, and the way the choruses turned out on that song was really fun as well. The harmony parts for the choruses on “Make Believe” and “Head Above Water” were really fun, and it brings the three of us out in a new way, singing together.
Once Andrew, Blair and I started writing together, it just started to come out more and more… We should do chant parts, and harmonized choruses… It’s just an evolution of itself, that just followed that. There’s nothing that we’re doing that is because it’s supposed to be. We’re doing it because it catches us as interesting and fun, and we’re following our hearts on it.
On this record, we captured the lightning in the bottle.
What has it been like to be in Seattle these past couple of weeks, what with Pride and everything else going on?
Garrett: YEAH! It was convenient timing for Pride in Seattle, not that the Supreme Court took that into account… But it was fantastic. My wife and I were up on Capitol Hill on Sunday, but it was pretty crazy and cool to see a city come together… Seattle just seems like a place where people come together, and they want to celebrate and enjoy things together.
It’s really interesting, from my perspective… With the music scene in Seattle, everyone knows Nirvana. They’re a killer band, but you see the live scene in Seattle today, and there is so much going on that is not even close to what Nirvana was doing – not in a bad way! – but there’s amazing soul and hip-hop, and alt-rock and indie, and everything here! Seattle kind of comes together to do stuff! When Seattle won the Super Bowl, that was craziness.
It’s a cool city to have your comeuppance.
Garrett: It’s been so cool to be here and meet people here. Any time I meet other musicians, whether or not they’re bigger or smaller or whatever – everybody’s just fantastic. There’s not a sense of pretentiousness about musicians here; there’s a very communal aspect here. I’ve had sit-downs and received advice from many musicians who are bigger than we are, and everyone is excited to give advice to up-and-comers and other musicians and people. We’re all a part of this ambiguous and hard industry. It’s very supportive and communal.
I'm in New York, and I see something similar among artists here - there's a lot of communal support!
Garrett: It’s really interesting! I think there’s been this shift in realizing that, if we’re going to do this, let’s start figuring out how we’re going to do it. It’s a shared experience of working and collaborating together. I think it becomes that supportive thing where everybody’s working hard at it, and if you show up to the metaphorical “table” so to speak, also having your experiences and hard work, then… Everybody is down to be involved with that. In my sphere, there’s no one whose goal is to make it rich and famous. We’re people who want to share art, and we all have bills to pay. We’ll do whatever it takes, but we don’t want to be mopping floors.
If you could have this album land in one person’s lap, in one person’s ears, who would that person be?
Garrett: [pregnant silence] I think I’m going to go a little bigger-picture here, and say, “Somebody that’s trudging through life, and they can know that their experience is a shared, human one.” There’s no executive that I could point out and say, “I wish they could hear this.” We want to make music for people to share, so I would hope the person that could hear the music would be the person who needed to hear the music, moreso than the guitar heroes or executives. But it would be cool if they could hear it, too.
How many interviews have you guys done so far?
Garrett: We’ve done three or four written interviews, two podcasts, a video documentary for a muscular dystrophy foundation (that’ll come out someday), and a handful more of them. We’re still getting used to doing interviews.
'Broken Heart Proof' is out tomorrow - the first song off the record! How do you feel?
Garrett: We’re excited to have it as our first share! We got it out to the people who participated in our Kickstarter campaign, and had a soft release in Seattle, but we’ve been itching to get this out. This album was recorded in December, and the album cycle takes time, but we’re itching to get it out on a broader scale.
'The Broken Heart Proof' was the song that caught my ear and reeled me in to the rest of Birthright.
Garrett: That’s one of the older songs – actually, I think it’s the oldest song out of this group of songs. When we originally went into this with Martin, it was actually the ‘number six’ song – in our minds it wasn’t going to be the first track or single off the record. When Martin heard that, he was like, “Oh my God, what is this?!” And we recorded it on this other guitar and listened back through the monitors there… It was an “Oh shit!” moment, and it just jumped out. It became the obvious one to be our single off the record.
If folks had one takeaway from the music, what would it be?
Garrett: To figure out who you are, and follow that. Don’t worry about what you think you’re supposed to do; if you think you’re supposed to do something, you probably can get away with not doing it. As far as from my standpoint of writing tunes from this record, the things that we grew up thinking – “I gotta go to college, I gotta get a job, I gotta X, Y and Z,” we realized that that’s not going to make us happy in life. Instead, it’s the relationships and connections we make with people, and following what we know to be true. I was an engineer and project manager and went to school for that, and I realized I couldn’t do that; it couldn’t be me. This isn’t the way we want to achieve the things that we want to achieve in life.
Tell me about the name, ‘Stubborn Son’.
Garrett: The name comes from a desire to be true to what we’re doing. We thought up all these names of what mantra we could take on, and we realized that wasn’t the way we could go about it. That’s where the whole ‘stubborn’ thing came along, and we thought alliterative names are fun. But the main inspiration, or thought behind the name, was to make sure we were not making up some mantra or character for the band that we couldn’t fully embrace.
I think that what resonates with us is figuring out what is right for us to do.
Sounds akin to what you've been telling me thus far.
Garrett: I think part of that is not that the mold is a bad one – it’s just that, it’s not the best fit for us. I don’t think any one of us is going to say, “No one should work,” or, “No one should work at a corporate office,” but I think that what resonates with us is figuring out what is right for us to do. What is that fit that really allows us to thrive? Not everyone needs to be a musician; that doesn’t mean that everybody is not creative – you can be creative as a lawyer or surgeon, and make those relationships and interactions and be “yourself.” I think it’s just a matter of being purposeful and figuring out what it is, and not going out, getting a job and buying a house, because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do in life.
Who is Stubborn Son outside the musical context?
Garrett: Just three dudes! Three guys – I am married to a wonderfully fantastic, supportive woman Blair is good and married at the end of this month, to an amazing lady! But I’m a big Seattle Sounders fan, all three of us are Seahawks fans, Andrew and Blair are Mariners fans… We enjoy good coffee, good beer, good whiskey, good food… Hanging out outdoors, hiking… We’re just three guys, but I think we love playing music; that is something we – we just freaking love it. Practicing for six hours in a room with no windows and no fan is our idea of a really fun afternoon, but we get out from time to time.
Practicing for six hours in a room with no windows and no fan is our idea of a really fun afternoon.
When are you coming to New York?
Garrett: It’s on the bucket list for sure. We’re working on a West Coast tour for now. We want to play as much and to as many people as we can. Going back to that DIY thing, we’re figuring it out. It’s fun to figure out how to book your own tours. We’re excited to get out there and keep sharing this record with people, keep playing and writing, and just doing all of that. So we hope to see you really soon!
How do you view the music industry these days, what with social media and SoundCloud playing various roles in music discovery, and battles between labels, streaming platforms, etc?
Garrett: Every once in a while, we have a discussion about what’s an important use of our time. Is it important to have a SoundCloud and a Tumblr, and all that stuff, or is it important to just be making music? If you’re busting your ass trying to make the right thing happen, then I think the right doors and opportunities are going to come along, and you’ll see the synchronicity happen. The record isn’t even out yet and we’ve had some good growing experiences about things happening in the industry. As an artist, it’s interesting to sort of be caught in the middle, but not in the middle. You’re the maker of your destiny, but at the same time, somebody may come along and want to be the maker of your destiny… There’s a lot, and it’s an interesting place to be – from all sides of it! There’s no right or wrong path, which I think also muddies the waters.
What do you guys find you talk about most as a band, outside the music world?
Garrett: It depends – we end up talking about either sports, or new music that we’ve found, or… I’d say that, for the last two months, it’s been all music talk! When we do start talking about other things, it’s either about stuff going on in town, or whatever’s going on in Seattle.
Who’s been on your music playlist recently?
Garrett: The new Alabama Shakes record is freaking killer! Loving that record… Andrew and I have both probably broken our record players listening to that one. The new Lord Huron is really great… A couple local Seattle bands, Motopony and The Grizzled Mighty, have really good new albums out. Daniel (Blue, of Motopony) was one of the first guys I met in Seattle. That’s definitely some super cool new music that we’re listening to right now… I listened to the new Taylor Swift, and I can’t say which way I am on it, yet… But yeah, that’s the new stuff we’ve been going over.
Any last words to say to fans?
Garrett: Thanks for the support, and thanks for being a part of the music. It’s a shared experience we’re all going through, and hopefully this can be the soundtrack to some of that. I hope that people enjoy it, because we had a hell of a fun time making it!
Birthright – Stubborn Son
Listen to the full album here: