Stone Angels Go Up In Smoke!

Doug Bearne caught up with Niall Kersey (vocalist) and James Innes (guitarist) of Brighton band Stone Angels to talk about the new album and where the name came from, along with some interesting jobs of the guys outside of the band.

Before we got on to talking about the new album, I asked the guys for a bit of band history. “How did you guys get together and when did you get together?” After both suggesting that the other take the question, James eventually stands up. “Well, we were formed in 2011, so we’ve been around for a little while now. But the band actually came about because both Niall and I were in separate projects that kind of imploded about the same time. I was in a band called Train Wreck and Niall was in a band called Halfway Down the Highway.” Niall agrees that was the one, “Yeah, I got it right!” James says, half surprised. “So both bands basically fell off the rails at the same point.” He continues, “And I just remember being in my room at the time and a little Facebook message popped up from Niall going ‘Hey, fancy forming a band? – we’re gonna call it the Niall Kersey Project.’ And I was like, yeah, I’m in, but we’re changing the name.” Niall goes on to joke “I already had the Facebook page sorted for the project!”

“So were the two bands that you were in beforehand sort of similar styles or were they different?” James takes up the story again, “Similar, I guess, in respect that they were both rock bands, yes, though I think my band leaned more towards classic rock like AC/DC and Niall’s leant more towards modern rock bands like Black Stone Cherry.” Niall confirms, “Yeah pretty much – that’s pretty spot on.” James continues, “Yeah, but you know, we wouldn’t have looked out of place playing on the same bill together.”

This leads nicely on to their influences. “I’d definitely say Angus Young is my biggest inspiration for playing the guitar,” James confirms, “I even actually have a signed Gibson SG from the man himself, so yeah! He’s also a big influence when it comes to playing live because I hate musicians that just stand still. I always need to be kind of acting like I’m like being shocked by electricity. I’m just crossing all over the stage.” He continues, “I was mainly brought up on like the seventies and eighties rock by my Dad and also going to gigs from an early age. It’s kind of just been one of those natural things.” Niall agrees, “Yeah, that’s something I need to do too. That whole larger than life kind of attitude is something that I know both James and I have always tried to bring not only to the music itself, but to our shows as well.”

Moving on to the album, I ask the guys why it has been ten years from the debut Give In To Temptation for it to come out. The answer comes again from James when he explains laughing, “So one of the reasons why it’s kind of taken so long is that we’ve had more drummers than Spinal Tap! But thankfully now we have our longest serving rhythm section to date of Loz (drums) and Sam (bass), so that’s really helped us to work on the new record.” Niall is happy for him to carry on, “We actually started recording the album in the summer of 2019 and then the pandemic struck. So that kind of put the brakes on everything for a long time. But thankfully was almost a blessing in disguise because we got to rework the album a bit during that time. We got introduced to a guy called Mike Krompass (Smash Mouth) who ended up becoming the main producer for the album. We had used George Donahue originally who has a great studio down in Brighton. But then Mike was able to take it to another level. We had time to really analyse the album. I think any artist will tell you a song is never finished. That’s why we always joke that this is the final, final, final mix.”

I suggest that maybe you can overwork it as well. “Oh yes, there’s a definite balancing act to not over-sanitise or over-compress the album but I think I think we managed to nail it.”

We then go on to talk about where the name of the title track came from, and James picks up the mantle again. “Well on the 7th of November 2019, at about midday, my house caught on fire while I was inside! The source of the fire was a faulty boiler that we were having changed. The gas engineer forgot to properly isolate the gas valves before taking a blowtorch to the pipe and ended up setting the roof on fire. I was self-employed, so I was working from home at the time and all of a sudden, I hear this screaming.

“The engineer was shouting my name to get out. So, I leave the safe warm cocoon of my living room with my little electric heater (because obviously the boiler was off) and come out into the into the hallway to find water pouring through the ceiling. He has turned the water main on to stop the fire from spreading. It was such a weird experience, leaving this safe space and being thrown straight into the deep end, so to speak. You know, in those, in those moments, time really stands still. Like it’s only probably a couple of seconds but it felt like 10 minutes that I was just frozen. He was swearing at me to shut the gas off and in the panic, I was trying to find the keys to the garage to unlock it to get to the gas mains.” He carries on re-living every moment, “I couldn’t find the keys so he comes hurtling down the stairs and starts throwing himself against the garage door to try and break it down. At this point there was smoke billowing out of the roof and thankfully some builders were working nearby and they saw it. They came over with a hammer, managed to break the padlock and turn the gas off. Had we not been able to get in there, there was a serious chance that the house could have exploded. The fire department also arrived very quickly. So, you know, I’m, I’m very grateful for the speedy service of the fire brigade. It was definitely the most stressful and traumatic day that I’ve experienced and I don’t recommend anyone going through that process, especially considering it was just before the pandemic. That, as it for everyone, was a difficult time for me, but even more so as I wasn’t home for a year. The insurance put us up in a very nice place, but they said, you know, ‘don’t bother unpacking, you’re only going to be here for a couple of months’. We were actually there for just short of the year, so just living out of boxes. But rather than go to therapy, (which is probably what I should have done), I decided to channel my emotions and experiences into writing the title track Up and Smoke’

The track made me think of a spaghetti western type song, and I put that to James. “One of the big sources of inspiration for that track was the artist The White Buffalo. I love his cover of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ that he did for the TV show ‘Sons of Anarchy’. It’s my favourite version of the track and I tried to take a bit of inspiration from that in my approach, and he’s leaning towards the country side of things. I guess spaghetti western isn’t too far away from the country vibe. And one of the things that I personally like as a songwriter is being able to see the story in my head of the song. I have a cinematic view to things, so I can see how the spaghetti western idea could fit into that.”

We’ve now heard all about how we got the story behind Up In Smoke, but there’s also a bit more behind the song Gambler as well, isn’t there?

Niall was the main songwriter on that, so he picks up the story. “Well I brought in the riff. We were having a session round James’s house, and we started it with that song. I brought in this sort of heavier riff and we’re all sitting around and we started to question ‘OK, so what are we gonna do with this?’” He continues, “I had the first line, you know, ‘you pay the money to play the game’ and Loz, our drummer, is actually a professional gambler himself. He plays poker for a living and so, you know, this sounds like we’re all playing some kind of card game. And so with Loz’s help we ended up using a lot of good card analogies to talk about life itself.”

But Loz is not the only person in the band with an interesting ‘outside’ job, James has too. “Yeah, so my day job is running my own PR business and my area of expertise is helping bands on Spotify. So to help reach a wider audience to enjoy the style of music that an artist will be bringing out. But then also on the festival side of things, yes, I organised and run Brighton Pride’s first rock and metal festival called Pride Rock. We’re just finalising the line-up and yeah, it takes a lot to get to the point of being able to just announce the first wave of bands, so it’s a real labour of love. But I absolutely love it. And I guess the one other thing that I do as well is a lot of extras work for TV and film. So most recently, you can see me in Season 2 of Loki, if you look very, very closely!” Unfortunately, he can’t expand any further about what’s in the future for that project as he explains, “Well, yeah. So there’s a big project that I’ve been working on, but unfortunately, due to NDA’s, I can’t really go into it publicly! But once it’s released … Oh my God. I’m going to be singing it on social media like crazy.” I guess it’s a bit like keeping the new album to yourself, I suggest. “Ohh yeah, it’s like a mental itch that you can finally scratch once you talk about it.”

Back to the record, I ask Niall to give me a feel for the album, after offering my view on the general scope of the it. The album is a mix of styles with both heavy and more mellow tracks which allow the album to breathe. Was this a conscious decision from the band to mix styles up a bit?

He responds, “We wanted to push ourselves a little bit more as it was anyway. We were focusing on this album and obviously meeting with Mike helped push us along. We wanted to make ourselves more than just the band you see in the clubs and venues that we are playing, and sounding more like a band you’d happily see in maybe a stadium as well. To have that huge, huge sound, even if it is with the strings. There’s organs on there as well on a couple of tracks. We just wanted to bring out the best of us.” James chips in too, “And yeah, definitely to add on that as well, because it’s been the best part of a decade since the first album came out, we wanted to showcase that there’s actually been growth behind us as musicians. While we’re very proud of the first album and stand by it, we didn’t want to be putting out ‘Give In To Temptation Mark 2’”

Well if that is the case then they have definitely achieved what they set out to do. Keep an eye out for these guys – I predict good things. Providing the day jobs don’t get in the way.



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