Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Joey Wanczyk
There are a few things to get the reader up to speed on with Stone Irr. The first is that his name was not actually intended to be a pun. The second, which helps explain the first, is that he is the product of a religious upbringing. Those are the mainstays of every Stone Irr article, and with them out of the way we can focus on his new album “Sinner.”
It’s hard to choose what stands out on the album. For me it’s the tapestry of multi-tracked vocals that tie the entire record together with a choral-folk effect. For others the stand-out will probably be the lyrics. Lines like “Each hour is a grueling testament to what point I can’t stand,” both gives the listener something to relate to as well as enough mystery that he or she must personalize it through the process of interpreting it.
We got a chance to talk to the Indiana-based musician about his past, his inspirations, his recording and writing process.
Your album is entitled Sinner, and religion appears to play a significant part in your biography; how big of a role does it play in your music?
Over the past year or so, I’ve taken to writing in a more autobiographical manner and since my writing is pretty self-reflective, religion ends up playing a crucial part as it was a fundamental aspect of my upbringing. I went to a very, tiny Christian school all of K-12 but as I moved away from religion in college, I began to reflect on how it impacted my interactions with others and how I thought about myself.
As a follow-up, who is the sinner that the title of the album refers to?
It’s mainly a reference to myself. I do like to think that the term could be relatable to anyone who hears it though as I think most people have been called a ‘sinner’ by some random, religious zealot on the street or from attending a church service. I could be biased though—maybe I’ve just heard it said of me too often while growing up in the faith.
Your press materials mention contemporary artists likes of Sufjan Stevens and The Antlers. But I’d be curious to know what some of your older influences are, what you listened to when you were growing up?
There was a lot of 50s music that was played in my house while growing up since that was the era my dad grew up in—lots of Elvis, Buddy Holly and early rockabilly. My parents had a lot of country and bluegrass tapes too and I subsequently became a huge fan of Ricky Skaggs and Bill Monroe. Of course, I had a big classic rock period that then led me to prog rock and jazz fusion from Zappa and Mahavishnu Orchestra. I sort of skipped over a lot of 80s-era music when I was growing up—only to have recently realized how much I was missing out on. I’ve been listening to so much XTC recently to make up for lost time.
I do like to think that the term could be relatable to anyone who hears it though as I think most people have been called a ‘sinner’ by some random, religious zealot on the street or from attending a church service.
You consistently weave a fantastic tapestry of vocals on the album. Are those all overdubs of your own voice? And if so, how do you reproduce the effect live?
Yep—those are all me! Oddly, I used to think that layering vocals was so self-indulgent but I got over that pretty quickly when I began to think of the voice as its own instrument. Although I would love to have six other people on stage singing with me I don’t exactly have my choir-directing skills in place so I just try to be as dynamic as I can when I sing the songs live.
On the flip side, can you tell us a little bit about the recording process for the album and how you achieved such an intimate feeling?
I’m super happy to hear it has an intimate feeling to it! At the end 2015 I was writing and recording a lot of demos through this awful 2-input mixer and a condenser microphone (I still use it to this day). That following spring I spent my weeknights adding new parts to these old demos that then became the basis of the album. At work I was always listening to new, re-recorded versions of a track imagining what other elements I thought the song needed. I started sharing some of the songs with my friend Aaron—he loved the tracks and began to add some finishing touches to the tracks while mixing them. Then, voila—there was an album!
Do you have any plans for a tour after the album is released?
I don’t have any set plans for a tour at the moment but I’m hoping to set up some dates in the fall. I still need to decide if I want to tour out to the West or East coast!