(From Stonemasons’ Facebook page – because I couldn’t write it any better)
‘2 months, 11 countries, 7800 miles, van breakdowns, crashes, border patrol, police trouble, low standing ceilings, biker gangs, dead bodies, boat crashes, burning venues and many many amazing shows later, our epic tour with our bfffs 100 Onces has finally came to a close. Words cannot describe the experience we have had. It has been a rollercoaster from start to finish and we are so grateful to all the amazing people we’ve met along the way.’
So. That’s the briefest of synopsis into the incredible journey taken by Stonemasons. From the Glens of Antrim to Eastern Europe the intrepid grunge-rock trio have completed an amazing journey, fraught with problems but conversely a great example of the strength of the human spirit across borders and cultures reinforced by a common love of rock music.
It’s a tale we just had to hear more of, given that we at Chordblossom have long championed the band, as far back as my review of their fantastic ‘Angst & Spiders’ E.P. (here) from May 2013. I ended that review by saying ‘All in all, it is one of the best local rock/indie releases I’ve heard this year and if the band continue on this trajectory, then the boys from the Glens of Antrim could really go places’. So ok, I predicted they would go places – but 7800 miles? 11 countries? I can’t take credit for predicting that.
Anyway, I caught up with frontman, Connor McCann who answered a few of the many questions that just go through your mind when you hear what this young band embarked upon. After that, we chat about the band’s new, ambitious EP – ‘Lost Layers’.
► So, Connor, the obvious question is – how the heck did you even get the opportunity to do this tour? How did it all come about?
The short answer is that it is down to Patrick (Blaney – Drums). We’d all been on the look out for somewhere to tour but we were thinking more England or mainland Europe. Until Patrick told us he’d been contacted by a man called Sasha Slynko, who had been putting on UK bands in Ukraine and Russia for a while. He said that, if we’d be willing to make the trip and risk making it to Ukraine and Russia, we would have a lot of great shows and a trip we’d never forget. And he delivered. In fact, a direct quote from him after our van broke down in England was, ‘I hope your van is ok because if we break down in Russia, we die. smiley face.
‘Smiley face’ indeed. That drew a sharp intake of breath from this very unadventurous interviewer and inspired the next question:
► So. At any point did you not say to yourselves ‘holy sh*t, what are we thinking, this could be a disaster?’
Ha, yea that conversation was posed a few times, at various borders, biker bars, venues etc. To be honest, I remember the lead up to us leaving when we were reading about all the conflict and tension in the country. But after reminding ourselves ‘Awk sure it’ll be grand.’ (How typically, gloriously Irish) We were ready to leave. We were fairly unaware of the undertaking of a 9000 mile round trip to play shows, it just became about making it to the next venue. But it was one of the most grueling and, at the same time, greatest experiences of our lives.
►Logistically it must have been some undertaking what with travel, visas, permits, accommodation etc etc etc. Who took care of all that and erm…how well did they take care of it?
We all did essentially; a trip to Dublin and 3 day stay in London eventually secured us a travel visa. However, we were told that, although we had all the insurance, visas, letters required, this is just a pre-clearance, and it was entirely possible that we could get to Russia and still be told they don’t like the look of you! Luckily, we did manage to get in but did lose a comrade in Ru (the van). Luckily, the rest such as accommodation etc .was taken care of by our gem of a tour manager, Michael, and eventually by Sasha himself.
►In other words…did everything go to plan?
Oh, God no. We didn’t even make it to France! The van broke down and had to be pushed onto the ferry. We then spent a night sleeping in it, before driving in first gear to a mechanic. Then we had to drive all day to play a show in Prague that night. After that, when we eventually made it through Ukraine after falling in love with the country and playing some incredible shows, we then tried to cross the border to Russia. We managed to get through the Ukrainian border and, after spending 5 hours trying to cross the border at Russia, we were told our van wasn’t certified. So we tried to return to Ukraine and were told we weren’t allowed in there either. I think there’s a snap chat somewhere of all of us playing the role of stranded refugees. However, we were eventually able to get back to Ukraine, where we left the van and carried a tour load of gear the 3 km between the borders and into Russia and rented another van. All of these moments were hysterically funny at the time, we decided that if we didn’t laugh we’d cry. But the quintessential day came when we arrived to a boat show in Chelni.
We were trying to load our gear in when a body washed up in the sand five feet from the gangway onto the boat. After the police were called and the body was taken away, we then decided to keep going and play the show. Then during a 200 strong show that was possibly one of the best of the tour…..until the boat then caught fire!! Keep in mind this is a wooden boat with musical equipment, lighting and a lot of other electrical equipment on board, so it went up fast. I remember shouting ‘Fire!’ and before I had finished my sentence had 2 guitars, a pedal board, a lead bag in my hands and a drum stick between my teeth. After making 3 trips, we managed to save all of our stuff (the last trip you literally couldn’t see a hand in front of your face). The whole thing burned to the ground. Luckily, everyone made it out unscathed and, after a long, interesting conversation with the Russian police, everyone helped us get our equipment away from the blaze. We’d also like to say our thanks and condolences to the family of the guy who was lost at sea, as well as Seva, the absolute gentlemen who lost his home that day.
I’m rambling now because there’s literally too much to include, but I will say that, after 20 cities, all the scenery, buildings etc. kind of all merge in your memory and you start mixing them up. But, what we will never forget, is the people we met. The kindness we came across was staggering; from lending us their homes, providing food, showers etc. they literally couldn’t do enough for us. Despite all that the craziness that happened, we’d all highly recommend touring Ukraine and Russia and hope to go back one day.
►I know what goes on tour is supposed to stay on tour, but is there anything you can tell us that is fit to print…and won’t get you into trouble with the FSB?
Eh…we have a lot we can’t print but, I will say Russian biker gangs are actually great guys who appreciate music and throw one hell of an after party. (Very diplomatic is our Mr McCann)
►What sort of venues were you playing?
It was a mixture of some amazing venues, some underground bars, one biker bar and a few DIY shows. We also played a house show and the now-legendary boat show in Chilni, although obviously that didn’t go so well. But apparently there is a documentary being made of our half show.
►How well attended were the gigs?
We were very, very rarely disappointed. They were very well attended and everyone seemed to really appreciate how far we came. Afterwards they would ask ‘Why are you here!?’ They were very thankful that we stopped in their town.
►What were the fans like? Is a gig goer the same the world over or were they that bit hungrier …more vocal?
People tend to appreciate what you’re trying to do everywhere, but they’re definitely less reserved in some parts of the world. In Ukraine especially the response was ridiculous and throughout all of Eastern Europe endless circle pits, mosh pits and ridiculous amounts of crowd surfing. We were blown away at the number that turned up and showed their appreciation by going absolutely mental. We can’t speak highly enough of Russia and Ukraine, who seem to have a very deep appreciation for heavy music.
►Have you succumbed to the temptation of writing that ‘band on the road song’ that every band does?
Ha maybe…we have been writing constantly since we’ve been away. It’s really hard not to when you have that much happening around you. Seriously, if you have nothing to write about out there, there’s a serious problem. But the people, the scenery, the shows and the craziness have made for a very easy writing process. So, yes who knows..the uber deep fade-to-black music video of me looking broodily out the window could be on the way. Watch this space.
►We sure will. And leading on from that, can I ask what’s next for you now you’re all home safe ‘n’ sound? Any local gigs lined up? Any further tours elsewhere lined up?
We’ve just finished playing the Ireland leg in The Empire, Dublin and Galway, which went really well. And now after hugging our mothers and significant others we plan to head straight back to our space and keep writing, make some music videos and get back on the road as soon as possible.
►What would you like to tell us about your new release ‘Lost Layers’?
‘Lost Layers’ the title itself, along with he snake on the cover was referencing a kind of shedding of our skin. The idea that we keep changing the sound and plan to keep doing that. The plan for this record was to keep writing stuff that’s really fun to play live.
►There are some very interesting song titles on there. Care to elaborate on some of them?
The lyrics constantly seem to be based around indoctrination. An annoyance of accepting the ideals of others to be a part of something . Whether it’s being indoctrinated with religion or politics or anything. ‘If You Are Not Afraid Then You Haven’t Been Paying Attention’ is concerning our continuing involvement in foreign wars whilst naming whistle blowers as domestic terrorists and chasing them all over the world. If Watergate happened today ‘Deep Throat’ would be in jail and Nixon would get 4 more years. Personal privacy is a distant memory and no one seems bothered because they are more concerned if this series of ‘Big Brother’ is particularly good. Please edit the life out of this (I chose not to) because I’m being preachy and rambling again. ‘Dying is Easy, Living is Hard’ is regarding religion. ‘Machine Men’ is regarding local politics and is a reference to Chaplin’s speech at the end of ‘The Dictator’, which sums up the thought better than I ever could. We’re being run by machine men, with machine minds and machine hearts. But we are not machines…
Well, if tales from an eventful tour of former Soviet states, dead bodies and burning venues doesn’t grab your attention then surely that last sentence will. And, if it does, check out the band and the new E.P. ‘Lost Layers’.