I’ve never considered myself a groupie, that is, until now. A few months ago I first saw Redwood Stills play live at a small L.A. venue and have since made it a point to see close to a dozen of their shows. The band, who I can best describe as Mumford & Sons meets Kings of Leons with the jam-band feel of Dave Matthews and a hint of Johnny Cash, is not to be missed!
As a rule, I don’t usually write about my friends. I try to give the most unbiased reviews possible, but all good rules are meant to be broken. I’ve known the Lead guitar/Vox Ronnie McCawley for years which is precisely why I can say just how good this band is. I’ve seen them from the beginning and watched the band grow; I’ve seen where its members have been before. Joined by (Lead Vox/guitar) Ben Uhrig, (7 String Electric Vilolin) Nishtan Motyka, and most recently (Drums/Percussion) Bob Yeager, Redwood Stills is a powerhouse of sound mixing blues, rock, modern folk, and even a bit of country. While I might compare them to popular bands in similar genres, they have a distinct sound and appeal that is genuinely their own. The best part is that every time I see them, they get better and better both as individual performers and as a whole.
Their crowd favorites include the quieter “Sit With Me A While” with catchy lyrics like- All I need is a friend/ Someone to call my own/ Someone to care/ Won’t you sit with me for a while?– and the darker “Rockin’ Chair”- If whisky is the devil then the devil’s my friend, but my friend keep on puttin me down! I’ve come full circle but I feel like a square/ And I’m bound to hit rock bottom now.
The band has played at venues including Molly Malone’s, The Mint, [email protected], The Good Hurt Club, The Kibtiz Room, Sheddy’s, Ghenghis Cohen and continues to announce new L.A. dates throughout the winter. Their next show is scheduled for Friday December 7th at TRiP in Santa Monica and the band is preparing for their first tour next year.
We sat down with Ben and Ronnie before they headed into the studio to continue work on their album
PPLA: How did Redwood Stills form?
BEN: I met Ronnie at Marmalade Cafe where we both work as bartenders. I had done some Youtube videos and stuff like that and Ronnie came up to me one day and said, “Hey, I hear you play” and I said, “Yeah… I play a little bit”. (laughs) So we set up a time to get together. It was Ronnie, our violinist Nishtan, and I, and we just started playing. It worked and we had good energy together so we just kept going.
PPLA: How long was it from when you first got together until you starting playing venues together?
RONNIE: Ben and I played out one time after we had been playing together for about three months. Then it wasn’t a year before we got another performance together with Nishtan. We played a few times at the West Angeleno in Brentwood and then we met Bob, good old Bob (laughs); he is our drummer. We started playing in hotel lounges, then real dive dive bars, then nicer dive bars, and then we started playing clubs and bigger venues. We are going to play at Woodstock next year! (laughs)
BEN: We just played Molly Malone’s and The Good Hurt and made a trip to San Diego to play there. Right now we are working on some new songs and are headed back to the studio to record three songs. We have some shows planned for the fall and early winter.
PPLA: How many songs are you planning to release on your first album?
BEN: We are planning to have nine and our first three are already up on Reverb Nation. They are not completely finished, but they are out there. These three are pretty much ready and we hope to have nine on the completed record. We play about 10-12 original songs now live plus a few covers that we like to do.
RONNIE: We have a plethora more in the works too!
PPLA: How would you describe your own sound?
RONNIE: That’s a hard one to say, but what we have been going with is alternative-blues-folk-rock. Simple. (laughs)
BEN: Defintely not salsa.
RONNIE: Definitely not, although we’re not against it.
BEN: Not opposed to salsa. (laughs)
PPLA: Do you have a song that you like playing the most or that is a fan favorite
RONNIE: It varies, I don’t have a favorite. Some songs I like to play more live, others I like playing in the studio or listening to more. I like them all!
PPLA: How did each of you discover your love for music?
BEN: I started playing piano when I was about eight years old. I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and I always liked music but it wasn’t my focal point. I was more into sports. I was a pretty big jock through high school but then realized at 5’11 and a 165 pounds, I wasn’t going to be a professional athlete. So I went to college at Ohio University, a liberal arts school, and I took different classes. I took some music classes, acting classes, and some writing classes. I had been playing guitar for a while at that point but nothing too seriously. Then I took a class on literature and I started reading poems and that inspired me to write my own stuff. I starting writing and took about eight to ten poems to my teacher. He said they were good and that I had talent but that he’d never known a poet to make any money. He told me I should try to write songs or something along those lines. So I started fiddling around and trying to write songs and that’s kind of where it started for me. In college, I started writing a lot more and when I moved out to LA. The first couple of years I didn’t know anyone and I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I was in a great management training program, but I was working sixty hour weeks. I was writing and recording songs on my computer and putting them up on Youtube, but I didn’t really have time to play shows or anything. So I realized I had to leave there to pursue my career and that’s what I am doing now
RONNIE: When I was in the sixth grade, there was this really hot chick in my class and she liked Nirvana and played bass. She was really stuck up and I didn’t like her personality very much… but anyway, my principal from school was offering free guitar lessons to students so I thought I would use that as a tool to impress this girl. You know then maybe hook up with her during truth or dare or spin the bottle or something! (laughs) So I picked up a guitar and within three weeks, I had outgrown the “Kumbaya” class and I couldn’t care less about the girl. I haven’t stopped playing since. That was in 199?….
BEN: (interjects) That was in 2008! (laughs)
RONNIE: (laughs) 5…that was in 1995. And I grew up in California, right here in Sivlerlake (before it was a hipster haven) and I am still close friends with that girl from 6th grade. (smiles
PPLA: Who are your musical influences?
BEN: Both of us are sort of all over the place in terms of our influences. I like pretty much every type of music. I think you can learn from everything. I think singer-wise, Ray LaMontagne. I like a voice that when you hear it, it sounds like it’s coming right from their soul to you, that power…you know, Janis Joplin, singers like that. But I also like people like the lead singer of Cake, John McCrea, who is just really artistic in the way he sings. Those are my vocal influences but musically, everything.
PPLA: Where do you want to see the band in the near future?
BEN: Finish this first album for one, continue playing out, try to get a good following in L.A., and really what we want to do is get out on tour and build a following that way. We’d love to play festivals and tour. Really wherever the people are that want to listen to some music, that’s where we want to be.
PPLA: Do you think Redwood Stills has a good commercial sound? Is right for radio play?
BEN: Yes, I think what’s great about our music right now is that we have some songs that are ‘pop’ and would definitely get some radio time, but we also have songs that have stuff that shows we are adventurous and growing as a unit. We are still exploring music and our sound which is going to lead to good things- I know.
PPLA: What inspires your songs?
BEN: I think really anything can inspire you to write a song. A lot of love, loss, just life stuff. I go through a love-hate relationship with my own songs, sometimes I like them and sometimes I don’t.
PPLA: What do you want people to know about you and your music?
BEN: Ronnie will win Best Body 2013. (laughs)
RONNIE: It’s been pushed back a year? I thought I won 2012? (laughs) The thing I am most proud about with this band is that no two songs of ours sound the same. Each has its own personality and I really like that.
PPLA: How did you come up with the name Redwood Stills?
RONNIE: Nishtan and I are old friends and the name just happened organically. We both grew up in California, there are Redwood trees…it just kind of came to us. I guess it’s not really a great story but we’re working on it! (laughs)
PPLA: Any interesting moments on stage you want to share with your fans?
BEN: Last night the violin cut out in the middle of the show and we had to handle that. That’s what is cool about live shows, there is that excitement that you never know what can happen and you have to adjust to that.
RONNIE: Our unofficial San Diego show was potentially a catastrophe but it worked out. The trick is not to give in to frustration but keep a cool head in difficult situations and work together as a team. It is sometimes easier said than done. (smiles)
BEN: Yeah, my buddy has a big yard in San Diego and wanted us to play and we said yes. We just got a PA and headed down there. We didn’t know if there would be just two people there or what. But in the end, there was about sixty people who were there just all in a great mood and really wanting to hear our music. It was just a great feeling and that’s why we do this.
The feeling is mutual. Having attended so many of their shows, I can assure you their is not a seat in the house that is filled, that is, because everyone is on their feet dancing along and enjoying the the band’s contagious energy. Don’t miss your chance to catch this band next at TRiP in Santa Monica on December 7th.