Stop Light Observations
Natural Born Leaders
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John Keith Culbreth (aka Cubby) was 16 years old—no longer the religious child he had been back in his childhood days spent in Anderson, SC—but was, unknowingly, poised for a divine intervention of life-altering proportions. While peacefully sleeping after a classmate's musical performance, an entity presented itself to Cubby—the entity presented itself as God. "It was the most vivid dream I had ever had," says Cubby. "It felt so bizarre." "God" spoke to Cubby. It told him to contact his classmate, Will Blackburn, and come together to create music. Cubby obliged, Blackburn agreed, and the band proceeded to practice for over a year, never playing a show.
Stop Light Observations' inaugural performance took place on Sullivan's Island. Among the crowd was Cubby's childhood pastor—a man with whom he had once had a close relationship. As it turns out, Cubby's former pastor was Will Blackburn's grandfather. Divinity had served up fate. Cubby and Blackburn had been childhood friends, but never knew it. SLO was born, and the sky was the limit.
But things didn't truly take off until a few years later when SLO released their acclaimed 2013 debut, Radiation. Metronome hailed the record's "emotive and elegant" songs, which landed perfectly in the sweet spot between arena and indie rock. The band went from relative unknowns to playing Bonnaroo and selling out Charleston's largest club, The Music Farm, in just a year.
Since then, Stop Light Observations have broken the record for most consecutive sold-out shows at The Music Farm and have toured across the country, playing standout festival sets at Firefly, Summerfest, and more. SLO's most recent LP, Toogoodoo, saw coverage at major national outlets from PBS and Conan O’Brien’s Fresh Noise to Impose, PopMatters and Garden & Gun, the latter praising Toogoodoo as "a promising debut from the band, who have wowed audiences throughout the South.”
Now, following the successful release of Toogoodoo, and an ambitious year on the road in support, Stop Light Observations are poised to tackle their next major endeavor—an ongoing series of digital 45s, each with an A-side and B-side, entitled The Volume, which will disperse the band’s hard-hitting yet melodic songs in a more immediate fashion.
"The Volume is much more than just bypassing the mechanics of an album," Cubby explains. "Its about inspiring ourselves and others with this approach that lends itself to complete creative freedom. The Beatles released 250-plus songs in 7 years without the technology we have today. If they can do it, why can't we?"
At the center of the first volume is Stop Light Observations' new single, "Coyote." It’s a stunning, slow-building piano ballad that evolves strikingly through distinct dynamic phases, vocalist Will Blackburn's effortlessly toggling between a delicate croon and an anthemic howl. With "Coyote," the group distills its already potent arena-ready indie rock all the way through the song's powerful crescendo of an outro.
Thematically, “Coyote” deals with loss—something the entire band has coped with many times over the years. "The situations and emotions behind our songs are extremely personal," SLO guitarist Louis Duffie explains.
Cubby adds, "When I was 15, I started dating my childhood sweetheart—who is now my wife—and after our first year of dating we received the earth-shattering news that her best friend, Lizzy, had committed suicide. She was the sweetest, happiest, and kindest girl in our entire high school and to believe she would take her own life was unfathomable. 'Coyote' is that story for me—the story of the pack animal, still feeling alone despite its family joining in its howls of pain. It is the girl with the bright smile taking her life—the fallen angel. It's the first time you meet up with all your friends and that person you all loved so much isn't there."
The first installment from The Volume also offers up "The Ghost of Larry Ford Jr.," an instrumental track that tackles the next step of loss: the frustration, anger and anxiety of letting go, all seamlessly communicated sans lyrics. The stylized, labyrinthine track sounds like a Wes Anderson films looks, along the way deftly mapping the chaotic trajectory of a mind in mourning.
Stop Light Observations may be blazing their own trails, but they want everyone to join them on their journey—fans, friends and family, past and present. "The Volume releases will ultimately be defined as a series—a voice for the voiceless. A podium for those who have yearned for the opportunity to share their own stories of struggle, passion, and love," vocalist Will Blackburn explains.
"We live in an era of polar divisions perpetuated by fear," Blackburn continues. "And the divide seems to be growing exponentially. But if we turn off the cable news channel and walk out our front doors and speak to our neighbors, we may find that our struggles, while they vary, are often quite relatable. It is my hope that trough this style of releasing music that we may open up the conversations that need to be addressed most in today's America. All are equal and all opinions should be heard with hopes of perpetuating peace and understanding. Love is the way and this is the path we have chosen to move forward."
Celebrated by the likes of NPR Music and Live Music Daily for their electrifying arrangements that “float seamlessly between rock, reggae, jazz, hip-hop [and] funk” (LMD), the music of Natural Born Leaders aims to tear down every preconception one may have about genre barriers and begs to be placed in a category all its own.
With NBL's sophomore release Abominable Creatures, Natural Born Leaders live up to their name; each track laced with empowering messages about standing up, standing out, and dreaming big. With lyric-driven anthems, lead singer and songwriter Michael Martinez injects a generous helping of social commentary into each verse, proving that music - and all forms of art - can be both consumed for enjoyment and digested with purpose. With influences ranging from the head-banging nature of Black Sabbath and Metallica, to the old-school hip hop energy of Outkast and Lauryn Hill, Natural Born Leaders weave rich bass lines, sexy brass and electrifying guitar solos into a sound all their own. Paired with the charisma of frontman Martinez, the long-playing debut of Abominable Creatures is ripe with some of the most revolution-stirring antics one can sneak into a six song collection.
Produced by platinum record holder Patrick Doyle (Jennifer Lopez, Earth, Wind & Fire, Cory Rooney), mastered by Howie Weinberg (Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Metallica) and recorded between Doyle’s private studio and the acclaimed Echo Mountain Recording Studios in Asheville, NC, Abominable Creatures comes complete with an all-star cast of collaborators. Listen for yourself!
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