Shannon Koehler, the drummer and lead singer of the San Francisco-based rock four-piece The Stone Foxes, is an easygoing guy. His sentences are punctuated with laughter, self-deprecating humor and the sort of languid tone that demonstrates how content he is with life. This persona stands in marked contrast to some of the content on the band’s latest record, Small Fires, and it’s this seeming discrepancy that makes both Koehler and the record so fascinating.
“I’m a really happy guy, so when I write lyrics, I feel like music is the way for me to explore the darker side of things,” Koehler says. “So, a lot of the time, I’ll take the villain’s perspective, or the antagonist’s, and come at it from that direction just because we all need to balance ourselves.”
Koehler’s affinity for going against his nature and choosing to tackle the more sinister, less popular side of things proved to be fortuitous, as his songs fit right in with the overall theme of the songs the rest of the band was writing at that time.
“What was interesting was our other records didn’t really have any themes, but this one does,” Koehler says. “Whether it was personal or not, or relationship-based or not, everything involved a lot of fighting or conflict.”
The theme of struggle plays out in a host of ways on the album. On the sinister rocking opener, “Everybody Knows,” Koehler waxes poetic about having a telltale heart while thinking that his sins are going to tear him apart. “Battles, Blades & Bones” takes a look at outward conflict and focuses on the futility of wars. But Koehler and his bandmates are not without a sense of humor when it comes to fighting, as the video for the crunchy, stomping rock track “Cotto” features three dapper-looking kids beating the stuffing out of Koehler.
“At first, our director said, ‘What if we do something where the kids are dance-battling you?’ ” Koehler says with a laugh. “But ‘Cotto’ is about a boxing match, so then he said, ‘What if the kids end up beating you up?’ I thought it was a fun idea, and it’s cool because the kids were really good at dancing. I’m glad it didn’t turn out to be a dance battle ... because I would have gotten my ass whipped.”
Despite the primary theme of the record being conflict, Koehler wants nothing to do with anyone getting their asses whipped, whether literally or even in a figurative sense. And when it comes to the band’s music, as much as he is proud that this record has a cohesive framework to it, he doesn’t want people to feel like they’re being targeted by someone with an agenda.
“We’re definitely not trying to hit people over the head with a sledgehammer when we get up there,” Koehler says. “‘You need to vote like this,’ or blah blah blah. Just put on a great show and have fun, and then if people want to dive further into the lyrics they have the option of doing that. Shows are supposed to be a real community-bonding experience, man. It’s kind of a cool spiritual thing that everybody can be a part of.”
For someone who likes to look at the darker side of life and explore difficult subject matter in his songs, Koehler’s insistence upon having fun is surprising. Having said that, however, Koehler isn’t going to let the good times roll too far.
“When I say having fun, we’re not exactly craving heroin or cocaine,” he says with a laugh. “We’re pretty chill dudes. The typical rock & roll lifestyle that you might think about is not exactly what we’re after. But we are after just having a good time with people.”
Fun, but not too much fun: Now there’s an idea you don’t hear espoused by rockers very often. Fascinating.
THE STONE FOXES
The State Room
638 S. State
Friday, July 12, 9 p.m.