Intro by Maven Rena
Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, resident metalcore band, Straight Line Stitch has spent the year tearing up the tour circuit, if not a transmission or two, bringing their unique brand of music to fans near and far. SLS is perhaps a tale of two bands. Originally formed in 1999, they began with a different vocalist, and a decidedly different sound. In 2001, the band put out an EP entitled The Barker, but progression was slow and they had no distinct identity. That changed in 2003 when new vocalist Alexis “Lexie” Brown took the helm. Lexie’s unique look and sound was the final key needed to unlock the promise that is Straight Line Stitch.
There is no way to put Lexie’s style or vocals into any one category. She is her own distinct entity. Although soft spoken off the stage, on stage her vocals rotate between straight forward soulful melody to forceful metal growls which hit you like a punch to the gut. When you catch them live (and you must), the transition may not always be flawless and her pitch and tone are not always spot on, but what you can say about Alexis and all the members of SLS is, they put heart and passion in every moment of every performance, and every song. Few bands, or people in general, put as much heart and dedication into what they do and who they are as SLS. That’s no small compliment.
Shortly after her joining, the band self-released the full length, Everything is Nothing by Itself, introducing Alexis as the lead vocalist and flashing its metal snarl upon the world. The train had left the station with no plan on slowing. Their first album was followed up with 2006’s To Be Godlike, and in 2007 the train took on a new passenger when they forged a relationship with acclaimed music video director Dale “Rage” Resteghini who signed the band to his newly created KOCH imprint, Raging Nation Records, who also handle, Otep, Hatebreed and In Flames. The band’s first offering on Koch was last year’s release, When Skies Wash Ashore. The band considered the recording process in Millbrook, NY to be an intense, emotionally and physically demanding process. However, they felt the band became stronger than ever from the experience.
When Skies Wash Ashore is the band’s most complete effort to date, from riff grinding rockers like ‘Black Veil’ and ‘Taste of Ashes’ (which features Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed), to the almost funky modern power metal of ‘What you Do to Me’, to the sweet acoustic nuance of ‘Yesterday’s Gone’. Alexis and fellow stitchers, bassist Jason White, and guitarists Seth Thacker and Pat Pattison, have the band moving full steam ahead. The band’s newest member, drummer Kanky Lora brings yet another flavor to the band’s sound, which fans will get to hear on the next CD, which should be out sometime next year.
A major factor in the continuing drive of SLS is their fans. They are loyal to a fault and support this band with everything they have. SLS is just as fiercely devoted in return. One thing about a SLS live show is the band’s intensity, no matter the size of the venue they give you everything they have and then some. They will bleed for you. It may not be perfection, but it is real. The band’s songs are personal and will take you from love to hatred and all the pain in between. Their enthusiasm is contagious and their energy and music will win you over. They never say die and I respect that. So much so in fact I sought to know more and reached out to the band whom I caught up with as they were working their way through Kansas.
The band’s soft spoken and ever gracious vocalist, Alexis Brown, was kind enough to surrender some sleep and downtime to chat with our readers. As I soon found out, Alexis is very passionate about the band’s fans, as well as their music. We talk everything from touring, Zombies, and misinterpreted lyrics, to Twitter, broken transmissions, and granny panties. So grab a beer and read on.
Metalholic: How’s the tour going? I believe you guys are in Kansas tonight?
MH: I believe you played Salina last night. One of your favorite places to play I’ve heard?
AB: Yes, the Blue Goat. Yeah, it’s awesome. The guy who does the sound is really, really good at what he does. So we always enjoy playing there. So, the show was good.
MH: How are the crowds responding?
AB: Good. They’re usually people we’ve played for before who’ve caught us on another tour. So they come out. Man, loyal people. So it’s cool to see familiar faces.
MH: Well I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with Metalholic. I know when you’re on the road you need your down to time rest and decompress.
AB: Sleep (laughs)
MH: You guys do spend a ton of time on the road each year. Do you have a favorite band you enjoying touring/playing with more than others?
AB: Here recently, like right now, I’ve really been into this band we’ve been on tour with, Ekotren. They’re really good, and they’re great people. They always make us laugh. Just great people, and great music.
MH: When this current tour is done, what’s next on the agenda?
AB: You know we’ve probably been touring for like four months straight recently. And we’ve been touring a lot, as you know. We’re probably going to take December, and maybe even January off, to enjoy the holidays with our families. Then we’ll come back together and start the writing process, and we’ll probably go right into the recording studio after that to start the new record. And then of course we’ll be right back out on the road touring to support it.
MH: Have you guys already started writing the new material?
AB: You know we’ve been writing, but it’s kind of hard, because everybody’s got their own ideas, and everybody’s got their own laptops and stuff to write music. We can go to our four corners and write, but being on the road it’s hard to put anything together because we’re also so busy. We’re driving to get to the venues and play the shows, and there’s just not very much time to put the songs together. It’ll be great once we actually have some time off to just sit in a room together and start the whole writing process.
MH: What is the band’s process for writing?
AB: We love to write together but it’s hard, like I said. The times are few and far between when you’re on the road. We usually get together in a band room, and we have all our ideas. So we’ll take somebody’s idea that they wrote and dissect it, and we’ll work on it that way. When we get stuck we’ll pick up the next idea and run with it. I usually don’t contribute anything to a song until the meat and potatoes of the song is there. They record it off for me, and I take off by myself and put lyrics to it. That’s how I write.
MH: Your songs are not the usual boy-girl or the world is ending we hear from many bands. There’s more going on there. Tell me a bit about the lyrical content and what inspires you lyrically.
AB: Not the normal clichés I guess. I write from what I’ve experienced myself. I write about what happens to me, and the journey I’m having. And if people can relate to it, then that’s all the better. I try to make the words universal, but it’s about the challenges that I face and how I try to surmount them.
MH: For someone who has never heard of, or heard Straight Line Stitch, how would you describe your sound/music/image?
AB: If you were asking me and I had to answer honestly I’d say we’re just a group of people trying to do or make something new and different. When we write songs, we don’t sit down and say “hey let’s write like this metal song. Or this metal song slash poppy song” or whatever. We’re just five people in a band who love music and our backgrounds are very eclectic as far as the music we all listen to. So when we do write, we’re all bringing something different to the table, which is awesome. So I don’t really know how I’d describe our sound. Every song is new and comes out different from the song before it. Straight Line Stitch are just five dorks who love running ourselves into the ground for our fans. (laughs)
MH: There is a very unique juxtaposition in your music, with the dark and heavy growls woven intricately with the more melodious beauty of your normal singing voice…
AB: Listen to you. (Laughs)
MH: …You have straight up grind rockers like ‘Taste of Ashes’ side by side with the more straight up rockers like ‘What You Do To Me’. Do you strive for any balance between the two?
AB: You know it’s always good to have balance but I think we just go where it takes us. I do anyways. I actually do what the songs dictates. If they write the song and it speaks to me like this is more melodic than usual, then that’s where I’ll go. I’m not just going to write screaming vocals for the sake of writing screaming vocals. If the music dictates that, then that’s where I’ll go.
MH: I know you do all the lyrics, but do you ever get involved in the music process itself?
AB: I wish I did. I mean I have a say. If I don’t like a riff or something I can say “no, no, I’m not feeling that,” or “Oh I do like that.” But as far as picking up any instrument like a guitar or drumsticks, I am SO not musically inclined. (laughs) I cannot even play a beat.
MH: Your instrument is your voice.
AB: Yes. Yes, it is. And you know, I’m still learning that. I’m still trying to grasp that. And I’ve been singing since I was a wee one. And I’m still trying to learn.
MH: I read somewhere that you were a big fan of R&B and singers like Billie Holiday and Stevie Nicks. How do you go from those genres and styles to the type of music you make with SLS?
AB: That is a good question. I admire those singers because they are unique. Their voices don’t sound like the normal voice. That’s why they inspire me. And I’m hoping that maybe there is someone out there who will like the way my voices sounds. My own uniqueness. That’s what I bring to the band.
As far as getting into this genre of music, I give credit to my step father and my brothers for that. R&B was what I initially wanted to do. I was going to go that way, but I thought I’ll just be heaped in with a bunch of other African American girls doing R&B. I wanted to do something different, and be something different. So I sort of followed my brother’s footsteps and developed a love for it and liked how I wrapped my vocals around the whole genre.
MH: As a woman in metal, are you finally seeing a new level of acceptance that certainly wasn’t there a decade ago? Are women in metal breaking through that barbed wire ceiling?
AB: I think they are. You can’t go anywhere now without seeing things like ‘the Hottest Chicks in Metal’ or chicks in metal. It’s everywhere now. Which is weird, because if you look back you have pioneers like Wendy O. Williams. She was doing it way before it was the IN thing. Joan Jett, Lita Ford, all these chicks in rock. It’s sad that it’s just now starting to be popular. It’s definitely coming up. You know the hot chicks playing metal.
MH: And that’s always the way it is too. They have to be hot or nobody is listening.
AB: Yeah. And that’s sad, because you don’t have to be hot. You can still be an amazing female singer or musician and be great at it. Why can’t it simply be chicks that rock? That’s always been my beef. There’s a lot of young girls that look up to what we do, and I don’t want them to feel, oh you have to be sexy and wear a short skirt and fishnets to rock a guitar and be a cool musician. That’s just not true. You can still be in there with a t-shirt and jeans and a beanie on your head and rock it hard. I guess the world is just backwards sometimes. (laughs)
MH: You guys are based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, which is just a beautiful part of the country. Do you think being from that area brings a different perspective or flavor to your style and sound?
AB: The band is based out of Knoxville, but we’re all really from other areas. Like Kanky, our drummer. He’s from the Dominican Republic and I definitely think that brings a lot of flavor to our sound. Our guitar player, Pat, he’s from Connecticut. He brings that Connecticut hardcore feel to it. Jason (bass), he’s from Georgia. Seth (guitar) is the only one born and raised in Knoxville. Me, I was an Army brat so I traveled a lot with my family, and sort of just got dropped off in Clarksville, and now I’m in Knoxville. So I think everyone being from different places brings a unique feel to the music. But Knoxville is beautiful. It’s an awesome place to live.
MH: Speaking of Knoxville, you guys did you’re newest video, ‘Taste of Ashes’, at the Cider House there in Knox. You had Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed join you to reprise his role from the CD. How did that come about?
AB: Our manager Dale ‘Rage’ Resteghini, he does videos and stuff like that. He’s done a lot of the rock genre, like Mudvayne, Trivium, and he did Hatebreed back in the day, so he’s remained really, really good friends with Jamey. Having that connection with Jamey helped get him on the album. And it wasn’t like we wrote the song and said we have to get Jamey on the record. That song was written and we were tossing out guest vocalists and it was like man, I just hear his voice on the song. This is the type of song he’d fit perfectly on. So we told Dale, and he said I don’t see Jamey having a problem with that. Jamey was working on something else not far from where we were recording in Millbrook, New York. So we went to his studio, and he knocked it right on out. He was a super, super guy. After that, the video came along, and we’d been trying to get the video done for a minute, but our schedules kept clashing. He was on this side of the world, we were on that side of the world. Finally, his tour brought him to Knoxville, while we were on tour with hed P.E. and Mushroomhead, and we had a day, where he was playing at the Valarium, which is right next door to the Ciderhouse. We were like “let’s make it happen.” He was like, “let’s make it happen.” And it happened, some sort of way. (laughs)
MH: The planet’s aligned.
MH: You guys have a very unique name. I know the name predates you joining the band but you have to know the story.
AB: (Alexis starts laughing) You know, it’s funny, cause I didn’t know the story for a long time, and people were always asking me, and I was like I don’t know where it came from. So I finally sat down with the guys, and said please you guys have to tell me where the name came from. So the story is, Seth was listening to like the Beasties, no Eminem, on a CD or something like that, and it was misinterpreted lyrics. He thought they said straight line stitch, and I guess that just rang out to him. He rewound it and found out it’s not what he said, but just what he heard. But he told the other guys about it, and they dug it, and that was it. Misinterpreted lyrics.
MH: Well you guys aren’t new to unique names and titles. When Skies Wash Ashore is a unique title, and the CD has great artwork. Tell me about the title and concept for the cover.
AB: We were in Millbrook and we were working on an acoustic song. I wrote some lyrics and I was singing them and when skies wash ashore were part of the lyrics, and the guys were like “man, that should be the title of the album.” So that’s how that came about. It was lyrics for an acoustic song (Eucharist). The concept for the cover art came from a friend of ours, Alex McVey, who is a an illustrator who’s done stuff for Stephen King and many others. And he’s a good friend of Seth’s. He’s listened to our music before, and he got the concept from listening to the CD over and over. He’s very talented, and just a great guy.
MH: The days of record labels doing major promotion are gone. The ball is in your court. How much impact do social networking sites like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook have?
AB: It’s massive. It’s an awesome tool that really, really helps bands. It’s helped us a lot. Like you said, those days of the big old bonuses and all the promotion, and all that stuff is gone, unless you’re Metallica or somebody.
MH: Do you think it gives you a more personal connection with your fans?
AB: Oh yeah, I think so. For those who control it. There’s some bands that have other people control their MySpace, and their sites. We don’t believe in that. We handle it all ourselves. If we get messages, we reply back. It’s us. Anything that keeps us in contact. Our main thing and what we strive to do is let the people know that we are real, and we are human. A lot of these kids see these people on stage and they think these people they look up at are invincible. That they don’t go through any of the things they go through. They see them as Gods or idols, and it’s so not like that. And Twitter is just like genius to me. Cause I’ll get on there and write if I have a bad day or somebody’s pissed me off. So people can see that I am here and I am human. I mean I cry, I laugh just like everybody else. We’re not rock stars and we’re not invincible to everything that happens around us.
MH: I would imagine selling your merchandise at shows is a big part of keeping the tour flowing. How important is it?
AB: It’s very important. Merchandise is the band’s bread and butter. It’s how we survive out on the road. We survive on guarantees and stuff too, but sometimes things come up. Like the van breaks down. We had a lot of trouble with the tour we were out with Kittie. The transmission broke, and you know how expensive that is on a van. And it broke not once, not twice, but like three times. You know, some guy didn’t do it right. So merchandise is definitely essential to keeping the flow of income for our band.
MH: SLS has quite a large and loyal fan base that even some bigger bands can’t claim. To what do you attribute that hardcore following?
AB: I attribute it to talking to our fans. Talking to them like they are our friends. (Alexis has to stop for a moment to gather her thoughts) I’m sorry, it’s just that I get so passionate about this, cause to me it’s like when I hear these fans say “Yeah, I met this band and I was devastated cause they were acting like complete rock stars.” And it boggles my mind, because to me, the fans are the ones who make you who you ultimately become. We should be kissing their butts. Because they’re the ones that buy the CDs. They’re the ones that buy the t-shirts, and purchase the tickets to come out to the shows. And to me I think that’s why we have loyal fans, because we reach out, we talk to them. You know, “hey’ how’s it going? How are you doing?” Just real stuff like that. It makes a whole world of difference and I just don’t understand why more bands don’t do it. They’re too caught up in, “oh is my hair perfect? Are my pants tight enough?” It’s not about that. It’s about the music, and touching people’s lives.
MH: Your current Twitter post says “it seems I’m closer to our fans more than I’m closer to anyone in our inner circle,” and you typed a sad face, followed by, “It’s a little lonely at times.” Can you elaborate on what you were feeling there?
AB: Yes, I can. You know, we always make friends with the bands we play with but I sometimes wish they got as close as they do with the guys. That there was more of an effort to make a connection. I sometimes feel I’m an outsider off in a corner just listening in on what everyone else is laughing and joking about. And sometimes it just makes me feel sad that I don’t have a greater camaraderie like I see my band members share with the bands we tour with. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just sitting like a wallflower with my hands folded. But I just don’t have that extroverted nature that they all have.
And it’s different when fans come up to talk to you cause they’re all excited, and it’s awesome. And I guess that’s what I meant about being closer to or feeling a greater connection with the fans then I do the bands we meet on tour. I wish I did, I just can’t find a way to push that out of me. To be more extroverted.
MH: To bring your bigger than life stage presence off stage with you. A lot of people don’t realize there are two sides to who you are.
AB: Exactly. And I think that has a whole lot to do with my stage performance. When I get up on stage I act like nothing can touch me. maybe it’s just because of my experiences with people and stuff like that; always feeling like I’m in the corner or I’m invisible at times. But when I’m onstage, it’s like NOW. I am at the forefront, people are going to look at me. People are listening to me, and that makes all the difference. That’s why I act the way I do, like nothing fazes me and hurts me when I’m on stage. but as soon as lights go down, and it’s over and I walk off stage and it’s right back to being in the corner, or invisible so to speak.
AB: I think I’ve been chasing this dream since I was 12 or 13 years old. All I’ve wanted to do is just try and make it happen. Singing karaoke, and singing at church, and singing in front of family. That’s how I sort of got friends and stuff, just trying to sing. I’ve been doing it since I was very young, and it’s pretty much all I’ve been doing before Straight Line Stitch. I was like, “I’m gonna make it. I’m gonna be a star, and be able to take care of my family.” Of course I was a little naive back then, but I’ve always been pursuing music. I did R&B. I didn’t enjoy it too much, even though I love it. I felt it wasn’t me. But yeah, I’ve just always wanted to sing as long as I can remember. I wanted to be a model for a little while but decided I have too many scars. (laughs)
MH: Nice segue. Talking about your appearance. One of the things that obviously stands out when you see the band is you’re very colorful. You have this very long hair, often colored in a myriad of bright shades, which you’re whipsaw around on stage. Is that a lot of work to maintain?
AB: Oh my God, I hate it. (laughs) I hate it so bad. It’s painful. It’s a lot of work to keep up with cause it gets raggedy quick. And I’ve wanted to do something different for a long time but what’s kept me from changing it, is people identify with my hair. They love the way it looks and the way I swing it onstage. But yeah, I hate it. it gets on my nerves.
MH: I know who your influences are , but who are you listening to these days?
AB: Well I’ve been listening to the Zombies a lot. I love the Zombies. The old 60’s group. They did that song, “She’s Not There.” I’m such a big fan of oldies. Love it , love it, love it. So I listen to my CCR. I’ve been listening to some R&B stuff. Been listening to Drake a lot. I like to listen to the Bee Gees and Barbara Streisand. I love her voice. It’s awesome. My iPod is eclectic. I listen to post ultra, and I’ve been listening to a friend’s band. he was a roadie on the DevilDriver tour. he’s got a band called Ona. They are amazing, and they’re not signed.
MH: So who would be your guilty pleasure then?
AB: Let me think about that. My guilty pleasure. I’m not really embarrassed about anything I listen too. Because good music’s good music. If people listen to my iPod and they’re laughing, I don’t care, it’s my iPod.
MH: What’s your pick for the best metal album of 2009?
AB: I think Lamb of God did a great job with their record, Wrath. In terms of maturing with their music, I think they did a really good job on that record. They stepped it up a bunch. They’re just a really great band.
MH: I saved the most important question for last. The answer all the fans want to know: Boxers or briefs? Wait, that’s for the guys. Thong or granny panties?
AB: (laughs) Granny panties all the way! I can’t stand anything being in my crotch, so yes; granny panties all the way.
MH: What would you like to say to our readers and your fans out there?
AB: If you’re a fan or you like what we’re doing. Hit us up. We’d like to hear from you just to chat. We’d like to step out and acknowledge you as a person. So hit us up. Keep in contact. Let’s become friends. And please continue to support us. It helps a lot. You support us ,and we’ll support you.