Stillwater Black came together in 1991 when Chris Thayer met Ahmed and Sam Pierstorff while playing in the pit band for a high school musical production. Issac McCorkell was quickly recruited on drums and the band recorded its first EP, The Last Virtuous Lady of Athens.

In 1995 they signed with Cleaves Entertainment, a now-defunct independent label based out of Southern California's Inland Empire. Stillwater Black recorded their debut LP, Adam. They played frequently with local and national acts including Dishwalla, Save Ferris, Reel Big Fish, and IE punk/ska mainstays, The Skeletones.

In 1997 the members parted ways and the project lay dormant for two decades.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Storytime: Recording The Last Virtuous Lady of Athens EP (1994)

After several months of gigging in and around the Inland Empire, we found our most consistent support in Moreno Valley. This was due in large part to a girl named Molly. We’d love to hear from her on this, but here’s what we remember.

Molly was in high school. We can’t remember where she first heard us, but she must have caught a show somewhere. And after that she kept coming back, and bringing friends. One night she told us that she had tickets to Pearl Jam, but gave them up when she heard we were playing the same night!

We met lots of great people through Molly, all kids from Moreno Valley. Maybe even the same high school. And I think there was even one time when she got us a gig at her school. And then we made even more friends.

This is really where my personal love of all-ages venues comes from. Young people are passionate and polar. When a young person loves something, they do so with a level of devotion that you seldom see in older, more jaded and cynical age brackets.

The world is simpler to a young person, and infinitely more exciting. That's a shot of us at our EP release party at Corona's legendary Showcase Theatre. Those kids are having a great time.

We got booked to play a lot of house parties during this time. Lots of backyard gigs and all the kids would show up and we would play and hang out afterward. There were no recordings of us back then, but even so, some of the kids were beginning to sing along. They’d seen us enough times.

Molly had an older friend, a middle-aged woman named Cathy. She went by Cat and, tragically, her police-officer husband had recently died. She came out to see us play a few times as well, and I’d like to think that those evenings pulled her away from her pain, if only for a few hours.

One day we got a call that Cat had an idea. The death of her husband resulted in some kind of a substantial payout for her and she wanted to finance a recording of us. We sat down to a meeting with her and after some discussion she handed over $3000 to record our first EP.

This is not the kind of thing that usually happens. Even in today’s world of crowdfunding, an artist is not likely to get near that amount without a substantial national or even international following. But we were very local. And we enjoyed the company of the people who came out to listen to us. We bonded, connected, and built relationships. And this incredible offer came out of that.

Now that we had money, we weren’t exactly sure what to do. This was 1994, before the digital home-recording revolution. At this time Chris was a student at California State University San Bernardino. He had a friend named Tom Rabone. Tom had an 8-track reel-to-reel set-up at his place and I think he offered to record six songs for around $300. Or maybe it was $600. It’s been awhile, but what is shockingly hilarious is that we spent the lion’s share of the money on art, layout, and units. I think we ended up with 500 or 1000 cassette tapes and as many CDs, a fairly ambitious amount of product to move.

The recording process was memorable. In an earlier post, we wrote about the arrest and firing of our former lead vocalist. This unfortunate incident actually happened during the time period that we were recording the EP. Before his arrest, I don’t really remember him being around too much, but the rest of us were regulars at Tom’s house laying down all of the instrument tracks. We had all of the songs done and we were just waiting for him to come in and track his voice. But that never happened.

We held auditions. Even Tom, our recording engineer, auditioned. But nothing really came of it and with all of that music just sitting there Chris and I decided to try and sing the songs ourselves. Tom tried to inspire us. He was a man of peculiar tastes, and he would decorate the inside of the makeshift vocal booth with photographs that were perhaps meant to invoke a more testicular performance. Not sure that happened, but I have yet to unsee those images.

We got it done. It was hardly a masterpiece. I haven’t listened to it in years and I’m pretty sure that if I did I would be horrified. The songs were good. We just hadn’t yet learned important things, like keeping solid time. Singing was brand new to me and, in an era before pitch correction, the result was painful.

But we had product. And we started selling tapes and CDs at shows. We even made deliveries to friends who wanted the music. It was an exciting milestone. And after a couple of years, it was good enough to peak the interest of a certain Andy Cleaves, an accomplished horn player who was establishing his own record label in the Inland Empire. But that’s another story for another time.

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