While every band playing on Bonnaroo’s New Music on Tap Lounge brewed by Miller Lite is an up and coming artist scrapping their way to one of the biggest shows they’ve ever played, not many had to fight as hard for it as South Carolina’s Stoplight Observations. They, along with Staying for the Weekend, were the two bands selected in the Bonnaroo and Sonicbids Road to Roo competition. To get one of those two slots, Stoplight Observations had to finish in the top 10 of fan voting among hundreds of entrants, then make it through a panel of judges who chose two from the 10 finalists.
We caught up with Stoplight Observations’ primary songwriter John-Keith Culbreth to talk about his upcoming show at Bonnaroo 2013.
We’re talking with you today because you guys have a big show coming up at Bonnaroo. Can you talk a little about how that came about?
Yeah. Sometime in April we got word that we had gotten into the Sonicbid contest to play Bonnaroo, but we were so far back, we were like in the hundreds, like 600 or something. But we figured it couldn’t hurt to tell some friends and fans about it. And before we even got to calling some of our friends, we were already at 99 so I guess some random people had found us. So we went on Facebook and told some people about it. Next thing we knew we just kept going up and up. We got into the top 10 in one day then we finally made it up to #1. I think at the last minute we might have gone down to #2. Then we got the e-mail accepting us to Bonnaroo. So that’s how that went down.
Even #2 is a big deal out of hundreds!
Yeah, after that they have a judge panel. Out of the top ten,they pick two. We got picked and then the people who are like #5 got picked. So we got picked by the judge panel.
You guys are a fairly young band. How long have you been recording?
We’ve been recording for a year now and we’ve been playing live as Stoplight Observations for about a year. But I formed the band with one of our guitar players when I was 13. We just practiced every week and only wrong original songs. We didn’t even learn a cover until we were 16. We were always just creating music. Then last year, we’d been creating so long we never even questioned ourselves if we should play a gig. After we kept new people in the band, we got a violin/bass player and I asked our singer to start singing with the band, so we started playing gigs around Charleston.
For those not familiar with your band, how would you describe your sound?
Kind of Southern gospel rock with some hip-hop and electronic. So Southern Electronic I guess.
You have several multi-instrumentalists in the band, so you have a wide variety of instruments that you bring to your songs.
We have a synthesizer, organ, piano, an acoustic guitar, two electric guitars, a bass, harmonica, some mandolin, violin, drums, banjo, then obviously some body percussion like we do some stomps and claps in there too.
With such a wide ranging sound, who were your influences growing up?
I’ve written all of our songs. Lyrically and musically, my influences were Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Biggie Smalls. Those were the people who started me writing. Probably #1 Dylan, #2 Biggie Smalls, and #3 John Lennon.
You guys will be playing on Saturday evening at Bonnaroo. For folks who haven’t finalized their schedules yet, can you describe a Stoplight Observations show?
I would say one of our biggest things is a lot of stress on a great live performance. A lot of bands put effort into their recordings rather than their live show. Us, more than technicality of a live show, it’s more about becoming equal with the crowd, showcasing the most naked form of energy we can. There’ll be a lot of smiling and laughing and a lot of dancing and jiving along with the crowd and with each other on the stage. It’s insanity on the stage. Sometimes, I’ll use my voice as an instrument to build some stuff up. I think we’ve got a good time. No one huge is playing at us. I’d highly advise checking it out. Everyone in this band, everyone here is my friend so sometimes when I don’t have a very important part in the song, I’ll just walk out into the crowd and listen to it. I just love listening to my buds jamming on stage.
Is there anybody you’re excited to see as a fan?
Well, because I’m a John Lennon fan, of course Paul McCartney too. Alt-J is someone we’ve gotten into recently. Of course, I’d love to see Tom Petty. Macklemore. Mumford & Sons is going to be great. This is my third year going and some guys in the band it’s our fourth year so I could go on and on.
If you want to catch Stoplight Observations at Bonnaroo 2013, they’re playing Saturday, June 15 from 6:40-7:30 in the New Music on Tap Lounge. If you’d like to get all of the latest news, rumors, interviews, and on-site reports from Bonnaroo 2013, click subscribe at the top of the page to have it all delivered right to your inbox.