The 12 Stones is possibly best known for their positive effect on others. In an interview with frontman Paul McCoy before they hit the stage on their 12 Days of Xmas tour show in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he told us why that is, explained their issues with being labeled a Christian band, and told us about some of the experiences which have influenced them.
Repeatedly fans approach members of the band, telling them they were inspired by their music, sometimes even to the point of saving a life. McCoy says about that, “It happens. It’s weird. It’s one of the things that kinda keeps us going. It’s much more important to me when it’s a younger person. Kids are so impressionable. They’re so easily discouraged if they are bullied or abused. There have been some pretty detailed stories actually that make your skin crawl. There’s been so many of them, but I think the most important ones for me are the younger kids.”
Their newest record, Beneath The Scars, came out in May 2012, and it’s chock-full of songs about not letting life get you down. It’s no surprise, considering they employ such meaningful lyrics, their songs are often picked up and have been featured in various spots for WWE, the NHL, in various video games and in movies like The Scorpion King, Elektra and Pirates of the Caribbean.
The song Bulletproof is just one example of a song from the new record that inspires others. It’s a strong song about bullying, a topic close to McCoy’s heart, considering he was bullied when he was younger. He’s deaf in one ear. Growing up he had 15 surgeries on his ears and always had stuff in his ear, which made him an easy target. “I always got made fun of my whole life. I understand, emphathize with people who are in that position.”
The song I’m With You, a touching lyrical tribute, is about the band’s friend, Chris, and his suicide. As McCoy remembers him, he was the “happiest guy ever. Always see him at the bar. We’d all be hanging out, having drinks. He was the life of the party, always laughing, always having a good time. So we got a call one day that he’d taken his own life. It was very strange. It was right in the middle of the writing process. So it kinda made it easy to go into the studio with that song. It goes back to the theme of the record with bullying, stand up for yourself, the whole finding confidence in other people. If you got an issue you can’t deal with, it’s good to get it out. None of us even had a clue he was hurting or upset. He was the happiest guy ever. Always joking.” During the song you can hear former guitarist Justin Rimer recite facts about suicide.
While they were initially labeled a Christian group, McCoy explains they never meant to take on that role. “We never chose that at all. I think because we have such positive lyrics, and we try to have some sort of substance to our lyrics and our music. And parents don’t have a problem with their kids listening to it because were not cursing through it, talking about sex and drugs. We’re a normal group of southern rock boys.”
The Christian label has placed them under unwanted increased scrutiny with fans questioning them when they do anything that some perceive as not in line with the Christian lifestyle. “We’ve had people come up to us afterwards and be like ‘what happened? I thought you guys were a Christian band?’ We never were. If you come to a show, and you listen to our music, and you get something spiritual out of it, that’s awesome. I have no problem with that at all. If you come to the show and you hear the same songs and you get nothing spiritual out of it, but you still enjoy it, that’s what’s important. It doesn’t have to be a religious experience to come to a rock show.”
“I always ask people ‘Do you only use Christian plumbers?’ ” People will tell them they aren’t listening to them if they aren’t a Christian band. But as Paul says, “You liked us five minutes ago, and now you’re saying you’re not going to like us because we’re not a Christian band? The songs are the same, the meanings are the same. But the label that you have now for us is that we’re not good. That’s the frustrating part of it”
McCoy recounted one particular story where a kid waited while the band signed autographs for about 40 other people. When he got the chance to talk to McCoy he told him, “I noticed on stage tonight you did the horns. I just want to explain to you that’s not OK. That’s about a cult.” McCoy told him, “First of all I don’t have anything to do with a cult. That’s my way of saying you guys are awesome. I’ve been doing this for 12 years. I’ve never once meant it in a satanic or sacrilegious way. I’m not a devil; I’m not a satanist. We’re trying to do something positive.” But the kid, “He was just so upset. He said, ‘ This will be the last 12 Stones show I come to.’ ”
They’ve made a concerted effort to separate from the Christian label. “I think recently we just decided to let people think what they want. For the longest time we wouldn’t have a drink anywhere near the stage or after the show. I’m 31 years old. If I want to have a beer, I’d like to have a beer and not have people coming next to me going, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing that.’ It’s legal. It’s a beer. I’m of legal drinking age. I’m at a bar. I’m not standing out on a street corner selling it to little kids.”
But whatever the impression of this band, they have a lot of good stuff going on. You may or may not remember McCoy’s contribution to the Evanescence song Bring Me To Life. Evanescence and 12 Stones were on the same label (Wind-Up) when that song was recorded. “I was sitting in the President of the label’s office. He was showing us the demo version of the song. He was telling me they wanted to get Jacoby from Papa Roach to do it; they wanted Mike from Linkin Park. They wanted all these established kinda rap/rock guys, because it was their first single, so they wanted someone with notoriety, the name to come in and be featured to help boost them out — obviously not knowing it was going to come out and do what it did. We were listening to the demo. And they were telling us all the people they wanted to get on it. And I kinda jokingly said, ‘Hey if you can’t find anybody famous to do it, I’ll do it.’ Everybody kinda laughed. Then about a week later I got a phone call from Wind-Up, from the President. He was like, ‘Hey man, were you serious? Do you maybe want to do that song with Evanescence?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.” It’s a cool thing to be on a new record. Plus at that time there wasn’t a lot of female-fronted rock artists that kinda had that gothy, operatic voice over heavy guitars.”
McCoy quickly left for LA to record the demo, and spent a miniscule amount of time on that song for the amount of success it garnered. “We were leaving for tour for Sevendust. I was putting my stuff on the bus. My phone rang and they said go to the airport. Flew into LA. Got there about 10:30 or 11:00 at night. Tracked until about 1:00 in the morning. Had a 5:00 a.m. flight back to Texas to catch up with the tour, to start the first day of the tour. I was in LA doing the record for maybe an hour. Next thing ya know we’re doing the Jay Leno show. We’re flying to Romania. Ended up winning a Grammy that year for it. Definitely the best hour of work in my life.” While the song saw great success, McCoy was only paid a few thousand for his efforts, just for flying out and tracking it. No royalties. “It’s sad now. Fifteen million records would be a nice little pay day. It’s cool. I have a Grammy sitting at my house. It was a good experience to be part of.”
The band feels like they are poised for success now, being with a new label and having original drummer Aaron Gainer back in the band. “Feels good to have a new home with EMG. They are very supportive. It’s good to be in this position.” But there’s no ill feelings towards their previous label, Wind-Up. McCoy says it was just time to part ways. “When we went to Wind-Up, the owner, Diana Meltzer, she was the one that basically signed us, gave us our whole career. She left the company towards the end. And a lot of the people we kinda came up with had left the company. For us we were that band that never quite got the crossover. Never quite got to the point where there was money coming in for both us and them. Back in those days record deals were huge. We were spending six figures on music videos. Never ending debt. It was just better for both parties. They had a different way they wanted us to go musically and stylistically. We had our vision of what we wanted to do. There’s no bad blood with Wind-Up. They were good to us. We were there eight years almost. They’re the reason we’re here. I definitely don’t have anything ill to say.”
Drummer Gainer was gone from 2010-2011 after his wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and he didn’t speak to the band during that time, which almost severed all ties to the band. McCoy explains, “There were a bunch of communication errors during that time. He was so concerned, obviously, with his wife’s health. It consumed him, as well as it should. When that happened, it was very obvious he needed to go take care of that. But it was very difficult. Mikey McManus came in to play drums for us during that time. He now plays for Saving Abel.”
Jill, Gainer’s wife, was instrumental in bringing the band back together. “I think when she realized she was really sick she just wanted to do something for Aaron. She knew that he would never do it on his own, because he’s a guy. She started calling everybody. She sent me a message on Facebook. That’s when I found out all the miscommunications that had happened between Aaron and ex-management. That’s why there was a gap in communication. We kinda put all the pieces together. I was able to get on the phone with Aaron one day. He said ‘I’m wanting to come back if you guys will have me.’ And we were like, ‘Absolutely.’ ” And now that he’s back? “Having Aaron back is awesome. Him, Eric and myself have been here since day one. He knows all the songs, the stories, the inside jokes. You don’t have to teach somebody 12 years worth of history.”
Now Jill is much better, but Gainer’s time away, and his experience with taking care of his wife seems to have impacted every one in the band. “We all try not to take things for granted. We try to make the best of the situation. It’s easy to become complacent, and not take in what’s going on around you. Now we try to plan stops on the trip. We went to the petrified forest. We go try to check out the flaming gorge, the Grand Canyon. Now instead of parking in a Walmart parking lot, we’ll take the RV and go to a KOA campground, light a fire, grill. Try to get outside and enjoy what’s going on around you. Everything you have is precious. You can’t take it for granted.”