California-based rock stalwarts Stroke 9 are set to release their new album, Calafrio, on January 17, 2020. Written, produced, and released exclusively by the band (Luke Esterkyn [vocals, guitar], Greg Gueldner [drums], John McDermott [guitar], Jens Funke [bass]), it was recorded in studios, hotel rooms, and backyards up and down the coast during the spring of 2019. Driven by acoustic guitars and electric piano, filled rich harmonies, and infused with seasoned pop sensibility, the record captures the sound of West Coast rock and roll.
“It is truly the most collaborative album we’ve ever made, even though we were geographically distributed,” says Gueldner. “Jens would record an idea down in Los Angeles, and upload the file to a shared folder. We’d download the track at John’s studio at the old Industrial Light and Magic building up in San Rafael, and build the lyrics and other instruments around that. So even though we weren’t all together all the time, the songs wound up being more personal and intimate than if we’d sat in a room together for a month writing.”
This open and ego-free process culminated in the band finally coming together for a sun-drenched week in isolated Stinson Beach, CA at the Panoramic House Studio (My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses) for the finishing touches.
“We came up with the concept of Calafrio early in the process,” says Esterkyn. “To us, the word is a portmanteau of everything we wanted to do with this record. We wanted it to sound like California. You have the southern heat with ‘cala,’ and ‘frio’ takes care of the NorCal chill.”
To help capture the Calafrio sound, Stroke 9 reached out to an all-star roster of friends they’ve made over their 30-year career. Drums were played by Steve Ferrone (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bee Gees), and song mixes were provided by Ruadhri Cushnan (Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran), Eric “ET” Thorngren (Talking Heads, Kenny Wayne Shepherd), John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Phosphorescent, Sun Volt), and Daniel Schlett (The War on Drugs, Modest Mouse).
“With every decision we made, from the instruments to the artwork to the lyrics, we asked ourselves, ‘OK, but is that Calafrio?’” adds Funke. “We tried to make something positive and joyful, to chronicle and reflect on the 30-year journey the band has taken to this point. We’ve done it all — starting with vans, on through the major-label ride, all the years of touring. So now this is music for us, our friends, and our fans, to take from the beach to the redwoods, and on to BBQs, bonfires, and boat docks everywhere.”
During the writing and recording process for Calafrio, the band retreated to the clubs and bars of Marin and Sonoma counties north of the Golden Gate Bridge, to gig and go listen to local music. Since forming in a “Rock Band” class in high school in San Rafael in 1990, the band has always been inspired by the area’s rich musical history, which always infuses itself into the band’s sound.
“We wound up spending a lot of time at Terrapin Crossroads, the club in San Rafael opened by Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, where there is live music every night,” explains McDermott. “We fell in love with a couple musicians we regularly saw there. So we asked Elliott Pack, who tours with Phil, to sing vocal duets on two of the new songs.” The album also features organs and piano from Danny Eisenberg, a regular keyboardist for The Mother Hips and members of ALO.
Instrumentally and musically, the album is a striking contrast from the alt-rock heights Stroke 9 rose to at the turn of the millennium. It has more acoustic guitars, deeper harmonies, Wurlitzers, and percussion. But longtime fans of their early records are already praising the first two singles, “Calafrio” and “9 AM,” as being true to the Stroke 9 sound. They are rapidly and seamlessly being added to genre-spanning Spotify playlists of all kinds.
Lifelong road dogs, Stroke 9 has toured the world several times over, sharing the stage with Oasis, No Doubt, Smash Mouth, Vertical Horizon, and thousands of others. Now they are gearing up to hit the road in 2020, and share the Calafrio concept with audiences everywhere. Tour dates will be announced at stroke9.com soon.
“Really, we just wanted to make a cool album for ourselves, that we could press to vinyl, put on the stereo, and listen beginning to end,” says Esterkyn. “The vinyl is ordered and on its way. We’ll listen to it a few times, then get out there and perform it live. We hope everyone likes it as much as we do, and we can’t wait for everyone to hear it, and come have fun while we play it for them.”
For streaming links, tour dates, videos, merch, and more, visit stroke9.com.
Click this link to follow the album on major streaming services (PREFERRED LINK):
“Calafrio” (single) on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/59YCKLYJjzocZjCAJY8khh
“9 AM” (single) on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/1zVfIc1YN7Dw5S1r1Xu5dM