Capturing loneliness and despondence felt during the thick of pandemic, Southern rockers Stone Senate crafted a collection of songs they otherwise wouldn’t have made in this space of time on Dusk. “The album is between the dark and the light, Stone Senate vocalist and guitarist Clint Woolsey tells American Songwriter of the band’s EP. “A lot of content is about overcoming and digging yourself out.”
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Produced by Toby Wright, whose credits span work with Metallica, Alice in Chains, and Ozzy Osbourne, Dusk isn’t set solely in more dreariness but absconding from darker days.
A follow-up to the band’s 2016 release, Star City, the songs of Dusk are one piece of a two-EP release, which will continue with the forthcoming Dawn, and a 13-song album, Between the Dark and the Light, out later this year.
Moving from the heavier opener, “Down,” to the more reflective power ballad “Against the Light,” Dusk releases more elevation around the band’s dusty Southern rock—the feel-good rocker “Whiskey Helps,” the acoustic-driven “Slow Crusade,” and the rallied close of “All the Broken Pieces.”
On Dusk, the band started from scratch with the songs, following the addition of lead guitarist James Edwards. “A lot of the songs that were on ‘Star City,’ predated me coming along, so we really started from nothing with the songs,” says Edwards. “We were just more focused in on Dusk and the subsequent EP Dawn and the eventual album as an individual project. Instead of saying, ‘well, what have we got,’ it was more ‘let’s see what we can dig out of ourselves.’”
Offering up finished songs that Edwards had, he and Woolsey worked around the lyrics before the band, featuring guitarist Ted Hennington and “The Mud Brothers,” bassist Paul Zettler and drummer David Zettler, who reconvened in Nashville to work on the tracks for a few weeks before hitting the studio.
“We all came to the table with different ideas,” says Woolsey. “It wasn’t necessarily rushed, but once we all got together with Toby, it just all flowed out and came together, which was really a relief. It showed me that when it comes down to getting down to business and getting songs together, that we could really knock it out.”
Writing through the pandemic gave the band time to laser focus on writing without deadlines and more time to come up with new ideas as opposed to the last few EPs, says Woolsey. “We were playing all those songs live for quite a while, so it was a much different process this album,” says Woolsey. “I finally see there’s a whole different way to make an album, going in and knocking them all out. We were really doing your homework.”
Writing around Dusk, Edwards would send Woolsey song ideas from his home studio in Mississippi to work on lyrics, but once the band got together everyone’s personality showed, he says, and they found their rhythm.
“We felt a certain impetus to get things done and didn’t want to fall short,” says Edwards. “I guess if there was any pressure on us, we put it on ourselves, but we found out that we make a pretty damn good writing team. We can come out of a room with something, hopefully, that’ll stick and that was a great thing to learn during this process.”
Set around the theme of light and dark, the songs on each EP don’t necessarily signify the two opposites. “We didn’t really bunch all the dark songs on one EP, and then save all the light songs for another one, which will be sort of cliche,” says Edwards. “It just seemed to have that theme between the dark and the light.”
Finding that line between the dark and the light was just a reflection of everybody trying to find some semblance of balance during the pandemic. “People were trying to figure out how to deal with the isolation, the separation from everything in their lives,” says Edwards. “It just unconsciously crept into our creative process. “You write what you live—at least we do—so that theme just appeared. We didn’t plan it.”
Working with Wright, who would lyrical and instrumental shifts stretched the band creatively and helped them dig deeper into their lyrics. “He made us dig a little deeper, try a little harder,” says Edwards. “Raising the bar on yourself is a great idea, anytime you can.”
Edwards adds, “Making this record with Toby really made us aware of how much that was probably a much-needed ingredient. You think you’re focused until somebody as focused as Toby is in the room. You bear down a lot harder than you already are. You can keep raising the bar on yourself, and I think we’ve set our sights a lot higher now. And that’s a good thing.”
Photo: Rick Caballo