by Jane Roser
When a fan shows up at one of your shows wearing a customized license plate with your band name on it, well, then you know you’ve made it.
Philly rockers Stolen Rhodes (Matt Pillion, Kevin Cunningham, Dan Haase and Eric Skye) played The Simple Man Cruise on its last hurrah in 2014. The band was such a hit with fans that when a new Southern Rock-themed cruise was organized, Stolen Rhodes was tapped right away to be a part of it. The Lebrewski Cruise sailed from Miami to the Bahamas last month with artists such as O.A.R., Blackfoot, Doc Holliday, Young Dubliners and Molly Hatchet, attracting fans from around the world.
“A lot of the fans we’d met over the years came out, including one group who flew in from Finland just to see us,” recalls vocalist Matt Pillion. “It was just so cool. We even had special shirts made up that said ‘Cruisin With Stolen Rhodes’ that people were wearing when we got on board and rocking them on official cruise photos; it was amazing.”
Fans Fred and Deb from Virginia (I swear I met them at a Blackberry Smoke show in Baltimore last year. I was wearing a Stolen Rhodes shirt and this super energetic, adorable couple came up to me who were obviously huge fans) had a personalized Stolen Rhodes license plate made up. Fred was wearing it on a lanyard around his neck when Pillion first saw it.
“I was absolutely blown away and now it’s starting to become a thing. There’s one for New York, Delaware and four or five other states, but they blazed the trail first with Virginia. I’m excited to see if we can get all 50 states,” Pillion laughs.
Performing three shows total, with two on the main stage of the ship, the band saw their initial core group of fans blow up when people passing by started to filter in to watch them play. Another highlight was getting to jam with legendary Florida band Blackfoot. “We ran into Rickey Medlocke when we boarded and he invited us to join him for a jam session,” says Pillion. “I played on Hendrix’s “Red House” and Foghat’s “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, it was a lot of fun and just to be able to hang out with Rickey was incredible.”
Stolen Rhodes formed in 2008 when guitarist Cunningham met bassist Haase at Berklee College of Music. Pillion and Skye (drums) soon joined the group and they’ve gone on to accumulate legions of fans after opening for iconic groups such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackberry Smoke and The Marshall Tucker Band. Stolen Rhodes even toured with The Marshall Tucker Band last year, playing not only to sold out audiences, but getting the rare chance to perform with the group on some of their most prolific songs such as “Can’t You See”.
“Doug Gray has been a great mentor to us,” says Pillion, “he’s very supportive and took us under his wing. We’ll sometimes play one of their songs if we’re performing a longer show and we always introduce it by saying that we had the pleasure of touring with these guys and not only are they some of the finest musicians we’ve ever worked with, but they’re also some of the finest human beings we’ve ever worked with. That’s 100 percent true.”
Their 2014 EP, Slow Horse, was released to critical acclaim with journalists noting its “engaging choruses and story-telling lyrics of real life America” and how it “demonstrates their diversity, keeping them from being pigeonholed to any one genre.” With a Spring release date just around the corner, their new record, Bend With The Wind, reunites them with famed Philly producer David Ivory (Halestorm, The Roots, Silvertide) who recorded the album at his Dylanava Studio just outside Philadelphia.
“He’s an amazing arranger and helped us to really focus and hone in on the songs,” explains Pillion. “He was very hands on with our last EP, but this time, he gave us a little more carte blanche, so it was a different vibe in that respect.”
Bend With The Wind includes several songs the band has road tested over the years, but also a few that were written right in the studio, which was a first for them. The track “Get On Board” is song about breaking away from things which are self-destructive; it started off as a guitar lick and the song grew around it, basically writing itself in the studio.
“We took a kind of backwards approach to it,” explains Pillion, “usually you have a song and play it live and if it goes over well you put it on the record, but this was the exact opposite approach.” One tune that Pillion was especially surprised by, however, was the slower tempo song “Save Me”. “I wrote it so quickly, it just seemed serendipitous. It’s a song that audiences have really responded to, which took me by surprise because I wrote it so fast. It’s basically just about that feeling you get when stuff is kind of fucked up, but there’s that one song that just takes the weight off your shoulders when you hear it.”
Fans can also look forward to a few bonus tracks that were recorded in a cabin using a vintage tape recorder. “We usually close with a song called “So Long”,” says Pillion, “its high energy and just straight up rock and roll, but we decided to record a laid-back, stripped-down version with no electric guitar and recorded completely live.”
Besides a new album, Stolen Rhodes is back on the road touring. They’ll be at The Ardmore Music Hall May 14th and opening again for Blackberry Smoke at The Shed in Tennessee June 4th. In addition, they’ll be back in Oklahoma for Rocklahoma and then a short tour of Texas. “We’re excited to get back to Texas,” says Pillion, “we’ve only played Texas at SXSW, so we wanted to see it outside of a festival setting.”
With their fiery, gasoline-laden live shows and catchy songs, Stolen Rhodes will blow your mind and quite possibly, bruise your soul, as well.