Seems appropriate that a gang of fiercely proud Northern Kentucky residents would entitle their newly released disc, Common Wealth. But it's not Stonewater's Kentucky origins that provided the inspiration for the title, according to drummer and current Devou Park resident Chris Mueller.
"We are from Kentucky, but it's more of a universal thing," he says. "Just about sharing and how art can be for everyone, no matter what their position in life."
Such earnest reflections are par for the course for this group of twentysomething pals who have been playing together for three years but friends for longer. Vocalist Mike Liggett and guitarist Jeff Kessen played as an acoustic duo before hooking up with Mueller, a current music student at NKU and former drummer for the popular mid-'90s Ska band, OB1. Mueller met the pair through mutual friends and was instantly drawn to them.
"I knew I wanted to play with them," he says. "It just seemed right."
At Mueller's behest, the band enlisted a fellow Thomas More alum, bassist Marc Broering, and the lineup was complete.
The band convinced Broering, a Cincinnati native, to relocate back to Kentucky, and their musical brotherhood was established.
"We all not only share a true passion for music, but also a genuine friendship and mutual respect," says Liggett.
The band proclaims influences ranging from the dreamy sing-along songs of '90s stalwarts Toad the Wet Sprocket and Counting Crows, to the full tilt rocking of Van Halen and Led Zeppelin. Liggett has the confessional songwriter style down pat, but also has the pipes of Plant when needed. On Common Wealth, the band finds its niche somewhere comfortably in between, with songs awash in wistful melancholy and Modern Rock riffs.
"It is funny because the people we admire, we don't necessarily sound like or try to sound like," Mueller notes. "To be honest, we haven't really found our sound yet."
The group's self-released debut was promising, but Common Wealth's Cult-inspired opening track and mix of bouncy time signatures and quiet, earthy ballads showcase a more polished, focused approach and an expansive sound that lets Broering and Mueller add jazzy rhythmic backdrops behind Liggett's sweeping Pop melodies.
"We paid more attention to detail on this disc," says Mueller. "We worked on Common Wealth as an album as opposed to a compilation of songs, working more closely with Ric on the arrangements and spending more time preparing for the recording."
'Ric' is local music luminary Ric Hordinski, formerly of Over the Rhine and Monk. The band met Hordinski through the guitarist/producer's former bandmate, Mike Georgin, who was providing Broering with bass lessons at the time. After introductions were made, the band knew Hordinski was the perfect sensei for their disc.
"Ric is very patient; he sees the big picture," Liggett says. "He is not afraid to throw out an idea or offended when we turn one down, though we rarely do. We trust him with the songs — he makes them better."
Hordinski is equally complimentary of his young charges.
"They were very sincere, and enthusiastic, very willing to learn and listen to the music," the producer/musician says. "I think they've started learning that less can be more in some instances. Their songs have grown tremendously while the cohesiveness of the unit has matured at the same time."
After spending the better part of two months recording Common Wealth, the group of friends has become more comfortable and confident with the process and looks forward to further refining their sound and working with Hordinski again in the future.
"We learned that we can do better," Kessen says. "That is why we made a second album, and that is why we'll make a third."
STONEWATER's CD release party is Nov. 26 at the Madison Theater in Covington, with guests Gardenhose and Pike 27. Check out stonewatermusic.com for more information.