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Hours before doors are scheduled to open, the line outside the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago wraps around the city block. The demographic of those in line ranges from grizzled, grey-haired metalheads to seemingly innocent-looking college kids, all anxious to catch the rapidly ascending, hard-to-label Australian collective King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
Unlike many shows where concertgoers roll in just in time to catch the headliner, this crowd, which comes close to the 5,000-person capacity of the historic venue, is pretty much set in place when Stonefield, a four-piece act from Australia comprised of four sisters, hits the stage. With a sound that is rooted in the music Amy Findlay (drums, lead vocals), Hannah Findlay (guitar), Sarah Findlay (keyboards) and Holly Findlay (bass) grew up on (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple), Stonefield proceeds to melt faces with their heavy, yet melodic, doom rock and as they wrap up their 11-song set, the crowd responds with headliner-like fervor. Later in the evening, the line for Stonefield merch, which includes both vinyl and CD copies of their 2019 release, Bent, is nearly as long as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s line, many new converts clutching t-shirts and albums as they work their way back into the venue for the main event.
Before the show, I had a chance to meet up with Findlay sisters and learn more about how their upbringing in Australia is directly responsible for where they are today.
Can you tell me about how your parents were the influence for Stonefield?
AMY FINDLAY: We grew up on a hobby farm in an isolated area so we spent a lot of time at home hanging out as kids and mom and dad just always had music on in the background. I guess, thinking back to our childhood, it’s just lots of memories of being in the house, in the winter, sitting by the fire listening to music or being a summer day and playing outside, riding our bikes with music on. That’s the background of it. When we were really young, we all started dancing lessons when we were like 2 years old. And then, from that, that evolved into singing lessons but, for a long time, there wasn’t a singing teacher or a music teacher or anything in our area so when one moved into the area, we kind of jumped on that. It’s just something that we’ve always done and always loved and it’s always been a part of our lives.
Your music sounds like it was influenced by Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. Besides what your parents were listening to, were you listening to other music on your own or was it whatever was on in the house is what you listened to?
HANNAH FINDLAY: We definitely listened to other music. We listened to the radio. I think it’s just what we related to with actually playing music was that sort of music we grew up listening to so that was the most natural thing for us to start playing. We definitely liked all the things that kids like.
You’ve been doing this for a long time, since you were real little, right?
AMY FINDLAY: Holly was 7 when we started, she’s the youngest. It’s been forever, really.
I can’t imagine 7-year-olds listening to classic rock. The stuff you grew up on was kind of dark and scary for kids.
HANNAH FINDLAY: It was what we related to as kids, it was more of a comforting feeling than anything because it’s always been around us.
AMY FINDLAY: I think, when you pick up an electric guitar or sit at a drum kit, the kind of music that you relate to is rock bands as opposed to the Spice Girls or whatever was on the radio at the time. It made sense to us. We did always like that music, it was literally a part of growing up for us.
I have this romantic vision that you were listening to your parents’ vinyl collection, but considering your ages, was it your parents’ cassettes or CDs that you were listening to?
HANNAH FINDLAY: It was a bit of everything really, live DVDs as well. I remember coming home from singing lessons on a Friday night and eating fish and chips and there was live music on the TV.
AMY FINDLAY: It was mainly CDs. When we first moved to the farm, I would have been the only one alive and we lived in a shed while dad was building our house. I remember the tape player being in the shed which would have been run off the generator which was plugged into the car. I think when we moved into the house, it was more CDs than the tapes. Lots of YouTube videos.
HANNAH FINDLAY: It was burnt CDs. Don’t tell anyone.
AMY FINDLAY: Yeah! Dad had a friend at work who downloaded all this stuff for him and, at the time, that was like, “We have all these bootlegs!”
HANNAH FINDLAY: It was like, “Look how much music we’ve got now!” Dad would listen to music on the computer and it had that weird screensaver and he’d just sit there and love it.
Before you started playing instruments, were you standing in front the mirror and lip syncing or playing air guitar to the bands that you had seen on the DVDs and YouTube?
HOLLY FINDLAY: There’s a lot of home videos of us putting on concerts and stuff for our parents before we started learning instruments. There are so many photos and videos that.
Do you remember who you were pretending to be?
HOLLY FINDLAY: I don’t know if we were pretending to be anybody else, we were pretending to be ourselves.
AMY FINDLAY: We were very into putting on a whole show. We did magic. We did dancing. We did everything.
Were you surrounded by neighbors or were you out on your own?
AMY FINDLAY: We live in a valley, our house is on top of a hill and the closest house is down in the valley.
So you really have to be your own best friends.
HANNAH FINDLAY: I think that’s a contributing reason why we got into music because there’s not really much else to do where we’re from.
You started off doing covers and then graduating to writing your own music. When did you decide that this was something you wanted to do with your life?
AMY FINDLAY: I don’t think there was ever really a point where we were like, “This is what we’re going to do. Let’s try to be a really huge, successful band.” It was just something that we did and it naturally kind of grew. In 2010, we won a radio competition and from there, everything became a lot more legit and we started doing things on a bigger scale.
HANNAH FINDLAY: I don’t think any of us ever imagined it would turn into what it’s become.
AMY FINDLAY: When we won that radio competition, I was at Uni and I was studying music and I was planning on becoming a music teacher in schools. We always loved music but never really thought we’d be doing what we’re doing right now. But, obviously, we’re stoked about it.
You won the radio contest. How did that happen?
HANNAH FINDLAY: Amy was at Uni at the time and we recorded a song for a school project that she was doing. Then we heard there was this radio competition and mom was like, “You guys may as well upload it and see how you do.” We uploaded and ended up winning.
That’s the world we live in now. You record a song and upload it instantaneously so the whole world can hear it. No more having to send it off to be pressed as a 45 or make a demo cassette that you have to make copies of and then send out.
HANNAH FINDLAY: Before that, our music teacher encouraged us to make a demo CD when we first started playing Battle of the Bands and that type of stuff.
HOLLY FINDLAY: God help us if that ever gets out!
HANNAH FINDLAY: It was a very strange mix of genres.
HOLLY FINDLAY: It was actually pretty metal, in hindsight.
HANNAH FINDLAY: We recorded in this sort of studio thing next door to us. We recorded a few songs and burned it to CDs and printed a photo on it.
HOLLY FINDLAY: We even printed the CD, it was very legit.
HANNAH FINDLAY: And we used to hand these demo CDs out to people.
Amy, was playing drums and singing something that came naturally or was it out of necessity – you needed a drummer and a singer and you could do both?
AMY FINDLAY: I think it came down to the fact that I was the most into singing and, maybe because I was the oldest, I just got first dibs on the drum kit which was the first instrument we got. I think that’s realistically how that happened.
The bands that you grew up listening to didn’t have singing drummers.
AMY FINDLAY: I don’t know, I just did it. I didn’t really think about it. It just happened that way and we were stuck with it.
When was the first time you toured the U.S.?
AMY FINDLAY: We did a really weird showcase a few years ago. That was our first show here. That was in L.A., it was really strange. Our first tour started at SXSW three or four years ago. You know how Instagram does ‘memories’? A photo from that tour came up and I’m pretty sure it was three years ago.
What is SXSW like for a band? I’ve been there as a fan and as a journalist but I’m sure the experience must be a lot different when you’re performing.
AMY FINDLAY: To be honest, it wasn’t as overwhelming as we were expecting because everyone had been saying, “Get ready for it, it’s going to be nuts.” So we were just expecting the worst. When we got there, I think it was a quieter year as well. We were expecting it to be more crazy, so we were well prepared. But there were days where we had three or four gigs in one day, something crazy like that.
SARAH FINDLAY: It was fun but at the same time I feel like we’ve done a lot of crazy things and we’re pretty good at coping with situations like this now, we sort of thrive off them. Like, getting to gigs 5 minutes into your set time just sort of pumps the adrenaline, keeps it interesting.
Sometimes bills at SXSW seem to be very random. Can you think of any bills where you played with bands that weren’t anything like you?
HANNAH FINDLAY: Our booking agent did a really good job of getting us on the right bills.
AMY FINDLAY: I’m not sure what the showcase was, but it was outside. Our set was so perfectly timed. As we were on stage, a huge thunderstorm started to roll in and we had this epic light show. The whole sky was lighting up and we were the last band to play before it all got canceled. That was really cool and we got our U.S. manager from that gig so it turned out to be very successful for us. I don’t really like doing the industry showcases but it worked.
How long have you been on this tour with King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard?
AMY FINDLAY: Two weeks.
You recorded the album with some of the guys. Was it just natural for the tour or did you have to compete with other bands to get on the bill?
HANNAH FINDLAY: We obviously wanted to go on tour with them but we didn’t think to mention it and then they were like, “Cool. Okay.”
AMY FINDLAY: It’s really nice for them to be supporting other Australian bands.
HANNAH FINDLAY: They could literally get any band to support them but it’s really nice they support other Australian bands and give them the opportunity to come and play in front of such big audiences.
This might seem like a weird question but what do you call them? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is a mouthful!
AMY FINDLAY: King Gizzard or King Gizz or Gizz.
HANNAH FINDLAY: I think just Gizz.
Bringing it back to Black Sabbath, I always have a few Sabbath CDs in my car but, the curve ball is, they are the CDs that Tony Martin sang on in the early-to-mid ’90s. Have you ever heard any of those albums?
HANNAH FINDLAY: I feel like we listened to a little bit of that era but we’re definitely into the earlier stuff.
Ozzy over Dio?
HANNAH FINDLAY: Yeah, definitely.
If you each had to pick a greatest hits CD by a band to bring along as your only music on tour, what CD would you pick?
AMY FINDLAY: To be honest, I feel like we’re listened to the classics to death and we’re just listening to a lot of newer bands at the moment.
HOLLY FINDLAY: We’ve really been in to Plantasia. It’s not really a greatest hits thing but it’s an older thing we were obsessed with.
HANNAH FINDLAY: It’s an album for plants. It’s all synthy. But, also, on the last tour we were obsessed with Aldous Harding’s newest record. On the last tour, I could have had just that and listened to that album for the entire tour.
AMY FINDLAY: I was thinking Crowded House.
HANNAH FINDLAY: Maybe a Sabbath album could be good. I also really like the chill Sabbath songs like “Solitude”. You get your heavy but you also get your little dose of sad, chill music.
So, King Gizzard brought you out. If you have the chance to headline and can bring out an Australian band to introduce to U.S. audiences, who would you bring?
AMY FINDLAY: Baked Beans are great.
HANNAH FINDLAY: We always say Mt Mountain, they are really a great, underrated band.
HOLLY FINDLAY: Do you know what band is really good that we played with? Turtle Skull. They are really cool, a bit of a hidden gem I’d say.
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