From the heart of The Sunshine State is a quartet of singers and pickers playing a unique brand of music they dub, “Soulgrass.”
South Florida’s The Copper Tones, made up of Stefanie Smerkers (Vox, guitar, banjolele, upright bass), Dyllan Thieme (Vox, upright bass, mandolin, guitar), Danny Gootner (guitar, ukulele, dobro, harmonica), and Andy Annoied (drums), have put out two stellar albums thus far, the self-titled The Copper Tones and most recently, Home Again. The group has developed their sound using an eclectic blend of instruments, ranging from the mandolin to the ukulele, upright bass, and the dobro. They also boast an ever-growing following from three U.S. tours and a month of living and playing in Germany.
Their style parallels the simple glory of the Alabama Shakes with a lyricism that will make you reflect on what is really important in life. In their newest album, Home Again, which was released in January of 2020, the band touches on many of the world’s most pressing issues.
The band has also used their platform to speak about urgent environmental concerns that have been threatening their home in Ft. Lauderdale and the state of Florida for quite some time. All in all, their voice allows them to make music that is accessible and refreshingly honest. They are the proud recipients of several honors ranging from playing with The Decemberists at the Sing Out Loud Festival, to being named one of Shutter 16 Magazine’s Top 15 Breakout Artists, and winning the Ft. Lauderdale Magazine’s Best Live Act of 2017. The Copper Tones have the talent and free-spirited grit to win you over with their unique sound, and Home Again is the latest example of this.
We talked to the band last summer, and had the chance to chat with them again regarding their motivations behind a few of the songs on the album that speak about social issues, politics, and the process of navigating emotional burnout through it all, and much more.
It’s great to chat with y’all again! What has the band been up to since we last spoke in July?
Stefanie: We’ve been busy integrating a new member of the band, writing and planning for a hopefully pandemic-free future of shows and normalcy!
So “The Gallows” is one song on your most recent album, Home Again, that stood out to us. It seems to speak about some difficult social and political conditions we are currently facing in the world. Can you talk about the inspiration behind it?
Stefanie: It’s definitely a bit of an ambiguous song. I think the lyrics can be applied to a number of situations and struggles, especially now. I originally wrote the lyrics during the last presidential election. I was feeling frustrated, like most, about our choices for a leader and the divide it was creating between the country.
What led you to use the imagery of the “gallows” as a way to get your message across?
Stefanie: Sometimes when you feel like you don’t have a real choice, it seems as if you’re living in a different time period when things were much more archaic. A time when you could literally be hung for a difference of opinion or a different way of thinking. It’s a little dark, but it’s honest.
What do you hope your listeners will take away from this song in particular?
Stefanie: I hope they can understand that all of us are put in (what seem like) impossible situations sometimes, but you should follow your beliefs no matter what the consequence.
“Just Can’t Stop” is a beautiful song that probably took a lot of emotional strength to bring into creation. Can you talk about your writing process and what it is like to perform that song together?
Dyllan: This song was created during a dark period of my life when many changes were happening at the same time. As far as the creative process is concerned, I spent a lot of time alone figuring out how I felt about the tumultuous period that I was going through. This song came out of me quicker than I could write the words down, so I basically recorded myself playing the chords and just reciting what was coming to me in real time. After that, I just weeded out what felt most important to me and what others could maybe relate to in a cathartic sense. This song is very rhythm-oriented, so when we have the full band on stage, I can hear exactly what I heard in my head while writing, which puts me in an emotional state that is hard to describe. It is very satisfying to write something that can instantly take me/others to a single point in their life. Scent is supposed to be the strongest sense tied to memory, whereas this song can invoke monumental feelings in myself and hopefully others.
Can you explain the term “Soulgrass”, which you have used when describing the band’s sound?
Stefanie: When we first started the band, a lot of people would ask what genre we considered ourselves. We never tried for a specific sound, and in that we combined several genres into what we do. “Soul” is more of the old school R&B style stuff and “grass” is more of the Americana/country/bluegrass stuff. If it’s rootsy, we’re into it.
How important is the order of songs on the album, and how much time goes into deciding something like that?
Daniel: We definitely think the order is important. When you put out an album, it’s one overall work of art. So the journey you take the listener on along the way is a big consideration. For this record, I made a few playlists and listened any time I was driving, to test out the flow of the tracks and how it felt.
What other local and regional Florida artists might inspire y’all most these days?
All: There are so many great Florida acts, but to name a few…The Prestage Brothers, Shaw Davis & the Black Ties, Tasty Vibrations, Wild Shiners and Uproot Hootenanny.
You have spoken in the past about your concerns regarding the loss of Floridian land to corporations and the rise of toxic sugar cane runoff affecting its coastlines. Have there been any new developments since then that you would like to bring attention to?
Dyllan: There is always going to be some kind of “hoopla” going on when it comes to preserving our great state from the vultures that run large corporations and exploit its pureness and beauty for financial gain. We try to illuminate these things to the rest of the state so that hopefully we can control these situations as Floridians. Awareness is always the first step. So if we can continue to write songs that open people’s eyes to what’s happening around them before it’s swept under the rug, we feel it’s a step in the right direction.
What might your fans look forward to hearing from you in 2021?
All: NEW MUSIC! We’re really looking forward to getting back in the studio and recording what we’ve been working on lately. We’re also really gunning to book some tours and play around the world again, crossing our fingers we can make that happen.