South Florida Soulgrass Quartet The Copper Tones Talk Single ‘Big Sugar, Big Change’, New Album, & More

Three words: South Florida Soulgrass. Coined as a hybrid between Rock, Americana, and Soul, The Copper Tones genre moniker alone is enough to spur intrigue. From that flavorful description on its own, the shimmer that gleams off The Copper Tones can undoubtedly turn heads from miles away.

Members Stephanie Smerkers (Vox, Guitar, Banjolele, Upright Bass), Dyllan Thieme (Vox, Upright Bass, Mandolin, Guitar), Andy Annoied (Drums), and Danny Gootner (Guitar, Ukulele, Dobro, Harmonica) have made it their central goal to expand this shimmer as much as they can. Considering the music scene in Ft. Lauderdale has been a bit more underground over the years, they have more than made up for this by amplifying themselves not only as musicians, but as advocates for some major issues facing their community.

While it’s no secret that sunny South Florida is the oasis at the forefront of our regular 9-to-5 daydreams, for The Copper Tones, it’s home. Just like anywhere we can call home, though, things aren’t always exactly the fruit of our imagination. While a great amount of tourism can oftentimes do wonders for a city, it can sometimes be weaponizing. The folks living in Ft. Lauderdale know this to be extraordinarily true: due to an exponential surge in corporations taking over Floridian land, the coastlines of South Florida have been greatly impacted by toxic runoff from sugar fields, therefore greatly harming the environment, little by little. 

Released this January on their sophomore album, Home Again, The Copper Tones put out “Big Sugar, Big Change”– and directly addressed those at fault. With an upbeat instrumental that powers through and the repeated line: “There’s gonna be a big change come election day,” it is the quintessential underdog anthem. 

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In general, if you really want to feel what it’s like to be a South Floridian, Home Again in its entirety is a good place to start. From the opener, “Home,” a song that emphasizes what makes Ft. Lauderdale a place you don’t want to leave, to another, “Living In Hell,” a song where Smerkers cries out, “Our restless souls keep howling at the moon/Raising a glass, singing the same old tune,” you start to get what it’s like to keep on living life despite the odds.

In every aspect, The Copper Tones are advocates for the future– whether that be anywhere from making sure our children get to live in paradise to creating music that’s timeless and ever-inspiring.

We got a chance to check in with them, so without further adieu…

So I was hoping you could talk about the inception of The Copper Tones and how y’all came together?

Dyllan: Stefanie and I have known each other since grade school. We have played together in the past, but decided some years ago that we were interested in sharing ideas and moving forward more seriously as an Americana band. I invited Andy to play drums & he joined in. Shortly after, we met Dan at a bar and he came over, we jammed, and the rest is history. 

What’s the music scene like in the Ft. Lauderdale area? Does it gear heavily towards any particular genre?

Stefanie: The music scene in the Ft. Lauderdale area is very underground. We don’t have a lot of local publications and people promoting musicians. In order to get your name out there as an artist, you have to really push the boundaries, and spectators have to do research to find bands or venues. And I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily geared towards any one genre, it’s pretty eclectic, but we don’t have a huge folk scene down here. Fortunately, we do have a strong group that supports us that we are very grateful for!

How does the songwriting process work within the band?

Dyllan: Usually Stefanie or I will bring a song to the table. Then exchange ideas openly with the band to get the song to flow with all of the members.

So it was your song, “Big Sugar, Big Change” that caught our ear. Can you talk about the influence and inspiration behind this track?

Dyllan: Being a South Florida band, we are blessed to live where most people go to vacation. Nowadays, it seems that people have lost sight of the value and the beauty of our natural resources and landscapes. Larger companies have taken advantage of the lands that Floridians hold near and dear to their hearts. At times, an individual person can feel helpless trying to stand up to a massive corporation. The song is meant to highlight what has been going on in the middle of our state with sugar fields and the toxic runoff they produce that has been consistently strangling the life out of our coastlines. Hopefully bringing issues to light that maybe have been overlooked in the past to start a more conscious plan to keep our slice of paradise pristine for future generations to enjoy.

Is it a part of or going to be a part of an EP or LP?

Stefanie: It’s currently on our new album Home Again that was released at the end of January! 

What artists have y’all been digging lately that might inspire your sound?

All: Lately we’ve been listening to a lot of Buddy Guy, Band of Heathens and Neil Young. 

What’s the band working on as of now?

All: We’re currently working on polishing our new songs so we can get started on the next album. 

How have you been keeping busy and trying to maintain momentum for your music during the pandemic? 

Dyllan: We have been doing our best to stay positive and safe. It has been hard to stay productive, so we have been setting goals to have a new song or idea in place every few days. We don’t always accomplish our goal, but it does help keep us looking forward when we aren’t sure what the future holds.

Do you feel the pandemic has helped or hurt your creative process? 

Stefanie: It’s definitely been a bit of a roller coaster. It’s hard to turn your anxious thoughts into creative ones when you’re worried about survival. At the same time having the free time to write and play new music and having an outlet when you’re feeling low is super important. Some days were very productive.

What’s one of your proudest/accomplished moments as a band thus far?

All: Not sure if we can pick just one. We’ve toured several times in the U.S. and even had the opportunity to tour a few other countries. We’ve opened for some big name acts and have gained some of the best fans/friends doing it. We can’t wait to see what else we can accomplish!

What might fans expect from The Copper Tones in the latter half of the year?

All: Despite what happens with the pandemic and everything in limbo, people can expect new singles! We can’t wait to get in the studio and show y’all what we’ve been working on!

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