For the past ten years, The Cold Stares have toured the world relentlessly as a duo, blowing away audiences across the US and Europe with a fierce, blistering live show that belied their bare bones, guitar-and-drums setup. Now, the band is embracing a whole new kind of chemistry as they launch their next chapter, adding a third member and channeling the classic power trio sound they grew up on with their explosive new album, Voices.
“The chains were off when we made this record,” says guitarist/singer Chris Tapp. “Suddenly, all the parameters that had dictated what we could and couldn’t do just disappeared and we were free to create whatever sound we wanted.”
That sense of total artistic liberation lies at the heart of Voices, which pushes The Cold Stares’ signature mix of blues, southern, and hard rock to bold new heights. Recorded almost entirely over the course of just two days with producer/engineer/mixer Mark Needham (Taj Mahal, The Killers, Imagine Dragons, Walk the Moon, Fleetwood Mac), the album stands as the band’s most mature, eclectic collection yet, balancing gritty muscle and tender emotion in equal measure. It would have been easy for Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins to simply crank the volume here, but instead they make the most of bassist Bryce Klueh’s arrival by getting more nuanced and adventurous in their approach, chasing a raw, unvarnished sound that manages to feel both vintage and modern all at once. Add it all up and you’ve got a gutsy, cinematic record that’s as honest as it is exhilarating, a high-octane dose of unadulterated rock and roll that tips its cap to everything from Cream to Led Zeppelin as it reckons with love and loss, sin and redemption, hope and regret.
“A lot of these tunes deal with really personal things that have been on my mind for a while,” says Tapp. “I just had to live enough life and get enough experience under my belt to know how to talk about them, to know how to feel comfortable opening up those veins and sharing whatever came out.”
That maturity is obvious on Voices, which opens with the fuzzed out ’60s rocker “Come For Me.” Like much of the album, the tune walks a tightrope between swaggering bravado and raw vulnerability, with primal, snarling guitar riffs snaking around deeply personal lyrics.
“I was adopted as a kid,” says Tapp, “and I was probably ten years old before I realized that I didn’t know who my real parents were. It was an isolating feeling, but it’s something I think we’ve all experienced in one way or another, that sense of wanting someone to be there for you when you need them most.”
Characters fueled by similarly desperate longings—for hope, for purpose, for comfort—turn up throughout the record. The epic anthem “Nothing But The Blues” wrestles with hard times in a down-and-out town, while the jagged “Lights Out” searches for an escape from the relentless onslaught of bad news and division that seems to define modern life. Tunes like the Southern-noir “Sinner Man” and haunting “The Ghost,” meanwhile, channel the redemptive fervor of a Sunday morning tent revival, and the quietly tender “Sorry I Was Late”—which features just organ and vocals—learns to ease the weight of guilt through the grace of forgiveness.
“I was close with my grandfather, but I didn’t understand fully the struggles he was going through,” reflects Tapp. “I found him shortly after he’d committed suicide, and I always wanted to write something to tell him how I felt because, again, I think that’s something everyone has experienced in their own way, that feeling of wishing you could have helped someone if you’d only known they needed it, of hoping that you’ll get to see them again somewhere down the road.”
While the album certainly ruminates on its fair share of hardship, it also finds plenty of ecstasy and transcendence in human connection. “The Joy,” for instance, draws from Pink Floyd as it revels in the happiness that comes with finding your true soulmate, while the rootsy gospel blues of “Throw That Stone” looks to Son House and Blind Willie Johnson as it reflects on judgment and acceptance.
Launched in 2012, The Cold Stares got their start when longtime friends Tapp and Mullins agreed to team up for a fill-in gig that caught them both by surprise. With a sound far bigger than any duo should rightfully have been able to create, the pair of Kentucky natives began turning heads almost immediately, releasing a series of acclaimed albums that landed them on the road with the likes of Larkin Poe, Rival Sons, Reignwolf, Spoon, Grand Funk Railroad, and Thievery Corp, among others. American Songwriter praised the group’s “hard-won commitment, honesty, and intensity,” while No Depression hailed their sound as a “roots rocking firestorm,” and tunes from their albums turned up everywhere from ESPN and TNT to the hit video game Cyberpunk 2077. From the outside, the band seemed unstoppable, but Tapp and Mullins knew how truly fragile it all was.
“I was diagnosed with cancer early in our career,” says Tapp, “and the doctors told me I might only have months to live. Even before that happened, I tried to not to take anything for granted, but once you’ve been through the experience of looking at death, you know that the rug can get pulled out from under you at any moment. You really start to treat every show like it might be your last.”
After wrapping up touring for 2021’s Heavy Shoes (their fifth studio album and debut release for Mascot Records), Tapp and Mullins returned to their adopted hometown of Evansville, Indiana, with a decision to make. The band’s sound had been growing increasingly elaborate in the studio, but unless they wanted to start playing along to pre-recorded backing tracks onstage, they were reaching a point where they wouldn’t be able to faithfully replicate their tunes anymore as a duo.
“We’d been a two-piece for a decade, so it wasn’t something we took lightly,” says Tapp. “But we’d also known Bryce for a long time and knew he’d fit right in, so we basically just played one gig with him and then dove right into this new album.”
Listening to Voices, you’d think the trio already had a lifetime of touring together under their belts, but that’s the magic of The Cold Stares. When the chemistry’s right, anything’s possible.
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