Small Stone Records: Lo-pan, Freedom Hawk, and Gozu

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The bands on music impresario Scott Hamilton’s label, Small Stone Records, roster might generally be classified as “stoner rock,” but many of these guys are boozehounds too. And with this week being the Sloshed issue — which just happens to coincide with the Small Stone showcase at the Magic Stick on Oct. 19 — we thought it appropriate to speak with some Small Stone bands about chunky riffs and heavy ales.

Hamilton founded Small Stone in 1995 and currently has the likes of Five Horse Johnson, the Glasspack, Halfway to Gone and Throttlerod in its arsenal. This weekend, Freedom Hawk,Lo-Pan and Gozu will showcase everything that’s great about the label at the Stick. We spoke to some of the guys to get the lowdown; Luder (featuring boss-man Hamilton on guitar) and the Brought Low also play.

The members of Lo-Pan had been playing around their hometown of Columbus, Ohio as individual musicians for years, but as bassist Skot Thompson says, magic happened when they found each other.

“We just wanted to see where it took us,” says Thompson. “We already knew it was going to be heavier and a little more aggressive, because both of our styles tend to lean toward that. We got together, and it slowly started to go in the direction that we’re going in now. It’s still progressing as we speak. I’m not even sure where it’s going to go from here. We’ve been together for seven or eight years.”

Lo-Pan got onto Hamilton’s radar after the band’s drummer, Jesse Bartz, contacted the Small Stone director. “Scott had his ear keen to us, and we just got together like that,” Thompson says. “We’ve done a bunch of the Small Stone showcases — they’re always really fun too. They go off without a hitch, all the bands are always really good, and the audience really seems to dig the whole thing, wherever we do it. They’re always a ruckus, a really good time. I guess we’ve been knighted an honorary Detroit band.”

Boston’s Gozu formed out of the ashes of a bunch of local bands like Wargasm and Motherboar. Joe Grotto says the band has known Hamilton forever.

“My old band, Motherboar, had even played with a bunch of Small Stone bands a few times,” he says. “Motherboar randomly got lumped into this stoner metal genre even though, in my opinion, we didn’t really sound like that.”

Grotto went on to explain how his little brother, Benny Grotto, who was Motherboar’s drummer, is also the sound engineer at Mad Oak Recording Studios, which records all the Small Stone bands.

“So there’s kind of this incestuous connection with the Small Stone bands in Boston, myself and my little brother,” he says. “It’s a small world.”

Freedom Hawk’s bassist, Mark Cave, says the Virginia band formed in 2003 but didn’t really get going until two years after that: “We started playing out in 2005, recorded a demo and it really took off from there,” he says. “We got hooked up with Small Stone by way of Erik Larson from Alabama Thunderpussy, who’s from Richmond, Va. He plays in a quasi-supergroup with other friends of ours.”

Thompson says that Lo-Pan’s set at the Stick will be “really loud, in your face rock ’n’ roll. We try to give it 100 percent all the time; don’t let off the gas pedal.”

Meanwhile, Grotto says that Gozu is going to bring the ruckus: “We’re putting together a set list now,” he says. “We’ll definitely focus on songs from the newer album. We’ve got tricks up our sleeves but I don’t want to show our hand too early. A lot of the older tunes are beloved, so we’ll do some of those.”

Cave of Freedom Hawk says their band will air some new material too. “We’ll play ‘Blood Red Sky,’ a new song. It may not end up exactly as it is when we play it in Detroit, when it’s on the new record. It should be better, we hope. That’s all I know for now. Our goal is to get another one together. Other than that, we’ll be playing songs from all three albums.

Thompson, Grotto and Cave all like their beer, but Grotto has taken it a step further by actually working with it. The Gozu man’s day job is working for Smuttynose Brewing Co. in Portsmouth, N.H. (

“We just opened up in Michigan a couple of weeks ago,” Grotto says. “We’re going on our 20th year … we’re most known for our IPA; the BeerAdvocate [] gave our IPA 100 points, which doesn’t happen. That was one of my favorite beers even before I got the job with Smuttynose. I was stoked to be able to sell that beer for a living.”

Grotto believes that a good beer depends on the consumer’s mood and that true micro-brews — those not surreptitiously made by major-label breweries — embody trustworthiness.

“Like with music, it’s all about integrity,” he says. “There are a lot of craft breweries that don’t necessarily really even brew their own beer … for me, it’s all about the realness and integrity of the brewery, and obviously quality goes a long way.

“I’m a big hop-head; I like hoppy beers,” Grotto says, adding that Michigan has one of the best beer scenes in the country right now. “There are an amazing number of craft breweries [here]. Founders in that Grand Rapids area — something like 70 percent of the staff are musicians as well. That’s the same with out Smuttynose. It’s a great way for degenerate drunks to have a day job.”

Thompson, on the other hand, likes “big, rowdy Belgians.” And, unlike Grotto, can pass on the hops. “There are people out there that love the taste of hops. I personally am not a fan,” he says. “That could be a bad beer to me, but it’s probably well-crafted — outside of my opinion — I think opinions are what make bad beer. I’ve been known to drink Pabst — it gives me heartburn, but what are you gonna do?”

Meanwhile, Cave is a fan of foreign beers. “I’m a very big fan of Belgian lights,” he says. “I really like Boddingtons a lot too. I also like Mexican brews like Pacifico. I definitely like microbrews too. Wherever we tour, if there’s a microbrew, we gravitate toward there and try it out.

“There’s a place in San Diego that brews beer in Merlot barrels, so it has the slight taste of Merlot. I have a friend in Austin who made a Reese’s Peanut Butter beer. I didn’t taste it, but he’s not a chemist. Because of the peanut oil, it didn’t mix right and [that] essentially made it super-strong. It was something ridiculous, like 20 percent alcohol. I don’t think he measured it.”

A strong, peanut butter-flavored beer? Lead us to it.

Freedom Hawk, Gozu and Lo-Pan play with Luder and the Brought Low at the Magic Stick on Saturday, Oct. 19; 4120 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-9700.

Brett Callwood is a staff writer for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]

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