This year, for April 20th, I made a mammoth mixtape: 420 Stoner Rock. And yes, this mix is exactly 420 songs deep with bands old and new. For the record, I can’t stand the term “stoner rock.” In my opinion, it pigeonholes an entire population of musicians as nothing more than dimwitted stoners with loud guitars. But listen to this mix and you’ll hear how the genre offers up much more. Calling something “stoner rock” reminds me of the early ‘90s when snarky music writers similarly dismissed bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh as “slacker rock.”
The origins of stoner rock can be found in a movement that was coined, “desert rock.” In the late ‘80s and early ‘90s there was a community of musicians based in the Palm Desert of Southern California who blended bits of classic hard rock, blues, psychedelia, heavy metal and hardcore. This scene spawned such bands as Queens Of The Stone Age, Kyuss, Nebula, Fu Manchu and the aptly named collective The Desert Sessions. Of course the sound wasn’t just isolated to this region. For example, Monster Magnet hails from Red Bank, New Jersey. Red Fang are from Portland, Oregon and Mastodon are from Atlanta, Georgia. Northern California’s Sleep has often been regarded as the quintessential stoner rock band. They basically turned Black Sabbath into an entire genre.
As a musician, I get thrown under the stoner rock label all too often. It started back when I sang for Parchman Farm. We were young and fawning over the fist two records by San Francisco hard rock legends Blue Cheer. They pumped blues riffs through huge walls of tube amps; inadvertently inventing what is today called “proto metal.” Rather than try to recreate the past, the four of us aimed to take those huge sonic textures and blend them into more complex arrangements and a harder grooving rhythm section that had more in common with early Funkadelic. Yet we were still panned by various alt weekly freelance scribes as stoner rock. My current band Hot Lunch plays old school hard rock at punk paced speeds – we rarely get sludgy – but they still call us stoner rock.
The penchant for coming up with catchy riffs has also hatched the term “riff-rock.” And since the fuzz-box effect pedal is a requisite piece of gear for guitarists and bass players of this ilk, the genre has also been described as “fuzz-rock.” But at the end of the day, stoner rock will always be called stoner rock. And honestly, it’s not so bad to be lumped in with the bands I love at the small price of a title that’s merely annoying.