During their high school years, John-Keith Culbreth and William Blackburn of Stop Light Observations would often visit Culbreth’s parents’ cabin at Toogoodoo Bluff in South Carolina to get away from adults and drink beer. Even before the two became heavily invested in making music, Blackburn would always insist Toogoodoo would be a great place to record an album.
“We always kind of brushed it off as something funny,” Blackburn says. “That would be cool, but is that actually achievable, and the answer was almost always no.” That is until now.
The band made made up of Blackburn (vocals), Culbreth (songwriter, piano, synth, vocals), Louis Duffie (guitar, synth, percussion) and Luke Withers (drums) will release their second full length album, Toogoodoo, Aug. 26.
Coming off the success of their psychedelic blues debut LP, Radiation, SLO recorded two new songs, but the band just wasn’t really feeling them. Blackburn said the new tracks had a “dense electronica sound” and came off as “more produced and less authentic at times.” Short on time, running out of options and lacking a producer and a good amount a recording equipment, SLO needed to make a new album if they wanted to continue to be a band. The chance to record at Toogoodoo arrived.
Inspired by honest, live soul and R&B music of the 60s’, the band recorded the entirety of it second album in about 14 days at Culbreth’s cabin.
“I was a little worried that it might not actually happen,” Blackburn says, “but John-Keith was very adamant about recording it live, and I was so glad that he was because I’m actually quite proud to say we recorded a live album in this day and age.”
Blackburn says Toogoodoo is a much more honest representation of SLO compared to Radiation, but he also feared it might be their last album.
“That pressure on all of us definitely encouraged us to do our absolute best and leave it all here,” Blackburn says. “If this was the last one you make, you can go on in life saying, ‘I tried my very best and this is a reflection of what I think my very best is.'”
Blackburn is divisive whether Toogoodoo will be SLO’s last album.
“To be honest, I don’t think this is our last record,” he says. “I would hate to let down all the people who support us. But, from a musical standpoint, it’s tough to say nowadays. How do you know this won’t be the last album? People have ADD. They don’t latch onto artists as much as they used to because content is just constantly being rolled out for them. It get’s me thinking.”
Although typically classified as mix of southern rock, blues and psychedelic, SLO is also established on gospel.
“Gospel music has been super influential in my life because I was around the church so much and so was John-Keith,” Blackburn says. “Really all of us were raised in the church.”
Even though gospel music plays a role is SLO’s creative process, Blackburn said they don’t want to limit themselves from exploring any other genres.
“As we move and groove through who we are as people, we may decide we’re feeling a little more Cage the Elephant than Aretha Franklin today,” he says.
Blackburn noted how artist such as Ray Charles and Etta James used gospel chord progressions and changed the lyrics and how in a way all blues and rock n’ roll is rooted in gospel.
Another key factor in SLO’s songs is deep storytelling.
“John-Keith is an incredible storyteller,” Blackburn say. “It’s interesting to be paired with him because sometimes I get to bring a little bit of life to a story that he’s come up with and in a way I’ll feel like the song truly reflects my life at the time.”
The song “Leroy” is a tribute to an old homeless gullah, a West African living in South Carolina, who would ride his bike around town offering to wash people’s cars. Culbreth’s dad even hired Leroy to work for him.
“He’s this Old Village character who eventually got close to our family,” Culbreth says. “If you’re not from the South, you won’t be able to understand like a single word he says, but he knows everybody’s name in downtown Charleston. He’s totally a crazy character.”
“Leroy” chronicles a drug kingpin named Jackie who’s run out of dope, but when he hears of Leroy, the main grower for all the big suppliers, Jackie decides to ambush Leroy and steal his stash. Things don’t go well for the Jackie and his crew.
One of the last lines in the songs is, “When the gunshots cleared and the smoke all settled/No Leroy was in sight.”
“I picture Leroy never really existed at all and all of Jackie’s gang got cut down by this gullah geechee ghost,” Culbreth says. “Leroy’s one of the strangest, most unique personalities you’d ever meet.”
Another standout song on Toogoodoo is “Security”: an anthem for millennials expressing the lack of communication with and support for each other. Blackburn calls this the most concerning part of cultural existence right now.
“The social connections we’re having on the Internet are the most anti social connections of all,” Blackburn says. “They don’t involve any eye contact. They don’t involve any conviction in the voice. We start to idealize people in a world that doesn’t really exist. You can’t reach out and touch what’s happening on Instagram. People think they need to have the lips of Kylie Jenner and that they need to have the ass of Kim Kardashian. I believe we’re starting to create this utopia people can live in, which is so far from anything that’s actually happening on the planet. People are so absorbed into themselves nowadays that they forget to give gratitude or even look to other people for advice.”
To Blackburn, “Security” is about being a young man or woman and not knowing if you should be hopeful for the future.
He asks,”‘Is this degree I have worth a damn? Is this stuff that I spent so much money on and years and years of my life on is actually gonna get me out of this debt that I’ve acquired? Where is my country to help me?'”
With the current Hilary/Trump election, Blackburn said he believes this is the perfect time for “Security” to drop.
“I don’t know much cause I’ve only seen three different elections,” he says, “but it seems like we’re more divided than we’ve ever been, and it’s upsetting it’s that way after we’ve had our first African American president to be left in a way where us as young people feel the American dream is dying and we really need to preserve some of the progress that’s been happening in the last 8-10 years. That song for me is about being the struggle of being a young man. We have it the best out of any generation in this country. We have all the opportunity we could ever want and I think a lot of it is laziness and our lack to seize the day, but at the same time you’re a product of the environment you live in, and we are creating an environment that is not conducive for progress and happiness. The song is heavy as hell.”
Running off the good vibes of Toogoodoo, SLO is currently working on something new.
“We haven’t even released the second album yet, but we’ve already got this collection of songs we’re trying to shed from the mind,” Blackburn says.