Load Tedo Stone’s new album Marshes into iTunes and it proudly self-categorizes as Indie Rock. To me, though, that’s too confining a descriptor—it doesn’t do justice to Stone’s reverb-laden majesty or to his classic Southern rock melodicism. Perhaps a better genre identifier would come from simply borrowing the name of Stone’s record label: This Is American Music.
“I first heard My Morning Jacket around the time they put out Z,” Stone happily concedes over lunch at the Carroll St. Café in his Cabbagetown neighborhood. “I’ve probably seen them live like 15 times, so I can see how some of that has soaked in.” As the baby of the family, the Covington native grew up with a myriad of earlier influences as well. His older brother years—16 years his senior—was into the Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead, while one of his sisters was a “textbook 90s alternative kid.” Stone’s father played in R&B tribute bands in his younger days. “I remember being mesmerized even before I could get my hands around the guitar, sitting with my dad on the bed and him playing ‘Mustang Sally.’”
Tedo (short for Theodore, a nickname he shares with a great uncle; “It’s on my debit card, even,” as Stone demonstrates to me) acknowledges that Marshes reflects the first time he’s really found his sound. Even so, the album still isn’t the work of a stable, cohesive band—counting on both hands he tallies eight contributors to the album overall, with the touring band (save for the drummer) drawn from that cohort. “As soon as these new guys started playing together, the old stuff just took on a new life,” he marvels, with the keyboard lines of his 2013 debut full-length Good Go Bad now reworked into a classic two-guitar rock context. “I’m the only one (in the band) not living in Athens,” where they’ve done most of their recording. “I almost feel like we’re more connected to that scene.”
Stone went to college at Ole Miss, where he played a supporting role in the band Ramblehorse with his pal Chip Bradley, but he’s been writing and home recording his own material since high school. He released his first solo EP (“it has kind of a country twang,” he offers) in 2012 after moving back to Atlanta. “I was kind of late on the draw. Most of the guys I play with are four or five years younger,” though you’d never know it from looking at the baby-faced 28-year-old.
Marshes was originally envisioned as an EP as well, with Stone recording its initial three songs soon after Good Go Bad. “Then I moved to New Orleans for six months, collected myself, went through some things….” he trails off. Sure enough, Marshes bears the markings of an album fueled by that tried and true catalyst, romantic turmoil. Check the irresistible refrain that propels the opening title track: “I’ll be fine/Ain’t the first time that you left.” Stone says he wrote most of the album in a creative burst during a trip with buddies to St. Simons Island, repeatedly slipping away to sing ideas into his iPhone.
During a Sunday night set at the EARL in East Atlanta the band sounds impressively tight and full-bodied; I was shocked to learn later it was the quartet’s first show with new drummer Chris Mala. “To the Marshes” stands out as the calling card, but the insistent guitar line of the winding “Mind Wasted” reaches lofty heights as well. Stone has drawn comparisons to Dinosaur Jr., which makes sense on denser fuzzed-out tracks like “Way Gone,” but the similarity owes mostly to Tedo’s reedy voice. Personally I hear more Neil Young and Jim James than J Mascis.
Stone has had plenty of time to hone his live chops. “Maybe for my 11th birthday my brother gave me an old bass of his, and I started playing in a buddy’s basement with a group of guys three or four years older than me,” he recounts. “We ended up playing a motorcycle bar in Covington, stuff like Smashing Pumpkins, and we had a couple of originals we did. They made us call our parents, like ‘y’all can’t be in here without an adult.’ There was a rough, motley crew of guys sitting at the bar and they were not havin’ it,” he laughs in retrospect. But the show was not quite a one-off. “One of the other guys’ dad was a preacher and we had a concert in his church sanctuary on a Saturday night.”
With Tedo Stone and his quartet embarking on a more far-reaching itinerary to spread the gospel of Marshes, their barroom-ready rock is poised to receive more spirited Saturday night receptions.