Stillwell’s new album Supernatural Miracle represents a paradigm shift in the US alternative rock supergroup’s 14-year career. For their fourth release, the band members have completely switched instruments, they’ve ditched labels to do their first independent record, and they’ve introduced a mascot. Starting with the most significant changes, Korn’s Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu has moved to his natural home of bass after handling guitar for their previous EP and two LPs, and Kings Bounty and Arsonists frontman Anthony “Q-Unique” Quiles has taken up singing and guitar, giving the rap/singing hybrid style a rest. Rounding out the trio is P.O.D.’s Noah “Wuv” Bernardo, who remains on drums. Pablo “Spider” Silva, who played bass from 2006 – 2018 has retired from the band and music in general.
Grater recently caught up with Quiles on the phone from Laguna Hills, California. Usually at home in New York, he flew to the West Coast in August to be with his bandmates to figure out how to promote the record in the middle of a pandemic. So here’s Quiles to run through the changes and provide an in-depth look into the album. “Fieldy was definitely comfortable going back to bass, because bass is his office,” he says. “Guitar was a little more of a challenge for him and what Wuv noticed instantly was once the demos were getting done, there was a better cohesiveness to what was going on. Now I was writing exactly to the way I was singing, whereas when I would work with Fieldy, he would play a riff and I would have to stab around to see where my places were … it was more of a guessing game. With this, I’m able to sit with the guitar and have a melody and come up with words and things and it’s going in a more cohesive direction and all the songs connected a little more tighter than the previous releases… according to Wuv. He also said, ‘Man, we sound like one band instead of eight bands doing one album.”
After going with the rap-rock approach on 2011’s EP Surrounded by Liars, 2011’s LP Dirtbag, and 2015’s LP Raise It Up, this time Quiles decided to embrace his rock influences wholeheartedly. “I stepped away from putting Q Unique into the Stillwell thing,” he says. “I think that I was able to actually come with my vibe; the bucket of music that inspired me. So when I approached this, I was able to approach it with my influences like Oasis, Stone Temple Pilots, and Live and all of those alternative 90s bands that I grew up on and listened to. They were very important to me and they moulded me as a lyricist. And obviously now I’m able to step away from hiding behind the rapper thing and being a little more of who I am today.”
Not holding back, Quiles even refers to their first release as a “train wreck”. “… The first album to me is more of a train wreck demo,” he laughs. “It’s kind of hard for me to sit and really listen through that album.” The second album is where things started to turn around for Quiles as an artist thanks to the collaboration with producer Chris Collier (Prong), who pointed him to where he should be vocally. “Then from there, (drummer) Ray Luzier from Korn had told me, ‘Hey Q, you really want to do this seriously, you need to go back to New York when the tour is done and go to a vocal coach man and really jump in because you’re not doing this as a hobby’. When he got back home, he went to an opera building in the middle of Manhattan on 30th Street and Jennifer Smolos became his coach. “I learned so much from her … Now I’m in a comfortable place. You can hear it. You go through the album, you can hear it now. (I’m) more confident and comfortable where I am.”
Silva’s departure in 2018 also had a profound impact on the way Stillwell transformed into its most cohesive form yet. “Now with with the way things have changed, this game is not built for everyone,” Quiles says. “He’s a really cool guy; got a lot of love for him. He was there to actually push me through and tell me to keep on going, keep at it, keep on going. He just found at the end of the road, this lifestyle isn’t really for me and he ended up becoming a civilian.” This was a blessing in disguise, because it pushed Quiles to pick up the guitar and instead of just playing around with it every once in a while, it pushed him to actually focus, sit down and write songs. “You’ve got to imagine what it feels like to write the songs and then you present them to two veterans – Wuv from POD and Fieldy from Korn – and you’re like, ‘Well, here’s what I came up with’. And they’re both like, ‘Yeah, that was awesome’. And it’s surreal. It’s trippy. And so him leaving was actually a push for me to step into a whole new world.”
If a band member leaving and two-thirds of the band changing instruments wasn’t enough, the guys decided to do this record on their own. “This is definitely do-it-yourself. We’re getting help from Velvet Hammer (management group) – they’ve definitely been a tremendous help for us. But as far as moving forward and putting the music together and getting it out there and promoting it every day with live feeds, that’s definitely our own hand. And it’s been quite the experience, because I never thought in a zillion years that I’d have to rely on social media as heavily as I am right now. And it is what it is. I’m not complaining about it. I’m kind of happy that there’s something here to help us along the way. It’s crazy because it’s been around for so long, but it still feels brand new to me – the whole experience of using all of these different (platforms like) Twitter and Facebook and YouTube and Instagram … it’s fascinating.”
Before the band decided to pump out a plethora of popular videos to promote the album, they decided it had to be a fun vibe. “… Our whole aim is to have fun … some people are confused by it. They don’t know what to make of it. Having a guy from Korn in the band, they think that he’s some sort of an angry vampire, I don’t know what,” he laughs. “So when they see us having fun, some people enjoy it and some people are turned off. You can’t satisfy everyone … it’s basically because the world is so intense right now with all these different things happening from political climate, to viruses, to fires, but we just kind of like looked at each other like, ‘We need to have fun, and we need to spread the fun because we’re not gonna give in to this’. Quiles says they’re taking a page from Dave Grohl’s book. “Whenever I watch Dave Grohl, it always looks like he’s having fun. He’s funny. Ninety per cent of the Foo Fighters music videos are hilarious. They play dress up, they do comedy sketches. He has so many videos where he’s just goofing around. I don’t look at it as stupid – he’s having fun and having the time of his life. I told Fieldy, ‘If we’re we’re gonna push this, I want it to be fun. We have people sending us things like ‘We make their day’ and they look forward to the videos. That means a lot. And Fieldy and I understand that now it’s our responsibility in order to signal people to what we’re doing musically, we’re gonna have to do these live videos because we can’t do shows, and we’re not going to sit and cry about it. This is what it is. And we got to make the best of it and have fun with it.”
As for the new rhino mascot Peter, Quiles says the idea is part spontaneous and part rooted in family and musical history. “I chose the name Peter because (of) my cousin .. who’s much older than me. When I was a little kid, he was the first person who introduced me to rock and heavier music like Black Sabbath and bands like that, and he would bring me in the room and be like, ‘Sit down and shut up’ and play all these records. I was too young to really understand what was going on, but it was like he was planting a seed of listening and appreciating this heavy music. And it stood with me and I recognise him as the first person to do that. So I’m paying homage to my cousin Peter. And the rhino – we all have like our favourite animals. A rhino definitely, for me, ranks up there as a very unique looking and type of animal, and I’ve always enjoyed that animal, so we just went with that. We wanted to do an action figure or figurine from the first album, and it just didn’t happen thankfully, because I know I wasn’t ready back then. I just wasn’t ready yet, stepping into this new role. Now, I’m more ready for whatever is going to be thrown at us. So having the figure now is a blessing.”
Speaking of blessings, many people are also interested to know where an album name like Supernatural Miracle came from or where a song like “A Come To Jesus Moment” originated. “One of the reasons why we called the album Supernatural Miracle; everything fell into place, from writing, recording, schedules, videos and artwork; this album has been a smooth journey. “(In terms of A Come To Jesus Moment), it’s an interesting song – the history of the song, even the story.” Stillwell started writing the song in LA and Quiles had all the verses mapped out and knew the chords that he was going to play for the chorus, but he didn’t have the words. “We went back to Southern California and one day Fieldy comes down to his studio and I’m there and I’m going over the song, and he was like, ‘Dude, you have to put Jesus’ name in the chorus’. And I’m looking at him like he has three heads, like, ‘What? What do you mean?’ And he’s like, ‘I had a dream – the name kept coming up and I just feel like we have to put it in the chorus’. In my head, I’m like, ‘I don’t want to do that’. Big responsibility… I respect people’s walks and I never think of myself as the best example of anything. So I’m nervous and like, ‘Mannn, we got to do this’. So then, I don’t know what happened. I just started playing and the words just poured out without even a struggle; it just came out. And the song … stands for all of us come to that moment where we feel broken, where we’ve just played a little too hard in life, and we come to that crossroad of having that ‘come to Jesus moment’. Whether it’s a figure of speech, or that spiritual crossroad, I think that’s up to the listener. And that’s interesting, because … I’ve seen a few people debate about the subject and I knew when you use that name, it sparks debate, and it sparks conversation and arguments. I knew that was gonna happen, but I know for me, it could be two different ways – it could be very spiritual, or it could be that moment when you’re just on your knees like ‘I need help’.”
So if you thought you knew Q, Fieldy or Wuv, think again. They’ve changed their instruments, their sound, they’re doing things DIY, and above all, they’re trying to have fun amid the craziness that is 2020.