When singer Alexis Brown joined Straight Line Stitch back in 2003, the band shared the floor at local dives with other Knoxville bands, most of whom are now gone and forgotten, lost to the vagrant winds of local music history.
This year, in June, the band will play the Download Festival in Donington Park, England, with the likes of Def Leppard, System of a Down, and Linkin Park, and they’ll also tour with the 2011 Rockstar Energy Drink Mayhem Festival, headlined by Megadeth, Disturbed, and Godsmack—all in support of the brand-new The Fight of Our Lives, their second major release on eOne. There’s only one word that adequately summarizes the band’s odyssey.
“Humbling,” Brown says, in a voice that’s surprisingly small, nasal, and very polite, given that she’s both a powerful singer and screamer on record, her vocals the signature element of the band’s melodic metalcore.
“We’ve been on the sidelines of these kinds of shows for years, and to be actually taking part, it’s simply humbling. And after working for so many years, for people to finally stop and take this kind of notice, it feels pretty good.”
Brown’s entrance is a good place to start when talking about SLS history; founding member and guitarist Seth Thacker has said that her coming onboard marked a “rebirth” of sorts for the band. Founded in 1999, SLS’s early local releases showcase a band still searching for an identity, wrestling with nu metal, then hardcore, before Brown joined.
Her presence helped SLS find just the right mix of melody and mayhem, while lending the band’s sound the distinction of an idiosyncratic female stylist, something different from the death-growl/post-emo mewling that seems to make up the vocal menu of most metalcore and screamo outfits today.
With Brown, the band recorded and released a local CD, To Be Godlike, signed with Raging Nation Management, and produced a video with director Dale Resteghini. From there, says Brown, Resteghini and Raging Nation “pushed and pushed and pushed. They got us a showcase. They really believed in us.”
Resteghini believed enough to sign them to his own Raging Nation/KOCH Records imprint, resulting in the band’s 2008 release When Skies Wash Ashore. And then: the road.
“At first, we went on tour with DevilDriver and 36 Crazyfists and Napalm Death, and it was really slow,” Brown says. “Then we went on tour by ourselves a lot. It was a very gradual thing. We couldn’t really see it when it started to happen. First it was five people at a show, then at some point it was 10, and then 20, and then 30. And we were just out there forever; we were exhausted. We couldn’t afford to turn down anything.”
But the situation is different now, with the release of The Fight of Our Lives on March 22. “We’ve matured,” Brown says. “It’s been a learning time. Before, everyone wanted to hold our hand. Now we feel like we want to let go of everyone’s hand, not cater to this person or that person and stand on our own.
“Our new music is more organic,” she adds. “We wrote what we felt, as opposed to trying to nail a specific sound. My lyrics are also very aggressive on this album. I think I felt angered by certain aspects of the music industry, and that came out in the lyrics, in my state of mind.”
As an African-American woman in the white-male-dominated world of heavy rock, Brown is in many ways writing her own rule book, given that she has so few direct antecedents for what she does. (Skin of Britain’s Skunk Anansie comes to mind.)
She says sang R&B when she was younger, even fronted her own band. “I decided I wanted to do something different,” she says.
Seeing Korn perform back in the 1990s was a game-changer, she says. Still, when asked for vocal heroines, she’s hard-pressed to come up with answers—save for one notable, and unanticipated, exception.
“Stevie Nicks,” Brown gushes. “Now, she’s amazing. She’s hands-down one of my favorite singers. She has a very unique voice and I have an odd voice, too. So there’s a little bit of, ‘If she could do it, I could do it, too.’”