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Famous Memphis studio is a comfortable fit for the Indiana duo The Cold Stares

A stage-3 cancer diagnosis in 2012 rocked Chris Tapp’s health, and his post-recovery outlook has played a huge part in what he does as frontman for The Cold Stares.

In the years since undergoing many months of radiation and chemotherapy for melanoma, singer-songwriter-guitarist Tapp says, “I’ve felt like there’s no reason to do something half-assed.” That attitude, he adds, contributed in part to him and Cold Stares drummer Brian Mullins deciding to record the material for their 2019 album, Ways, and their latest, Heavy Shoes, at Sam Phillips Recording in Memphis, Tennessee.

“If we were going to do another album,” Tapp recalls thinking before Ways, “why would we not want to record somewhere that has a history of great music being recorded there?”

After a two-week search, they chose the Phillips facility, which is still owned and operated by the late namesake’s family.

“It felt like home to us,” Tapp recalls, “and we had such a good experience on [Ways], it was a no-brainer to go back in there for this one. I wanted this record to kind of be a continuation of the last record, but it’s a much heavier record, yet still spawning from that other record.”

Heavy Shoes arrived in August via the Mascot Label Group (also the home of Walter Trout, Robby Krieger and Steve Cropper, among others). Tapp and Mullins tracked the music for nearly all of the songs in one day at Sam Phillips in January 2020, with Tapp finishing up the lyrics afterward. (Some recording for Heavy Shoes was done at the band’s Indiana studio.) By summer 2020, they had two new songs ready to join the others: “Election Blues” and “It’s a Game.”

Both tunes are about politics, Tapp says. Close friends had told him to stay away from that topic.

“[They said to me] everybody’s so polarized, you’re going to lose half the country, and I wasn’t going to accept that because I was really riled up about politics,” Tapp explains. “And it wasn’t because I was on one side or the other. I just felt like the whole situation was [bad], and everybody in the United States was getting screwed one way or the other, no matter who you supported or who you were behind.

“At this point, I can’t write songs without coming from an honest place,” he adds. “ ‘Honesty’ and ‘authenticity’ — those terms get thrown around, and everybody wants to have those in their camp. My problem may be that I’m too honest about some things sometimes, and it may turn some people off. But at my age and after everything I’ve been through, I really [don’t worry about that]. I’m just going to do what I do.”

The title track, he says, “was one of those where at the time I just felt completely beat down. At the beginning of 2020, we had all these festivals lined up — it was going to be the biggest year ever [for us], then it all just crumbled underneath us with COVID and everything else. And that song and [the first single] ‘Hard Times’ are just about getting your ass whooped and handed to you and no matter what you do, you can’t get on your feet.

“I’ve felt like that a number of times in my life. When I had cancer, [my band at the time] had just signed a production deal. We had record labels flying to Evansville to see us, and I had to turn around and tell them I would be going through chemo and radiation for the next 18 months, and they all passed [on signing us]. … [With ‘Heavy Shoes’ and ‘Hard Times’], I hope for the listener to hear those and think, ‘I feel like that sometimes, too.’ ”

— By Chris M. Junior

The Cold Stares on tour (schedule subject to change):

  • Sept. 26: Mountain Arts Center — Prestonburg, Kentucky
  • Oct. 7: Bogart’s — Cincinnati
  • Oct. 10: Aftershock Festival — Sacramento

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