Paul McCoy is blessed. At the dawn of the 21st-century, Paul and his bandmates in 12 Stones, after having known each other for less than seven months, were signed by Wind-up Records, the home of the multi-platinum band Creed. Most of the members of 12 Stones, all of whom reside in St. Tammany Parish, were not yet 21. There are numerous Louisiana rock bands that have been together for years and never signed any kind of record deal, much less a contract with a major company. The success of 12 Stones was unprecedented.
The band’s name is derived from Exodus 28:15-21, where it is revealed that the High Priest Aaron wore the hoshen, a “breastplate of judgment with cunning work” studded with 12 stones in “even four rows” (sardius, topaz, carbuncle, emerald, sapphire, diamond, ligure, agate, amethyst, beryl, onyx and jasper) representing the 12 tribes of Israel. In Revelation 21:19-20, post-Apocalyptic Jerusalem is described as a golden city on a high mountain surrounded by a wall with a foundation “garnished with all manner of precious stones”—jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolyte, beryl, topaz, chrysoprasus, jacinth and amethyst. Rock theologians might also revel in the unintended linguistic relationship to Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone,” Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone,” the Temptations’ “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” Rolling Stone magazine and a certain English band with a lead singer named Mick Jagger.
12 Stones’ lyrics, instead of concentrating on typical rock themes of lust, lechery and libations, examine salvation and sacrifice. Some of the lyrics are fairly ambiguous while others come direct from Golgotha: “I question why you chose to die when you knew your truth I would deny.” In the album liner notes, Paul McCoy commences his acknowledgments thusly: “First I would like to thank Jesus for guiding my steps and opening my eyes.” Paul’s fellow band members profess similar beliefs, although proselytizing is not part of the master plan.
Then came Evanescence, a rock band from Arkansas that shares a religion, a record label, producers (former Mandeville resident Dave Fortman and North Hollywood’s Jay Baumgardner) and an attorney with 12 Stones. The idea was to couple Evanescence’s female vocalist Amy Lee with 12 Stones’ Paul McCoy and the result was “Bring Me To Life,” a rock anthem that has ruled the charts—all of the charts—for months. It’s one of those “overnight” success stories that can only happen in rock music, where one minute you’re in the garage and the next, you’re on stage at Radio City Music Hall, presenting Video Music Awards. In the gloomy climate of current record retailing, Evanescence has been 2003’s only ray of rock sunlight.
The Philip Stolzl-directed video for “Bring Me To Life,” with Amy clinging to the window ledge of a dark skyscraper and Paul unsuccessfully attempting to save her, was aired constantly. Teenage girls around the planet fell in love with spiky-haired, tattooed Paul, who, despite his devotion to Jesus, screams and growls like the personification of Satan. Or perhaps it’s the roar of a tough avenging angel intent on slaying Satan. The implicit message is that Christians aren’t necessarily wusses.
After spending the summer on the road with Creed, Paul and 12 Stones returned home to begin work on the band’s second album. Meanwhile, I began pursuing this interview. Since 12 Stones was from my ’hood—St. Tammany, I figured that it would be an easy assignment.
Alas, there were complications. Paul was overwhelmed by the creation of songs for the new album. He wanted to do a phone interview. Phone interviews suck, mainly because you’re not looking your subject in the eye and you don’t have his undivided attention. But Paul is a rock star—our rock star—so a phone interview was better than no interview.
I was given his girlfriend’s cell phone number. I called at the appointed hour on the appointed day. Paul answered and I pled with him: “Come on—we’re practically neighbors. Let’s do it in person.” He told me he didn’t have wheels (the Lexus he bought with his record company advance had been stolen). I said that I would drive to him and then, dead air. The girlfriend’s cell phone conked out. Modern technology had failed us.
I called his manager and I called his record company. Another band member was summoned to bring Paul another cell phone so that he could do the interview. I prayed. A couple of hours later, Paul called back and the interview began. Besides his many other endearing qualities, Paul McCoy was the most polite rock star I’ve ever encountered.
It must be pretty exciting to be on MTV constantly.
Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s gotten a lot of new respect for 12 Stones.
Did you negotiate a deal where your name and the band’s had to appear on the video?
Yeah, just because—especially for Evanescence, they wanted to show a separation between the two artists. They didn’t want people to think that I was part of Evanescence, for both of the bands’ sakes. That way, when the album came out, they wouldn’t think it was a guy and girl singer combo for Evanescence.
How did you hook up with Evanescence to be the guest vocalist on “Bring Me To Life”?
We’re just on the same record label and it was kind of one of those things where I was in the office, listening to tracks and making comments about wanting to be on it. I got the chance, had the opportunity, flew out, did it and left it like that.
Did they write the song intending to have a male vocalist?
In the original version of the song, there was not a male singer. I think I was added shortly thereafter.
Why did they shoot it in Bucharest, Romania?
That’s where the director was from and that’s where his crew was from. So it was easier for us to go there, bringing just five people, than it was for him to bring all of his crew and props to Hollywood.
That was your first trip to Europe?
Oh yeah—first time ever. It was pretty cool. Actually, there was three feet of snow on the ground while we were there.
When did you start singing, Paul?
When I was 17 I started singing in a church youth group. With my buddies, goofing around, we started a little band. I was about 16 or 17.
I saw you perform at the Trailhead in Mandeville and you’re really a fantastic vocalist and performer.
How are you going to save your voice, screaming like that all the time?
Ah, I got used to it—in July, we only had three days that weren’t show dates. With 27 shows in a month, you get used to it.
You really are a great rock screamer. Do you have some favorite rock vocalists?
Silverchair is a big favorite of mine. That’s one of the only ones I could say.
What kind of music do you listen to nowadays?
I’m listening to Finger Eleven a lot. I really like those guys. I listen to a lot of different stuff—a lot of Incubus. I’m still a huge Silverchair fan so I listen to them a lot. I really don’t have much time to listen because we’re doing the writing for the new album so I try not to fill my head with too many other ideas.
How do you write songs?
We write all the music as a group. One person will bring a piece of this song and another person will bring a piece of this song. Once the music’s completely done, I’ll sit down and work on the lyrics.
It’s great that you’re presenting a really positive outlook in your lyrics. It’s unusual in these times.
It’s so rare because there’s so many bands out that are really pushing a negative vibe. It seemed important at the time to say something that was positive.
I know you don’t consider yourselves a Christian rock band, but your lyrics mostly deal with God and Christ and faith, right?
Right. I mean, we leave them open enough to where everybody can translate what they want. I write about what I know. A lot of times what I know is what I learned growing up, where I spent a lot of time in the church, and with my family. I had a lot of friends that had different problems growing up. I just kind of write about what I know. To some people it seems spiritual, to some it doesn’t. It’s all in the translation, it’s all in what people hear.
Are you ever going to write pure romantic songs?
You never know, you never know. We’ll see how that goes.
I understand that the name 12 Stones comes from the Bible, but it is a bit similar to the Rolling Stones.
Yeah, we both have Stones in our names.
You’re not a Rolling Stones fan, huh?
No, I grew up listening to country-western with my dad. I never really got into rock until I was like 15 or 16. That’s when I heard my first rock song.
How did that happen? Most people are bombarded with rock from birth on.
We moved from Florence, Mississippi, just south of Jackson, to Mandeville, Louisiana, when I was about 10. My friends here—none of them listened to country; they all listened to rock so I started listening and learning rock as I went though middle school to junior high. Then I got really into it.
Did you find it hard growing up in Mandeville? From my own experience, raising two sons in St. Tammany, they often complained that it was the Most Boring Place in the World.
Yeah, I had a lot of fun because I had good friends. I had a really good time growing up here. But we had a lot of days when there was just nothing to do and nothing going on. Luckily I had music so we made our own fun. When there was nothing else to do, we’d sit around and goof off with the guitars. I had a good time growing up but I know a lot of people who say it was pretty boring.
How did you learn to write such well-constructed rock songs? Your songs are really beautifully arranged.
Thank you. We actually do a lot of work, when we’re writing our songs. We all, individually, are big fans of music. We just knew what songs are supposed to sound like. After we did our first demo, we got into the studio with a producer and went from there. Dave Fortman did our first demo and ended up co-producing the album and now he’s produced the Evanescence record. He’s doing well for himself.
And, although most of your fans probably don’t recognize it, I love the CD cover photo of the Mandeville lakefront. Are you going to record the next album in Louisiana?
We’re in the process right now—it’s up in the air. We’re working on our new demo and really concentrating on the songs. We’re hoping to record it here.
Do you feel you’re under a lot of pressure because it’s your second record?
Yeah, it’s the sophomore album. We have to come back with something that we’re proud of and that we think a lot of people will like. We’re trying to be extra tedious with it.
Does the company give you advice—such as to make it different from the first album?
Oh sure. Everybody has their opinions of what songs should sound like. Everybody’s a producer. It’s a matter of finding which way sounds the best to everyone, and making it flow.
This issue of OffBeat is about Louisiana rock. Do you think rock gets slighted a lot around here because more roots forms of music are so strong in our culture?
I think that’s absolutely right.
Louisiana has such a strong tradition of music. Do you feel like you’re part of this tradition?
I think we’re non-traditionally involved in the tradition. I think that our style is not traditional to this area; our style’s not incorporated in the tradition. But I think that we, being musicians and living here, we’re bringing Louisiana’s name out there. We’re involved in that way.
Do you always tell people that you’re from Louisiana?
Oh yeah—definitely. A lot of people nationwide don’t know Mandeville so we make sure we say Louisiana and the New Orleans area.
When you got together with the guys in the band, did you consciously seek out musicians who were into Christian themes or did that just happen?
Everybody came in as their own individual person and we just took it as we did. 12 Stones has made itself. We just all showed up at the same place at the same time, nobody really knowing the others. We started goofing off and we’re here today talking about it so…it’s kind of cool.
When did you start getting your tattoos?
I got my first one when I was 18 and I’ve had appointments all the time since then. I actually have about 40, but they’re all running together so it’s all one.
What’s the fascination with tattoos?
I respect the art. I know a lot of people are freaked out by it but it’s a cool way of expression. It’s like a walking portrait or a walking scrapbook.
Do you give the artists ideas for your tattoos?
I create my own and I go in. I come up with all the ideas behind it. I have one tatoo on the side of my neck that’s a spade with a music note through it. And I have “destiny” on the back of my neck in Japanese.
What’s the significance of “destiny”?
I respect it. I think that it’s a huge part of life, you know. Some things are destined and some things are made up—you do it yourself.
And what about the spade?
It’s a personal little touch. Everybody has a spade somewhere, tattoo-wise. I just thought I’d get mine there. My nickname growing up was Ace, like the Ace of Spades.
What are your favorite things to do in New Orleans?
I don’t really ever go to New Orleans. I just hang out. I’m a homebody. I love my family. Every once in a while, I’ll go to Bourbon Street or go hang out with some of the 106.7 [radio station KKND-FM] guys. For the most part, I stay home with my girlfriend and my family and enjoy being here and not being out-of-state. ’Cause you know when we’re on tour, we live in a bar six nights a week. That’s the last thing I want to do when I get home.
Are there any Louisiana bands that you like?
I like the guys in Cowboy Mouth a lot. I was never into a lot of the jazz—I respect it. I just never really got into it.
Did you ever go to the Jazz Festival?
Oh yeah, I went to Jazz Fest, but I started going to it a lot more when they started incorporating a lot of the rock bands.
You’re playing at Voodoo this year.
Yeah, it should be a good turnout.
Does it bother you to play on the same stage with Marilyn Manson?
No, not at all. You know what, I respect him for doing his own thing and not caring what anybody else thinks. I don’t agree with what he says or anything that has to do with that but I respect him because he goes out and does and talks about what he thinks. Most people sit at home and just complain about the world.