By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Foothills Focus Executive Editor
Black Bottom Lighters singer Ryan Stilwell just wants to provide for his family. He knows he’s not different from anyone else, but he tells the story differently than others.
The band’s new song “Runnin’” is a desert-reggae ode to that.
“It’s about basically a time in my life when my wife and I had a new baby and we were transitioning in our lives,” he said. “It’s not just me but the whole band and our fans. We’re all growing together.
“It’s a very relatable topic of just doing what we have to do to get food on the table and provide for the family. That’s what it embodies.”
Like most Black Bottom Lighters songs, “Runnin’” isn’t a downer.
“We made the music more upbeat and playful so it’s not taken so seriously,” he said with a laugh. “That’s what we try to live by. We can’t take everything so seriously.”
The song was to be featured in the band’s set when it played Wasted Grain in Scottsdale on July 3. However, that show was postponed until Friday, August 14, due to the bar’s month-long closure.
Black Bottom Lighters—which features Stilwell of Waddell; keyboardist Kelyn Weaver Bo of Phoenix; bassist Jose Aquino of Peoria; rhythm guitarist Mike Proctor and lead guitarist Phil Keiser of Cave Creek; and drummer Ryan McPhatter of Cottonwood—stayed busy during the pandemic and quarantine. They devoted themselves to writing and getting back to their roots.
“We couldn’t travel as much with the pandemic, so why not?” Stilwell said. “Our focus is to continue being creative. We have quite a few songs in our back pocket that we’re sitting on. We have a little ways left to go on them, but one or two of them are fully written. We’re going to mix and master them and start packaging it as an EP and get the concept down.”
For the past few years, the band has jumped around from studio to studio, just trying to spread its musical wings and bring diversity to Black Bottom Lighters. One notable collaborator was Mike Bolenbach at Full Well Recording Studio in Phoenix.
“The guys are super, super talented already,” Bolenbach said. “They bring well-written songs to the studio and they’re all excellent musicians. I just try to capture the essence of the band.
“The band’s vibe is great, too. We just try to capture what they are as honestly as we can.”
The recording process for “Runnin’” was different from other projects in that Black Bottom Lighters experimented with the musicians being in separate rooms but recording live.
“The live sound is, to be honest, why a lot of people like to come see our shows,” Stilwell said. “We have high energy and live vibes. We got that idea from working with Pepper in Redondo Beach. We were in the same room there, but there was a lot of bleeding through the mic. If we’re in separate rooms and playing at the same time, it’s a lot cleaner.”
Black Bottom Lighters were in Redondo Beach to record the song “The Get Back” at Pepper’s Kona Town Recording.
Stilwell has fantasized about a music career since he was young, attending his first concert (Brooks and Dunn and Shania Twain) with his family as a child in Litchfield Park.
“It was awesome,” he said, smiling. “The first concert that was my choice was Slightly Stoopid and G. Love. That changed my whole outlook on live music. They’re a jam band, and a lot of the songs you hear on the album are completely different live. Every single night, they do something different.
“I always thought sounding like the album was the best way to sound. In our industry, it’s better to do what you feel. It makes the live aspect way more real.”
A pitcher for Millennium High School’s baseball team, Stilwell didn’t take music seriously until he gave up the sport at Eastern Arizona University.
“After baseball had come and gone, I was working a 9-to-5 and I was laid off,” he said. “I figured I would start a band. It ended up working.”
Founded in 2010, Black Bottom Lighters gained a reputation around town for its house parties. Its full-length debut, “2 or 2,000,” is telling.
“Our first album was ‘2 or 2,000,’” Stilwell said. “It doesn’t matter how many people are there or what the occasion is, we’re going on that stage and put it all out there no matter who’s out there, no matter where we are.”
In 2016, it released the EP “Pipe Dream,” which features the track “Peace, Love & Smoke Rings” with Layzie Bone from Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Black Bottom Lighters toured the United States in support of the single and have continued to do so.
“We’re grown with our fanbase, and it’s time to transition into the next chapter of our lives,” Stilwell said. “I’d like to just remain as close as possible with the guys and really just continue to push our creativity and see where the music takes us.”