by Andrea Myers
“Are you Josh?” I inquire, a bit sheepishly, to the twentysomething guy sauntering into the coffee shop. He and I exchange awkward glances and try to guess if we are here to meet each other. Like some kind of strange blind date, the only descriptor I have for my interviewee is that “he wears orange shoes,” and sure enough, the guy I am addressing is dressed in a worn-in plaid button-down and faded, rust-colored suede Vans. He looks at me again, a bit confused, and his friendly face scrunches up a bit.
“Yeah, I’m Stook,” he replies, reaching out to shake my hand. “Only my mom gets away with calling me Joshua.”
Immediately, I am put at ease in Stook’s presence; we banter back and forth easily and he teases me like an old childhood friend. It takes a while to wind into a discussion about his debut album, Soundtrack to My Minneapolis, because, as he puts it, “It’s really, really embarrassing. It’s really a struggle for me that I have to sit here and deal with this. My stomach is in knots … I don’t like to talk about myself that much.”
Though you would never know it from his easygoing, self-assured composure or
straightforward, heart-on-his-sleeve roots-rock music, Stook (real name: Joshua
Stuckey, but don’t you dare call him that) is a painfully humble, unpretentious
guy. “I just don’t have much to offer, I get up in the morning,
go to work, come home, watch ‘American Idol,’ write a song, hang
out with my friends, shoot some hoops, listen to records,” he explains,
trying to steer me away from thinking he is anything more than average.
“The whole thing just kind of started out to have a good time, and I don’t
think I ever really intended on putting it out,” he continues. “I
never intended to really do anything with it other than just kind of, you know,
15 years from now, say, ‘Hey, look, I made a record one time, here it
is!’ I never intended to send it out to be reviewed, really, and I never
thought, even if we did, that anyone would pay attention.”
But people are paying attention. From Minnesota to Austin, Tex., to the Netherlands,
positive reviews have been flying in about “this guy Stook” and
his incredible debut album. In an era of whiny, self-absorbed indie rock music,
Stook is setting himself apart with style of folk- and roots-rock that is catchy
in the basement of his duplex with best friend and producer Caleb Garn, Stook
gathered some of the Twin Cities finest up-and-coming musicians to volunteer
time to his recording project, including drummer Jordan Carlson (JoAnna James,
Les Exodus, Paul Metsa), guitarist and keyboard player Toby Lee Marshall (Paul
Mayasich and the Benderheads), and back-up singer Erin Heitkamp.
“I’m really proud of the whole package because it’s just us,”
he explains. “It meant a lot to me that they all came and did it for free,
you know. These are guys who are making a living in the art world, as musicians,
and they’re like, ‘Yeah, man, I value your friendship and your abilities
as a musician, and I want to come over and put my name on this and be a part
of it, and you can just buy me a beer some day.’ Those guys all have busy
schedules, and the fact that they want to be a part of the live band means a
lot to me, too, and the fact that we have so much fun when we get together.
I don’t think I could do this if it wasn’t with all
The bond between the musician and his friends shows on the album. In one of
the best tracks, “A Song is More Than Just a Song,” the band barrels
forward in a country shuffle and you can practically hear Stook sporting a huge,
goofy grin as he sings. Like an anthem for music lovers everywhere, the whole
band joins together to rejoice: “So sing out loud, sing out loud, sing
out loud / Won’t you dance, won’t you dance, won’t you dance
/ ‘Cause there are some of us who’ve known it all along / A song
is more than just a song.” As the track cuts out and the record ends,
you can hear his friends cheering and clapping, and Stook lets out a giddy laugh
that is so warm and inviting it forces you to press play and start the whole
thing again from the beginning.
Despite his insecurity about his music and success, it’s his no-holds-barred
approach to songwriting that makes Stook’s music so endearing. “I
think you just gotta write the songs,” he says, as if explaining how to
take apart a car engine. “For me anyway, when I hear a song that I really
like, it’s more about what I can apply to myself. And I could give a shit
about who some person was to Bob Dylan, you know what I mean? You take bits
and pieces from other people you know who are close to you. It might not be
all about you; it might not be all about them. In the end, it doesn’t
“You read interviews with songwriters and they want you to think that
it is something whimsical or magical or precious,” he continues. “But
it’s just me sitting on the couch. It’s not very romantic at all.
I wouldn’t be fun to watch. I just sit down and write a song.”
his method, Stook has a knack for creating head-nodding good tunes, and his
album plays like a good mix tape. Speedy, reckless rockabilly tunes (“When
You Come Knockin’”) are contrasted with crooning heartbreakers and
vulnerable, quiet moments (“One Blue Teardrop” and “22nd Street,”
My favorite track, “I Keep on Fallin’ In Love With You,” is
a plunking, meandering piece that features Stook alone at his piano, and it’s
the kind of song that conjures up images of wistful lovers staring out train
windows and running down crowded city streets. It is clear that Stook has been
hurt by love (though he insists the songs aren’t autobiographical), and
“I Keep on Fallin’” is the kind of tune that leaves you with
your heart in your throat and your hand on your chest.
Because his music has strains of familiar, revered musicians like the Stones,
Bob Dylan and Ryan Adams, Stook realizes that danger of being pigeon-holed as
an Americana singer/songwriter. He jokes that the next step will be getting
his “picture taken on a railroad track, carrying an acoustic guitar case.
I gotta songwriter-it-up a notch,” he says, his eyes sparking mischievously.
“Somebody needs a cowboy hat, somebody needs a Western shirt, if we’re
gonna be Americana. We gotta get this
look down.” ||
Stook plays the CD Release Party for Soundtrack to My Minneapolis
on Fri., May 5 at the Terminal Bar with Dana Drive and Überscenester. 8
p.m. $5. 21+. 409 E. Hennepin Ave., Mpls. 612-623-4545.
For more info on Stook, check out his official website at StookMusic.com
and to listen, peep his MySpace