If Stoll Vaughan sounds familiar -- his music, if not the name – it might be because the Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter’s efforts have been heard, but not necessarily identified, on major motion picture and network TV series soundtracks like “True Blood,” “Shameless”, “Friday Night Lights” and “The Office.”
Stoll’s intriguing new album, The Conversation, came out independently via the Commonwealth Artist label on June 29 and is likely to, at last, identify the artist with the music he’s been creating for quite some time. It’s not as if Stoll has been completely anonymous in light of the fact that he’s toured with such top and varied artists as John Mellencamp, Marty Stuart, Def Leppard, John Fogerty, Journey, Don Williams and James McMurtry.
At the start of his recording career, he released two albums (Hold on Thru Sleep and Dreams and Love Like a Mule) that were produced by Mike Wanchic, Mellencamp’s co-producer and longtime guitarist. Both, in fact, hit the Top 10 on the Americana chart. Thereafter, he composed the music for David Lynch’s Webby Award-winning 2009 Internet documentary series Interview Project, directed by Austin Lynch— son of David Lynch and Stoll’s best friend since school. The younger Lynch has now directed evocative L.A.-centric videos of acoustic performances by Stoll of five of the 13 songs on The Conversation.
The album itself was half-produced by Wanchic at Mellencamp’s Belmont Mall studio near Bloomington, Indiana, with backing musicians including Mike’s Mellencamp bandmates Andy York on guitar, drummer Dane Clark and keyboardist Troye Kinnett. The other half was produced in Nashville by Stoll’s pal Carl Broemel—guitarist for My Morning Jacket—with that band’s bassist Tom Blankenship among the session players.
Stoll counts such legendary singer-songwriters as Townes Van Zandt, John Prine, James McMurtry, and Bob Dylan among his influences, as well as eclectic Nashville contemporary country music greats Marty Stuart and Greg Garing.
His experience is even more wide-ranging than those names might seem to indicate; he also starred in the 1990s Indiana hardcore punk band Chamberlain, after which he worked with Wanchic at Echo Park Studios in Bloomington where Broemel, incidentally, played in the rock band Old Pike.
But Stoll, who hails from Lexington, Kentucky, and has been honored by his home state with the esteemed Kentucky Colonel award for public service, had been living in Nashville—and became embedded in its Americana scene—prior to hitting the road as opening act for co-headliners Def Leppard and Journey in 2006 and 2007.
“I’d been doing a lot of touring—also including a Mellencamp- Fogerty tour—and had lived in New York for a second before the Def Leppard/Journey tour came about,” Stoll recalls. “I was the ‘fluffer,’ taking the stage before those household names came on. Even though I was a solo acoustic guy, I enjoyed the experience quite a bit. I wrote some songs with [Journey’s] Jonathan Cain--and sometimes the band would come out and play with me. So it was really positive.”
Stoll, who had also founded his own music publishing and artist development companies, came to L.A. to write and produce an album for the wife of Rick Allen, Def Leppard’s drummer.
“I moved from Nashville to Los Angeles in 2008—when everyone else was making their exodus from L.A. to Nashville!” says Stoll, who immediately went to work on his own, meeting with music supervisors and landing TV show song placements when they needed country/Americana music. Several of them now appear on The Conversation and include “Further Down the Line” (The Open Road), “Meet You in the Middle” (The Office finale).
“I’d started my artist development company in LA, built a studio and found some artists and was working on developing them,” Stoll says. “But when it was time for me to get back to the process of writing songs for myself, I didn’t really know what to say, and thought maybe I should reconsider everything: I’d been in music, but it wasn’t about the music, if you know what I mean. Being out there hustling and having to raise money, I’d kind of left myself far behind doing things I wasn’t good at. It was so painful that I started going to a therapist— and brought my guitar!”
Luckily, this returned him to his songwriting strength, and his confidence returned with it.
“`Forgiveness’ really was a strong song for me in getting back into the groove, and songs started coming to me as I trusted the process again, as I had before I went off on those tangents. It became all about forgiveness, hope and love.”
The album’s title, Stoll says, signifies “being in a continual conversation regarding people, God, and the fears we carry around—and how music interplays with everything emotionally and spiritually. But it’s really me trying to listen, and then relying on trusted friends to help me put down what I heard.”