Useful is The Lonetones debut album.
Some highlights following its release:
• Album was chosen as a DYI top 12 pick by Performing Songwriter Magazine.
• The song "Glad I Stayed" appeared on Shut Eye Records' Americana Sampler The United State of Americana, Vol 2.
• Album was featured on NPR's website All Songs Considered.
• Tracks from "Useful" have recieved radio play across the country and internationally.
FROM SEATTLE TO DOWN SOUTH, GUNNOE'S LONETONE JOURNEY A HAPPY ONE
By Steve Wildsmith
of The Daily Times Staff
But for a few fateful turn of events, Stephanie Gunnoe might be playing electric guitar and screaming into a microphone as part of a riot-grrl group out of the Northwest.
Instead, Gunnoe picks sweet acoustic guitar and sings gently as part of The LoneTones, the band she fronts with her husband, singer-songwriter Sean McCollough (who also fronts the local band Evergreen Street). The band plays gentle acoustic music rooted in Gunnoe's Appalachian heritage ... but hearing her story, it's not a stretch to see how she might have ended up signed to Kill Rock Stars along with the label's star band, Sleater-Kinney.
``I was so happy to discover the riot-grrl scene, and it really, really inspired me,'' Gunnoe said recently of the time she spent in Portland, Ore., Sleater-Kinney's hometown. ``I might very well have ended up in one of those types of bands, but I didn't have the riot-grrl kind of voice and the aggression. I just don't have it, but the whole do-it-yourself attitude inspired me.''
Gunnoe's roundabout path to East Tennessee began in West Virginia, where, growing up, she was immersed in music. Her mother sang opera, and her father played the banjo. At the time, she disliked both styles of music, and when she left for college, she chose a place about as far from the West Virginia mountains as she could get -- Washington State.
``I hated bluegrass music, and opera for that matter, until I went to college out there,'' she said. ``I guess seeing all these young people enjoy it made me realize how much I loved it.''
Eventually, she followed a boyfriend and a best friend to Portland, where she began performing with a fellow singer-songwriter named Little Sue.
``We played just kind of raw harmonies, a Hazel-and-Alice type of music,'' she said.
At the time, the grunge movement had just exploded out of Seattle, and the riot-grrl movement arose from that scene. But Gunnoe drifted toward the emerging Eastside Sound, an acoustic revival led by former members of the Holy Modal Rounders and The Fugs.
``It was sort of an acoustic revival, and those guys sort of grandfathered a whole scene,'' Gunnoe said.
Shortly thereafter, homesickness led her back east -- but she wasn't so overcome with it that she wanted to settle back in West Virginia. She settled on graduate school in Knoxville, based in part on its proximity to the mountains that she loved.
``I heard WDVX when I was coming down here to visit the college, and just driving through the mountains, listening to some of the songs, was powerful,'' she said.
Realizing she'd found a spiritual as well as a geographical connection to her childhood, Gunnoe threw herself into studies at the University of Tennessee and the local roots music scene. Her high, melodic voice seems cut from rough mountain fabric, a thick flannel worn to sweet softness that's warm and comforting at the same time.
A chance encounter at Barley's Taproom altered her life when she was introduced to McCollough.
``We came back to our house -- my roommate was his friend, so we came home and played some music that night, and we've been playing ever since,'' she said.
That was back in 2000, and the two were soon known as Steph Gunnoe and Sean McCollough. Their first public gig was a wedding at The Palace Theater in downtown Maryville, and eventually, the two added Maria Williams on harmony vocals and bass and McCollough's Evergreen Street bandmate, Phil Pollard, on drums.
``We were kind of hoping the bigger sound might help us stand up to the noise in a bar,'' she said with a chuckle. ``But it started with just me and Sean. I thought he had just a deep love and understanding of folk music, and somebody said this about him -- and it made a lot of sense -- they said he's kind of a rock 'n' roller but he sort of channels it all into folk music. To me, that's very valuable in the folk music world.''
McCollough and Gunnoe were married about two years ago, she said, and The LoneTones began work on their debut album -- ``Useful,'' a collection of songs that's full of mirth, gentle energy and excellent musicianship -- about a year ago.
``We started a year ago, and we'd had a baby, so it seemed like a pipe dream at the time to make this record,'' said Gunnoe, whose stepchildren attend school in Alcoa. ``We were pretty deliberate that we wanted to try and keep it true to our sound. It's pretty tempting to make your vocals better and add a bunch of instruments, because Sean can play anything, but we tried to keep it toned down to keep from disappointing people live.''
Their success is self-evident, and anyone who listens will most certainly agree -- Gunnoe sounds much more at home singing and playing Americana than she would have been raging through a raucous set of girl-punk.