When Black Bottom Lighters singer Ryan Stilwell arrived at a studio collective in Redondo Beach, California, to work on the band’s latest single, he was nearly in tears.
He sat in the same chair as the late Sublime singer Bradley Nowell, members of Guns ‘N Roses and “any punk band you can imagine.”
“Literally, you could feel the history,” Stilwell says. “I was sitting in the same seats as them, looking at a picture of Bradley Nowell. I had a dream that I played music with him and it felt so real.”
Black Bottom Lighters was in Redondo Beach to record at Pepper’s Kona Town Recording with the band’s vocalist/bassist Bret Bollinger. The single, “The Get Back,” is due later this month and the band will celebrate the release with a “pay-what-you-can” concert the night before Thanksgiving.
“Pepper has done this three times as long as we have,” Stilwell says. “It was a really good learning opportunity. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves while we were recording. I have this built-up anxiety about it. When we got to Kona Town, it was so relaxed. He put us all in the same room, instead of recording separately. The sound of the track captures more of what you would hear live.”
Bollinger was inspiring, Stilwell adds.
“It was like we had known each other forever,” he says. “They all made it really, really comfortable for us. He’s a vocalist who I’ve been compared to throughout the years. His melodies and tone and everything really complemented the way I would normally approach things.”
Black Bottom Lighters is Stilwell, who lives in Waddell; drummer Ryan McPhatter of North Phoenix; bassist Jose Aquino of Peoria; lead guitarist Phil Keiser and rhythm guitarist Mike Proctor, both of Cave Creek; and keyboardist Kelyn Weaver of Phoenix.
“We fight like brothers and we love like brothers,” Stilwell says. “I wouldn’t change any of it.”
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 says, 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 says. “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 says. “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 U.S. in support of the single and have continued to do so. Next year, they hope to expand their reach. Now’s the time to take the music to the next step with new merchandise and revamped logos.
“We’re grown with our fanbase and it’s time to transition into the next chapter of our lives,” Stilwell says. “We’re going to continue pushing forward. We don’t hate each other and that’s awesome.”
Black Bottom Lighters, Rebel Lounge, 2303 E. Indian School Road, Phoenix, 602.296.7013, therebellounge.com, 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 21, pay what you can.