By Benjamin Leatherman
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Spend some time with the guys in Slightly Stoopid, and you're bound to walk away with a fascination for the band's business model and a new cologne — of the skunk variety.
For almost 15 years, the members of Slightly Stoopid have made music together, and somehow they've perfected one of the most valuable skills a band can achieve — the ability to hypnotize an audience and hold it there from start to finish. They do it with a stealth groove that emanates from a deep trench of introspective vocal harmonies, tight syncopated percussion, layers of dubby bass, and bowing guitar licks.
The band is the perfect underground success story: They spend close to 200 days a year touring, their album sales (on their own label) have topped 900,000, and their shows sell out at some of the world's most prestigious concert venues.
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In 1995, in Ocean Beach, California, childhood buddies Miles Doughty (guitar, bass, vocals) and Kyle McDonald (guitar, bass, vocals) formed Slightly Stoopid, combining their favorite rock, reggae, and punk sounds.
"Mötley Crüe was my favorite band, and when I saw them I realized what I wanted to do," says McDonald. "I was, like, 9 years old. Nikki Sixx is one of my heroes, and live on stage, those guys show you how it's done. Also, we liked Eazy E, which led us to NWA, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Guns N' Roses and Metallica. Metallica was the reason we started playing the guitar."
After catching the eye of Sublime frontman Bradley Nowell and recording on his Skunk Records label while still in high school, they had a pair of successful releases (including 1998's surf-inspired cult classic The Longest Barrel Ride) before starting their own label, Stoopid Records. At the time, they wanted to keep their DIY work ethic and creative freedom away from music industry politics. Ten years later, things seem to be working as planned for the band and the label.
"We've signed our keyboardist, Paul Wolstencroft, and his band, the Knockout Machine," says McDonald. "And our sax player Karl Denson's band, Tiny Universe. It's more of an outlet for our friends and our musical family."
"You know, when we were younger, all we wanted to do was play punk rock. And then we got old," McDonald says, laughing. "We have albums dating back to high school, and you can see how we've matured musically from all our different influences over the years. Punk, heavy metal, Afro-Cuban, blues, ska — I can't even define our sound."
Over the years, they've shared the stage with the Dave Matthews Band, Damian Marley, the Roots, and Snoop Dogg. And with Snoop's venture into uplifting reggae, don't be surprised if you see Slightly Stoopid and Snoop share the stage again.
"Snoop's just on another level right now, you know? He wants to help people through his music," says McDonald. "He's the biggest gangster ever. We just wanna say, keep up the good work, Snoop."
Since the release of its ninth album, 2012's Top of the World, the band has been touring nonstop.
"We're always writing whether we're on the road or at home in the studio," explains McDonald. "We have some good material currently that we've been putting down."
Most recently, the band was a part of Dub Rockers Volume 1, a compilation featuring top Jamaican, U.S., and Europe-based reggae acts. Scheduled for release on August 27, it has such collaborations as Bad Brains and Angelo Moor of Fishbone and Slightly Stoopid and Capleton.
But when it's all said and done, when asked what album he would hand to someone who had never heard of Slightly Stoopid, McDonald doesn't feel the need to self-promote.
"I wouldn't give them one," he says, laughing. "I'd hand them a big-ass blunt to hang out instead."