Sea of Dirt

Stoner-rock bands usually don’t want to be called that, right? Maybe they have a point, and maybe they don‘t. The only way to find out was to apply the Weekly’s rigorous scientific standards to the question.

We obtained two volunteer Subjects (S1 and S2), put them in a controlled environment, got them stoned on Cannabis sativa and made them listen to new stoner rock. We observed the process, writing down their remarks.

The subjects were a decade apart in age. They were both male, because women, even if they smoke dope, don‘t like stoner rock. Well, let’s say that few women like it. For the sake of clinical accuracy.

We limited our study to C. sativa (procured under a U.S. government research program administered by Joseph Walsh University in Leadville, Colorado) for five reasons. One: On acid and mescaline, everything sounds good. Two: On downs, nobody cares. Three: On heroin, subjects don‘t stay awake. Four: Speed is fast; this music is slow. Five: Don’t talk to us about mushrooms, peyote or Ecstasy, which are for peace-and-love types only; stoner rockers are predominantly hostile. Sample motto, from Electric Wizard: “Legalise drugs and murder.”

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For those who haven‘t heard it, stoner rock is all the same, yet some examples are better than others. All of it has slow, distorted guitar riffs and tumbling, off-accented drum grooves (the drummer tends to be the best musician), and all of it emphasizes very low frequencies. Much of it has high-pitched, enervated vocals that are mixed way down so you can barely hear them. Often, lyrics are about mythology, hostility or being stoned. Instrumentals are encouraged.


English band, formed in 1993, went away for four years because of “drug abuse, arson, robbery and near-death experiences,” has now returned. Booklet contains picture of biker chick’s navel.

S1: “It hits my body in a pot-friendly abdominal region, almost trips me out with its sine-wave pulse. They can sure space out for a long, long time.” (In one track, over 15 minutes with bare-minimum changes.)

S2: “The bass player‘s into a different frequency. It’s a cool groove, but I like to hear more flashy guitar stuff when I‘m stoned.”

S1: “Kind of sloppy, but that’s okay.”

S2: “This doesn‘t make me want to get into it deeply.”

ACID KING (four songs), THE MYSTICK KREWE OF CLEARLIGHT (two songs), FREE . . . (Man’s Ruin)

The picture of another biker chick‘s navel is on the cover this time. The Krewe features legendary stoner singer-guitarist Wino (of the Obsessed and Spirit Caravan) on one song.

S1: “These guys [Mystick Krewe] have a ride cymbal that pops out of the mix in a really irritating way. But I don’t think I‘d notice it if I were not stoned.”

S2 (checking out the Krewe’s B3 organ sound and relatively clean but heavy single-note riffs): “Who do they think they are, Deep Purple?”

S1 (eight minutes into the 11-minute “Veiled”): “I think I finally get it.”

S2: “Yeah.”

S1: “This instrumental [‘Blaze In’ by Acid King] is okay. Very heavy.” (Now he‘s listening to “Blaze Out.”) “I don’t know why, but I‘m having thoughts about women. Very unusual for this shit. I think I’m getting a boner.”

S2: “Go stand over there.”


A new Brit band. Vocals are more up-front. Release date February 13.

S2: “They succeed in having no melodies.”

S1: “It‘s dumb, and not in a good way. Tries to be stony, but hits me in an unstony region of the upper chest.”

S2: “This [’Into the Sun‘] is the ugliest love song I’ve ever heard. The singer should have more authority.”

S1 (listening to “Lord of the Gallows”): “What‘s he singing? ’Sea of dirt‘?”

S2 (consulting lyric sheet): “’Centre of the Earth.‘”

S1: “I liked ’sea of dirt‘ better.”


Young band from D.C. They say they want to be “positive,” want to be “classic rock,” but are still stonerish. Steal from Hendrix and Steve Miller as well as the de rigueur Black Sabbath. Dragons and castles on the cover.

S2: “You’ve got to hit that joint harder.”

S1 (hits joint harder, coughs at length): “Now, this feels like a band. The way they play their riffs is, like, perfect. Casual, but right in the pocket. Great textures, weird stuff in the background. And the songs go somewhere. It gives me a warm feeling in my gut.”

S2: “There‘s no tendency to be manic.” (“At the Edge of the World” comes on, with its thick suspended chords on acoustic guitar.) “You always play this song. One Neil Young in the world is too many.”

S1: “Don’t you want to be challenged?”

S2: “Okay. Music‘s not gonna hurt me.”


Every experiment needs a control. This is it: the band all stoner-rock groups copy, from 1970.

S1: “Oh.”

S2: “Yeah.”

S1: “Black Sabbath stuck in a lot of fun stuff. Jazzy beats. Celtic interludes. Amazing solos. I wonder if they knew nobody else would think all the side trips were worth copying. Why do you think they did it?”

S2: “Because they could?”

On a different day, S1 is observed not stoned, listening to some of this music on headphones. The nearby presence of a Child (C) and a Woman (W) renders the experience scientifically inconclusive, but the data have anecdotal value.

C (waves hands so S1 will remove headphones): “What are you doing?”

S1: “Listening.” (He realizes that he’s been beating on a clipboard with both hands and a pen, and that this can be heard all over the house.) “And drumming.”

C: “Stop it.”

S1: “No.”

Shortly after, W enters and waves hands so S1 will remove headphones.

W: “Do you realize that you‘ve been yawning?”

S1: “So what?”

W: “When you yawn, you make a sound.”

S1: “Most people make a sound when they yawn.”

W: “Well, when you yawn your throat makes this choking, croaking sound. It’s disgusting. You‘ve been doing it a lot, and with those headphones on, you can’t even hear it. But I hear it.”

S1: “And you think I‘m doing it on purpose?”

W: “Yes.”

One of the findings of our overall experiment is that stoner rock can sometimes make you yawn, whether or not you are stoned, and this axiom has analogues, one of which is that being stoned doesn’t necessarily help you enjoy stoner rock. While Electric Wizard sounds better when you‘re stoned, for instance, Sloth sounds better when you’re straight. To S1, Dead Meadow sounds excellent whether he‘s drunk, stoned or straight, so this may be a group whose music many people will buy at some point. Or maybe just he will.

S1 also relates an experience from his youth that may be informative. When he was a teenager, he heard acid rock such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane and Ultimate Spinach, all of which were then brand-new. A couple of years later, he heard new, heavier, non-hippie pot-smoking music such as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. He liked and understood each of them immediately, even though he would not drop his first acid or smoke his first pot for a long time thereafter.

We may conclude, with near scientific certainty, that calling music stoner rock does not mean that either the musicians or the listeners need to be stoned in order for maximum communication to take place. So, yes, musicians are correct in preferring not to be stuck with that tag. But for however long the trend lasts, they’re going to be called stoner rockers anyway.

So they might as well get used to it.

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