XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
ALEX STIFF: Since COVID-19 shut everyone down, we’re actually still in the pending stages of fully releasing our latest record NEVER HEARD OF ‘EM on Hobo Wolfman Records. The record is out now for people to listen to online, but we have random color vinyl pressed that we haven’t been able to play out and get in people’s hands. We’re also planning a few other small music releases to go along side this release; so we’re really excited for the rest of this year for playing shows and spreading the word.
XS ROCK: So how long has the band been together?
ALEX STIFF: The band has been around in name since about 2010 but didn’t start really playing shows actively until 2013. The 3 of us (James, Mikey and myself) have been the main force of the band since 2014 with a rotating door of drummers the last few years until we landed with Christain and he’s been the best fit we’ve had.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for originally starting or being in a band?
MIKEY BLACK: My motivation was and is: to keep growing and getting better as a musician. Playing in a band in a live setting or studio setting really fosters and encourages growth.
JAMES NUNN: To me, nothing looked cooler or more fun than playing electric guitar in a band, so I got a guitar and really wanted to be good at it.
ALEX STIFF: For me, it was seeing the bands I loved active in the 70s and 80s but nothing coming out in my area that sounded or felt like that today. I always had a passion for music and got a guitar at an early age, acting like I could play along with bands like Black Sabbath and KISS. Then I discovered The Ramones and ANTiSEEN and saw guitar players that could play but didn’t have a lot of “skill”. So after watching and studying Johnny Ramone and Joe Young and learning from my masters, I started diving more into the classic rock of the 70s and punk rock of the 80s. I want my music to be brain candy; something to escape away to and get away from normal life. I hate putting in music and having it feel like a message is being shoved down your throat (whether I agree with the message or not), so I wanted the band to be a fun, non-political/biased band that everyone can rock out to and enjoy.
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: I run on punk and post-hardcore, but I can find good in just about any genre if the right mindset is there.
MIKEY BLACK: Started playing the guitar at 13 to learn ALL the metal riffs. Ended up in a rock’n’roll band after high school.
ALEX STIFF: After learning enough guitar, I wound up joining a few bands when I lived in Roanoke VA. One was a horror punk, wanna-be Rob Zombie band and I just quickly found out that wasn’t the scene I wanted to be in full time. Shortly after I joined up with an angry crust punk band; though I was more envious of our 2nd guitarist’s other band that was more melody driven pop-punk .. haha. Even though it ended in bad blood, i’m glad I joined that band because it gave me my first taste of being on the road for a long period of time. We ran up to NJ in a day then worked our way down to NC and back up to VA within a week; hitting Pittsburg, Philly, and a few other cool spots and it really gave me a crash course in money management and self control with alcohol with to have to play every day for a week and some change. After I left that band, I started The Fill Ins.
JAMES NUNN: When I wasn’t playing covers with friends, I played guitar in various high school theater groups. When I got to college, I played in cover bands on and off, and when I moved to Charlotte, I finally started to pursue a career playing original music.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
JAMES NUNN: A good time!
ALEX STIFF: I hope it conveys a fun rock band that doesn’t take themselves seriously, but takes our music seriously. A band you can put on for a long car ride, or tunes for the background to a party, or the band you crank up to 11 after a long day at work. We want our music to be something enjoyable.
MIKEY BLACK: Depends on the dose.
XS ROCK: What are your current music career goals?
MIKEY BLACK: Travel to new cities!
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: I want music to be my career, like I dream of the day I can walk into my day job and throw a middle finger to the boss.
ALEX STIFF: I know we aren’t going to dominate the airwaves or sell out stadiums; the musical climate just doesn’t support new rock-n-roll bands like that anymore. My main goal is to take the band out to as many people as I can, pick up as many friends along the way as possible, and make some great memories and stories to tell when we’re too old to do this anymore. I know that’s going to be long down the road, but there’s a lot I want to see and do before I hang it up.
JAMES NUNN: To keep expanding our audience and continue to improve as a musician, writer, and producer.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Typically I love playing for an audience, but if you play the same stuff long enough, writing becomes the most exhilarating feeling.
MIKEY BLACK: Playing for a live audience.
JAMES NUNN: They’re different levels of satisfaction. I love the immediate reaction of a captive audience, but I really love the slow burn of seeing your ideas become a reality while recording.
ALEX STIFF: Both have their pros and cons. I think for the fact we’ve been cooped up at home and away from an audience for so long, i’m craving the live stage again. I love the transfer of musical energy, because the more they give me, the more I can give back and there’s nothing else like it. On the flip side though; I love getting into the studio and fully fleshing out new material we’ve been working on for so long and being able to release it for everyone to enjoy.
XS ROCK: What are your songs’ lyrics about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
ALEX STIFF: Love, hate, fun, sadness, parties, being a band, fiction and non fiction. Really the only topics I stray away from is heavy political issues. We may talk about a general “rise above it all” mindset, but that can be applied to working out, getting out of a bad job, OR political / social injustices. I prefer those topics being a bit more ambiguous for you to draw your own meaning from rather than me sit there and preach to you about some topic. I personally wouldn’t enjoy that, so i’d assume there are others like me out there. I’ll leave the preaching to Bono and the likes there-of.
XS ROCK: What is the single most important thing to you as a musician?
MIKEY BLACK: Respect.
JAMES NUNN: I’ll second Mikey on respect. Especially from your peers
ALEX STIFF: Support. Plain and simple. Support can be shown in many ways; the easy one is to come out to a show, but support doesn’t always mean spending money on us. In today’s digital world, helping is also hitting “like” on a post, or sharing it. Some people also don’t realize that when you put your friends’ bands into playlists with your other tunes, that helps their numbers and helps expose them to new listeners due to the way Spotify and other outlets like that now work their personalized playlists based on what their friends listen to. Without little things like that, it makes it so much harder for bands to reach an audience; so support of any kind is the most valuable thing to me as a musician. The more you can give, the more we can give back!
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Making a difference in someone’s life. Anything from someone liking our show enough to talk to us, to philanthropic concerts I’ve coordinated over the last year with my other band HOME FOR THE DAY. Music can bring people together and help work towards a goal.
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road? If so, please fill us in.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: I’ve never been on “tour,” but we played a show in Columbia, SC and when we got back to our practice space, the gate wouldn’t open. So I tried to hop the fence and wound up impaling my leg on one of the spear tips. Alex bandaged my leg and the next day I had to go to urgent care because I was still bleeding. The whole story is on Episode 61 of Something Good for Ya; the podcast Alex and James host.
ALEX STIFF: I can’t say anything too outrageous has happened to us on the road as of yet. We’re pretty tame in the car rides and after shows, so we end up avoiding a lot of the things that could lead to some messed up tour stories. Probably the most stressful experience we had was dealing with a flaky fill-in drummer so we could play a fest in Atlanta. Our drummer at the time had a family emergency and couldn’t make the show, but we put the word out and found a drummer in town that could do the show with us. I sent him the set list then hit the road. We got into town by 8pm and was told we’d start jamming by 10pm; which turned into 3am by the time he got to the space. We played half the set that night, then the 2nd half of the set the next afternoon (also very late), arriving to the venue just in time to let the promoter know we can still play and have our set time moved up a slot due to us arriving at the venue late. He was a great drummer in the bands we saw him play in before, but this experience was definitely something that at the end of the day i’m glad we did, but would never willingly go through again.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
JAMES NUNN: This random guy who follows us online asked me to join he and his gf in a bicurious/sexual group just out of the blue in my DMs one time.
ALEX STIFF: … Yea, I think that wins. Hahaha!
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
MIKEY BLACK: More or less. My friends and family think it’s awesome, until it’s show time and then suddenly everyone has plans.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Some friends and the majority of my family have grown more supportive over the last four years. Nobody was supportive of me chasing the dream before I got there.
ALEX STIFF: My mother was always in the music scene in some form or fashion, but when she had me, she tried to live the “normal life” and give me a chance to be “normal”. Though after walking in on her watching a KISS VHS she got recently and trying to shoo me out of the room and me refusing; she knew that it was all over and she supported me from day one with getting me my first guitar and allowing me to be home schooled so I can focus on school and music without getting bogged down with small minded folks I was in school with in a small SC town. As for my friends; I have a pretty small circle of close friends and they support me more than I could ever ask for. I may not have large numbers, but the love and support I get from my small circle is something that truly keeps me going..
XS ROCK: What advice do you have for new bands trying to get started?
ALEX STIFF: Just keep pushing.The bands you see doing better than you have gone through the same things you’re going through. There are so many new bands coming out every day, you have to put into perspective just how many actually rise to the top and make a splash on the scene. So don’t do it to get famous or popular, do it because every bone in your body tells you that you have to. Those are the ones that make it.
JAMES NUNN: Don’t be afraid to give it a shot, and if you really love it, don’t quit.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
JAMES NUNN: Long Way to Go, Drinkin Again, Return To Sender, It’s a Blast
ALEX STIFF: I’m pretty fond of Return To Sender, Strutter (our KISS cover), Long Way To Go, Spit in My Face, and Drinkin Again.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Dangerous and Drinkin’ Again
MIKEY BLACK: Return to Sender, Hate, Strutter (KISS), You’re the Victim, It’s a Blast
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
MIKEY BLACK: My friend Cody Ward from the band Boron Heist because we started playing music around the same time and I couldn’t/can’t let him be better than me.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Rise Against. They’ve been my favorite band for over a decade, their energy shows in their recordings and stage presence. I saw them for the first time when I was 15 and knew that I wanted to play music.
ALEX STIFF: My main 2 bands I always go back to is KISS and Ramones. I loved and love KISS for the catchy songwriting, bombastic stage show, and the marketing that came with it. Ramones was just raw power music that spoke to me on the right level and gave me a whole catalogue of albums I could play along to. Without those 2 bands, I wouldn’t be playing music.
JAMES NUNN: Joe Walsh made playing rock n roll look really fun, but Led Zeppelin inspired me to finally get a guitar.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
MIKEY BLACK: Fast Eddy, Like Machines, 7 Year Witch, Boron Heist
JAMES NUNN: The Fill Ins on a package with Slash, Cheap Trick, or a reformed version of a now defunct band out of Atlanta called Biters
ALEX STIFF: Lofty goals? Slash’s solo band, Airbourne, Danko Jones, Supersuckers or Social Distortion. As for bands we could actually figure something out with; Tuk Smith & The Restless Hearts, Ravagers, Wyldlife, Like Machines, Fast Eddy, and Satanic Panic would all be bands I would jump at the chance to tour with.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
MIKEY BLACK: Last man standing at The Rim.
ALEX STIFF: There’s a few things that I usually think of as my favorite memories; getting to open for Richie Ramone and The Dwarves the same night, getting our first 7in and 12in vinyl pressed, and headlining some local music fests definitely makes the cut for greatest accomplishments so far. Not to mention a write up in Classic Rock Magazine.
JAMES NUNN: Getting acknowledgments from outlets like Classic Rock Magazine and Loudwire, as well as getting asked to open for a lot of legacy acts like The Dwarves and Richie Ramone.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: Getting sponsored by SJC Custom Drums, hands down. I still feel euphoria every time I get behind the kit.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: I’m still trying to figure out a career path, unless music becomes the career.
MIKEY BLACK: A farmer.
JAMES NUNN: Probably doing farm business, like Mikey here.
ALEX STIFF: Probably graphic / audio / video design. I assemble a lot of the artwork you see on our pages with the assistance of drawings I commission from my friends for me to utilize in our graphics. I’d still like to make that my full time job, but it’s hard to build up a clientele while working a full time job and a full time band. Haha!
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
ALEX STIFF: I use a mid-70s Gibson LesPaul Custom shop with a super distortion pickup in conjunction with an Acoustic brand head and cab. I got it on a steal and have worked with it so long that i’ve gotten a really great tone out of it for something rather inexpensive.
MIKEY BLACK: Blackstar HT 100 amp, custom built speaker cabinet, tube screamer, ESP guitars.
JAMES NUNN: Ampeg amps and Fender precision basses. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
CHRISTIAN WHITTINGTON: I’m endorsed by SJC and Soultone Cymbals, so their gear across the board. I also use DW Hardware, Vater Drumsticks, and Evans Drum Heads.
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
MIKEY BLACK: I don’t think.
ALEX STIFF: There’s a lot of great band out there if you take the time to listen and find them. You’re probably not going to find your next favorite band listening to the Top 40 stations; but rather independent radio stations and podcasts. The musical landscape is constantly evolving so it’s always breeding new opportunities for bands and fans alike to find each other and get connected.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
MIKEY BLACK: First rule of fight club
ALEX STIFF: I’m actually a pretty chill guy. Hard headed and stubborn, but all in all, i’d say i’m pretty easy going. I try to not let things stress me out, but I hate to repeat myself, or if I can tell you’re not paying attention to what i’m saying (leading me to have to repeat myself). I’m also the kind of guy that can listen to a 1hr breakdown of a piece of electronics showing how everything works and how to fix it. YouTube is my best friend because of this.
JAMES NUNN: I’m really good at yoga.
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
ALEX STIFF: If you made it this far between our ramblings, then i’d suggest you check out our new record NEVER HEARD OF ‘EM on Spotify, and if you really dig it, you can pick up that random color vinyl pressing on our online store at www.thefillins.com/store
XS ROCK: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS ROCK!
ALEX STIFF: Thank you for wanting to talk with us!