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Black Bottom Lighters | Interview

You know how sometimes you catch a glimpse of someone’s lighter and it has a little black smudge on the bottom corner, and you instantly know that they smoke weed? (For any newbies: a lighter can be used to pack down a bowl after it has been hit a few times, making it easier to smoke, leaving behind a sticky black residue. Therefore, a black bottom lighter is a classic identifying characteristic of Homo Sapiens Cannabicus in its natural habitat — a dead giveaway.) Well, there came a time when a group of Arizona musicians took that idea as their name and built a community around it with their impressive live performance and solid studio recordings.

Black Bottom Lighters was formed in 2010, beginning with a simple classified ad that brought together lead singer Ryan “Stilly” Stilwell and (then) guitarist, “T”. The duo played acoustic music at that time, later expanding their sound by bringing in other members, including bassist Jose Aquino, who also provides vocals for the group. The addition of Jose’s booming bass tones called for a solid beat to back the tracks; enter Ryan “Phatty” McPhadder, whose dad (shirtless and smoking a cigar at a pool party, apparently) asked the band if they needed a drummer. Phatty’s phat beats were just what was needed to get BBL off to a solid start.


As happens, band members came and went through the process of natural selection (including but not limited to fist fights) until core member Phatty discovered the talented Kelyn Weaver, who plays keys for the band, while working at their dayjob. Funny story: Kelyn and I actually made electronic music together in a really fun class at SCC — Shout out to Elaine Walker! Coolest teacher, period. Being classically trained, Kelyn and his keys added just the right melodic elements to tie the sound together, and the lineup was nearly completed. Next, the group auditioned Mike Proctor to be their rhythm guitarist, and he was the perfect fit for the job. Mikey’s role is important because he brings rhythm and melody together and lays a great foundation for the absolutely shredding guitar solos of BBL’s lead guitarist, Phil Keiser AKA Philly. “Epic” does not begin to shed light on the skill level that this guy has. I’m not kidding. Go watch his videos on Instagram, he’s freaking talented!

For the last 5 years, Black Bottom Lighters has coalesced into the form we see today: a six-man band playing rock and roll infused “Desert Reggae”, (a term they coined,) with a community of dedicated fans surrounding them. They’ve blessed stages from Mexico to Canada, playing alongside such celebrated bands as 311, Rebelution, Phunk Junkeez, Dirty Heads, Pepper, and more. Some of the biggest moments for the band have certainly been their album release shows, such as the Pipe Dream EP release, where they sold out venues like Livewire and Marquee Theatre. In 2015, Phoenix New Times readers voted Black Bottom Lighters the reader’s choice best local band in Arizona. Going forward, as BBL continues to develop their sound, we are sure to see even more from them in the way of big events and awards.


Of course, being a reggae band means necessarily having some relationship with the cannabis plant, and as it happens, BBL is no exception. Marijuana makes up one of the central themes of their music, in fact. It’s mentioned in some way in nearly every song. Most of Stilly’s lyrics are about love and love lost. Themes of women, relationships, and the hard lessons in life come up frequently. As Stilly explained to me “A lot of our music is party music, but we have some songs that [explain how] we really worked hard to get here… it hasn’t just been fun, it’s been a struggle.” If you have a brother, you know that it’s hard enough to get along with him all the time, let alone having five brothers and travelling around with them in a crowded tour van. Tensions mount, clothes get dirty and stinky, and nerves are rubbed the wrong way. Your bandmates are like family, and being so close to them means knowing exactly how to push their buttons. One second you’re punching them in the face, and the next second you’re on walking on stage to perform with them. The good news is that these experiences have ultimately brought the band closer together and served as inspiration for their songs. And when it comes to BBL’s songs, one thing that we at Cannabis Cactus can appreciate is that no matter the levity or the seriousness of the subject, it’s always balanced with a healthy dose of cannabis appreciation.

The Cactus crew visited BBL at one of their shows recently and we were not disappointed! They performed at the Arizona Strong Beer Festival on Feb 10th during AZ Beer Week. The event featured dozens of local Arizona breweries with hundreds of beers available for sampling, as well as activities and a stage with live music. Needless to say, the attendees were having a great time and feeling loose, which created a great atmosphere for Black Bottom Lighters to shine when they came on stage. The band gave a solid performance and the audience was truly enjoying it (including our group, who may or may not have been partaking in a few fat joints amongst the crowd.) Our photographer Luke Wayne Media (@lukewaynemedia) got some great shots of the show and the interview we conducted with the band afterwards.


In person, they seem to be a really cohesive unit who work well together. As Phatty put it, “We’re very aware of how fortunate we are to have come together… because it’s just so unique.” He explained the fact that all of the members are very energetic live musicians, and although BBL currently has three studio albums (which sound great, by the way,) they are really a live band. When I asked them what they’re most excited about for 2018, they unanimously agreed that their new music was first on the list. In the past, the group has released music on an inconsistent basis. However, this year they are making the commitment to give their fans a steady stream of new material. And what better to way for BBL to pump out those “fire” new releases than with some of that other “fire” in their system?

Of course, at the Cannabis Cactus, we take our work seriously so I had to ask about their favorite cannabis strains and products. I got a wide variety of answers because, as they explained to me, each member has a different lifestyle and thus a different approach to the medicine. For example, Jose and Stilly are fathers (good for you, guys!) and prefer to partake occasionally and away from the kiddos. Jose and I struck a harmony when he mentioned that he’s practically “gluten free” when it comes to weed. Just like me, he insists that it’s clean and high quality — my man! Everyone else had great things to say about a few local concentrate companies, particularly Venom Extracts. They’ve even partnered with dispensaries and extract companies to put on events and represent their wares. Favorite strains between the group include OG varieties, cookies, and anything lemon. We traded stories about some of the epic pickups we’ve gotten lately, and they laughed when I told them I prefer the nastiest smelling OG’s I can find — I’ve always loved the gassy, leathery, earthy, “chemmy” strains, but what I get most excited about is when they’re borderline disgusting… I want that sh** to smell like dirty diapers, cleaning chemicals, and nuclear powerplant, all rolled into one. The guys were super happy when I blessed them with some Wifi OG that will hopefully fuel their creativity and get that new music flying out of their fingertips.

Wrapping the interview up, I asked them what their final thoughts were and if they had any last messages for you, the readers. Basically, they want everyone to be patient and know that they are putting all their energy into their future releases. Their sound is finally honed for us and we are sure to be impressed with whatever comes next.

Black Bottom Lighters 8

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