After dropping their five-song EP Hold on to Yourself in April, melodic metal duo Friendship Commanders weren’t planning on releasing more music in 2020. But because this year has been, well, a lot, singer and guitarist Buick Audra has more to say. So on October 12, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the band is releasing a single featuring “Stonechild” and “Your Reign Is Over,” two songs that were written and recorded this summer. They will, as much of the summer surely did, punch you right in the gut.
“Stonechild” is a swirling sonic storm that tells the story of the police shooting of Stonechild Chiefstick, a 39-year-old Chippewa Cree man and member of the Suquamish Tribal community in Washington. Chiefstick was shot and killed by Poulsbo police officer Craig Keller on July 3, 2019, in front of a large crowd of people gathered for a fireworks show. Keller was not charged with a crime, and many people in the area protested the killing, but the story has barely been mentioned outside of local media.
“I’ve known about [Stonechild’s story] through a friend of mine who lives on the Port Madison Indian Reservation, and I just was like, ‘Why is more not being said about this?’” says Audra. “The cop is not being held accountable and the court commissioner vandalized Stonechild’s memorial site in July, a year after his death. It felt like I needed to write about it.”
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The song is heavy, as Friendship Commanders’ jams usually are—the bass is thick and fuzzy, and Roe’s drumming churns under Audra’s emotional chorus—but Audra’s vocals are noticably more graceful than usual. She says that was a purposeful choice, out of respect for the situation.
“Vocally it’s a completely different piece of work for me because I was like, ‘I’m not going to be a white woman yelling, I’m gonna sing this story and sing it respectfully with as much intention as I have,’” says Audra. (Fans of FC’s more churning, pissed-off anthems needn’t worry—she gets back to yelling in “Your Reign Is Over,” a track, in part, directed at Trump, hypocritical politicians, and every white man who’s unwilling to recognize his own privilege.)
With Chiefstick’s family’s blessing, Audra also invited Cassy Fowler, a friend of Chiefstick’s family, to write a portion of the lyrics for “Stonechild.” The lyrics are written in Lushootseed, a language spoken by many tribes Pacific Northwest tribes including the Suquamish people, and Audra gave Fowler free reign to say whatever it is she wanted to say on behalf of the community.
Just before the climax of the song, Fowler recites her contribution over swirling guitar feedback:
cut čəxw, “syayaʔ čəł,”
You say, “We are friends.”
tux̌w didiʔł čəxw ʔugwəlald.
But you still killed him.
tuʔəƛ̓, tuc’əbidup, tugwəlald.
You who had come here, rape the land and kill.
ƛ̓ux̌wad ti ʔiišədčəł a(d)dxwšəgwł.
Our people are being slaughtered in your streets.
ʔəčədaʔ! ʔəčəda! ʔəsx̌id həwə ti dəxwƛu̓ gwəlald!
#*@*! #*@*! Why are they being killed?
Proceeds from song sales will be donated to the Suquamish community—Audra laughs slightly when she acknowledges that Friendship Commanders are far from famous so it isn’t bound to be much—but more notable than the money was the Cheifstick’s family’s desire to get Cheifstick’s name out there.
“Music is forever,” says Audra. “His name is now somewhere else. It’s not just in the small community and it’s not just in the police files and it’s not just in the news clippings from that area—it’s everywhere else now. The name Stonechild’s everywhere else now.”
Listen to “Stonechild” and “Your Reign Is Over” and discover more music from Friendship Commander on their Soundcloud page.
To choose your favorite streaming service, visit ditto.fm.
The single is also available for purchase on Bandcamp, where all proceeds benefit the Suquamish community.