For a child of the 1970s, rock music is a pure sonic bliss: an in-your-face, to-the-core, coming-from-all-directions wall of sound that pours out of giant speakers and makes your bones hum along with the tune. The homespun lyrics and melodic influences of the ’50s and the exquisitely controlled experimental sound of the mighty ’60s had given way to more throbbing beats by the ’70s. The 1980s hair, grunge and heavy metal bands continued the progression, creating inroads for the generations of musicians to come.
Out of this rich soil sprang homegrown musicians Kyle Graves, Wyatt Brady, Joe Cranfield and Ryan Purser—collectively known as Four Way Stop—who recently took top honors for Best Rock Duo/Group Song of the Year at the Josie Music Awards in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., for their song “Wicked Woman.” This is another accomplishment in what promises to be a successful career for the quartet who began jamming together at Copiah-Lincoln Community College in the winter of 2018, not long before the pandemic kicked in.
The Mississippi Free Press recently caught up with the budding stars via Zoom.
|Four Way Stop performs at the 2021 Bulldog Bash in Starkville, Miss. Video courtesy Ben Shannon|
Michele Baker: Hello, gentlemen! Thanks for taking time to talk to me today. Let’s start with each of you sharing a brief bio for your future fans out there.
Wyatt Brady (drums, backing vocals): Hi, my name is Wyatt Brady, and I’m from Brookhaven. I’ve been a music lover all my life and grew up listening to The Beatles and Led Zeppelin with my parents. I’ve always had an affection for the drums, and now 20 years later it seems to be going pretty well.
Joe Cranfield (bass, keyboard, backing vocals): I’m Joe, and I’m 22. I live in Vicksburg and went to Delta State (University) to study business administration. I played trombone in the high-school marching band, but figured out I could quit marching if I switched to the bass guitar, so I did! I grew up listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Ryan Purser (rhythm guitar, vocals): I’m Ryan Purser, and I currently live in Crystal Springs, but I grew up in Hazlehurst singing in church choirs since I was 6 or 7. I sang in the school choir, and l learned to play guitar when I was about 10 or 11. I play rhythm guitar and sing backup vocals, and my heroes were KISS, Rick Springfield, Pearl Jam and Metallica.
Kyle Graves (lead guitar, vocals): I’m from Lawrence County but now live in Hattiesburg and grew up with the classic rock of Guns N’ Roses and Led Zeppelin. I ran with that after I got a guitar for Christmas when I was 13, and I’ve never felt the need to put it down since. Then I met these guys in college, and it’s been one of the most rewarding groups I’ve ever been in.
MB: How did the band start, and what’s the history behind the name Four Way Stop?
Graves: We all met at Co-Lin. We were all in a stage band for the college called The Sojourners. We practiced together a lot, and we sounded pretty good. I was in a band then, but we had started to drift apart, and so the four of us decided to create a new band.
We got a gig at Recess 101 in Brookhaven, and we didn’t think about it; we just asked for a gig, and the owner messaged us: “What name do I put on the posters?” We hadn’t gotten that far! We all came up with a bunch of things, but Wyatt came up with the name that stuck. Four Way Stop—four different paths meeting up in the same place.
MB: Congratulations on your Josie Award for “Wicked Woman” in September. Tell us about the inspiration behind the song and the award.
Purser: I was a college guy, and the song was inspired, you know, by a woman who broke my heart. I started writing “Wicked Woman” as part of a songwriting class. The teacher told us to “write whatever lyrics come into your head, and don’t erase anything,” and I thought, hey, this is kind of good! So I got with Kyle, and we finished it together.
Graves: Yes, Ryan and I both had all these ideas for the song. I had written some lyrics that just didn’t really work, and didn’t work for my voice, and Ryan had these really interesting lyrics. So we put all the best stuff from all of us into the song; it’s a real collaboration. After we started working together on it, the song just kind of wrote itself.
Brady: We thought the song was pretty good.
Graves: A great friend of mine won a Josie Music Award last year, and he suggested we send in “Wicked Woman” for 2021. We did it on a whim, never thinking a thing about it. A panel of judges select from all the submitted songs and nominate the best ones to move up to the next level. My fiancée and I went to Pigeon Forge to the Awards gala, and when “Wicked Woman” came on the speakers she was shaking me saying, “Go, go,” but it took me like 20 seconds to realize we’d won. It was a humbling and phenomenal experience.
When something like this (award) happens to a virtually unknown band, it really gives you a sense of hope that all of these things that we’ve been working for, somebody else gets it. At the end of the day, I think that’s all we can really ask for.
MB: Wow! That must have been something, hearing your song fill the room. What’s it like, working with this group, and you’re now all award-winning musicians, but none of you lives in the same city?
Brady: When you are hanging out with your three best friends, it’s easy to get together and have cohesion even when you’re spread out.
Graves: We do get together for rehearsal, but it’s a scary thing to try and practice something at a gig—Joe always shuts us down when we get the great idea to try and play a song we haven’t practiced. He’s the realist and makes us get together so it won’t be a trainwreck.
Brady: We always thank him afterward!
Cranfield: Yeah, even if you have a great song, if you haven’t practiced it, don’t play it live. Someone will record it, and it will be out there wrong. You don’t want that! (all laugh)
Brady: And Kyle has over 57,800 TikTok followers, so we have to be careful!
MB: When you consider the band, do you see yourselves moving to the same city? Playing music as a long-term career?
Purser: At one point, we all considered moving to Nashville, and Wyatt lived there then.
Brady: Yeah, I could have used some roommates to help with bills!
Graves: Then COVID hit, and none of us moved, and Wyatt ended up moving back. And then things began to happen for us. I took it as a sign from God that we’d done the right thing. It’s kind of opened our eyes that a move like that will be necessary one day. Even though our fan base is in Mississippi, people who believe in what we’re doing, one day we’ll have to take the plunge and relocate. We’re still trying to figure out what’s best.
Brady: Right now, the setup seems to be working for us. As my dad would say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” We’re in a season right now where it’s not yet the time for that to happen.
MB: What’s in the future for Four Way Stop? What are you planning to order from the Universal Catalog of Possibilities?
Purser: My biggest dream is to share music with the world. Music can help people heal and get through hard situations. Music has certainly done that for me! I want to use my future fame to start a foundation for mental health, to bring awareness of music and how it can help with mental health. I want to use music as a platform to help people.
Cranfield: I’m an introvert, but I love being onstage and the energy of it. I love the free feeling of playing music, it’s not even “work,” or a “job.” I’d just like to have the time of my life onstage around the world.
Brady: I see the world from behind the drums. I’d like to travel and play for as many people as possible. The world is kind of dark right now—I want to help light it up.
Graves: For me, everything is community. My goal is to be able to travel while making and sharing music with my people, my bandmates, my future wife and children, and all the people that come along with us. We’ve all been very fortunate and very blessed; as long as we’re grateful for the things that unfold, it will always be a joy.
Listen to “Wicked Woman” or other tracks from Four Way Stop’s debut EP “Landmark Live Sessions,” which the band released in November 2020, on iTunes, Spotify and other streaming platforms. To learn more about the band and its upcoming live performances, visit FourWayStopMusic.com or follow the group on Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.