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Dollars to Pounds: The Sticks

January 13, 2010

A band trying to kill their instruments on stage doesn't necessarily sound like murder. Take The Sticks. This Brighton trio will happily smack the crap out of a guitar or two, but they also spent the best part of a year recording their eponymous debut album. Evidently, making jams sound this effortless takes a lot of effort. This exclusive track, "Airwaves," is both a tribute to radio and a swaggering, raucous racket. I spoke to them about arm-wrestling, ping-pong and "life's juicy goodness."

Download: The Sticks, "Airwaves"

"Watch in vague disbelief as these stick-like men wrestle their inexpensive instruments to produce a hideous torrent of badly played rock n roll party numbers." Who is that about then?
Stuart: Ha ha, yeah that'll be us. I think James came up with that one. It's a pretty accurate description, I think. I mean we're not trying to be "non-musicians" or whatever or trying to be amateurish but that's just the way we are and to be honest I don't think we could be any other way.

James: This is a self description that we created four or five years ago. At the time the emphasis was very much on how unpolished and unprofessional we were. Not much has changed really, although we have slightly better equipment. Still can't play chords. I think we accept our level of musicianship and just go with the flow, not worry too much about sounding conventional even within the DIY framework.

The album sounds like it was a lot of fun to make, was it?
Iain: It can be hard work getting that first-take carefree punk sound. It takes hours/days/weeks/months and then you have to record it again because the cymbal was too loud! Saying that, some of the tunes were first takes, and that was fun fun fun all the way. The hip-hop tune for example "Giant Strides" was a first off jam and that's my favourite groover. These are always the best, first takes, full of life's juicy goodness. But when you play the same song over and over funny things happen, I start to feel like a jelly man. Listen to the bass on "Nothing Song" and you'll see what I mean.

Stuart: Personally I don't like recording (apart from when we recorded outdoors on the roof of an undertaker's and everything was done in one take—with police sirens and seagulls in the background, but that is a different story). It's a bit of an arduous process sometimes because it can take ages but we're really lucky because we record everything ourselves and can record where we practice- in a village hall type place that's amazing and sounds great. So we can take our time, not worry about spunking loads of money on studio time and worry about ending up with some sort of hollow nasty sound, but I suppose here lies the problem: we can take our time and you only need to ask Chris from Upset The Rhythm [the Sticks' label] about that.

James: Recording is a bit of a drag to be honest. The best fun was had playing table tennis after trying to "lay the tracks down." The sound of a ping-pong ball can be heard on the song "Pongs" on the album. Part of the challenge with this album was that the whole recording process was an education in analogue production for me. Our recorded output is an evolution of total shit-fi to possibly in the future, say an ultra hi-fi recording of an orchestra or something. It felt important at the time not to go into a studio, but to give a more realistic representation of the hall type space we rehearse in. Because of the whole popularity of lo-fi now, bands slowly seem to doing more radical things with production, using what limited resources they have and coming up with something a bit different.

Are you live shows as much fun?
Stuart: I love playing live and I think the energy and the point of The Sticks comes across at our live shows. That is that we're not great musicians and are certainly not trying to create some sort of career or whatever out of what we do, we just do it because it's fun and we want to show that anyone can pick up any instruments they can get their hands on and give it a go and try and make some sort of noise that they'd like to listen to or think is interesting. Sometimes we play with sacks on our heads or dress up a little. This is fun but can make playing difficult.

James: Our live sets definitely differ quite dramatically from each other. The audience is usually divided by reactions of either disgust or a vague feeling of anticipation.

Iain: I like it when we go wrong, slow down, speed up and fall apart. And when we make it up on the spot. To me that is a live show, those bits we didn't plan for.

All your songs are sub-two minutes, will the next album be a prog odyssey made up of three 32 minute tracks?
Stuart Sticks: Unfortunately not. Well me and Iain are in another band called King Alfred Man Of Leisure and that's our prog outlet. I'm not joking. Our first album is done and ready to be unleashed unto the world. We're actually busy recording our next album which Angular Records will be releasing by Easter.

Iain: We do sometimes stretch ourselves further into the prog abyss. The hip-hop song "Giant Strides" was cut down from seven minutes or something. That's just a secret side of us that sneaks out from time to time. If it was up to me we'd be doing 12"-inchdisco funk epics, but the others won't see sense.

Tell us about "Airwaves."
Stuart: I like that song, Iain's on vocal duty for that one so you'll have to ask him for the story behind it, but as with almost all Sticks' songs we came up with it just sort of jamming at practice and then formed it like that which seems to be our best, easiest and most fun way of creating new material, I think it's actually about two years old so it's good to get it finally recorded and forever sealed in vinyl.

Iain: The music is a cover of an old Sticks song before my time. That was, in my opinion, a rip off of an ESG song. It's fun doing covers of your own band, trying to decipher rough old recordings and turn sloppy freak outs into hit records. Me and Stuart came up with the words for "Airwaves" on the train coming back from some London show. The inspiration is more the concept of radio than a particular incident. It's a magic thing, turning your voice into electricity and sending it into the air, then bringing it back down to earth through somebody's radio! I realize technology has moved on, but I'm still getting my head around this stuff. It's a nod to Kraftwerk of course, who saw the melancholy beauty of the machine. It's also about having the confidence to say, Look, I wanna listen to Southern Counties [local radio station], okay?

There's another band called The Sticks from Manchester. Have you considered fighting them?
Stuart: Oh yeah I've heard about them. To be honest they sound a bit poncey and I think they fancy themselves a bit. We played in Manchester last summer with Deerhoof and Finally Punk and they didn't show up for a duel or whatever so we win by proxy. There are probably more of them and they're probably a bit harder than us so it may have been good they didn't turn up.

James: Errr, just looked them up. Wow. They would definitely kick our asses with their indie rock product endorsements. We need a manager!

Iain: I would be up for arm wrestling. Or maybe we could have a dance off. Anyway, it's the loser who should keep the name, whoever snaps first.

The Sticks' eponymous debut album is out now on Upset The Rhythm.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: The Sticks