Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Marching Song ... The Story of The Pointed Sticks & Show # 344

Abba meets The Stooges, bubblegum with fuzzy guitars, boy meets girl at 100 miles per hour, these are all sayings that have been attributed to The Pointed Sticks a Canadian Punk/Power Pop band from Vancouver. Pointed Sticks origins began upon the return of Nick Jones to Vancouver from the UK where he worked at a record store in the summer of 1978. Mixing the influential concoctions of the UK Punk scene with Pop music, the band would take influence from bands such as Buzzcocks, Ramones, Phil Spector, and 60s Garage acts such as The Sonics and Paul Revere & The Raiders. The original band consisted of Nick Jones (vocals), Bill Napier-Hemy (guitars), Tony Bardach (bass), and Ian Tiles on drums. Going through several names the band decided upon “The Pointed Sticks”, making reference to a Monty Python sketch. After winning the Second Georgia Straight Battle of Bands in 1978, The Pointed Sticks recorded their first single What Do You Want Me To Do?

Released on local label Quintessence, “What Do You Want Me To Do?” was backed with “Somebody’s Mom” and produced by Bob Rock. The two track single offered up two catchy Pop songs, but at the same time featuring the energy, sound, and influence of 70s Punk. While, “What Do You Want Me To Do?” is an excellent Pop gem, the B-side “Somebody’s Mom” was an aggressive quick paced track. The band line up shifted in 1979 when Robert Bruce was added as the bands new drummer and Gord Nicholl was brought in on keyboards, both new members had previously been the fellow Vancouver band Active Dog. A second single followed the same year The Real Thing, it was produced by Bob Rock. With new band members in their ranks the bands sound evolved. Immediately one could notice the improvement upon the bands earlier sound, while they still kept their Punk roots they had more melody than ever before, as evident with the spacious keyboard playing of Nicholl and backup vocal harmonies on “The Real Thing.” “Out of Luck” finished the 1979 single adding more of a raunchy element to their sound, featuring blistering guitar solos. Shortly after the singles release, Robert Bruce exited the group only to be replaced by drummer Ken “Dimwit” Montgomery, who had previously played with The Subhumans. With Ken behind the drums, The Pointed Sticks sound grew once again adding a thunderous backing section. One more single was recorded for Quintessence Records featuring Montgomery on drums, Lies backed with "I’m Numb" was released in 1979.

The band was then signed to the famed UK label Stiff Records in the summer of 1979, being the first Canadian bands to do so. An EP followed titled the Out of Luck EP. Produced by Brinsley Schwartz, the EP featured re-recordings of songs the band had previously put out. The three songs included on the EP were “Out of Luck”, “What Do You Want Me To Do?” and had more of a Garage feel to them. The band was then exported to the UK to record a full length album for Stiff, but things didn’t go exactly as planned. Recording with producer Nigel Grey (The Police, Siouxsie & The Banshees), an album was completed, but Stiff decided not to release it. At this point, which was around 1980, Stiff was going through financial difficulties and preference went to bigger named acts, the album remained unreleased in its complete form until recently when The Pointed Sticks released it through Base Records in Tokyo.

Returning to Vancouver from England The Pointed Sticks headed into the studio with Bob Rock to record their full length album Perfect Youth. By this point, the band line up had altered yet again to include Scott Watson on bass and John Farano on Saxophone. The album is defined by songs such as “Marching Song” an ultimate Power Pop song featuring ringing Punk power chords and New Wave-pseudo Garage sounding keyboards, “No Use For U” a song that reflects a Soul Motown essence with its melodic basslines, drum beats and saxophone lines, and “American Song”, which is a mature sounding pop song that is one of the catchiest moments found on Perfect Youth. There are also other tracks such as “True Love”, which reflects the bands earlier sound, a cover of The Sonics "The Witch", and the album ender “Part of the Noise” which is razor edged Pop Perfection. Overall, Perfect Youth was a very melodic album adding a new dynamic to the band with smoother production style, brass horn sections and keyboard arrangements which contributed new elements to the bands Pop and Punk style. Comparisons have often been made between this album and Elvis Costello & the Attractions, and the keyboard playing of XTC’s Barry Andrews has been contrasted to Gord Nicholls, but the album is ultimately a culmination of the bands influences at that point in time. In 1980, the band were also featured in the Out of the Blue a cult-classic movie by Dennis Hopper. The band, who were a popular underground act in the Vancouver scene at the time can be seen performing at the end of the film. After a tour in August of 1981, the band began to dissolve. In June 1981, the band called it quits.

In 1995 a compilation was released on Zulu Records called Part of the Noise. This was a compilation album that contained rarities, unreleased recordings and some tracks from the unreleased Stiff album recording sessions, it also generated a renewed interest in the band. In 2005, Joey "Shithead" Keithley of Vancouver band DOA helped to release the compilation album Waiting For The Real Thing on Sudden Death Records. The album compiled all of the bands early singles with Quintessence as well as a variety of live recordings, and previously unreleased recordings from the Stiff album recording sessions. As a bonus the last track features two hidden songs, both covers. Following the song “Automatic You”, there is a version of Pointed Sticks doing “Born To Cry” by Dion and the Belmonts, and Del Shannon’s 1964 song “Keep Searchin’”. A re-issue of the bands full length album Perfect Youth followed the same year. This re-generated interest in the band, particularly in Japan. As a result, the band decided to play three reunion shows in Japan in 2006. The band line up consisted of the original line up featuring Ian Tiles on drums and Tony Bardach on bass. The shows went extremely well, which resulted in further live appearances and even talk of a new recordings. In 2007, The Pointed Sticks decided to record two new songs at Paramount, which was Gord Nicholls studio. The songs were “My Japanese Fan”, a catchy Power Pop hook filled song, and “Found Another Boy”, an older song written by Nicholls, but never recorded in a studio. The songs were released as a seven inch single on vinyl in 2007 on Sudden Death Records. The single marked the first time in 25 years that the band recorded new material. In 2008, the band recorded two new Christmas songs (“Power Pop Santa”, “Xmas Time Again”) and made them available for free on their website.

The Pointed Sticks remained active, intermittently touring in between family schedules. In October of 2009, The Pointed Sticks released their second full length album. Produced by Mike Fraser, Three Lefts Make a Right was recorded at Vancouver’s Warehouse Studios. The album featured thirteen new tracks, all of which were worked on slowly over the course of a year and a half balanced in between the band members other careers. The songs maintained the classic hooks and melodies that The Pointed Sticks have been known for, but also added further groove and elements into the bands already established sound. Three Lefts Make A Right sounds as Nick Jones stated as “A natural progression” for the band. The album features songs such as “She’s Not Alone Anymore” which has the classic keyboard economics of Gord Nicholl and Punk Power Pop connotations that the band established on their album Perfect Youth, “Igor Said”, “By Your Side”,” Wireless” and “Something New” exemplify classic Pointed Sticks melodies and song structures, while tracks such as “All Night”, and “Leave Me Alone” are clear examples of the bands new found groove. Currently The Pointed Sticks are working on material for a follow up to Three Lefts Make A Right and the songs are said to lean a little in the experimental direction.


The Following interview was done between myself (Dave Konstantino host of Revolution Rock) and Nick Jones (of Pointed Sticks). He touches on several moments in the bands early career, their second album, and the bands future.

RR: The bands name originates from a Monty Python sketch, but you decided upon this name after going through several other names. What were some of the band names that you were interested in before finally choosing the name Pointed Sticks?

NJ: We didn't really go through too many names at the beginning. About the only one we even really considered was The Girls, cause it sounded kinda like the NY Dolls and then we could have worn tons of makeup, but then we found out that there was already a band in Seattle called that. At one point we had a drummer called Ernie Dick, so for a while it was Ernie Dick and the Pointed Sticks, but we booted him before our first gig, so we never actually played under that name.

RR: What are some of your favourite albums and which bands had a big influence on the bands early days?

NJ: Same as pretty much every other bunch of kids starting a punk band in 1978, but we also liked the Buzzcocks, who weren't real well known yet, and also tons of 60's pop and garage music. We loved Phil Spector, Motown, Bubblegum music, and stuff like Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Sonics. Our first few gigs were all covers, things like It Hurts To Be In Love by Gene Pitney, done at double speed...

RR: You were signed to Stiff Records in the UK, how did that occur?

NJ: They had heard our Quintessence singles, and wanted to have a presence in North America. So they signed us, Any Trouble, and the Feelies. We also had interest from Sire, but went with Stiff so we could record in England.

RR: Could you describe the sessions that you did for Stiff in the UK? When did they occur and why did they remain unreleased for so long?

NJ: The session took place in Jan/Feb 1980. First off, they had picked totally the wrong producer for us. Nigel Gray, the guy who had done the Police records. He was a nice guy, but he only knew one sound, and he wanted us to sound like the Police. He rearranged a bunch of songs, used horrible thin sounds, and generally was pretty unsympathetic to our ideas. We had asked for Nick Lowe, but our requests fell on deaf ears. Also at this time, Stiff was in the process of going bankrupt. They had way over extended themselves financially, and the problems of 5 kids from Vancouver didn't really register very highly on the importance chart for them. The Feelies album actually came out, but got no support and died a horrible death. Ours never came out at all, until we bootlegged it ourselves 28 years later!! Available on Base Records from Tokyo!

RR: The band worked with Bob Rock on three of your earlier singles and the full length album Perfect Youth. What was it like working with Bob and do you still keep in contact with him at all?

NJ: We saw him a couple of years ago when we were making 3 Lefts, but don't really keep in touch with him. He's a swell guy, and very talented. To be honest, I think he learned a lot about how to produce records from working with us. They were the first records to have his name as producer on them, and we all were very much into doing anything to make the song better, even if it was something way outside the normal record making procedure. We put mikes in stairwells, turned tape upside down and used weird instruments. We had a ton of fun in the studio with him, and it’s probably still our most fun place to be, even though we've grown to love playing live. That used to be pretty torturous for us back in the day, mostly because I bought into the role of tortured artist...ha ha ha!!!

RR: The Pointed Sticks were featured in the Dennis Hopper Cult classic Out of the Blue. How did the band get connected with Hopper and was it like meeting/working with Dennis Hopper?

NJ: The producers of the film kind of used us, being the most popular underground band in Vancouver at the time, as a draw for the free concert that they filmed for inclusion in the movie. It was a freezing cold day, and about 600 kids were made to wait outside in the cold for 3 hours until they opened the doors at 6pm. Then a few bands including us and the Dishrags swapped sets until about 12:30 when Dennis and his gang of coked out cowboys arrived to film the wreckage. By that time, much alcohol had been consumed, and everybody was on edge, so the weirdness you see in the movie is honest....I love the movie, it’s very dark and a great snapshot of a city that no longer exists....recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Blue Velvet.

RR: Could you elaborate on the recording of the My Japanese Fan single that was released in 2007? How did the songs come about (My Japanese Fan and Found Another Boy) and where/when was it recorded?

NJ: MJF came about because we got tired really quickly of playing nothing but our old songs, after we had re-united in 2006 for the trip to Japan. We felt that unless we could actually do something new, that it would be boring and pointless to keep playing. Found Another Boy was an old song of Bills that we had never recorded way back when, and I really liked it. It reminds me of Be My Lover by Alice Cooper! MJF was Gords idea initially, but everyone in the band contributed at least one line to the lyrics and I think it’s a great pop song. It was recorded at Paramount, which is Gords studio.

RR: How was the recording process different when making Three Lefts Make A Right as opposed to recordings that you have done in the past. Is the song writing process any different than your previous efforts?

NJ: Well, because we recorded at Gords place, we had a lot more time to re-do things until we were happy with the performances. We also spent a full year doing demos before we recorded the final product, which gave us the chance to refine the songs down to their essence. We’ve never been much of a jam band, we like to say what we've got to say in as concise a way as possible. We also recorded most of our parts separately, due to work and family commitments, it was different, but necessity is the mother of invention, they say! As for the songwriting, Gord gave me a demo with a whole ton of ideas on it, and I messed around with them and gave them back, then he messed around some more, then we demoed them together until we were happy with what we had. On Tony and Bills songs, they brought them in to me and Gord arranged them a bit and changed a few little things, got the thumbs up, and went from there.

RR: What are the future plans for The Pointed Sticks?

NJ: Well, we have some new songs that we've slowly been working on, but everyone is very busy. Hopefully by the end of the year we'll have something new to share with the world. And the songs are different than 3 Lefts, a bit more experimental, I would say. And we might play again soon, or we might not. It will evolve the way it’s meant to be. We are all great friends, and when we do get together, it’s a great time, so I'm sure that the world hasn't seen the last of the Pointed Sticks yet...

RR: When I interviewed Ross Carpenter (of Active Dog) he mentioned a band that you (Nick) played in a band called The Melody Pimps. Could you elaborate more on this band?

NJ: Melody Pimps are a fuck band, one of many great Vancouver fuck bands and I think that to understand this properly, you should go to the appropriate webisode on the "Bloodied But Unbowed" website....all will be revealed.

Links of interest:

Pointed Sticks Official Website
Pointed Sticks Myspace Page
Pointed Sticks Facebook Page

This Week's Play List:

1. The Pointed Sticks - Marching Song
2. Simply Saucer - Dance The Mutation
3. Johnny West - Some Are Salt
4. Wildlife - When I Get Home
5. Justin Faubert - Evolution
6. What Seas What Shores - Cordyceps
7. Beekeeper - There's A Reason
8. Kman and the 45s - Nine Lives (Part 1)
9. The Nefidovs - Animal Love (Demo)
10. Tom Norcott Trio - Just Don't
11. Michel & The French Canadians - Cause I Believe
12. The Ugly Ducklings - 10:30 Train
13. The Hung Jury - Except the Whisky
14. The Locusts Have No King - Cruelty is King
15. Deja Voodoo - Red Garlic Shoes
16. Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet - Bennet Cerf
17. The Pointed Sticks - Lies
18. Blue Peter - Do The Robot
19. The Government - Paranoid Downtown Funk Pt.2
20. Private School - Rock and Roll Radio
21. The Shades - New Clientelle
22. Active Dog - Nothing Holding You
23. No Fun - Old
24. The Pointed Sticks - My Japanese Fan
25. The Pointed Sticks - The Real Thing
26. The Pointed Sticks - Keep Searchin'

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for March 22. Or subscribe to Revolution Rock as a Podcast.

My show Revolution Rock, is nominated for the best Indie/Alternative/Rock show for CJAM's annual Jammy Awards.  If you're a listener of the show or visit this website, my show could use your support. You can vote here.

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