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Sticky Fingers: “We Came Very Close To Breaking Up Last Year”

Written by Sally McMullen on September 26, 2016

UPDATE 05/12/16: Sticky Fingers have now announced they are officially breaking up.

ORIGINAL STORY: Sticky Fingers is undeniably one of Australia’s busiest bands and most successful musical exports at the moment. It’s not even the end of September and the Sydney natives have already sold out a run of national shows, toured the UK and Europe and played to a record-breaking crowd at Splendour in the Grass. With plans to release their third studio album Westway (The Glitter & The Slums) on 30th September, tour the US, play another almost sold out Australia tour and rock a smattering of festival gigs over New Year’s weekend, the boys are showing no signs of slowing down.

While these are all milestones of success, you might be surprised to know that there was a chance that Sticky Fingers wouldn’t make it out of 2015 in one piece. After two years of relentless touring and on-the-road debauchery, the boys were overworked and tensions were bubbling up. So while StiFi clearly needed a break, the deadline of their third album was also looming in the distance.

In a moment of “por qué no los dos?”, the Stickies kicked off 2016 with four weeks in Thailand, recording the follow up to 2013’s Land of Pleasure at Karma Sounds Studios. A crafty way of getting all five dudes together in one place to record, it was also a chance for them to relax and receive the royal treatment on the beaches of Thailand. The result is yet another euphoric, reggae-infused rock ‘n’ roll record to add to Sticky’s long list of achievements.

We speak with bassist Paddy Cornwall about the third album, why we all need to stop whinging about the lockout laws and and the moment that stopped the band from breaking up last year.

Music Feeds: You guys recorded the album in Thailand this time. What was that experience like? It seems like a pretty obscure but amazing choice of location to record an album.

Paddy Cornwall: It was magical. Like, every experience that I’ve had this year since then has paled in comparison (laughs). It was almost like going to heaven and coming back. It was ridiculously over the top and just magical. We were literally living like kings and we also definitely blew the budget. Thank fuck we actually feel like we churned something out that people might enjoy. Otherwise, we would’ve just been full wankers rather than half wankers like we are now. I guess we also recently made a stained glass window of our mugs in it. So, I guess that’s pretty wanky too. So we’re riding pretty high on the wanker-scale at the moment but we’ve got the music to back it up. So, thank fuck for that.

MF: Yeah, well that’d be awkward if all you had to show for it was a stained glass window and a whole lot of debt (laughs).

PC: (Laughs) Yeah! The thing about Thailand, though, is that it was kind of called for. We hadn’t had a break in so long, so it was almost like a working holiday. It was almost like musical rehab because it gave all five of us a month, while we were making this killer album together, to also clean up our acts a little bit. So, we were just trying to get healthy and rehabilitating a little. So, yeah. I think it was actually called for. You guys will be the judges when the album comes out, I guess.

MF: It seems to have worked, though. How do you think that trip impacted how the album ultimately turned out?

PC: Well, I think the biggest thing is that everyone actually turned up because they had no choice. I think that was another idea behind it. Sometimes it can be really difficult just to get these five guys in the same room together, you know? The band is full of five very different people and all very strong characters in a different way. I don’t even know why we’re friends but it kind of works (laughs). Anyway, we were staying in this villa that was right on the beach in this small town of Thailand called Nang Sabai. So, I guess the idea was that if we were living where we were recording, we’d just wake up and we’d all just kind of be there and all be in the zone. Whereas in the past, we’ve had instances of booking studios in Sydney and not being able to track everybody down to be there together.

MF: Well, it seems like the strategy has worked. This obviously isn’t Sticky Finger’s first rodeo, though. Did you guys change up the writing and recording process much for this record?

PS: Well, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of establishing ourselves as a band that has a pretty strong, diverse sound. Like, you know, we’ve had people trying to pitch us as a reggae band, which isn’t really right at all. Or I guess you could say the band is kind of like a rock ‘n’ roll band, but we don’t always play the meat and two veg rock and roll either. We can get pretty hammy on the production. I guess the band is a rock and roll band in spirit. I guess another thing is that we’ve kind of been a band since we were like 15 and 16 year olds, and being in the age of the internet, if you want you can go and look at a whole bunch of stuff to try out musically and we were just kids. So a lot of it wasn’t necessarily very good, a lot of it was us still trying to figure it out and we’re still trying to figure it out right now (laughs). But I reckon Westway is probably our coming-of-age album or the album with arguably the most integrity. I don’t even know what I’m trying to say but I definitely think it’s the best thing we’ve put out.

So going from Land of Pleasure, we were all so chuffed by that and we were convinced that was the best thing that we’ve ever done not just in the band but in our lives. Then we had a lot of fun touring that record around the world for a couple of years. Then it was sort of time to come back and make another one and then it was a bit like “Fuck!” because we knew we wouldn’t be happy unless we felt we’d raised the bar again, which is why it took a bit longer. I think we’ve done that, though. I think it’s good.

MF: Yeah, I think you can hear that you guys have tapped into something new on Westway. It still sounds like Sticky Fingers, but there’s a few styles on there that I don’t think we’ve heard from you guys before.

PC: Yeah, we’re lucky to have Dylan as our singer. He’s got this most unique voice that we can travel into all of these different sounds, but he can sing over the top of it and it still sounds like Sticky Fingers. If you’re familiar with his voice, it’s instantly identifiable. I guess going back to your question about how we’ve changed up our recording, I guess one way in comparing it to Land of Pleasure, was when we recorded that album we were all living in this share house together out in the Western suburbs of Sydney. We built our first studio together in the garage. So at first we were getting super experimental with the production which travelled up when we were recording it in the hills of Byron. But when it actually got time to finish recording all of the songs and us having to learn to play them, we realised that we had taken a lot of the sounds so far out of just five dudes smashing it out in a garage that it was really quite tricky to figure out a way to play those songs live.

So I think this time we made an effort so the album would be more live and sound like the band. Mainly just for our sake so that when it came time to start playing them live we would just be like “sweet, we’ve already got this” (laughs). So, I think those songs are going to come across really well live, we’re looking forward to that.

MF: You guys have also described the record as the darkest work you’ve released. Was this something you were conscious about when making the record or was it just something you realised when it was complete and you had time to reflect on it?

PC: Well, I guess just like everybody else who is conscious on this planet and as life goes on, you kind of deal with life (laughs). On a personal level, I almost spent five plus years walking around like the most arrogant, stubborn mother fucker you’ve ever met. Then I went through a things and it was like, “Ok, maybe you don’t know everything. Maybe you know nothing at all.” But speaking about the band, the band came very close to breaking up last year. There was this point where it wasn’t going to go on. I think we were just pushing ourselves a bit too hard and we were just getting a bit burnt out and then the next thing you know we’re dealing with psych wards and rehab clinics and punch ups and all sorts of other types of meltdowns. Then we couldn’t get some Visas sorted to get over to our tour of the states. So morale for the band was pretty low and we felt like if we weren’t going to get over there, that might’ve been it for us.

But then miraculously, we got it sorted. Anthony Albanese got wise to the fact that we were having some trouble because of minor criminal record stuff like drink driving charges et cetera. But it turns out he was a fan of the band, so he got us all cleared and got us over there.

Some of us were already over there and just decided to have a holiday regardless of whether the tour happens or not. But then next thing we were in Philly and we were two hours late to a sold out gig and we didn’t even know we had a fan base over there. Meanwhile all five of us hadn’t spoken in over a month, let alone being on stage playing music together and we hadn’t rehearsed in months either. So it was like, fucking rock and roll (laughs). But, that night we all had this real classic band moment where we were on stage, playing together and all the bullshit just washed away and we remembered, all of the crap aside, we love doing what we do and making music together. We had the most incredible time falling in love with each other and the band again in America. From then we decided to make another record and I guess we always write about what we know, so the album kind of tells a story of the five of us and what was going on leading up to that time I guess.

MF: As well as this euphoric almost movie moment on stage, you’ve mentioned that ‘Sad Songs’ was one of the tracks that kind of rekindled the band bond. What was it about this particular song that had that power?

PC: I think maybe we all had this energy but we were putting it towards the wrong outlets and only started using it for good when we were playing songs together again, like Sad Songs. If you listen to the words it kind of speaks to itself. I guess we kind of realised that we were on to something and that there was a lot in there that we needed to get out. And with music being as good a therapy as any, I guess this record is like the rehab or something. I don’t fucking know (laughs).

MF: (Laughs). I can hear it now. Westway – The Rehab Album.

PC: (Laughs) Oh, god.

MF: Speaking of some of the rough times you’ve had on the road, let’s talk about ‘Outcast At Last’. It’s interesting because while you guys obviously fought like a family and went through a lot together last year, the track kind of talks about how after so many years of touring, you now feel more at home on the road than you do when you come back off tour.

PC: I don’t have to say anything. You just nailed it (laughs).

MF: Well, that’s convenient then (laughs). Let’s talk about ‘Westway’. Not only is it the record’s title-track, but it’s also one of the more experimental songs on the album. So how come you decided to make it the title track?

PC: Well, originally the album was going to be called The Westway: The Glitter and the Slums but then we thought that might have been too much of a mouth full. So that’s why we went with the sort Jimmy Hendricks/(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?-style brackets that gives people the option to say the whole thing or just The Westway. We just felt The Westway (The Glitter and the Slums) painted a really beautiful picture. It’s really visual and represents what the whole record is about, which I guess is the highs and lows of being in a band. I know that sounds fairly straight forward but but that’s kind of what it is.

MF: You guys also did a collab with Remi on ‘Something Strange’. How did you hook that up and what was it like working with him?

PC: I think after releasing Land of Pleasure, we had a few different people come and compare our sound to that of the Gorillaz, especially on like Plastic Beach. And I was down with that, I liked that and that kind of got me thinking about the future and the idea of doing a collab, though we weren’t really sure who with. I’ve always been a fan on Remi. I think he really stands his own in the Aussie rap and hip hop scene. He ain’t no backyard barbeque rapper, it’s something a bit more worldly and Sensible J’s production is crazy as well.

So I’d met Remi a few times at a few different parties and whatever. Then one time I got a call from him and he was saying he had a gig that night in the city and he needed to borrow a drum kit. So we said “no worries, you can borrow ours. As long as you don’t mind that there’s a massive fucking Sticky Fingers logo on it” (laughs). So he came by the studio and we just hung out for a bit and I showed him a beat I was working on, which was Something Strange and he seemed to dig it, so I just asked if he wanted to jump on it and he was keen. So it was very organic.

MF: Yeah, I think it turned out really well. Hopefully that’s one you guys decide to release as a single!

PC: Yeah, we’ve got plans to produce a very extravagant video clip for that one, which we’re looking forward to making when we have some time off the road early next year.

MF: Speaking of tracks with rad video clips, you released Our Town earlier this year as a bit of a follow up to your cover The Special’s Ghost Town in 2015. They’re both a response to the NSW lockout laws, but it seems the new track has more of an optimistic vibe to it.

PC: Well, yeah. I guess it acts as almost a sequel to Ghost Town. We’re lucky, we’re always jet-setting and experience all of these different ways of life and cultures as we travel through these different cities while we’re touring. But one thing that drags us down is coming back and seeing how the lockout laws are effecting Sydney’s night life and also our identity. It feels like Sydney’s a bit confused and lost some of its confidence. But one thing we were really getting sick of when we were coming back was people sitting around kind of being like “Aw, it’s fucking shit,” but not actually doing anything to change it. So I guess Our Town was kind of on the same subject as Ghost Town except it was a bit more positive about it because if you don’t make moves, nothing’s going to change.

MF: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. I was talking about the idea that “Sydney is closed” with someone a few weeks ago, yet how there are still gigs and events on every night and so many better ways to help the situation then sit at home and whinge about it on social media.

PC: Yeah, it’s a horrible mentality to have and it could be a whole lot worse too (laughs).

MF: The album closes with ‘No Divide’, which you guys have said is the band’s unanimous favourite. There are a lot of bangers on the album, so I’m sure it would’ve been tough picking a band favourite. What is it about this song that trumps the others?

PC: Yeah, it’s kind of our collective favourite. It’s one that the five of us wrote together and the song is more or less about us and the relationship between the five of us. It’s got this certain voodoo quality to it that gives us all goose bumps and I think it’s hard for us to explain but yeah, I guess that’s just because the song is about us. I guess it’s like these five guys who are in a long-term relationship that aren’t fucking each other but I guess the music acts as the fucking (laughs). Hence, no divide.

MF: Like regardless of what happened last year, that song and the completed album is proof you guys made it out the other end.

PC: Yeah, I see it that way. When we put Land of Pleasure out, we didn’t have any sort of second album difficulties which can be stereotypical of many bands and we’ve smashed this one out again. So, yeah, we’re definitely here to stay for the time being (laughs).

MF: Yeah, I think that’s pretty obvious considering you have already sold out most of the shows you’re playing around the country next month.

PC: Yeah, we’re sitting very pretty and we’re still incredibly chuffed and so lucky to have such a strong and loyal fan base. I think it’s also a part of that DIY independent factor we have. We have that personal and intimate relationship with our fans that makes it really strong and it feels like a lot of people involved in the movement kind of feel like they’ve come across the band and discovered themselves and are now a part of the ride. As opposed to having it shoved down their throats and told that’s what they like, I guess.

MF: Do you get the same sort of vibe from fans when you’re touring overseas?

PC: Yeah, well that recent UK tour was incredible. We’ve been over to Europe and the UK around five times now, so we’ve been at it for quite a long time. And we’ve lost a lot of money and a lot of brain cells over the years in our experiences over there. We’ve also gained wisdom and other things too. But that tour really felt like a tipping point, where suddenly the UK was looking like Australia. Most of the shows had sold out and the UK crowds were just totally mental. I thought Aussie crowds were mental but the UK…

MF: Looks like we might have to step up then. So you guys just wrapped up your UK tour and now you’re heading to the US on the same day Westway drops?

PC: Yeah, so the first cab of the rank is the Teragram Ballroom which is a real cool venue down town in LA and yeah, that’s the day the album comes out. So that’ll be a big party and I’ve just got word this morning that that’s just sold out. So we’re pretty excited about that.

MF: So, in this kind of limbo in between shows, how are you spending your down time?

PC: Yeah, we always kind of come back and a lot of us come back with the best intentions of like “Yeah, I’m really gonna take it easy over the next couple of weeks and just chill out.” But then we come back and we’ve got all of our friends to catch up with, so the great cycle just carries on. So I guess we just try to use the time to catch up with everybody and try to catch up on some sleep.

We also never really stop rehearsing. I’m not sure about how other bands feel about it, and this is the only band I’ve ever properly been in, but for us our music isn’t like riding a bicycle where you might not ride it for years and you can jump on and you still know how to do it. If we stop playing and then come back and do it, even after like two weeks, we’re gonna sound shit. So, we’ve got our little studio down in Marrickville and we still tend to spend a lot of time down there just jamming and hanging out.

We’re also in a really privileged position right now where we’ve got press we want to do and interviews like this, so we’ve been doing lots of this kind of stuff and just getting everything all together. We do a lot of the backend stuff ourselves, because we’re still independent and the whole operation is still very DIY. Which kind of means more work but I think we’re really proud of the fact that we’re still independent. And I think that people in general and our fans can get a sense of that, whether or not how much they know about how the music industry operates, I think that people can get the sense that Sticky Fingers are the real deal and we’re not just a flash in the pan type of a hype-based success. We’re in it for the long haul. So whether you like the music or not, it’s real.

MF: Aside from the tour of the US and the nationwide shows next month, you guys are capping off the year with some festival appearances at Lost Paradise and Beyond the Valley.

PC: Yeah, my housemate actually puts on the Lost Paradise festival, too!

MF: Seriously?! So that’s how you guys got on the bill!

PC: (Laughs) Yeah! You know the Rule brothers who ran the Annandale for like a decade? Yeah, they’re my housemates at the moment.

MF: Well, holy shit. Those are some good connections to have as roomies.

PC: That’s right. Mates in high places (laughs).

Speaking of, those upcoming shows, though, we’ve had some issues with scalpers recently. They’re trying to sell tickets for $300. So I guess a way we’re trying to deal with it is to say to the press that we’re not good enough that you should pay $300 for a ticket. We just want to reassure people that they shouldn’t indulge scalpers because we’ll be back. We’re coming back and doing a much bigger Aussie tour in March next year. This is just a smaller run because it’s all of the time we have right now. So yeah, if you haven’t got a ticket, don’t sweat because we will be back.

MF: It’s only September and 2016 has already been a massive year for StiFi. What’s next for you guys?

PC: Totally, yeah! Well, when you’re in the middle of a tour and release cycle where you go off on the road and you have all of these experiences together and then you come back and write about it and put out a record, by that time the release is like a way of marking different periods of your life. So when I think of this record, it’ll always remind me of a period of my life, the same way as Land of Pleasure or Caress Your Soul does. I guess we’re just looking forward to what’s next and what it’s going to be because from where we are right now, it’s all question marks. So yeah, the curiosity is definitely high.

Sticky Fingers’ third album ‘Westway (The Glitter & The Slums)’ is out this Friday, 30th September.

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