|The Stickmen play ATP Melbourne. Photo by Andy Hazel|
From 1997-1999, one band ruled Hobart, released two adored albums and vanished. ANDY HAZEL catches up with Ianto Kelly, drummer for recent ATP highlight and reformed legends THE STICKMEN.
“When The Drones got the job to curate ATP, [drummer] Mike [Noga] wanted to have a Tassie connection, and he particularly wanted us there,” explains sticks-man for the Stickmen, Ianto Kelly one quarter of the four-piece. “He asked very nicely which I thought was funny: ‘It would be a real honour and a privilege if you could consider this offer…’” he laughs.
Thrust into the vault of ‘you should’ve been there’ experiences, a Stickmen gig was something witnesses will attest to as being very special. With their four members long-since split between four different cities, any chance for a reformation would similarly have to be under very special circumstances. “Having ATP and the Drones behind you is a bit of clout,” says Kelly. “That’s the ATP thing; it’s someone saying ‘this is a band that influenced me, this is a band that contributed to me making the music I do’. It’s not like someone saying ‘we’re booking a show, we’ll make it worth your while’. Mike had been playing Stickmen to the other members of the Drones for years, so the whole band got behind it.”
With all four members continuing to play in other bands (Kelly now plays with The Spinning Rooms), he admits rehearsals were fuelled by adrenaline. “There is a bit of pressure. We were nervous until we started playing, then it just sounded like the Stickmen having fun. Our first rehearsal wasn’t as shabby as we thought it would be, and we’re very relaxed about it now, especially compared to how we were feeling before,” he says laughing. “It’s all round rad. Playing is going to be crazy.”
Of their more relaxed (and cheaper) sideshow at the Tote, Kelly explains that this is being considered a very different show. “We’re writing up two sets, we’re saving the faster, more dynamic stuff for the Tote. Aldous brought some ideas to rehearsal, we added to it and we really quickly wrote a new song,” he says before expanding on the band’s remarkably fluid creative process. “Aldous was always moving on and changing things, never resting on his laurels, he always wanted to keep moving things forward. We used to play songs that people knew by starting at half speed or double speed, changing the way we’d go into and out of them, finding ways to keep it interesting.”
The band’s long lost albums - 1997’s The Stickmen and 1999’s Man Made Stars - were mined for the 2008 compilation Who Said it Should Be Good?. Released by Tom Lyngcoln’s (Harmony, The Nation Blue) label Solar/Sonar, the album added to the few press retrospectives and the enduring copying and spreading of the music, all contributing to a groundswell of curiosity that surprises the band, as Kelly explains. “A big part of that is that we didn’t hang around too long or get boring and start repeating ourselves. There’s a bit of mystique because we never came to the mainland too. Tom Lyngcoln and Mike Noga have largely been responsible for keeping our name alive, that Mess and Noise article too,” he says referring to Troy D. Colvin’s Hunting…The Stickmen. “That Best Of was a labour of love for Tom, he certainly made no money out of it.”
With a lot of listeners and reviewers struggling to describe their uniquely simple hybrid of surf, psych rock and primitive turntablism, Kelly is reflexive. “I think the two albums stand up really well, but I can’t really tell if it’s all the things people say it is. I’m too close to it. I wonder if people will think ‘that’s the sound of Hobart in the 90s’ or whether it could have been made now or 40 years ago, which it kind of could be.”
Excitingly, this reunion may not be ending at the Tote. New material has been written and technology, burgeoning when the band split, now allows them to continue despite geography. “It’s not an official reunion as such,” he clarifies. “But who knows?”