Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Pointed Sticks 2016: a Nick Jones interview

I love the Pointed Sticks, and I really like the story of their comeback. "The Marching Song" on the Vancouver Complication was one of my first exposures to the first wave of Vancouver punk, but by the time I heard it - and saw them onscreen as part of their cameo in Dennis Hopper's film Out of the Blue - they had already broken up. I got to see a partial version of the band, minus singer Nick Jones, perform "The Marching Song" at the Vancouver Complication anniversary gig a little over ten years ago, and saw both their comeback shows at Richards on Richards in 2006, which were just delightful (I was at both the afternoon and evening gig). I've seen them a dozen times since, and enjoyed it every time. There's lots else on this blog on the band, if you look - including the odd detail that for some reason, the Pointed Sticks themselves have twice photographed me from the stage. What's with that?

You know who else is a Pointed Sticks fan, though? Jack Rabid. He's the man behind US music mag Big Takeover, which has run countless pieces by me, both in print and online. Jack's present plan is actually to be present in New Westminster for the July 2nd show at the Columbia. He writes the following about the Pointed Sticks:

I first heard of the band through following everything i could about the Vancouver scene, getting the early singles and Vancouver Complication, and seeing D.O.A. on their first trip through New York and asking them about Subhumans and what else I was hearing about from there. It was pretty much a comprehensive dive: at the same time, I was obsessing over the L.A. bands and San Francisco bands. I still think those were the three best scenes 1977-1979, and I'm a New Yorker! Only saw them once, when they made their only New York appearance at a power pop fest, 2006? 2007? I interviewed them the day after the show. can't wait to see them a second time! my favorite songs are "Out of Luck," "What Do You Want Me to Do," and the louder version of "True Love," and most of all the Vancouver Complication version of "Marching Song," man I am a sucker for that kind of Buzzcocks-type mix of power-pop 60s melodies with punk's raw energy and guitar edge, and good lyrics too.

My kind of music!
The following is an interview with Pointed Sticks singer Nick Jones, conducted, as I write this, yesterday afternoon, by cellphone from Jones' home base in Nanaimo. The band plays the Columbia in New West on July 2nd. It's kinda next to the Army and Navy, near Columbia Street station - an easy Skytrain out. Local music fans will also want to stop by Music Madhouse Records, near Lougheed Mall, at 3pm to see David M. of NO FUN do his small salute to David Bowie (free of charge!).

Nick follows...

 Pointed Sticks left to right: Nick Jones, Gord Nicholl, Ian Tiles, Bill Napier-Hemy, Tony Bardach, photo by Dale Wiese of Noise to Go

Allan: Okay, so - I've been thinking about you as a songwriter. You've written some fantastic songs, and I don't think I've ever talked to you about songwriting before. Why is that?

Nick: I don't know, but that's what the Pointed Sticks have always done, and the reason we're still going, and why people in other places still cover our songs and listen to our music, it's because of the songwriting. It's not because we were like DOA, a totally dynamic, heavy, confrontational live band, or anything like that. I think the whole key to our band has really been the songs. And it's not just me. There's three other really good songwriters in the band, too.

Yeah, but I've talked to Bill (Napier Hemy, Pointed Sticks guitarist) and Tony (Bardach, bassist) about songs they wrote, but, like, "The Marching Song" is probably like one of my top ten Vancouver punk songs, maybe one of my top ten punk songs anywhere, and I don't think I've ever asked you about it. 


So did you write the lyrics for that, or did Steve (Macklam, Pointed Sticks manager at the time)?

Macklam wrote the lyrics for that. I had the music - it was at a point where I was having a hard time writing lyrics, and I had two songs, "The Marching Song" and "The Real Thing," and I loved them both, but I couldn't come up with anything good for the lyrics for them. And regrettably, I let him write the lyrics, so he's gotten half the money for them over all the years, half the cut.

I had hoped you were the one who wrote the lyrics, I wanted to ask about them...

I was not.

It's a complicated song! What strikes me about it is it seems too mature of a relationship song for a bunch of guys that young. The emotions in it are emotions I didn't feel until well into my 30's or maybe my 40's, and you guys were practically teenagers!

Well, Macklam was an older guy, so I'll put it down to that... yeah, I dunno, I think he wrote that song as a sort of silly song, really; I don't really know what he was thinking about when he wrote that. But yeah, I dunno. I can tell you where I stole the music from, though.

Where did you steal the music from? 

"Wooden Heart" by Elvis, do you know that song? (Sings) Doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-da-doo-doo-doo, but I don't have a wooden heart." I think it may have been from GI Blues. It was one of the really bad songs from the movies, but it was a hit single. I just liked that little melody, so that was kind of where I lifted "Marching Song" from. 

There are two different versions of it. 

There's at least two.

I assume the Vancouver Complication version precedes the Perfect Youth version?

That's the first version of it, yeah, that's Robert Bruce playing drums, and the other is Dimwit playing drums. 

The drums do this thing in the Complication version that I really like, where they kind of really punctuate the song like it's the sound of marching, a rhythm that's de-emphasized on the Perfect Youth version. Is that down to Robert being the drummer?

I think so. Robert had some technical limitations, as a drummer. The style he could play in, no one could play better than him; he would have been a perfect replacement for Tommy Ramone, in the Ramones, because he could play that style down pat, that quick eight on the high hat, he had no problem doing that. But Dim was a little more adventurous, shall we say, a little more developed as a drummer, so he brought a little more fills and things... It's funny with Robert: he was only in the band for, like, three months, but he plays on "The Marching Song" and he plays on the Quintessence "Out of Luck/ Real Thing" single, and those could be the most played things we ever recorded. The "Out of Luck" single certainly is, and "The Marching Song" is probably second, really. It's kinda odd...

Is he still around?

Yeah, I saw him at the Brad Kent thing, the celebration of life for Brad, I saw Robert there. He's still around. 

Does he still play?

I don't think so. He played in a couple of bands after he left us, he played in the Antheads and I think he played in the Thirsty Souls for awhile, that's a band off Bud Luxford's second album, Tony Balony [AKA Tony Walker, of Trailerhawk] was in it, and Mary (AKA Mary Jo Kopechne/ Mary Celeste) was in that band as well... I can't remember who else.

Has Robert come to see the Pointed Sticks?

I don't know if he was at the last show, but he was certainly at the one before that that we said could be the last show, at the Rickshaw, I think it was December of 2012, when we sort of stated that we might not be playing anymore. Robert came to that show. I didn't speak to him because I was so drunk that night that I couldn't talk to anybody! (Chuckles).

The last show - not the "last" show, but the last show - was also at the Rickshaw. 


The one last year... Steve came to that! I was talking to (former Quintessence employee/ current Noize To Go proprietor) Dale Wiese in the audience and he was telling me that that was the first time Steve had seen you guys since you reunited. Is that true?

Yes, absolutely.

Why was that?

I think there probably was - I wouldn't say it was animosity, but I'm not so sure that Steve and our relationship ended on such a good note. Steve's a strange fellow - he's very Steve-centric, shall we say. But back in the day I was pretty good friends with his wife Caroline, who worked at Quintessence, and I told Caroline that they should come, Steve and Caroline. And they came, and two of their three kids, and it was very nice. We all talked to them and they stayed to the end and watched the band and were quite complimentary when we finished. It was nice.

Do you want me to tailor that for print?

Well, no... I think he wanted us to become big faster than we were ready to become big. We sort of got moved along back in the day a little faster than we were ready for. We were only 21 years old, and we had a record contract and were in England, a year and a half after the band started, when, in retrospect, it probably would have been better for us to just sit back and make a couple more singles, and take another six months or so before we did what we did. And I think a lot of that - I mean, he was doing what we wanted him to do, but probably in retrospect, he should have known that we weren't ready for it, as a manager. I think he did the same thing with Colin James, when he managed Colin James; Colin was a young blues phenom guy and Steve turned him into Bryan Adams, and shoved him to the top. He had that one record, and then he just kind of disappeared for a few years, and had to make his way back with the Little Big Band later on, after Steve wasn't managing him anymore. That's what managers are supposed to do, I suppose, is move their artists along and send them straight to the top, but we just simply weren't ready for it at the time. But Steve's had a very successful career as a manager, since then, and he probably wouldn't make the same mistake again.... I mean, we were making an album when we probably just didn't really have enough songs yet. We put out three great singles, and we could have kept on doing that.

And the other thing that we never really did, which so many bands that came after us did, and which bought them their houses and cemented their careers, is make sure we had the Canadian market locked up before we went anywhere else. Like, bands like the Payolas and 54/40 and even Images in Vogue, they had hits in Canada, which we could have done. Except we sort of overstepped our bounds, we were like, "fuck Canada, we want to be big all over the world!" So we kinda left that behind and kind of ignored that in favour of chasing another brass ring, which we never achieved. 

In the lyrics to "The Marching Song," the word "stiff" pops up, that wasn't an early attempt to cultivate Stiff Records from the gitgo or or anything?

No, no, that was long before we were ever signed to Stiff. "Marching Song" was pretty early. "Marching Song" was probably like, maybe March or April of 1979, and that was a full six months, at least, before we had our deal with Stiff. Boy things happened fast back then. The band was only together two and a half years start to finish!

And now it's the stuff of legend.

And now we've been together ten years, since we came back! (Laughs). 

So did you write the lyrics to "Out of Luck?"

I did.

Tell me about that one! I tried to grill Bill (Napier Hemy) about a couple of his songs - "True Love" - and "Found Another Boy" - asking him if they were about girls he still knows, or such. He didn't want to go there at all.

I can see that. He probably got very uncomfortable.

Very quickly. So was "Out of Luck" written about an actual, specific life experience, or...?

No, I don't think "Out of Luck" was a very specific song... "Out of Luck" was literally a five minute song. I was sitting on the couch one afternoon and I sort of came up with the idea, the intro and things like that, and I would say 80% of the song was done within maybe five or ten minutes later. I showed it to the band and we probably played it very quickly after that. Sometimes songs just work like that. Sometimes you work on them for months and months and months and they don't ever get any better and they don't ever get where you want them to be, and sometimes they just fall right out. And "Out of Luck" was definitely one of those ones, which is pretty crazy, because, if you look on Youtube, there's probably, like, ten covers from bands that do "Out of Luck." I think it's kind of a basement staple, where punk rock bands get together and jam in basements around the world; I think "Out of Luck" is one of the ones that come up. 

Do you remember anything informing it? Relationships, movies, other songs?

Well, I would say... back then the first girlfriend I ever had, she kinda bore the brunt of a lot of those early songs. I think that's kind of natural that people would write about what they know. A lot of them were based around the love experience, the relationship with her, though I wouldn't call her a muse, that's for sure. The songs were pretty simple. They were good, though - they were good punk songs, and... the thing was, when we'd write a song like that, when anybody in the band wrote a song like that and took it into the rest of the band, the rest of the band always changed what came there in the first place, it wasn't very often that we'd play a song the way the songwriter had initially figured it out. The way it was initially presented to the band was quite a bit different from the way it ended up turning out, because everybody's got an opinion, and everybody's opinion is usually pretty valid. Like, Tony's the songwriter on "Part of the Noise," but me and Bill wrote the bridge on that one. And there were other songs, where people contributed little bits - we just figured the first person who put his name to it was the one who got the credit for it. There was enough to go around - we didn't ever got rich, but we made a little bit of money off of them. 
Pointed Sticks' Tony Bardach by bev davies, not to be reused without permission

Coming back to "The Marching Song," there was a line that changed between recordings, where "she's in command of my har-har-har-heart," where you stutter a bit on the delivery, whose contribution was that?

Oh, I dunno. The band put the stutter in it, when we put the accents in it - it was probably just me being theatrical, something like that.

Had you all had serious relationships at a young age, by the time you were writing these songs? Because one of the things that makes your songs memorable is that there's a real emotional richness.  they're young people's emotions, maybe, but they're not simple.

Well, I would say... I can't really speak for Gord (Nicholl, keyboardist), but I would say that me and Bill and Tony all had fairly serious relationships by that point in our lives. And all three of us had travelled, when we were teenagers, and... I dunno, our experience was probably a little bit richer than the average 21 year old. And also, I think 21 year olds were a lot older back then, than they are now, too, in terms of, like, life experience. Like, 21 year olds now can manipulate a lot of machines and come up with answers very quickly, but I don't really know that they have as much interpersonal interactions with a lot of people as 21 year olds had had, by that point back then. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but I'm not saying that as a "things were better when I was a kid" grumpy-old-man kind of thing, but, having children of my own, I know that I'd done a lot more worldly things by the time I was 21 than any of those three had. And I think that that experience is true of the other guys in the band, as well.

Gord Nicholl, photographed by Nick Jones, 2006 at Richards on Richards!

How old are your kids?

My kids - my oldest, she is going to be 28 this year, and my middle daughter has just turned 25, and my son is 21. 


Well, Tony's got a daughter in her 30's. We got a few kids between us. Ian's the oldest guy in the band with the youngest kid, which is pretty funny. 

I agree with you, by the way, to say, that you had to grow up faster. It does ring true, it doesn't sound odd to me. 

I think that just - you had to make your own experience, I don't think it was presented to you. I think the whole internet platform, and social media thing, just puts things on kids plates, rather than having to go out and find them yourself. There wasn't really anything to entertain you, you really had to go a long ways to make your own entertainment back then. I think that has a lot to do with it. 

At the same time, I know when I was young, like, I've written songs - I mean, nothing that anyone has done anything with - and I know that when I was a kid and playing around with writing songs, and a lot of the really early songs I wrote, weren't based in experience. They were faking it. Were there any early Pointed Sticks songs that were like that, where you were putting on emotions, trying to guess and get it right, where you hadn't actually lived through it yourself?

I think there's fakery in all of the songs! I also think it's a bit of a trap to try to write too literally, when you write about relationships, when you write about anything. That's almost the problem... like, I've always admired songwriters that can write stuff that sounds fantastic but doesn't mean anything, you know? Like words that are stuck together and you're listening to it, and you go, "oh, this is fantastic, this must really mean a lot," and then when you start thinking about it, you go, "whoa - or maybe it just doesn't mean anything at all." I've always tried to not write literally, but it's hard to get away from that, it's hard to get away from that, it's hard for me to write abstractly. So I would say, in terms of faking it, there are songs we wrote that we knew nothing about. When we started out, it was punk rock, so there's a few Pointed Sticks songs that never saw the light of day, particularly where we lean towards the political side. We were never very good at writing that. I don't think, other than "American Song," there's an overt political song in our entire canon, and we never even play that one live now,  just 'cause it seems silly.
Nick Jones 2006, at Richards on Richards, photo by Cindy Metherel (now Cindy LeGrier), not to be reused without permission

Are there older songs you thin of bringing back to the light?

At Brad's thing, we played a song, "You Must Be Crazy," that we haven't played since we got together again, so that means we haven't played it in over 35 years. And we're going to play it on Saturday, too. There's a couple of Bill's that I tried to get him to learn to play again, but he didn't... but we're playing a song called "All I Could Take" that we haven't played in a long time. We try to mix it up, keep things fresh. We play the odd cover, play songs that we don't play... I'll tell you a story. When we came back and we played those gigs in Japan, and they were great, and we played the gigs in Vancouver, and the gigs in Vancouver were great. But then we did those gigs in Toronto and New York, and in Toronto, the gig wasn't that great. We were kinda tired and we didn't really play all that well and I don't think we were really feeling it. And then we came back and we sort of thought we should sit down and talk about this, so we sit down, and we had a meeting at Tony's house, when he had the Dental Lab, he had this place upstairs, it's like a big long boardroom table, it was like having a board meeting there. And the consensus, particularly led by Bill more than anybody else, was that continuing to just go and play the songs we had written 35 years ago was a total non-starter. We were already bored with doing that, already, after having only done it three or four times. The gig in Toronto, it felt like were were faking it, and that was really distracting to us. And then we talked about whether we should say, "Okay, that's it, we've had our little thing," or, whether - if were going to continue on, there was going to have to be a creative aspect to it, it couldn't just be, like, a sideshow,  just playing those old songs. And that's when we started writing songs. At first, the songs were just pouring out of Gord and I, just like literally every week we'd call each other up: "Well, I got this, I got this, I got this..." It's kinda slowed down a little bit since then.


 The Pointed Sticks in Japan! (Provided by the band)

But I think that's what made us want to continue on. We like to challenge ourselves, to play new songs, to make records to record, and to just not be the same thing. We could go out and play the same fifteen songs every night. Another reason we can't really do that is we can't really travel, we've got some legal issues, so we can't really go anywhere. We can't go to America and play because of legal issues. And everybody's got jobs and stuff. If we're going to play to the same audience in Vancouver over and over again, we gotta give them something every time we play. So that's where the idea of songwriting came from, plus the pride you feel when you've written a new song and the songs are good... it'll be half new songs, on Saturday night, so...

Anything new new? 

A few off the self titled album, and four, maybe five off Three Lefts Make a Right. 

Anything since then? 

We've got a couple of things we've been working out. We kinda tend to collect stuff and get together and put it into order, but I doubt... if you're familiar with all of the Pointed Sticks material, we wouldn't playing anything you haven't heard yet, that haven't appeared on a record, although there's a couple of covers we haven't played before, that we're going to play. But I'm not going to tell you what those are, heh-heh-heh.

I kind of feel like I did Three Lefts an injustice. I'd heard it when I was going through a weird time, and it didn't grab me. I like the self-titled one a lot. But... do you have a preference between them?

Well, they're very different. Three Lefts is very much closer to being a continuation of what the Pointed Sticks were when we broke up in 1981. Which is kind of understandable. I think Three Lefts is about half great, and there's a couple songs on it that aren't very good. But "Anytime" is a great song, "On Fire" is a great song - there's a few really really great songs on that record. I don't have a preference between them. Three Lefts was a little more spontaneous, a little faster. We really laboured over the self-titled record. I mean, Gord and I spent months on that record. I'd be away working and then I'd come back and we'd spend three days working on it at a time, change a bunch of stuff that we'd already had before. It was very labour intensive. I'm really happy with that record, too. I think it's a really great record - lyrically too.

I think we already talked about a couple songs on it - "Tsune's Song," I know that "You're Not the One" was a Bill Scherk song from the Los Popularos days. "La La La" kind of interests me, but I don't have a full sense of what that song's about. It sounds like advice to someone on the scene.

Yeah, I think it's just kind of a song that says, "Don't be so sure of yourself." Because sometimes the people with the very most confidence have got the furthest to fall. It's basically a song about someone who thought they had everything going their way, and all of a sudden you realize that you don't, and - how do you deal with it, at that point? The whole "La La La" thing was, like, when you try to talk to somebody, or - not that I'm in the business of giving anybody advice, but sometimes you might want to say to somebody, and say, "hey, this isn't working out exactly the way you think it is," and that person's just like, "LA LA LA LA LA LA LA," the "La La La" part was just the person not paying any attention to warning signs that people are trying to tell them about.

Was that autobiographical, or are you thinking of someone specific?

I think all songs have things have slightly autobiographical elements, but - I'm not going to tell you who, but I was thinking of someone else when I wrote that. But you know, especially because we took so long on that record, I tried a lot of different things. A lot of songs I changed tenses, changed genders. Sometimes I would be singing the song from a first person point of view, and change it to a third person point of view. "Tsune's Song" was at one point sung from the girl's point of view, and then it turned around and it was sung from the guy's point of view, and at one point it was a first person song too. So we had the opportunity to try and do all those sorts of things, and we found out a whole bunch of interesting things about how quickly the whole tenor of a song can change when you do things like that, how the whole tenor of a song can change, when it's something just as simple as changing from first to third person.

Is there a song you're happiest with?

I'm trying to think what my favourite song on that record is. Mmmmmm.... I think "Lovely Bird," that's a good one. Kind of a creepy kind of song, I like that. We've never played that before, and we're going to play it on Saturday.

Where did that song come from?

I think that one was just a kind of makin' up a story, kinda song. Gord had that one - the music got finished top to bottom, done, and I just sort of fitted the words to it. I think again, it's a typical Pointed Sticks relationship kinda song. 

Pointed Sticks at Khatsahlano, photograph by Allan MacInnis

Were there songwriters that really mattered to you as a young person, as a kid?

Well, I didn't really start writing songs until the Pointed Sticks started. It was punk rock that inspired me to start writing, that inspired me to be a musician. Before then, I was a kid growing up in the 1970's, and being a musician, unless you were classically trained... those were the days of Yes and Led Zeppelin and really complicated bands. So the idea, when punk rock came along, that anybody could do it, the whole DIY aspect to it, I loved that. Loved that. That was the greatest thing ever, that all of a sudden, something that had seemed like you had to have started working on it when you were 13 years old, to perfect all of this, to become some sort of a maestro musically before anything you did was valid - to have that concept blown away was really important. But I don't think it was the punk rock songwriters, except for Pete Shelley. Pete Shelley and the Ramones, those were the ones I liked. But I was a young kid growing up in the 60's, so the whole pop music thing - I loved Herman's Hermits, I loved every British invasion band, every single one of them - the Beatles and things like that. And when I became a serious young man, when I was in Grade 10 or whatever, it was Dylan. I got to see Dylan with the Band in Seattle in 1974. Dylan was a very formative influence, too. When you start writing words, there's really nobody to look to, moreso than him, because he could do it all. He could write the simplest song, write a song with five words or write the most complicated imagery, that you would never be able to understand... he was somebody to be admired. I still admire him. I still think the albums that he's made lately... obviously he had a patch in the '80's and '90's where he wasn't doing so good, but the last few original records he made, I thought were great, as well.

That's neat, I didn't realize that. 

Bill was a Dylan man, as well. 

I only have a couple of more questions. I've been asking a couple of people this question, whether power pop gets taken less seriously than punk rock, especially in Vancouver. 

I sort of don't even believe in power pop, I think that that's sort of way too nebulous. I think it's a category that you put bands in that's kind of convenient, but it's too broad... then there's the power pop aficionados where unless it's got a Rickenbacker 12 string it's not actually power pop. See, I don't think we are a power pop band. I think we're just a rock band, and we bear all our influences on our sleeves, and those influences, like I say, come all the way from the British invasion 60's bands, like obviously the Beatles and the Stones and those kinds of bands, then came of age in the 1970's and were enabled by punk rock coming along. I would never call us a power pop band. But in terms of "does it get taken less seriously?" By idiots, it does, yes! By anybody who thinks that... by people who believe that punk rock, especially punk rock in Vancouver, was somehow this political movement was going to change the world. I mean, punk rock in Vancouver, let's face it, it was kids just wanting to have a good time. It was kids who could be in a band, who could escape from their suburban realities, move downtown, and just have a great time. The people who were involved in it were all smart, so they understood what politics meant, they understood what social injustice was, but to suggest that somehow the music was going to open people's awareness to that, unhhhh, I dunno, I think that's a bit of a stretch for me. 
David M with NO FUN at the Smilin' Buddha

Okay. A last question: David M. of NO FUN is doing a set at Music Madhouse Records by Lougheed Mall the same day as the Pointed Sticks. So I wonder if you had any NO FUN stories, if you were a NO FUN fan?

David is a super-smart guy, good songwriter, sarcastic, very observant, and their track on the Complication record [and here I presume Nick is talking about "Mindless Aggression," not "Old," which is also on the Complication record, but is very easy to miss]... when NO FUN first came out, they were on the record, but they never played in Vancouver; like, nobody ever saw them, they were kind of a mystery kinda-thing, and there were a lot of people in Vancouver who didn't think they deserved to be on the Complication record? They obviously did, because the song is great, and of any of the bands that didn't get on the Complication record, it was usually due to their own incompetence; I'm thinking about the Rabid, here. I mean their incompetence in getting themselves recorded, in getting a recording in in time, not in being a band. People were just like, "Come on, guys, there's a spot for you on the record, but you've gotta have a song recorded." I don't have any NO FUN stories, but I do admire David. I think he's a smart guy, and I saw him last year at the Kits fest, and he's pretty funny! He sorta has declared himself to be not commercially viable. He wanted to poke fun at the whole idea of being commercially viable,  so the whole thing with his Gorgo and his sponsorships... I don't have any stories, never played on a bill with him, but always followed them and thought they were pretty damned good. And also, he had Paul Leahy in his band, which says a lot there.
There was a gig poster he gave me, for a gig that never happened, that had had the Pointed Sticks, NO FUN, and the Subhumans...

At the Retinal Circus, correct. 

That never happened, and that was the only gig where you would have shared a bill with them?

Correct, although we may have played a benefit for the Complication or a benefit for something else... but that gig at the Retinal Circus, the fire marshal closed that down, like, two days before. All the permits were in hand. I think that's the place that became Celebrities or something, at Davie and Burrard. It had been a hippie place in the 1960's, and we sort of had the idea that we would reopen the place; Gerry Barad was kind of instrumental in that, and he was promoting that gig. And it was closed down. The fire marshal stepped in a few days before, which was something that happened... if you want to talk about the political side of punk rock, that's who we were fighting against. We weren't fighting injustice in the south of the United States or wherever, we were fighting injustice from the authorities and the music industry in Vancouver. The music industry in Vancouver did everything in its power to squelch all of the bands like us, and the Young Canadians and the Modernettes and the Dishrags and DOA and the Subhumans, they did everything they possibly could to make sure that this never really got out of the bag.  

When you're talking about the music industry... could you be more specific?

Well, I should say it wasn't a matter of the press. The press in Vancouver was very supportive. First and foremost would be Tom Harrison, who was with the Georgia Straight before he went over to the Province. Then Fiona McQuarrie, Neil Hall, John Mackie and Vaughan Palmer, who was a music critic before he became a political bigwig, those were the main writers. And there was television too, Nite Dreems and Soundproof and even the Vancouver Show. Every single one of those bands got a shot on the Vancouver Show.


So I'm talking about CFOX radio, Bruce Allen, clubowners... Bruce Allen and Sam Feldman controlled all the bookings in all the clubs, so it was quite easy for them to make it known that they didn't want... they had their own bands that they were booking and getting 15% of, and they made it pretty clear that we weren't welcome in those places. And weren't really welcome in the radio. The only time "The Real Thing" got played on the radio was when Quintessence bought an ad. It was a great ad, I don't even know where it is now, but JB Shayne did an ad for "The Real Thing" and that got played on CFOX radio, but the song itself never did. They waited until Bruce had his own little band, waited til he had the Payolas, waited til it was safe enough to actually promote this. So they were the first and only... Payolas, 54/40, and all the bands that came after us, they were all a little more malleable, shall we say, to the corporate interests, and they were the ones that reaped the benefits of all the work that the people that came before them did.

The Payolas kind of got fucked over because of their name, still. That didn't really work out for them so well.

I guess so. But there was also the fact that they were a terrible band, as well! I mean, they had one big single, which was fake Police/ reggae stuff, but... I never thought much of the Payolas. 

Wait a sec, there, Nick, their first EP...

Oh, the first EP is great, the one with Ian and Gary Middleclass playing on it, the first EP is great, but once they started making albums and things like that, egggh. I dunno. I feel the same way about most of the bands that came after them, 54/40 and Images in Vogue and all of them. They road the coattails of a lot of people who did the work before them, who were never really rewarded for it. I'm not bitter about it or anything, I still have a better band than any of those guys, and we still get to play gigs, so he who laughs last, right? But I think it's just the case. And when I was talking about taking care of the Canadian aspect of things beforehand, that's one of those things that all of those bands managed to secure: radio airplay. I mean, 54/40 can still go and tour across Canada, because their songs are ingrained because of Canadian content rules. They got that built-in advantage where 30% of the music played is Canadian content. And it has led to some astonishingly terrible music over the last 40 years. 

It's true. There's such a small pool of songs that they draw from, too. It's hearing the worst ever Doug and the Slugs song over and over and over again, is what it boils down to.

That's right. It's why a band like Tragically Hip can sell out stadiums across Canada, yet they go five miles across the border on the other side and they're playing in a nightclub to 300 people. It was an engineered reality for the Canadian music industry, and it worked out pretty well for some Canadian record companies, that's for sure, and for some Canadian bands. But in the long run - it's like Tony Walker says, if you're not good enough, you're not good enough, and legislating "good enough" is a weird kinda thing to do. It's a particularly Canadian kind of thing to do, it seems to me. Basically we're saying, "Okay, you guys aren't good enough, so we're going to legislate it so we're going to play your music over and over and over again," because you and I both know, if you're exposed to music often enough, it doesn't matter how bad it is, eventually it will get in your brain, and you'll start humming it, and you'll start thinking you like it, even though you probably really don't. So.

People eat what they're fed.

Well, it's true, don't you think? Especially if it's something you don't choose to listen to. People listen to the radio at work and they hear "Switchin' to Guys" by the Kings or whatever that stupid song was - "Switchin' to Glide" - they hear that all day long, and eventually, they think that they like it! And it takes away from the really good Canadian songs that get sort of just get lumped in with all of that, because it's Canadian, I mean like great songs like "Echo Beach." It's a great song, but people think, "Oh, CanCon, it's just another shitty Canadian song," but "Echo Beach" obviously was a good enough song that it became a big hit in Britain and the United States. 

I didn't even know it was a Canadian song!

"Echo and the Beach," Martha and the Muffins. It's a great song, but people just lump it in with Rough Trade and Parachute Club and all the other nonsense that came out of Toronto around the same time, because that's when it came out. I was against CanCon when it started, and looking back on it... it breeds mediocrity, that's what I think!

 Pointed Sticks play the Columbia in New West, July 2nd! 

1 comment:

denmanistan said...

Well let me be the first to comment on this. I feel embarrassed for Nick. I met him in 1979 and became their sound man for a while and went on the road with the Sticks. I also managed 54-40 for 15 of the 35 years they have recorded and toured continuously, so I have some perspective about the historical inaccuracy of all this. 54-40 played their first gig on New Years Eve, 1980. They funded their own recordings and tours from the beginning, until they were signed to Warner Bros. in Los Angeles in 1986. We even set up screen printing for our own t-shirt manufacturing that helped fund some early tours. You see, 54-40 were'nt the drinking buddies and darlings of local music writers, nor did Canadian radio play a part in their rise to fame and platinum success. We sent our indie DYI recordings to as many US college radio stations as we could, then we would track where our records were getting played, The playlists started coming back with some significant success in California and in places like Athens Georgia. After a compilation, an EP, and one full length album, Set the Fire, 54-40 had toured several times into the United States. The truth is, they couldn't really get arrested in Canada, and they weren't even a big deal in Vancouver in the early days. They certainly weren't "riding the coat tails" of the extremely short jacketed Pointed Sticks, The Sticks were initially a fuck band, and they were fun and fast, not great writers or musicians. For 2 1/2 years. I think Bill Hemy nailed it when he said that middle aged men doing nostalgia gigs of obscure New Wave songs is a non starter. It should have been a non starter. And no one wants to hear their new material. It reveals a simple truth that betrays Nick's odd self aggrandizements. When you have to say you aren't being bitter, you are definitely being bitter. I have lots more to say on this, and I'd love the opportunity to respond further.