Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The World Makes A Space For the Pointed Sticks

The new Pointed Sticks' album, Three Lefts Make A Right, shows the Sticks maturing from bitter young men to pop craftsmen apparently more or less at peace with themselves; while I prefer the "blood, snot, and tears" of their youth, it's startling how much vitality and love of music they still put across.

At present, I don't have much in the way of insight into the album, since I'm not really in a mode to revel in pop craftsmanship, which was always and remains a big part of the pleasure of the Pointed Sticks; I'll make it to the Saturday gig (the afternoon one, at least), but I won't be spinning the disc much, nor have I done since I received it - followers of this blog will understand why. Still, it's interesting to think of on an afternoon "off." Though it's obvious to say, there's an almost-every-song-could-be-a-hit aspect to the album that makes one wonder if the band will be dragged further into the gaping maw of celebrity, which makes the whole experience a bit odd on a few counts - because there's an almost anachronistic quality to the "kind" of hits these songs could make, and because one wonders if the world of pop celebrity as it exists now would be prepared to accomodate the Sticks, or if they would be further prepared to accomodate it.

It will be particularly interesting to see how the reception of this album sheds light on the question of how much the relationship of so-called punk to the mainstream has changed since Perfect Youth was released nearly 30 years ago. Based on the songs - and knowing nothing about how widely distributed the disc is or how exactly something becomes a "hit" in the classic pop vein these days, which is what these songs seem to want to be - it seems entirely reasonable to imagine their new album getting spun on CFOX or such, and for all I fuckin' listen to CFOX, it may well be already. And lest we say that that's because - as some have said - the Pointed Sticks aren't really a punk band but a pop one, it need also be noted that even DOA's Northern Avenger (which, tho' it also seems almost CFOX-ready, is unquestionably a punk album) is on the rack at the Maple Ridge London Drugs at the moment. I KNOW from personal experience how impossible it was to find ANYTHING by The Pointed Sticks or DOA in Maple Ridge in the 1980's, as I was here, desperately looking. For the world to change enough that a band once rejected by the mainstream media because of their association with a taboo musical form can make a comeback and be fully embraced within their own lifetimes - that would be an interesting story, assuming the album gets embraced. It reminds me, queerly, of the folk revival in New York in the early 1960's - with the Sticks in the role of Mississippi John Hurt, say, wondering if the white people coming towards them with papers in hand are from the authorities or not ("I haven't done nothin' wrong!"). The parallels are actually quite odd to contemplate, even if the "white people" in this particular story are actually Japanese...

As for the songs... the Dishrags appear on backing vocals for one track, which, to my knowledge, is their first return to the studio since reuniting for a couple of shows. I still feel a bit bad about the snarkiness of my review of their second "reunion" concert, as it appeared in the Nerve a couple of years ago; it was actually NOT the version that I'd intended to see print, but editors are slobs and rascals (hi, Mack! - actually, he's the finest editor I've ever worked with, I just need to defer blame onto SOMEONE). Fans who have been paying attention will indubitably wonder if Nick and Gord's "She's Not Alone Anymore" is written about any of the same girls the Sticks were so pissed off at in the 1980's (and if any of them were Dishrags, for that matter). Anyone who has seen a Slowpoke And The Smoke concert will be able to guess without looking at the digipack that the doo-woppy/ croonerish "All Night" was written by Tony Bardach. Diehard Sticks fans will be likely able to peg the upbeat, bouncy "By Your Side" on Bill Napier-Hemy tune, too. I'm embarrassed to not immediately recognize which "Smith" has a cowriting credit on "Leave Me Alone" - Phil? - but it's my favourite tune on the disc, the most musically ambitious, and apparently is indebted to Art Bergmann's "Dirge" - it partakes of the same epic lope.

This is not to enthuse without reserve about the album, mind you. "I'm On Fire," which I've heard live, has a pleasing degree of garage infusion, but I like the verses far better than the choruses, which diminish some of the energy of the tune, and lyricially never seem as credible as, say, Bruce Springsteen's use of the same phrase. And energetic or not, "Wireless" seems to lend itself far too readily to being used as a mobile internet jingle; if I ever have to listen to it in movie theatres over advertising featuring cute exotic animals, I will swear off the Pointed Sticks forever. Finally, there's the question of snot: the Sticks did bitter so well at times that it kind of depresses me how darn wholesome and fun this album is. One of the tricks of aging, I guess: you find your place in the world (or the world makes a space for you).

Still: I'm deeply proud that these guys come from Vancouver; they're an excellent export, a better advertisement for this city than all the rainbow inukshuks thus far printed, and a damn fine band. So here's my old Pointed Sticks article from Razorcake #36! (Go buy the back issue if you want hard copy - it has different photos, for one. On that note: there's a Big Takeover with Pointed Sticks pics credited to me, that were actually taken by Cindy Metherel and Femke Van Delft - but guess who is to blame for that one?).

Bill, Ian, Nick and Tony in Japan - photo taken in Japan (by Gord?) and provided by the band

The Pointed Sticks Do Japan (with a little help from DOA)

Interview by Allan MacInnis (sometime in 2007!)

The Pointed Sticks were only ever active on the Vancouver punk scene for a few short years, breaking up in 1981. Less angry and less political than DOA or the Subhumans, the band offered an energetic, well-crafted style of punk-pop/ “New Wave” that seemed like it could actually catch on beyond the boundaries of Vancouver’s small scene and put the city on the map. Indeed, an EP was put out on Stiff Records, Out of Luck, and the Sticks toured England and recorded tracks for a Stiff LP that was never to be released. After they returned home, they would re-record some of these songs for Perfect Youth, distributed by the legendary local label Quintessence, but the disappointment of remaining a merely local phenomenon may have been too much. After the band broke up and Quintessence folded, there were many years when you could hardly even find Perfect Youth or the early singles in collector’s shops, and subsequent generations of Vancouver punk kids barely even knew the Pointed Sticks had existed. Only the most devoted record collectors and music freaks remembered just how fresh, fun, and tuneful the Pointed Sticks were.

The sort of devoted record collectors and music freaks you find in Japan, for instance.

The Dishrags and a mini-version of the Sticks at the Vancouver Complication; photo provided by Bill Napier-Hemy, not to be reused without permission

When Pointed Sticks’ Bill Napier-Hemy and Tony Bardach got onstage with members of the Dishrags in February of 2005, to perform as part of the record release party for the reissue of the famed local anthology, Vancouver Complication, there were still no plans for a formal reunion or tour. Bill (who is married to Dishrags singer/guitarist Jade Blade) sang “The Marching Song” in place of an absent Nick Jones, and that was, as far as anyone knew, all that anyone would hear from the Pointed Sticks live ever again. Perfect Youth had finally been released on CD, and the band’s label, Sudden Death, were working on a compilation of singles and unreleased material, Waiting For The Real Thing, but the offer to tour Japan in 2006 came as quite a shock to all concerned.

I was able to talk to various people involved in the mini-tour, from former Quintessence employee and current Noize to Go record store owner Dale Wiese to various Canadian and Japanese fans in attendance at the band’s three gigs. Since the chain of events that led to the Japanese Pointed Sticks reunion all started with Sudden Death capo Joey “Shithead” Keithley, it was also imperative that I talk to Joe. Joe’s a great storyteller; he was grateful to sit out loading in for the Vancouver Island gig that DOA were playing later that night and gab with me on the phone, to fill me in on some of the backstory.

Joey "Shithead" Keithly onstage with Randy Rampage a few years ago; photo by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

The Shithead Tapes

Allan MacInnis: So the Pointed Sticks reunion has its roots in the 2001 DOA Japanese tour?

Joey Keithley: Yes it does. We did about six shows down there (in Japan). It’s one of the best trips I’ve ever been on.

Allan: There was a CD put out, too, wasn’t there, of Japanese bands covering DOA songs?

Joey: Yeah, we all just put two songs on there. There were seven bands, from Japanese pop band to noise bands, doing DOA songs, including us. They were all different, no repeats, so there’s like 12 different Japanese versions of DOA songs. It was just a riot listening to this, because they had the music down really well, and their singing is really good, right in tune, but of course with a heavy Japanese accent... It’s a great record, actually. It’s called We Still Keep on Running with DOA... Sudden Death has it on our website. Let’s just say it hasn’t topped the Billboard Charts.

Allan: What were Japanese fans like?

Joey: Aw, fuck, they were, like, nuts, right? They were so respectful—it’s funny. Well, it’s not funny, I shouldn’t say that, but, it’s like a very respectful culture. I don’t quite understand it, I’d have to know more about Japan, but, for instance... We were playing a show in... I forget what town, but One of the opening bands was on, and I was on the stairs, and all of a sudden these guys started fighting—these Japanese punks are having it out. I guess this was at the back of the hall, and the fuckin’ band that was on stopped playing and the whole crowd turned around and stared at these two guys. No bouncers came and grabbed them by the collar like they would here. Then they walked outside, and of course, I walked after, because I wanted to see what happened, right? And they were both mad, but they stopped fighting and they bowed at each other and they went back into the venue. I’m going, like, “Ohhh-kay, THAT’S a little different, isn’t it?” Usually blood is the order of the day, y’know? Some stupid and pathetic thing that we would do in our culture....

Allan: And Japanese fans were enthusiastic about DOA?

Joey: Oh, man. We had this show in Miyazaki, down south, and it’s like tropical down there, right? We were amazed at how fuckin’ hot it was. It was like bein’ in Hawaii, almost... but when we went there, there were screaming people at the airport, going “DOA wah wah wah wah!” and it’s like, “Oh my God, you’ve hit the home run in the World Series!” The fan devotion is amazing, and for those guys, it was unbelievable.

Allan: Sales of Pointed Sticks discs have been good in Japan?

Joey: They’ve been overwhelming. We’ve shipped over there something like five or 6,000 units, between LPs and CDs, of Perfect Youth and Waiting for the Real Thing. That’s like 80% of the sales worldwide. I mean, we get decent little orders from the U.S. and Canada, too. Some of the cooler fanzines like Razorcake and the Big Takeover in New York, they’ve gone, “Yeah, this is one of the fuckin’ great original bands”—some people realize that here. But, for some reason, they’ve got this fanatical following in Japan. I mean, if DOA went over there with them, we would be the support band. I’ve been travelling around the world for twenty-eight years, playing shows, and people ask me about friends and the old Vancouver scene, but never in this way. Japanese fans would come up to me and were like, “So—you know Pointed Stick? You know Modernette?” I’m sorry for my bad imitations... but I was just amazed.

Allan: ...and that was before any of the reissues, right?

Joey: Yeah. I came back and asked Grant McDonagh from Zulu Records (who previously issued a Pointed Sticks compilation) and he didn’t have any Pointed Sticks left, and he had some Young Canadians and Modernettes. After about three years, I finally talked Grant into letting me reissue and distribute them. I took up all his excess stock of Young Canadians and sold that and paid him and all that stuff, and then I talked to the bands. It took quite a bit of talking with the Sticks because Nick is a real kind of perfectionist, and he really wanted it to be done right, nothing slipshod—because even though he’s not playing music anymore—with good reason they had a lot of pride in what they did.

Allan: Wait a sec, Nick plays with the Frank Frink Five, with Randy Carpenter, doesn’t he?

Joey: Yeah, but that’s a cover thing, right? Nick’s a songwriter, and a good songwriter, and because of various circumstances they never did get their kick at the can. I’m not saying they would have been as big as the Buzzcocks, but you know, they could have entered the public consciousness a lot more than they did. A lot of bands of lesser quality got further ahead. But hey, that’s the music business, right? That always happens. Anyhow, Nick had a lot of pride in it and the other guys, too, but particularly Nick. I eventually talked Nick into it. It really came together after the Complication show, and the re-release of Perfect Youth. They all saw that this is a good cause, and it really helped that we’re still friends. I mean, I don’t chum around with those guys anymore, but there were no, like, sour grapes or professional jealousies or any of that bullshit.

Allan: And it made money?

Joey: It turned out good. They were surprised when we did the royalties and they all got good cheques out of it. It’s sort of like... you do records, and all of a sudden you realize, “Fuck, this is the first time I’ve ever gotten paid for being on a record!” I mean... Me and Wimpy, with DOA, the first time we made any money off DOA or Subhumans records, we went to London, England in 1990—this is twelve years after both bands started—and we sold singles and LPs to collectors and record shops, right? And we’re going, “Fuck, like, it’s amazing!” It made me realize how much we’d gotten ripped off by all those different record companies before, and the same thing with the Pointed Sticks—they never got a fuckin’ dime back then.

Allan: And now?

Joey: They got their first statement of royalties three months ago, and I’ll do them up again probably in the next month, and they’ll get a whole ‘nuther chunk of money. We pay them every six months, type of thing. It’s going very well. The Young Canadians and the Modernettes CDs we’ve put out, we still haven’t broken even on ‘em, which is fine. I’m really proud to put out all of these great bands, and you can’t make money on every record. But some things you do because it’s a labor of love. It just turns out that with the Pointed Sticks, because of this Japanese thing, has turned out really in the black.

Allan: They even got money coming back from the tour, right?

Joey: I couldn’t believe it. Their air flights came to $8,500, and the guy (Joe is probably indicating the show’s Japanese producer, Toshio of Record Base) was shitting his pants about the airfare price, because they could only go in the summertime, because Bill’s a schoolteacher. I was freaking out when I bought the tickets for them, because the price went up from $1,400 to $1,700 by the time the guy sent the money to me, and I couldn’t afford to carry it all at once. But it turned out that at the end. At the shop, Toshio and his partner Takahiro laid out a pile of cash and said, “This is what we have left over,” after three shows and flying them there and driving them around. I mean, this is a tiny shop, probably as big as your parents’ front room, stuffed with fuckin’ great records, and he puts all the cash out... And the Sticks went, “What’s your cut?” and he went, “You decide.” It’s that honorable business thing they do in Japan.

Allan: The band says they were totally taken by surprise.

Joey: The funny thing, Toshio kept askin’ those guys, “So! I want to put out Pointed Sticks record!” So Bill says, “Joe’s really doing good with our stuff and we’ll stick with him, thank you very much”—you know, very politely, so Toshio goes, “Joe is big boss?” [laughs]. “I want to be big boss!” It was just really funny. Pardon me, I’m not tryin’ to sound like a fuckin’ idiot, because I know absolutely no Japanese, but... “Joe—big boss!” It’s like I’ve got a fuckin’ big oak desk and a bunch of goons standing near me, and I’m like, ‘Go break his arms. He’s only sold 100,000 records. The guy’s a bum!’”

Allan: Well, it’s good to get respect... Thanks for takin’ the time.

Joey: Yeah, don’t mention it. By the way, how’s your slapshot? [Laughs]. Sorry, you must fuckin’ get that all the time... (Joe is referring to a famous Canadian hockey player whose name I share...).
Nick Jones of the Pointed Sticks, photographed by Cindy Metherel. Not to be used without permission.

Dale Wiese

Vancouver-based Noize To Go record store owner Dale Wiese is a long-time friend to Pointed Sticks; Dale served as the compilation producer for Waiting for the Real Thing and wrote the liner notes for the Perfect Youth reissue. He’s been a fixture of the Vancouver record-collecting scene since his days at Quintessence, the store/label that issued the original Pointed Sticks singles and album. We talked at Noize To Go about the band’s Japanese tour and the revival of interest in their music. He tells me that “working on the re-issues has been a gas, and it’s really gratifying to read reviewer comments like ‘how did I overlook this band for so long?’”

Allan: What was your first experience of seeing the band live?

Dale: The first time I saw them, they were opening for Wreckless Eric at the Commodore, early October 1979. Dimwit hadn’t been in the group all that long, so he still had his ratty Subhumans kit. The drums were mismatched, color-wise, so you knew it was going to be an underground experience! I had only heard their “Real Thing” single and their cut from the Vancouver compilation (“Marching Song”) at that point, and I was knocked out by their song catalogue; one gem after another. As for the music, I loved it. It was the perfect blend of rawness and punk attitude with a pop sensibility.

Allan: How has the response been locally to Pointed Sticks reissues?

Dale: It’s been excellent. It’s just as tough to get attention now as it was back then, but lots of younger fans have be picking up both of the Sudden Death releases. Pointed Sticks are more popular now than twenty-five years ago, certainly on a global scale. It’s a cliché to say it, but that tells me their music is timeless, they are a band for the ages. It’s a real kick to play something from the Waiting for the Real Thing compilation for young kids that come into the shop. They are always surprised that it’s not a new band.

Allan: Why do you think their music holds up so well now?

Dale: Production techniques have changed, but great melodic songs and an identifiable personality to their sound; vocals, keyboards, punchy drums, and cool guitars, give Pointed Sticks an edge over dozens of their contemporaries. Call it punk, new wave, power pop, whatever you like, I don’t think there’s been a better Canadian album this year (than Waiting For The Real Thing), at least none with as many cool songs.

Allan: Why do you think the Japanese in particular are so taken with them?

Dale: Everybody knows about the “big in Japan” cliché, but I think they take their pop culture pretty seriously. And since theirs agrees with mine, I’d say they have great taste! The clips on youtube.com show that fans were genuinely thrilled to have the band play there. I think the Japanese promoter called it “the July miracle!”

Allan: Any other comments on the band or their place in the Vancouver scene?

Dale: Just that it’s cool that they are getting this chance to tie up some loose ends, have some fun, and remind everybody how creative that small scene was. There may even be another couple of projects to follow. Hopefully, I’ll be able to help out.

A Canadian Fan Reports from Japan

David from Vancouver, who had seen the Pointed Sticks several times during the Vancouver years, playing with the K-Tels (later the Young Canadians) and the Modernettes, managed to catch up with the band during their Japanese tour. This was sent in via email. Thanks to Janet Murie!

David: Freaking brilliant how a bunch of old guys could sound as good as they used to. It’s also spooky how the small venue was packed (hundred plus) with Japanese kids who were not even born when the band broke up, and yet knew every word to every song. Yours truly was the middle aged gaijin in the mosh pit at the front of the stage the whole night. Thirty plus degrees (centigrade) and I ended up sweaty, bruised, and happy. There were four foreigners and the rest rabid Japanese Sticks fans. Hard to believe how Nick Jones’s voice still has the same magic after all these years. Bill Napier Hemy had the dazed look of a college professor that had fallen down a rabbit hole. I think they were all amazed and somewhat flabbergasted at the fanaticism of the Japanese. They easily relived glory days long gone by. In fact, I am not sure Vancouver fans were ever as obsessed as the Tokyo fans. The opening act was a blistering three piece Japanese punk band, the Raydios, who sounded and looked like they had gone to punk rock school to get every note and snarl perfect. Damn, I feel retro!

Pointed Sticks

For those of you who weren’t around back in the day, you can see footage of the Pointed Sticks circa 1980 in Dennis Hopper’s movie, Out of the Blue. It’s by far the highlight of the movie, and, in addition to some vintage videos on Youtube, it’s one of the few film artifacts left of the band. I brought the DVD with me to the interview, at the Granville Street Templeton restaurant, where members of the band used to hang out a long time ago...

Allan: Is the stuff in Out Of The Blue an accurate representation of a Pointed Sticks gig at the time?

Bill Napier-Hemy: Yeah, that was actually filmed at some cultural centre on Hastings Street—it wasn’t an actual punk venue, it was something they rented for the movie. The people you see dancing in it are friends of the band; we called a bunch of people up to come down. That’s what the punk scene actually looked like in Vancouver back then—it was normal, geeky-looking people, people with long hair, wearing jean jackets and glasses and ordinary clothes. It’s funny, because if you look at the backstage scenes, there are all these mohawk and safety pin guys backstage—those were hand-picked folks that Hopper reckoned looked what the punks ought to look like. But it really wasn’t like that in the Vancouver scene at that time. Later on, that template arrived here, but back then it was pretty ordinary looking people.

Allan: Why did the band break up?

Nick Jones: The initial break up was born out of total despair. We’d spent the best part of three years starving, yet to all the world—well, to all Vancouver, anyway—we were a successful rock band on the brink of stardom. I think the last straw was broken on our one and only eastern tour. We were in Toronto, people were lining up around the block at 6 PM for an 11 o’clock show, and we were staying four to a room in some craphole hotel. Quintessence had gone bankrupt, and vinyl copies of Perfect Youth—five thousand of them—were on their way to the scrap heap ‘cause no one had enough money to pay the pressing plant. Stores in Toronto were willing to buy all they could get, but somehow supply never connected with demand. We got an offer from a Toronto booking firm to give us work four days a week playing universities—the perfect target audience for the band—if we stayed in Toronto. I remember being in the hotel and having a vote, “Stay or go back home?” The majority voted to go home, and that was the end right there. I think we played a few more gigs after coming back, but for all intents and purposes, the fate of the band was decided by a vote. Pretty democratic, I’d say.

Allan: How did the Stiff Records deal fall through? Phil Smith and Dale Wiese say different things in the liner notes... I forget which says which, but one says Stiff went bust and the other says they didn’t like the LP you recorded with them.

Bill: I think they’re both partially right. Stiff dissolved, and they weren’t interested. The producer wanted us to try and expand our concept, and we tried a lot of really odd stuff, but the results were kind of weak. The best songs from those sessions are on Waiting for the Real Thing. The fact is that back then, the Vancouver music scene was small and isolated and self-enclosed. That was one of the reasons it thrived, and it was an excellent music scene here, very varied—but it wasn’t really for export.

Allan: Ian, why did you leave the band?

Ian Tiles: I don’t really know why I left. I was being a punk rock idiot.

Bill Napier-Hemy on stage at the Red Room, photo by Femke Van Delft. Not to be reused without permission

Allan: Dimwit replaced you?

Ian: Actually, there were drummers between me and him, too. I handed over the sticks to Chuck Biscuits halfway through a show at O’Hara’s. That’s how I left!

Allan: He was also a Montgomery brother, right? Along with Bob Montgomery?

Ian: Yes. Charles Biscuits Montgomery. There were three brothers, of which there are now two. (Ian is referring to Dimwit’s death of a heroin overdose, at age thirty-six, in 1994.)

Allan: What did you do after you left?

Ian: I actually joined the Payolas, because of doing the single with the Pointed Sticks. Bob Rock, who had produced it, and later produced Perfect Youth, wanted me to play on this single that the Lamps were doing. That was the first name of the Payolas. I’m on the 7” of “China Boys.” Then for the EP I think they took me off and Taylor Little took the job.

Allan: What were the high points of “the old days?”

Ian: Well, I was only with the band for five minutes, and then they went on to much greater things, but what a great five minutes it was. That’s the truth. We won the Battle of the Bands at the Commodore in October of ‘78, and we hadn’t even been a band for very long, but we entered and won the whole thing, which was what led to our recording with Bob Rock.

Nick: We won over the Randy Bachman-sponsored “Carmel”—great name!—to the shock and horror of the Vancouver music industry.

Ian: We had a show of our choice opening for another band coming to town. We chose Devo, at the Commodore.

Allan: You were the drummer for that?

Ian: For the first show, yeah. Then they opened for them later on, after I’d left the band, but for the first one, yeah. I was with them for that... It was all that stuff that led up to the signing (with Stiff Records). It was pretty exciting.

Allan: Any other great bands who Pointed Sticks opened for?

Bill: We got to open for the Buzzcocks in San Francisco, when they had decided to call it quits and played their last gig for about a decade. They were spectacular. The Dead Kennedys were also on the bill and they rocked.

Nick: Our best opening spots were for Devo, the Buzzcocks gig, and the mighty, totally under-appreciated Avengers from San Francisco, at the self same Quadra Club. People have no idea how good that band was. I’d put them with the Ramones as America’s best ever punk bands.

Allan: Any other high points?

Nick: Hmm. Obviously, our first gig supporting DOA at the Quadra Club on Richards. It was a full-blown dyke bar at the time, and one of the few places open-minded enough to let punk rock in. That was August 22-23 1978...There was the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at a club called O’Hara’s. It was a giant, gloomy, ancient barn on a pier at the foot of Main Street. It’s impossible in this day and age to imagine such a place even existing, let alone the fire department allowing people to get totally fucked up there. Did I mention the pier was rickety? Anyhow, the promoters expected about 250 people to show up, but there was a clever advertising campaign using the slogan: “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre: Hit Someone you Love.” It succeeded in attracting 1,000 of the most violent, weird, alienated, curious people out from under their rocks for the night. It was the first time I ever took a running leap off the stage and got caught by the crowd and passed around. I was torn to bits really, and I owe (DOA bassist) Randy Rampage my life for pulling me out! God, I could go on and on...

Allan: Uh, Nick, I heard it said that you were an Abba fan.

Nick: [grins] I did and do love Abba. We once played “Knowing Me, Knowing You” for an encore, to the bemusement and wrath of some of the crowd.

Allan: Did you catch flak back then for being too much of a pop band? A lot of the Vancouver punk scene was pretty political, bands like the Subhumans and DOA.

Nick: But the entire scene, bands, fans, and all, was only about 250 people. We were all friends, even though they chose a different method of expressing themselves musically.

Pointed Sticks at Richards On Richards, photo by Cindy Metherel. Not to be reused without permission

Bill: But there was a little of that... Still, here’s an interesting point. As I recall it, anyway, this was in an interview, about ten years ago, with Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against The Machine, and the interviewer asked, “Aren’t you ever going to write any love songs?” His response was, “All our songs are love songs.” And I thought that was, uh, quite neat, because I think what he was getting at was that the songs were passionately felt songs about people, and that he cares about people, which, in a sort of large sense, is political, but on a more intimate level; where songs like that are about one person, we call it a love song.

Allan: Did the Pointed Sticks have any “overtly political” songs?

Bill: A lot of the songs are kind of, like, angry at some girl. There’s a lot of that. [laughs] Jealousy songs. But there are other songs that kind of gripe about iniquities of society. “American Song” is kind of a complaint about America, obviously. The thing about the lyrics for me, it’s not that there’s any particularly brilliant ones, it’s that they’re all sincere, they’re all genuine, and, um, even if they’re just kidding around, they’re real.

Nick: Pointed Sticks were always about the songs. We were sure we were writing hit singles at the time, so the fact that they still resonate with a lot of really young fans validates the approach we took. I mean, take a look at the two Pointed Sticks sites on Myspace...

Bill: A lot of the songs that we chose to revisit (for the tour) were ones that still sound genuine. Regardless of whether or not they ever manage to be brilliant, at least they don’t suck!

Allan: Do you have any favorites, of the songs you wrote yourself?

Bill: “True Love” is probably the best thing I wrote, but the one that I kind of get a kick out of now is “All I Could Take.” It’s just so poppy and bouncy and silly. I’m kind of proud of that one, too, and we do those two in our set. Those are two of the ones that survived!

Allan: You said “do” those two in our set! You used the present habitual!

Bill [grins]: You caught me.

Allan [getting excited]: Are there any plans for upcoming North American shows?

Bill: Well, there’s interest, for sure. We received a good offer to play New York, but the band can’t do it. We’d like to do something else, but we don’t have any plans. I mean, we didn’t really have plans to do Japan.

Nick: We’re thinking about a local gig around Christmastime.

Bill: We’re really limited by when we’re all in town.

Allan: How was the reception in Japan?

Nick: Our Japanese fans were truly awesome. I would say the crowds ranged in age from eighteen to maybe thirty-five, all too young to remember the band in its heyday. However, they did know all the songs, and many of them had original vinyl copies of the Quintessence singles from twenty-five years ago. Amazing.

Bill: Some people had records still in their plastic. With some of these things, there were only ever 500 made, and they opened them there in front of us so we could deface them with our Sharpies. We were signing autographs for something like two hours—finally we couldn’t anymore and we said, “We’ve got to go.”

Allan: Were there any big surprises?

Bill: I was standing backstage at one of the Tokyo shows when one of the opening acts, Liquid Screen, was on, and their guitarist started playing this riff that sounded kind of familiar. And then the singer started and suddenly it hit me, it was “Dying in Brooklyn” by Tim Ray and AV, off AVEP (a later version appears on the Vancouver Complication reissue, by Tim Ray and the Druts). I wrote that with him years ago. It was this totally obscure song. I hadn’t heard it in years, and they were covering it! It blew me away! They did a Subhumans song, too. It was quite touching, how much respect they had for the music.

Nick: We really want to wish the Subhumans all the best with their current reunion.

Allan: What about the other opening acts? Did you see any?

Nick: I didn’t really watch too many of them. I kind of like to be by myself before we play—I’ve always been like that. Everyone said they were good. They were all old school punk rockers.

Bill: The one I enjoyed most was called Psychotic Reaction. They sound like the New Pornographers—a man and a woman singing together—and I really like their whole sensibility.
Ian: We’re working on this DVD. We shot some footage over there with a Sony Camcorder, nothing professional, you know, but we’re editing it together, and I’ve asked that we include the opening acts’ CDs with it. We want to wrap things up in a tidy and respectful way, sort of following the Japanese model.

Allan: How did the tour get set up?

Bill: Joe contacted me, ‘cause I’m in town; he knew where to find me, and Nick was hard to reach because he’s on the road all the time. This all came about because people had been asking Joe about us, because DOA had done this tour in Japan. The reason he reissued Perfect Youth was because the Japanese encouraged him to. So we’d been hearing for years from Joe that there’s this market that we’ve gotta do something about, so he called me up and he arranged for the reissue, and when that happened, there was this interest in doing a tour over there. Joe, of course, wants to sell records, so he was encouraging us to do it. He’d had such a good time there himself, so he was pretty upbeat about it.

Allan: Did anyone require any convincing?

Ian: I didn’t!

Bill: Nick was a little bit reluctant at first, but after we got the ball rolling, he got really enthusiastic.

Nick: At first, I dismissed any idea of a reunion as preposterous. It was only when they offered to pay for everything—hotels, airfare, etc.—that we actually began to take it seriously.

Bill: Initially, we thought we’d be able to take our families over, but then we found out that wasn’t going to happen. We were quite keen on it anyway. I mostly just wanted to go to Japan again. I’d been there in 1993, setting up an art installation for a Canadian artist—for Rodney Graham—at the Setagaya gallery in Tokyo. It was a great time. I’d loved it, so I figured if someone’s going to send me to Japan, that sounds fun!

Allan: Were you in touch with the other members at that point?

Bill: The only one I’d kept in touch with over the years was Nick. I’d run into a couple of the other guys occasionally, but I hadn’t talked to Tony or Ian for years, so it was kind of like getting to know them again. There was a lot to get caught up on. We did most of it in the van from Kyoto to Tokyo. We had hours of just sitting there, chatting.

Allan: How was the first practice?

Nick: The first practice was very bizarre. I hadn’t even seen Tony for fourteen years, and none of those songs had been played by us for twenty-five years. I think it must be some kind of record for the longest time between gigs by any band. We were a bit slow to get going, but it was kind of like riding a bike. After a while it all came back.

Bill: We first got together to practice without Nick, ‘cause he was on the road, and we were taking it easy. The songs sounded pretty rough, pretty ragged, pretty sloppy, and slow and quiet. I was deliberately playing very quietly so I could hear what we were doing, so it was very tentative—but it felt really good. It was really nice to be with these guys, and after a few practices we slowly started to piece it together and make it louder and faster, and then eventually it started to sound like the Pointed Sticks.

Nick: We practiced six times with all of us, then the other guys practiced a few times without me when I went back to work. I flew from Amsterdam and met the other guys in Japan on a Wednesday. We went out and got drunk together that night, rehearsed the next day, then drove seven hours in a van to Kyoto for the first gig. We were all nervous before playing, not knowing what to expect, but the minute we played the first notes of “The Marching Song,” the fans went mental—dancing, jumping and singing every word, at least phonetically. After that, we knew we’d be okay, and just relaxed and smoked our way through the set. We really did play well!
Allan: Ian, how about you—you hadn’t really been with the band that long. Was it weird practicing with them?

Ian: For about two minutes. Only because of my doubts. I doubted whether I could do the job. I mean, you can imagine. Dimwit was the drummer on the recordings I’d been listening to, and I’m no Dimwit. Even though he was more powerful and hit harder and all that, he had way more chops than me. And he brings a different sensibility to it—just pure power pop.

Ian Tiles, photograph provided by the band; not to be reused without permission

Allan: You admired him?

Ian: He was just a great drummer. He really took it up a notch, y’know. I loved Dimwit. I played with him over the years and I’d seen him play and been friends with him. I actually quit drugs because of Dimwit. After he died.

Bill: I only recently learned some of the circumstances surrounding Dimwit’s death. It was very tragic. He was a guy who was always full of life. He was not a candidate for an early grave. As for drugs, I don’t really have much to say. Some people in the punk scene were into them. Some died. Some were in bad shape and then cleaned up.

Ian: Dimwit was a big part of the tour. His presence was always right there, and rightfully so. We were all friends of his and we were all big fans of his, so he came up all the time. We all felt it.

Allan: What did people do after the break up? Can you bring us up to date?

Nick: I went into a deep, four-year depression! [laughs]. But seriously, not much for the first little bit. I played with a rockabilly band called Buddy Selfish with Ian, then later a great unknown band called Hunting Party, with Randy Carpenter. We made two great tapes that no one wanted to listen to (one of which, as of this writing, is available on Laurie Mercer’s Coolforever site), then we broke up when I had kids and started working in the music merchandising business.

Allan: Bill, I gather you’re also still involved in music?

Bill: I teach music to dyslexic kids in a small school called the Fraser Academy, in Vancouver.

Allan: Really? Do you teach them to read music?

Bill: Well, I don’t. It’s really tough, because they have a hard enough time reading English, and reading music is more difficult, I think. So no, we do it from tabs and from memory. I mean, most people play rock music without reading anyhow. But I do some tabs, bass tablature, with piano some chord symbols, and diagrams. I teach from Grade Five. Their hands are just strong enough to make a sound on the guitar. Any younger and it’s very difficult to make a sound on the guitar...

Allan: Ian, how about you?

Ian: I’ve drummed rockabilly for tons of years. I played with Herald Nix in a band called the Yodells, with Howard Rix of the Scramblers. Then for years I was in a band called GI Blues, with Mike van Eyes on piano, from Harold Nix. The whole rockabilly scene was really cool in this town. It was kind of incestuous, but a lot of good stuff came out of it. Nowadays, I’m in a band called Hard On People. It’s just some has-beens that never were, so we’re goin’ for it.

Allan: And for work?

Ian: I’m what I call a studio supervisor at a games company, making Xbox games and such. I’m part of the support team there. I maintain about 250 people, and I make sure they have the stuff they need. It’s a great job.

Allan: What about Gord and Tony? I think I remember reading in John Mackie’s article that Tony is finishing a degree at UBC.

Tony Bardach, photo by Femke Van Delft; not to be reused without permission

Bill: Yeah, he’s finishing a BFA in creative writing. He’s been doing poetry, I believe. I got to read some of it while we were in Tokyo. He also does sculptures. I feel bad kinda speaking for him, but he’s making frames from street barricades, among other things. He’ll take a thing that’s been used to block off a road for construction purposes and it’s got the diagonal stripes on it, and he’ll make it into a frame. He’s also doing work with concrete, making concrete sculptures that you mount on walls.

Allan: Is there anything published by him?

Bill: He’s put out a couple of chapbooks. The poems I read deal with barriers, boundaries, and constraint. So there’s a consistency with his sculpture.

Gord Nicholl, photographed (I think) by Nick Jones, onstage at Richards on Richards; not to be reused without permission

Allan: What about Gord Nicholl?

Bill: Gord’s studio, that he owns with (Modernettes frontman) Buck Cherry, is the Paramount—and Gord’s the engineer. They record a lot of roots rock groups, and they record their own stuff there. Randy Carpenter does some work there.

Allan: Randy works with Nick in the Frank Frink Five.

Bill: Yeah. They’ve played maybe twice a year for the last eleven years. Actually, you just missed a show at the Railway. They do kind of like souped-up country songs and rock songs from the ‘60s. They’re quite hilarious.

Nick: Randy and I have been playing together in one form or another ever since the Pointed Sticks broke up. He’s an amazing musician. He knows the words to more songs than any human being alive! The best thing about the Frinks is that we never have to practice.

Allan: Is it difficult to go back to your straight jobs after having toured with the Pointed Sticks again? Did it awaken any dreams of rock star fame?

Nick Jones, photograph by Femke Van Delft; not to be reused without permission

Nick: That’s a tough question. Everybody would love to give up their job and become a rock star, but we’re all around fifty at this point, with jobs, families and lives to think about. That being said, I don’t think anyone wants to turn their backs on something that turned out to be so much fun, so we’re not closing the door on doing more gigs, and maybe even recording new material, if it’s up to snuff.

Ian [looks sidelong at Bill and Nick]: I want these guys to write a new single again. You guys are the songwriters!

Allan: An actual 7” vinyl single?

Ian: Why not?

Nick [mimes deep thinking]: Yeah, maybe we’ll make another single, and we’ll put it out on 7” vinyl only, just to be perverse.

Allan: Where did you guys play, exactly?

Nick: The clubs we played were Whoopees in Kyoto and Shelter Club in Shimatazawa in Tokyo. They’re all known punk clubs that have hosted lots of great acts.

Allan: Any thoughts on Japan?

Nick: Japanese fans rule! They’re a very advanced civilization. They’ve moved past so much of the bullshit that still clutters up our western lives. Plus, they do have the world’s best food and good beer.

Ian: There’s a pureness to the Japanese experience. It’s difficult to put into words. Nick was joking that we should have a T-shirt that said, “No sex, no drugs, just rock’n’roll.” That was true!

Allan: There was an innocence to it?

Ian: If you want to call it that. At the same time, though, it’s very sophisticated. Very sophisticated. There’s a real devotion and respect, and it’s expressed. They’re not just licking your face, y’know? They do it with grace. And they’re sincere. I love the way they assimilate American culture, because the bands they like are really good, y’know? The Buzzcocks, the Ramones, the Clash... it’s great to be in that group, of bands that they really like...

Nick: Japanese fans are truly awesome, though I’m sure they were somewhat intimidated by these crazy old gaijin!

Allan: You got some fan mail, right, Ian?

Ian: Yeah, it’s from a fan called Sho. she was about twenty-six. It really speaks to the club culture over there, and the proper and respectful way of doing things. It’s a homage to the Pointed Sticks, and there’s a collage and she’s photocopied a set list that Nick wrote out and there’s a little letter and she’s asked me questions, sort of in a teenaged format. I mean, it’s a little peculiar. She’s asked me my favourite colour, my favourite movie, my gender, and my blood type!

Allan: Oh, yeah, there’s a whole mythology around blood type over there. It’s a big deal.

Ian: Well, she’s looking for as much information as she can piece together. It really says something, because it’s perfectly acceptable for her to do this and it’s perfectly acceptable for me to answer any question I do like and not to answer any question I don’t like.

Allan: Have you responded?

Ian: I’m working on it. I’ll make sure she gets something special back.

Allan: Any comments on Toshio?

Bill: Toshio is a real gentleman, an honest dealer, a true music fan, and he put up with us doing vocal warm-ups in a small van with him! He’s the best promoter we have ever worked with. I made it out to his Tokyo shop. It is a small room on the second floor, absolutely packed with records. When I came in, the disc that just happened to be playing was a Pointed Sticks record, so I felt very welcome. He also has an outlet in Kyoto. He does a lot of mail order. Toshio has his act together and he’s a good guy.

Ian: We can’t say enough good about him. He’s a great guy.

Nick: Along with Joe and Dale, Toshio is the reason we’re even talking right now. I didn’t get to his store, but I will next time. If he’s listening, thanks again for making the tour one of the best times of my life!
Japanese fans with Tony; photo by Fumi Shutoh, I think

The Japanese Check in

From Japanese female fan Mami Mizukawa:

I like Pointed Sticks because their songs always make me happy. I think their songs have a great huge power. Every melody they make is perfect and they always make my face smile. I haven’t ever met such a wonderful band like them. When their show started, I was almost crying out for happiness.

From Fumi Shutoh:

A friend in Canada who’s lived in Japan for a long time introduced me to the Pointed Sticks, and I became a fan at once. When Japanese fans found out they were coming we couldn’t sleep from the excitement! Their shows were even better than I imagined and I sang along with all the songs. Their sounds are very catchy and easy to remember. Nick’s voice hugs my heart closely with the sound!

From Masao Nakagami, who runs the label Target Earth, which released the Raydio’s 7”, and who was in attendance at one of the Tokyo shows:

The several hundred people who attended the concert will forever remember that the Pointed Sticks came to Japan. The show was unforgettable. It was held on the same day as the Fuji Rock Festival. We were totally right in choosing to gather at Club Shelter instead (though I think most of us were not originally interested in Fuji).

An important factor in my knowing about the band was the film, Out of the Blue. In that movie,
I had the impression that Nick, the vocalist, was cool and Dimwit was wild. They made a good contrast with each other. Before I saw this movie, I’d imagined that Nick was energetic, bouncing around like a spring. After seeing the film, I listen to their records a little differently. Anyway, they were very cool in the movie.

Their appearances have changed because twenty-five years passed. I was most impressed by the guitarist, Bill’s, intelligence. It’s really great that such a guy performs punk. Nick was one of those who introduced punk to Vancouver from London and was the main songwriter of the group. He was almost bald, but he seemed really cool. According to Mr. Okutaki, who wrote an article in Doll Magazine about the Pointed Sticks, the Pointed Sticks were influenced by British punk, came back to Vancouver, and put their ideas into practice (editor’s note: well, it’s an interesting theory, anyway!). I think their talent is amazing. They didn’t play stereotyped punk, but played punk creatively. Their sound is so natural they must be matchlessly gifted musicians.
I really enjoyed Pointed Sticks’ live show! They did a great job of reproducing the sound off their records. They were cool and intelligent. Pointed Sticks will always remain in the memory of several hundred people who saw them. I will also remember them forever. It’s great that they reunited to please Japanese fans!

Toshio Iijima of Record Base, the Man Who Organized the Tour!

Allan: How did Japanese fans get to know the Pointed Sticks?

Toshio: Because of the Killed by Death compilation in the early ‘90s, some Japanese came to take interest in the worldwide punk bands that they didn’t know well but were active from the late ‘70s through the early ‘80s. As a result, the existence of Pointed Sticks spread by word of mouth. At that time, their records were hard to get, but the Stiff release, “Out of Luck,” was played by punk club DJs, and they became very popular, both among fans of hard punk and power pop groups.

Allan: What other Vancouver bands are popular over there?

Toshio: DOA, the Modernettes, the Subhumans and the Dishrags are also popular here. I want the Modernettes to tour! I really like the Teen City 12”. Their early discs are very expensive here; so are DOA’s.

Allan: What are your favorite songs by the Pointed Sticks?

Toshio: My favorite songs by Pointed Sticks are “What Do You Want Me to Do?” and “Somebody’s Mom” ...and all the rest!

Allan: Tell me the story of the tour.

Toshio: At first, I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard that the band had agreed to come to Japan. In the beginning, they were going to come to Japan in the summer of 2005, however, it was extended to the year 2006 because a Nikki Corvette concert was already scheduled. The dates of the concert were fixed for the days in late July due to their work schedules, so they couldn’t visit many cities. I wished they could have held more concerts. It was especially interesting that I was able to see in them something of their youth, even though they were older. Sorry! [laughs]. When I listened to “Out of Luck” live, I got goosebumps!

Allan: Were there any difficult aspects of the tour?

Toshio: I had trouble arranging for the keyboards. Their first choice of keyboards had really startling rental fees, but, though there were some in Japan, we couldn’t provide them in time, so we went with their second choice. They were vintage and also very expensive. While they were performing, the band sprinkled some water around the stage, and I was worried that the expensive keyboard might get wet! I broke into a cold sweat. Also, when they arrived in Japan, the vocalist Nick came from Europe and other members came from Canada. I traveled between Tokyo and Narita airport twice in one day. It was the first time I’d ever done that! I left home at six AM on that day and it was past 7 PM when I took all the members to the hotel! [laughs].

Allan: Anything fans should know about the Japanese scene?

Toshio: Japan also has many good bands whose members engage in jobs other than music, but continue to play good music. Foreign people don’t have a lot of chances to hear Japanese music, so if you’re interested, please contact us at Base!


The Pointed Sticks at their Vancouver homecoming show; photo by Cindy Metherel, not to be reused without permission

Thanks to Joe (and everyone at Sudden Death), Toshio (and everyone at BASE), Dale at Noize to Go!, Masao and Target Earth, David and Janet, the Pointed Sticks, Mami and Fumi and the Myspace and Mixi fans! Extra special thanks to my good friend Michiko Tomoyasu for her work as translator! Minasan, boku no nihongo ga hidoi desu ga, doomo arigatoo gozaimasu!!!


End 2007 interview. The Pointed Sticks play an afternoon and evening show on Saturday, Dec. 19th at the Rio Theatre. The Frank Frink Five play the next night at the Railway. I'll be at least one of the three gigs - hope to see some of you there!

1 comment:

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

I liked it best when Nick played guitar at the front of the band. Helped drown out the fucking piano. Their fans were warm with the band because they were so god damn cuddly. Even Dimwit was cuddly in the Sticks. I wish them the best - maybe they could get Ritchie Blackmore to produce their next record!