By Jesse Locke August 25, 2021
Considering the endless string of post-punk reissues over the past two decades, it’s easy to feel that every last corner of the genre has been discovered and explored. This is what makes The Stick Figures so amazing. For the past 40 years, the Tampa, Florida quintet’s only release, a 1981 four-song EP, has escaped the attention of die-hard post-punk fans. Pittsburgh’s Floating Mill Records aims to correct that with the new compilation, Archeology, offering a new obsession for fans who have worn down their Delta 5, Y Pants and The Fire Engines records.
The Stick Figures first came together when its members were students at the University of South Florida. After the disbandment of their previous band, The Art Holes, guitarist Bill Carey and bassist David Bowman looked for new collaborators. Bowman’s sister, Rachel Marready Evergreen, 15, served as lead singer, while guitarist Sid Dansby invited her brother Robert to become their drummer. Early concerts saw them presented as The Jetsons, before a suitable band name merged.
âWe were pretty incompetent when we first started because we didn’t have the drum stool filled with someone who could actually keep a beat,â Carey laughs. âWhen we started making a record and Robbie joined us, we used the name of a performance piece Dave and Sid had done called ‘Two Stick Figures’. At the time, we were doing a lot of artistic and musical performances that looked more like âhappeningsâ.
In the summer of 1978, Carey traveled to England for an exchange program which saw him attend formative shows by The Clash, The Jam and Patti Smith, artists he could only read at him. Returning to Tampa with a spark of inspiration, he began to seek opportunities outside of the city’s burgeoning punk and power-pop scene in a courageous attempt to expand the group’s audience.
âWe would go to a dive bar filled with drunk rednecks,â Carey explains. âThere would be 10 people in the bar and a large back room. We asked if we could bring our own gear on a Friday night and not charge locals. Some nights this tactic drew up to 100 people, until things inevitably got out of hand. âAt one point, the locals started flirting with young women at our shows. There would be a punch, someone would pull out a gun, and then we would have to find another bar.
Because they didn’t just rote covers of songs like âBrown Eyed Girlâ and âMargaritaville,â The Stick Figures already stood out from most other Florida bar groups. Their sound was rambling and frantic, with gang vocals and riffs jutting out at odd angles, like twigs rummaging through a plastic bag. Citing influences as varied as John Cage and Parliament / Funkadelic, The Stick Figures have incorporated violin, xylophone and guitars treated with crocodile clips into their music.
This commotion is reflected in “Ellis Otivator Dub”, by far the most experimental song from the debut EP of The Stick Figures, a fast-paced tape made up of samples of their unreleased song “Elevator Shaft”. âIt involved playing slide guitar on my 12-string Rickenbacker while everyone was making crazy noises,â Carey laughs. “It was a live favorite.” Bringing their tapes to USF’s electronic music studio, they rearranged the song’s elements and added synths before creating their own version of a dub mix. âUsually you think of dub as having that slow, long groove,â Carey explains. âOurs is anything but that.
To support the release of Archeology, Carey and drummer Robert Dansby have teamed up to create their first collaborative project in four decades. âEllis Otivator Dub 2021â is a sequel that stretches the original piece to three times its length, slowing down the tempo to an oozing groove while adding a slightly more traditional structure. âWe had all these multitrack tapes with Dave, Rachel and Sid on it,â Dansby says. âAt one point Bill suggested adding a chorus. I was skeptical at first, but in my opinion it ended up making the song.
After securing the support of influential BBC DJ John Peel and landing the first slots with The Fall and Lounge Lizards, The Stick Figures moved to New York in 1b 981. The youngest members of the group – who had put on their pending degrees – succumbed to the hardships of being broke. Less than a year after their move, bassist David Bowman returned to the Sunshine State, ending the band before they could really get started.
In the years that followed, the members of The Stick Figures continued to use their musical talents. Robert Dansby now makes soundtracks for art films, while Carey produced an album for Bowman’s Nothing But Happiness project in 1986, which ultimately resulted in his own signing to Glass Records.
However, Carey remains best known for giving My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields the Jazzmaster guitar he used to develop the shoegaze sound. When they moved to London in 1986, Carey Crash’s band opened for MBV in Manchester. After lending Shields his guitar and tube amp, they quickly became friends, Carey having landed a job as an MBV roadie for their touring in the early ’90s. “His whole Jazzmaster thing came from me by buying one. guitar in a trailer park in Tampa for $ 125 that I played in The Stick Figures, âsays Carey. “When he recorded ‘You Made Me Realize’ he was using all my gear.”
Although they never became as famous as MBV, Carey does not regret the place of The Stick Figures in post-punk history. And while other labels have contacted him about a re-release (âI’m sort of the primary contact because I actually have a Discogs page,â he laughs) he’s happy to. put the band’s music in the enthusiastic hands of Cullen of Floating Mill Records. Well.
âI know Cullen is just getting started, but it looks like he’s really excited to be doing this,â says Carey. âHe has the same kind of attitude we had when we started. We weren’t doing it for money back then, and it’s the same now. I’m just glad someone wants to do a good job with it.