It's two days before their Saturday show at the Rickshaw Theatre, and Pointed Sticks' vocalist Nick Jones is calling the Straight from Nanaimo, British Columbia, one of five cities in the Sticks' present diaspora. Bassist Tony Bardach is up in Gibsons, where he's been putting the finishing touches on a goofy little video for "Tin Foil Hat", with a dog named Kane and a cat named Bert. Guitarist Bill Napier-Hemy can be occasionally spotted (alongside his partner Jade Blade of the Dishrags) in the Dunbar region of Vancouver. Gord Nicholl—keyboardist and, along with Jones, the most active songwriter in the band—lives around Cambie and 16th, while drummer Ian Tiles lives in Burnaby/New Westminster.
This geographic dispersal poses challenges, especially if the band wants to do things like play music together. "When we made the record," begins Jones, referring to the Sticks' newest, the second since they reformed, and their first and only album to be self-titled, "we were all in the same room maybe four times. It's a bit difficult, but the good thing about it is that we've played together for so long that we don't have to practice over and over again. For this gig, the other guys practiced again last week, and we're practicing again tomorrow, so we'll be good with that, we'll be fine. We don't want it too tight!"
The Sticks, inactive from 1981 until their Japanese reunion tour of 2006, had called it quits for a few years circa 2012, not playing again in Vancouver until the Khats fest this past summer. Why the hiatus? "We were sort of struggling to finish the new record, and the guys in the band were having a hard time understanding why we were still doing it," Jones says. "At that point Bill was teaching full time." Napier-Hemy was then coaching dyslexic kids to read and play music at the Fraser Academy. "He had very little time for the band, so we would have to schedule practices and recording sessions weeks or sometimes months in advance, because his schedule was that tight."
Another complication emerged in 2010 when Tony Bardach tried to cross into the States, "just to have Mexican food or something," Jones says. "He got pulled at the border, which hadn't been done when we played New York in 2007. And we realized we couldn't go into America because Tony couldn't go there, because he had some previous issue."
Jones doesn't go into detail, but assures the Straight that "it's ridiculous, one of those infractions that is so minor that there's no reason why he should ever be stopped going across the border. That was another reason why we stopped, though. We couldn't keep going back to Japan, and we saw the number of places we could play getting smaller and smaller. You can't keep playing in Vancouver all the time, it gets a little boring after a while, and people get bored of seeing you. Not that we don't love playing for our friends and fans here, but we'd like to go and play some place different."
The band is planning to approach Sudden Death honcho Joe Keithley to discuss opportunities for international touring. Jones in particular would like to play Europe at least once—especially Spain, where Vancouver power pop is surprisingly well-remembered, he says. The Sticks also retain a huge fondness for Japan, as witnessed on their new LP by "Tsune's Song", which was inspired in part by the contributions of Tsune of Tokyo glam-pop band the Young Parisiennes. (No one in the Pointed Sticks can read the Japanese characters in Tsune's family name, but the Sticks refer to him as "Tsuneglam Sam.")
"We played with the Young Parisiennes the last time we were over there. Great band, great guy—all Japanese people are super-nice. When we got back home again, he sent me this little mp3 of an idea for a song he'd written for us. It was a very simple little phrase based around the line, 'Pointed Sticks are fun', and we took that and developed it into a song, and we thought giving him the credit for it would be nice, so we called it 'Tsune's Song'. He's very happy about that!"
Another notable song on the album is "You're Not the One," which takes its chorus from a line by Bill Scherk, from Vancouver pop/punk supergroup Los Popularos, which, at least in some incarnations, involved both Nicholl and Bardach. "The song never got written anymore than that, and I think one day Gord just summoned up the memory from somewhere, and that was the impetus for the song. Gord pretty much wrote it and sent it to me, I changed this-and-this a little bit, but it ended up being what it was. It was Bill's idea definitely, though" (and he is given songwriting credits, alongside Nicholl and Jones). "It's a real Bill Scherk phrase: 'You're not the best I've ever had.'"
Jones is also quite happy that Nicholl sings a song on the new album, "Yesterday's Girl". "That's a debut for him, he hasn't sung on record before. It's the one with the little Tijuana brass thing on the chorus." Bardach, meanwhile, sings "Tin Foil Hat"—a memorably weird, doo-wop-meets-vaudeville number celebrating eccentricity and alphabet reduction (whatever exactly that is). "It was about nine minutes long when he brought it to us, and we put it in the edit machine and me and Gord just sort of pared it down to the essentials. But it's Tony's song, through and through. It was all there, we didn't add anything, we just had to take stuff away."
A thousand copies of the vinyl for Pointed Sticks have been pressed, and the album is in stores now, including Zulu, Red Cat, and Noize to Go. Plus, of course, copies will be available at the Rickshaw on Saturday, where, starting at 10 P.M., four bands, sharing gear, will fit four sets of music into a mere three hours.
All of the bands are "phenomenal", Jones assures the Straight. Of course, we know Polly, Paul Leahy's hard glam revival band (whom Jones describes as "superb"). "Nervous Talkers are a kind of Kinks/the Who hard power pop," Jones continues. "All I know from Vampire Bats are the songs I've seen on the YouTube videos but they're kind of gothy, with dark looking make up and stuff. But the singer is a really smart guy; I'm expecting big things out of them. This will be a bang-bang-bang thing, with ten minutes in between bands. By 1 o'clock the show will be over and you'll have seen four bands. But get there early—don't miss Nervous Talk!"
And for godsake, if you live in Vancouver and have somehow not seen the Pointed Sticks yet, don't miss the chance to catch them while you can, because as Jones reminds the Straight, "as fun as this is, we can't keep going forever."
Pointed Sticks are at the Rickshaw Theatre on Saturday (November 28)