It takes a unique group of people to turn breaking up into a stunning album; Sticky Fingers are back with their third LP.
It was a touch of divinity when on one summer night in 2008, Dylan Frost was wrapping up his night of busking on King Street in Newtown when Paddy Fingers walked up to him and struck up a conversation.
As the pair got to talking about the devil’s lettuce, they realised they had more in common than just illegal substances. Dylan was a young street performer and Paddy was a bassist looking for a band. This shared passion for music crafted a unique relationship between the two.
The other degenerates, Beaker Best, Freddy Crabs and Seamus Coyle gathered later on, and the band Sticky Fingers (STIFI) was born. Whether breaking up bud or fiddling with lady parts was what titled this band, it was the start of a new sound ready to strike the progressive youth.
Their musical flavour consisted of acoustic instrumental ingredients and Frost’s hypnotising vocals in their first two EPs ‘Happy Endings’ and ‘Extended Play’, in 2010 and 2011.
It wasn’t until 2013 when ‘Caress Your Soul’ was released that their sound had been found. A constellation of inspiration from the likes of Pink Floyd, Arctic Monkeys and The Clash lead to STIFI constructing musical muscle mantras. Preaching to fellow miscreants, not-so-subtly hinting at the positives of drinking and drugs, they followed with their second album, ‘Land of Pleasure’ giving them a golden ticket to Australia’s music festival scene. Having worked out the formula to impress a crowd, the album was widely well received at home and was beginning to make waves around the globe too, with the band gaining fans in France, Germany, New Zealand, UK, the Netherlands and the Philippines.
While performing three shows at the Enmore Theatre in their old stomping grounds of Newtown in April 2016, the crowds noticeably rose to ‘Outcast at Last’, the single to their upcoming album. It seemed as if the audience was resonating with the memento that if we can’t fit into this society, we will be Outcast at Last.
“I don’t wake up or sleep, till the morning after tea, don’t put me out now, we’re the fire, let’s indulge”
As is with some of the substances these songs are best paired with, some songs lack clarity as Frost’s voice sounds as if the guitar’s melodies are resonating through and vaguely distorting his vocal individuality.
I wasn’t sure what to ask StiFi’s photographer, Sam Brumby, when we got in contact. He said “I was mates with the guys before I ever did any work with them so I’m pretty aware of their lives outside the band. I guess that gives me a fair understanding of where a lot of the songs come from.”
The opportunity to tour with Sticky Fingers around the world was described by Brumby as “a lot harder than people imagine… It’s not a fairyland where nothing goes wrong, everyone loses it a bit at some point, especially when you’ve been living out of each other’s pockets on a bus for a month.”
In the weeks leading up to the album drop on September 30th, Triple J’s feature album was ‘Westway (The Glitter and the Slums), Sticky Fingers’ third official album. As each song was slowly released, it sounded as if the band had matured. Their original reggae/rock vibe had taken a back seat, and raw emotion had taken the wheel. In the first chorus to the first song we hear “there ain’t no ending to this world, just your own existence.” One by One illustrates themes of loneliness as if the storyteller had been broken and lost. The theme continues and gathers emotion in Sad Songs, made apparent through the line “when your love is gone” and more impacting lines like “I been drinking till I fell on the floor.”
The band members must have had several bittersweet moments after their breakups. The line “I pulled the wings off an angel” in Angel adds weight to the darkness of their situation. Hell, they got a fair few good songs out of their misfortunes with love. Sam Brumby mentioned his favourite song was Angel, saying “I think it’s the best song they’ve ever written.”
Their second single Our Town brought symptoms of a signature voice. Obsessing over his vocal sound has resulted in a mastery of his phonetic strength, agility, technique, and phrasing – however, obliquitous it may be. The boys kept it close to home in the video, rather portraying the ‘during the week drinks’ rather than the weekend piss-ups. This is the second song that pays homage to their hometown, second to Australia Street.
“Ratta tat tat like that in the middle of the night
The ways of the mirror and the shining gold
The words take the mirror and they go back home
Ratta tat tat like that in the early morning light”
The title track to Sticky Fingers’ third album, Westway (The Glitter and the Slums) is not what you’d expect from a band as young as they are. Their first five songs almost ditch the reggae infused melodies until the title track. Cosmic synths and thick grooves will return you to base if you were having Sticky sound withdrawals.
You’d assume that Remi, an Australian rapper, was in the band when Something Strange comes on. Semplesize.com quoted Freddy Crabs saying “It’s actually a song that we wrote before we wrote a lot of the songs on Land of Pleasure… We didn’t think the track would get anywhere but when we went into the studio this time around we resurrected it.” The story of Remi’s collaboration told by Paddy goes “When Remi was in Sydney he gave me a call wanting to borrow a drum kit and said that he got my number off Nick Lupi from Spit Syndicate. So he came down to the studio and smoked a doobie and then we showed him some tracks we were working on. And he just jumped on the track.”
Flight 101, track eight, deepens the emotional pit with the chorus hook.
“I used to be scared of flying. But now I want to fall out the sky”
How low one must get in their life to write the lyric:
“I sold my soul for a cigarette, cause a sucker never let me down”
Flight 101 portrays the emotional ride of relationships, yet could almost be paired in a montage of a plane flight. The high-and-icy keys are mixed with occasional falsetto from Frost and are completed with this slow rock heartbreak song.
Before I began the final three songs of the album Westway, I looked behind me to what I had listened to, reminding myself that the band had almost split up before they had started recording the album. Pleased with its efforts and the diversity of their new emotional colours in Sad Songs, Angel, One by One, I struggled to think what they could have come up with next. I was pleasantly reminded that these artists have a natural knack for writing lyrics with a plethora of meaning. Tongue and Cheek was the final in-your-face song; as I heard “I’d take my own life just to see you in hell”, I was sure it was the cap to their emotional outlet. Amillionite and No Divide consisted of soft tones instead of the theme of hard rock I had seen throughout. To end their album with No Divide, a song about going to the brink of fist-to-cuffs and the struggle to push each other, how far they have come, and the realisation of No Divide.
This struck me as another attempt to squeeze in their growth of maturity, and that they’re back and to be taken seriously. A shining talent out of the creative heart of Sydney.
When I reflect on the album, I take a sigh of relief that this band stayed together. Talented music lives in the universe as much as the telluric currents flow through the soil of the earth. It charms our imagination and provides flight to our mind. How cathartic. Westway may be the sound we will hear for a while from Sticky Fingers, but they’ll be booking up every festival, tour and gig at The Enmore they can fit. Let’s hope too much time together doesn’t split them apart this time around. – Dylan Walton