Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Stick People

Stephen Duffy, Frankie Anthony, M.'. d'Ziur and Bernie Godwin of the Stick People at Game Changers



At Game Changers

1220 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach 310-798-3932

"I don't like to call this a project – I call it a band," begins Frankie Anthony, drummer for the Stick People. "I hate the word project. If you want a project, go work on a jigsaw puzzle."

"You wouldn't call a marriage a project, and I consider a band [to be a marriage of sorts]. When you say the word 'project,' it assumes that your full focus is not on it, that it's something you do in your off time. With a band, you live, eat and breathe it," agrees the group's lead guitarist, Bernie Godwin. "I've never considered the Stick People a project, it's what I do. When I'm engineering or anything else with other people, that's a project; it's what I do on the side. This is the bread and butter."

"We all have our own studios and do little things aside from the Stick People, but the Stick People is the main consensus of [our focus]," Frankie adds. "When it's a band of these pop players that's just thrown together, people pick up on it. They also pick up on Green Day, for instance, who have been together for a long time. They've been through a lot of stuff together, and it makes for great material and presence to an audience."

The Stick People, which also includes vocalist Stephen Duffy, guitarist Mike Stone and bassist M.', d'Ziur formed in Los Angeles five years ago, and although its members have formerly been associated with other projects – Frankie with W.W. III, Mike with Queensrÿche/Klover/Criss and Bernie did the soundtrack of Bruce Campbell's My Name is Bruce – all five musicians emphasize that the Stick People is their main priority. Currently gearing up for the release their debut album, Madness, Frankie gathers Stephen, M.'., Bernie and I at one of his favorite sports bars, Game Changers, in Hermosa Beach.

"It's a Steelers bar, and I'm originally from Pittsburgh, so I'm a huge Steelers fan," Frankie confesses, provoking avid Houston Texans fan Stephen to proudly proclaim, "I never come here!"

With several banks of flat-screen televisions blanketing its walls, Game Changers is a sports lover's heaven. Just a short walk from the beach and pier, the social house boasts 54 taps, a full menu of wings, burgers, salads and delectable entrees, providing a welcome respite from the hot summer sun. As we take a seat around a table near the bar's four billiard tables, the guys share some of their other L.A. haunts with me.

"I love to jog in Lake Balboa. I love to work and run, that's pretty much my life," admits Valley native Bernie. "I went to Hollywood Palladium and saw the Deathklok/Machine Head concert. That was an awesome show: great bands, and the place was packed. I got to push around some people in the pit, so that was fun. I have a lot of awesome memories from the Key Club, the Roxy's always killer, and the Viper Room. Even just walking down the Sunset Strip to people watch or going to the Rainbow,  you're always going to see somebody there."

"When I was growing up, the only shows I went to were the ones I played at all those places he just named – the Roxy, the Whisky, Gazarri's which became the Key Club – all up and down the Strip. It was my only exposure to venues, these little clubs," remembers M.'..

"I like the food at Canter's Deli," says Stephen. "Especially when we tracked Madness, it was our go-to place after every session, which was usually at midnight or 2 a.m. It's the one place that's always open, and they have a great menu. Whether you want a turkey burger or avocado melt—"

"Or just about anything," continues Bernie. "It's a typical but great Jewish deli that happens to be one of the more famous Hollywood landmarks. Much like Guns N' Roses, it's a Stick People haven."

"Also what we call the Stand, a little taco place on Vine," Stephen adds.

"It's called Cactus Taqueria," corrects Bernie. "You can't go there and have two tacos, you go there to have five or six tacos. You can't hold back, it's just too good."

"We would get out of the studio at 2 a.m., get in the car and go to the Stand," Stephen recalls. "We'd get a plate of tacos, take 'em back to the hotel and pass out."

Madness was recorded at several Hollywood studios with producer Dito Godwin (No Doubt, Kiss, Mötley Crüe) at the helm over the course of a year. When I ask the Stick People what the title refers to, they're quick to respond.

"Madness was the year of having to get the record done," Stephen replies.

"They say there's no such thing as when a record is done, it's just a release date," Bernie continues.

"As far as an artist is concerned, you're never happy with it," clarifies Frankie. "If you're any kind of musician at all, you always go back in and critique yourself, 'I could have done this or this different.'"

"Except for me, I always say damn that's perfect," laughs Stephen. "No, I'm kidding. You constantly listen back, but at some point, you're eventually out of time, and it has to be mastered and be done."

"You just have to take it as inspiration for the next record, and take everything to the next level," sums up Bernie.

Producer Dito, who is also Bernie's father, actually served as matchmaker for the members, playing a pivotal role in the Stick People's formation.

"I started working with Dito, so I met Bernie early on. We jammed together, and he eventually came in on the first original songs that we put together. Dito also brought Frankie in, and we instantly started clicking. A couple of songs later we went this could work, we could form this into an actual band," tells Stephen. "It's one thing when you're in the studio, and we had our differences just like anyone else. But once we hit the stage, all that goes out the window."

Dito also introduced the guys to Mike, but Frankie is responsible for M.'. coming into the fold.

"Frankie contacted me online, and it just went from there," M.'. remembers. "I've been playing music all of my life, but this is the first band that's actually doing something."

M.'. has always been a music lover and clearly recalls buying his first records.

"The first five albums that I bought were all of the Black Sabbath albums from their first one up through Sabbath Bloody Sabbath when I was 9. I saved up my money to buy them all," he says. "Up to that point I was playing piano then I switched over to guitar because I was like, 'How is he doing that?'"

"Yeah man, [Tony] Iommi," sighs Bernie, who was, of course, born into the music industry with Dito as a father.

"A lot of the bands my dad worked with all over the world inspired me in music, but it took me longer to get into it, wanting to make it a profession. I always loved playing music. I did jazz in high school, but for the first 10 years of me playing guitar, my dad would walk into my room and say, 'You're horrible!' He still doesn't sugarcoat things in music; it's very tough love with him. For the past few years I've been engineering and playing guitar for him, so I can take that as a compliment."

As far as cementing his aim of becoming a professional musician, Bernie also attributes inspiration to Black Sabbath.

"When I saw Black Sabbath reunite after Ozzy Osbourne crashed in an ATV and was still alive and killing it, that pretty much told me that if I don't do music then I'm wasting my breath," he says. "Seeing Black Sabbath live is probably what pushed me over the most."

Ozzy Osbourne appears in Frankie's musical history as well.

"I auditioned for Ozzy then got a second call back, but didn't get the gig. At least I got to play with him twice, which was really cool. He's just like you see him on TV, a trippy guy," he smiles. "I started out like Bernie did, though, my father played drums, so from the earliest time I can remember I was always tinkering around his set. I was playing with my dad's jazz and cover bands when I was about 9, he would let me sit in. When I was 14, I went down to Nashville and recorded a gospel album. That was my first experience in a real recording studio and when I learned that there's a big difference between playing live and actually being under the microscope in the studio. Up until that point, I had never played with a metronome or click track. I've always been surrounded by music, everything from country to jazz and big band. I love everything."

Stephen's household growing up was dominated by gospel music, with some classical and country thrown in.

"My uncle conducted the Washington Symphony and toured all over the states, so I got exposed to that. My aunt is a gospel writer, who has had some hits on the top 10. She, my uncle and my father did church tours as a trio," he says. "I was around music from the get-go. I started playing piano when I was 5. My cousin and I would get to church early just so we could play Beethoven and Bach. Growing up I listened mostly to gospel and country (not by choice), and eventually I migrated into reggae and other genres. I didn't really get into rock until the mid-'90s. I was really discouraged to pick up a guitar even though I kept asking for one. I continued complaining, but it wasn't until I was 10 that they said, 'Alright, here.'"

Although they come from different backgrounds, once they were bit by the music bug, determination has been a constant in all of their lives. That drive to succeed bleeds into the lyrics of their first single, "Think About That."

"The basis of 'Think About That' is if you just sit there and never try anything that you're dreaming about, if you don't ask then it's always going to be a no," Frankie tells. "At least if you try, if you go ask, you might get a yes."

"If you get down on yourself, you have to imagine things can always be worse," says Bernie. "There is always someone who has it worse than you – there's so much motivation in that."

The Stick People have hit the road with Quiet Riot and Vince Neil, but a major motivation for going on tour again soon in support of Madness is their change in food choices while traveling.

"With our new tour bus, we're going to be cooking all of our food," M.'. reports.

Frankie laughs, "I can't cook worth a damn, so these guys will take turns cooking."

"We'll not only have a full kitchen, we'll also have a grill we're taking with us," Stephen says. "Prior to that, it's been whatever fits in a bag, like chips, and fast food."

Of course my next question is what their specialties are, to which they reply:

M.'.: I'm really good at soup
Stephen: Fajitas and Carne Asada
Bernie: I'm good with a grill. I love working with vegetables and different kinds of meat. I live for the flame. If I have an open flame and some food in front of me, I'm going to make it happen.

Frankie won't be doing any of the cooking, and he also won't be doing any of the driving when the band hits the road.

"We have some really good stories about cops pulling us over. Almost every fly-in date, if I was driving I would get a ticket," he frowns. "What's funny is, I've never gotten a ticket in L.A. I finally told them I'm done. I'm not driving anymore!"

Even though Madness has yet to be released, the band continues to work on new material. Since they've grown together as a band over the past few years, the writing process has definitely changed.

"Initially I did 90 percent of the writing, and now that's evolved to everybody contributing ideas. I usually start the process, putting together a full thing, then stripping it down to the basic guitar part I've come up with from the vocals. Frankie adds some of the back-end section and percussion, then Bernie will add his pieces and Mike," Stephen details. "That's one of the interesting things about the album we're writing now, that we've been together for a while. Madness is great, and I think one of the reasons it took so long to record is initially we had the first couple of songs down like that, but as we were together longer, like Bernie would come in with a great idea—"

"And we would just go do it. There was initially a first few songs, but as the members came in it started changing the color of the picture that it was going to be, and that's something that I'm really grateful about what the Stick People do. You can take away the colors and just have a blank canvas with black lines, and it's still a great picture. If you take away the colors on other things, and there's not a great picture – the lines don't work then you're building something that doesn't work from the beginning. This, [the Stick People] has a solid base."

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