In our next artist spotlight, we chat to stickybackplastics. about their music.
S] Tell us about how you started as a musician and why?
Roz Walker – guitar] “After a childhood of learning classical violin and some piano, I decided I wanted to play music more creatively, free from all the restrictions of the prescribed notes and started to learn guitar. It was a liberating experience and opened the door to songwriting. I had never written a song nor had any idea of how to start but it was like a flood gate opening – they came pouring out. I still play the violin as well, but in an improvisational way and I use a fab purple electric one – much more fun!”
Heather Niven – vocals] “My family is very musical, and so I was singing pretty much at the same time as I was starting to talk. My mum always had her old acoustic out and often played folk or 60s on there. I would always sing along and try to make up harmonies. At 10, I started learning cornet in our school brass band and this was a hobby I had for 8 years, teaching me about reading music and playing with a group and performing too. It also probably saved me from playground scraps! I didn’t see the playground for 6 years at secondary school. At 15, I started my singing lessons and was trained classically on and off for about 7 years, singing soprano!”
Dom Smith – drums] “I started because I wanted to make lots of noise! I used to be in a Marilyn Manson covers band, but we never got out of the garage! stickybackplastics is quite a departure from that, and it’s the first time I’ve ever been a part of creating songs. I’ve always tried to push myself in everything I do, and being a drummer – even though I’ve been jamming for a long time – is very much a part of that.”
S] Tell us a little about your music and what inspired you to create your songs?
R] “The music is quite dark, often blues-based rock and usually deals with quite difficult emotional subjects like controlling or abusive relationships, infidelity, breakdown of relationships and other such cheery topics! Inspiration comes from personal experience and people and situations I encounter in life which evoke strong feelings in me.”
D] “I think, for Roz and Heather it’s quite a cathartic process. The stuff that these songs deal with, man, it’s pretty epic, and not in a good way. I have a lot of love and respect for both Heather and Roz, both professionally and personally. Their energy is infectious, and I admire the fact that together they’re helping each other deal with personal demons and real-life topics like bad relationships, stalkers and the like. Stuff that, unfortunately too many people in this world have had to deal with. My hope is that people can use our songs as a form of catharsis, and that they enjoy the rhythms! I also want people to get emotional and rock out!”
S] What do you feel as you play music?
R] “Playing music with the band is the most exhilarating experience – when everyone is on the same wavelength working together, the volume is up, the emotion is high and it is one of the best feelings I can think of – I usually have the biggest manic grin after playing! Some of the songs have a strong personal significance and the process of performing them is a great cathartic experience.”
H] “I suppose it depends how well it’s going! When it’s going well, it’s like you are one with it, everything flows together and there is a rising excitement in making something sound beautiful and melt together. It almost plugs into a different bit of your brain which feels more natural and primitive. It’s ace!”
D] “I go through different phases, man. I get nervous and excited, then aggressive! Ha! When I’m helping to build a song – there are tonnes in development – as Roz and Heather have been working together for ten years – I get nervous as I want to find the right style for the track. I get excited when it starts coming together and the others in the band are pleased with my beats, and then I get aggressive as I go through the songs, as I need to push myself to keep going – using the kick drum for example, takes a load of effort – I have Cerebral Palsy and it effects my legs. But I get a lot of enjoyment out of playing and crafting songs, so I’m always just like ‘f**k it’ I will do it anyway! Ha! If we ever start playing three hour sets, it’s gonna be awesome!”
S] What are your musical influences?
R] “Musical influences are many and varied. I love the old blues masters like John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and the female singers like Billie Holliday and Nina Simone. I also have a great affection for the late JJ.Cale. There is something so raw and honest about the blues, it just gets right to your heart. I also admire PJ Harvey for her immense creativity and refusal to be categorised, and Patti Smith for her intensity. Led Zeppelin have to be an influence as one of the greatest rock bands, along with the spirit and rage of the punk era and the post-punk bands like Nirvana.”
H] “I love all sorts of diverse music, despite being woefully pants at listening to enough of it. I get goosebumps from Mozart as well as Nine Inch Nails and both are perfect for different moods. In terms of singing influences, Kate Bush, PJ Harvey, Florence and the Machine, Portishead, Patti Smith, Sarah McLauchlan and KT Tunstall, all have fantastic voices. I love the soul and rawness of Nina Simone – she is an amazing lady. In terms of performance and stage presence David Bowie rocks. He has the imagination to continually reinvent himself.”
D] “I listened to, and still listen to a bunch of nu-metal, rock and electronic bands from my youth. I’ve always wanted to be able to play heavier-sounding stuff, and I’m still learning to be a better player. Hopefully, I can introduce some metal-style drums to the band one day! No, I really like the chilled out-dark-blues-rock style of stickybackplastics, and I have a bunch of the same influences as Roz and Heather. So, for every Marilyn Manson, Placebo and Incubus from my side, there’s a huge part of me that loves Pixies and Portishead too. Our main influences as a group are those latter bands, and also raw grunge bands like Nirvana that I’ve always loved. I think we have that raw grungy sound down, at least that’s my excuse for the all-over-the-place drum sounds! I’d like to think one day we might be able to bring some electronic elements to the sound too.”
S] What are your fondest musical memories?
R] “Fond musical memories include my father playing the piano at home, having a go on a church pipe organ as a little girl and being amazed at the volume of sound I could produce, also my first proper gig seeing Queen at the height of their fame – what awesome live performers! More recently the first time we managed to play a song together as a band was so exciting.”
H] “Early ones would be singing along with my mum when I was very young. Later on would be the sessions I had in Aberdeen with my singing teacher Alma, who was an exceptional musician and who became my close friend. She taught me not to be too precious about singing- that my voice was a tool not an ornament made of china! This encouraged my to experiment a lot more, and I broke out of the boundaries of classical singing.”
D] “Ignoring how delightfully silly that Marilyn Manson covers band was, I’d have to say the first time re practiced as a band. Heather and Roz went through a bunch of different musicians, and I just showed up more than everyone else! When we finally got together, and I put pressure on us to nail down three songs to record an EP with, that was when it started to really come together. I remember doing ‘Ten Years’, which is by far my favourite song to play on the drums, at the minute – and the others just looked at me and smiled, I knew we’d nailed that song and it was the first time, for me, where we felt like a proper band. There was definitely a ‘eureka’ moment for all the songs on the EP, although the others came on the day of recording.
Recording was another huge highlight. Having the opportunity to see Roz push herself way beyond her comfort zone – and do well – doing backing vocals was a great pleasure. Similarly, seeing Heather put all of that heart and soul into her vocals for the whole day was really inspiring. Not to mention the patience that our mixer, and my drum mentor Dan Whiting [GLASS, AKP, Percy] had for me as I recorded everything. He’s a legend. Oh yeah, finally…having Ravens’ drummer Rob Dann play bass on our EP, and then tell me that I wasn’t rubbish. That was nice too.”
S] Which famous musician or band do you admire? Why?
R] “I admire PJ Harvey for her individuality and creativity – she has so much variety in her music and is not afraid to pursue her own ideas regardless of any commercial appeal.”
H] “Musicians who are constantly learning and trying new stuff, Kate Bush is great and I was in love with her music as a teenager, David Bowie and Annie Lennox have also gone the distance and have experimented and entertained for decades! Recently I have been really enjoying Biffy Clyro and Muse.”
D] “Easy. Marilyn Manson for not giving a s**** about what people think. He’s done that since day one. I also love the band Incubus for their sheer musicianship – everything they’ve created has always been so tight and well put-together. Incubus’ whole vibe and style really motivates me.”
S] If you had to listen to one musician or band for the rest of your life, who would it be?
R] “That is an impossible question – the joy of music is the variety and the ability to listen to something which goes with your mood. If I had to be forced, then I would probably go with Zeppelin as they have so much variety within their repertoire and still come across with astonishing power and vibrancy after so many years.”
H] “That’s a tricky one, maybe Kate Bush for all the reasons above and also because I could sing along – maybe I would have to bite the bullet and write my own stuff if I got bored with listening to the same music after a few years.”
D] “Incubus. Without doubt, there’s something for everyone in all of their albums – there are pop tracks, metal tunes, funk and bluesy-numbers as well as the odd genre-bending rock track with electronic elements.”
S] Tell us something about you that very few people know?
R] “I ran my own stained glass studio and have designed and made windows in private homes, a church and a hospice chapel.”
H] “I taught a Walt Disney cartoonist jazz trumpet in exchange for beer when I was underage in California every week for a year. He got quite good and we drank lots of beer.”
D] “I wear my heart on my sleeve! Erm, I really, really love a good romantic comedy! My favourite film genre is sc-fi, but second to that? I’ll take a good rom-com any day.”
S] As a musician (or music entrepreneur), what advice would give to those who wants to be a musician?
R] “Do it – do it now and play to enjoy. Don’t try to please everyone – play music from your soul and don’t be afraid to go for it! If possible, meet someone like Dom who is a tireless dynamo at spreading the word about the band!”
H] “You only live once, and what’s the worst that can happen?”
D] “However nervous you are, or however much you are worried about sucking as a player, the best way to learn is by doing it. So, find a few people you really enjoy being round and trust, and just jam with them – learn grow and develop. See what happens. You might surprise yourself.”
S] Is there anything that you would differently in your career?
R] “I would have started playing guitar and songwriting many years earlier.”
H] “I like to look forwards not back, but having a band earlier would have been good! In the future, more music and less hours in an office would be more fun but I have a good life, with lots of opportunity. In the future, I would love my own practice and recording space with lots of cool gadgetry.”
D] “Like Roz, I would have started earlier, and followed my own advice in the previous answer. Although, I was waiting for the right group of people to grow and develop with, you know? I think I’ve found ’em!”
S] When is your next album coming out?
R] “As soon as we have got the rest of the songs up to standard and ready to record!”
H] “Soon! We hope to have our next EP out before the end of the year!”
D] “An album? Next year. In the meantime, we are pulling together a remix EP of the tracks on our debut self-titled one. These will be heavily re-imagined electronic versions of our songs by bands that we dig. Cool, huh?”