This Is Groovecore
An interview with Steve Demirjian, Andy Demirjian, Shawn Mullen, and Eddie Joe
by Scott Hefflon
“Something to fill the hole…” A broken, mumbling, voice starts This Is Groovecore out right. Beginning with the choppy stompcore of, say, Helmet or Stompbox (R.I.P.), and then bleeding the verses together with seamless transitions. While I’ve always considered Stickmen a no-frills, ploddingly heavy band (that’s a compliment, by the way), I have a deeper appreciation of how smooth stomp can be. Groovecore is an applicable term – it’s got the dramatic start/stop guitars, but the drums roll and offer contrasting fills, and that fat bass sound drives like a tank through every second of every song. Fuckin’ brutal! Vocally, Stickmen have always roared like a well-tuned muscle car with a lead-footed psycho at the wheel. The barrel-chested verses and group-shout choruses are a step away from the restrictions of old-school hardcore, but also don’t fit into metal preconceptions either. Just call it Groovecore. Their cover of the Brady Bunch Kids‘ “Time To Change” is also a great stretch for them. They get a chance to sing and, gasp!, even harmonize. It’s a great song.
Rather than talk about the band, I thought it appropriate to talk to the band. The Stickmen do seem to stick out in a scene that seems so “chummy.” They respond to the fans and to the fans alone.
With the new line-up, why don’t we just go back to the very beginning and talk about the evolution of Groovecore?
Steve Demirjian (vocals): We had a vision in our heads when we were putting this thing together. We needed the perfect runningbacks and the perfect quarterback. Shawn (Mullen, drums) came in through an ad that Andy (Demirjian, guitar) and I had placed about four years ago.
Shawn Mullen: The bass player of the band I played with, Agent 99, responded to the ad and brought me down with him.
Steve: He stayed for about three gigs before he split to do a funkier thing, but Shawn stayed on as the drummer. I don’t even remember his name…
Shawn: Dante. I knew him a lot longer than you guys did.
Steve: Shawn’s also the only member who doesn’t smoke dope, and I guess it’s showing right now, huh? Even before them there were two other guys who tried out, but I can’t remember their names either.
Eddie Joe (new bassist): You don’t even remember the dudes’ names that were in your band?
Steve: Their first names were Mike and Tommy, I don’t think we even knew their last names. But that’s when the change came. Mullen became, like, my brother, in the way we could communicate rhythm, and talk about the feeling we were trying to get with the music. Mullen brought with him talent, as well as studying. He has a huge jazz background that I see as a serious part of Stickmen’s future.
Some of the songs on this full-length have been released on EPs and 7″s. What’re the differences between the older and the newer styles?
Steve: The newest songs are the first three, “Polluted,” “One Thing I Know,” and “All I Got.” They’re a little more advanced, songwriting-wise and lyrically, and they’re just more mature.
Shawn: I think for the early stuff, we were still finding out what we wanted from our sound.
Steve: It all started with “If I.” That sound was the beginning of what our sound has grown into. Everything from here on out will be an embellishment, a fine-tuning. But we’ll never lose that crunch. That’s what gets us all off.
Eddie: I don’t think that could ever get lost. As much as Mullen is a really intense, jazzy player, I’m a ROCK bass player.
Shawn: It’s jazz attitude with rock execution.
Steve: A few of our newest tunes that aren’t on the record, “Monkey,” “Jack Shit,” and especially “Stupid,” really show the new style. But you’re going to have to come out and see us to really see what it’s all about.
Is that “Stupid” or “Stööpit?”
Steve: I was thinking about that, ’cause that’s the way we all say it…
Shawn: The tunes fucking rock, I can’t wait to get back in the studio.
What’s your jazz background?
Shawn: I’ve played in fusion bands, Top 40 bands, rock bands… I studied with Gary Chapin, a jazz/fusion drummer guru, who taught me a lot about free-playing.
How’s that mix with your bass style?
Eddie: Style? As long as it’s heavy and I can bang my head, that’s my influence.
Steve: He’s our bullshit detector. If we get too artsy, Eddie will let us have it. Every day Eddie is trying to think of a new way to make his bass sound deeper, boomier, more explosive. That’s what he offers; he offers the balls. Also, he’s much different live. Eddie doesn’t fuck up.
Andy Demirjian (guitar): He’s also in on the group catharsis we all go through on stage. It used to sometimes seem like the other bassist slipped into a sideshow. He added more of a comical vibe, but that wasn’t really what we were about.
Eddie: I don’t have an ounce of showboat in me.
Who writes most of the music?
Andy: Steve writes a lot of it, even though he doesn’t play an instrument in the band. It’s kind of a weird thing. He writes many of the riffs on guitar and comes up with the lyrics. He plays guitar, but doesn’t play it live.
Steve: I write for a feel. I’m not necessarily as good as these guys, but I can carve out a bass line and come up with ridiculous tweakies for Andy to play on guitar.
I’ve noticed that your vocal parts work like a rhythm guitar. Your voice isn’t so much a singer thing as an instrument thing.
Steve: That’s really cool. I’m not trying to out-sing Ronnie James Dio. He’s got a great set of pipes for a little troll. He’s waxed some of my favorite tunes of all time, he really shaped me when I was a little kid – I’m just not going to be able to do that. (Edit out long, gushing passages extolling the virtues of the little man in black, Mr. R.J.D. Ed.)
What’s your favorite song on the album?
Shawn/Eddie: “Mr. Speedball.”
Andy: “All I Got” really gets into what the cover art is all about: Being happy despite the fact that marketing people create desire all around you, and make you feel inadequate. It’s about stepping back and realizing that you don’t need everything; you can be happy with who you are and what you have.
Steve: I think this tune provides good medicine. It’s a headcheck. It’s easy to think other people have it made, and that other people are the lucky ones getting all the breaks. You can’t think like that. You’ve got to be happy with your thing, and fuck ’em if they don’t like you.
Stickmen seems to exist in a self-created world. You don’t seem to mesh with any specific scene or current musical trend.
Steve: I think we’re really bad about that ’cause we just don’t give a shit. It really works against us. We’re not really scenesters, we don’t really hang out at bars and make friends. We’re in completion with ourselves to write the best songs. That’s what we do. We might not make all the right friends at this magazine, or that radio station, but when we play groovecore, it’s solid. Hopefully, that’ll come across. That’s what’s important to us.