The Stick Figures, formed in 1979 by University of South Florida students Rachel Maready Evergreen and David Bowman (siblings), Robert and Sid Dansby (also siblings), and Bill Carey, were a seminal fixture in Tampa, Florida’s deep and talented pool of late-70s/early-80s post-punk groups.
In a 1981 review from Dublin’s Hot Press magazine touting “places as unlikely as” Tampa being “well in sync with the globe’s pole-position [post-punk] scenes,” Nigel Burnham praises the “excellent” Stick Figures. After noting the band’s fandom of Delta 5 and how they opened for The Fall and Lounge Lizards, Burnham distinguishes The Stick Figures from their contemporaries by claiming that “there is enough here to suggest the SFs are going their own way—with a vengeance...we’re hardly talking here about specific songs—rather a revolutionary approach.” But The Stick Figures didn’t go their own way with a vengeance for much longer, breaking up less than a year after the release of their 1981 eponymous EP.
For the last 40 years, those four tracks were The Stick Figures’ complete discography—until now. Archeology, the first release from Floating Mill Records, takes the original EP and adds six previously unreleased songs, two live tracks, and a reimagining of the EP’s experimental “Ellis Otivator Dub.”
Citing contemporaries such as Orange Juice, The Buzzcocks, and fellow emerging southern bands Pylon and The B-52s as influences, The Stick Figures’ instrumentation on Archeology frequently and proudly wears a warm, exuberant grin. But even from Archeology’s opening lines, chanted in unison over a groove evoking their love for Parliament/Funkadelic (“N-Light”), the conflict between fun, catchy instrumentation and dark, cold lyrical content is spelled out: “Fight it out, fight it out / Contradiction, what it’s all about.” And the two songs where The Stick Figures’ musical grin is perhaps at its widest, “September” and “Mr. Simon,” focus on the uneasiness of back-to-school jitters and a man whose head is “in a noose,” respectively. Only on songs like “Screaming (Live)” and “Language (Live)” do The Stick Figures want you to realize that their grin has actually been a sneer the entire time.
Through those punkier live numbers, Velvet Underground-inspired cacophonous whirlwinds “Green” and “Crayola Bowling,” and consistently dark lyrical imagery, Archeology is able to maintain a sense of youthful playfulness and simplicity that is complemented by Rachel’s twee, “touch-boredom/touch-bitch” (Sperazza!) lead vocal. Even in a song as scathing as “Language (Live),” which claims that “clouds all spell despair” and calls for children to be locked in their rooms, The Stick Figures find some room for humorous amusements: “Please help my mama at the stove / She’s got a black cloud made of smoke / Make a Xerox of lasagna.” And on “Screaming (Live),” The Stick Figures observe that living by children that inexplicably scream from inside their house “all the time” is like “Living by a high school on a Friday night / in football season without drums / without drugs.”
Don’t take our word that The Stick Figures’ music is more dynamic and engaging than just about any post-punk band of their era (or ever, for that matter); take journalist Gary Sperazza!’s from his time at the New York Rocker running “The Crib Death Zone,” a column highlighting and ranking the best demo cassette tape submissions to the magazine. Having listened to 10 Stick Figures’ songs, several of which are featured here, Sperazza! was one of the few people outside the Tampa scene to have heard the band beyond their EP. After hearing these tracks, Sperazza! named The Stick Figures as the winner of his competition of “unheralded genius” in the June 1981 edition of the New York Rocker, asserting that The Stick Figures are, “if nothing else, better than all the other Velvets/Television/Feelies-derived aggregations” due to a “small fortune in good ideas, entertaining songs and imaginative playing.”
Adding even more clout, John Peel also put his name behind the band. BBC Radio 1’s legendary deejay reached out to The Stick Figures’ friend/lawyer/manager, Pam Wiener Dubrule, for a copy of the EP: “Just read about the Stick Figures in Dublin’s Hot Press. I wondered whether you could send me a copy of your EP to play on the radio here in London. This isn’t a clumsy attempt to avoid payment by the way. How much?” Peel lived up to his word, forking over the cash and playing “September” on his radio show in 1981.
Even with Peel’s endorsement, The Stick Figures’ musical revolution, as prophesized by Burnham, never came to fruition. Within a month of that Hot Press review, The Stick Figures charted course for the opportunities New York City offered an up-and-coming band, stopping to play shows in Atlanta during the Summer of 1981 on the way. Just as their ambition and talent finally earned interest from a label, Glass Records, the band, whose youngest member was still in their teens, succumbed to being “penniless and young” in an unforgiving Big Apple stuck somewhere between the 1977 blackouts and the 1981 garbage strike. Within a year of the move, some members retreated back to the Sunshine State before even stepping on a New York City stage while others roughed it out, leaving over 1,000 miles of East Coast to divide the group in two and force them to look for artistic fulfillment in other ventures.
But that retreat was not with their tails between their legs—The Stick Figures had made something together: a damn good EP (and dozens of equally impressive unreleased tracks). And, as unsung pioneers of the budding indie and DIY music scenes, they really “made” that EP. All five band members designed a cover before photocopying, assembling, and hand-coloring the 7” release themselves—all 500 copies—to be sold by Green Records, the Tampa-based label they formed and ran with the ever-helpful Pam Wiener Dubrule and a handful of other Tampa musicians.
While we at Floating Mill Records are no Rough Trade or Visa Records (Sperazza!’s recommendations to sign The Stick Figures at the time), we are honored and elated to be the first label to sign such a compelling band and release their first full-length album, Archeology, on vinyl, cassette tape, CD, and for digital download as our first release.
This release is 40 years overdue, but we feel the music sounds as urgent and awe-inspiring as ever. So put on The Stick Figures, and “Find a rhythm, by the wall” (“N-Light”).