musicians' day jobs merely provide economic sustenance between gigs;
a way to make ends meet. Then there's Jack McDowell of stickfigure.
His day job not only let him pursue his musical career, it also
allowed him to earn the 1993 Cy Young Award. For eleven years, as
Jack was recording five albums and touring the country with two
different bands, he also held a day job as a three-time All-Star
Major League Pitcher.
That was then, this is now.
McDowell is now free to pursue his musical passion full-time, and
stickfigure, his band of the past eight years, just put out a power-pop
gem with their third release, Ape of the Kings.
With a sound that conjures up images of the Beatles, Tom Petty,
R.E..M., and The Replacements, stickfigure is out to ingrain their
sound into the heads of music fans everywhere. "This is a record
that comes at a perfect time for us. It is the summation of a lot
of hard work, writing maturity and the enduring relationship of
great musicians," says McDowell, singer and guitarist for the
Stickfigure formed in 1992 following a Smithereens tour with Jack's
former band, V.I.E.W., as the opening act. Original and current
stickfigure guitarist Michael Hamilton held sound engineer duties
for those shows, and later produced V.I.E.W.'s second and final
project, the four song E.P., "Replace the Mind." "Mike
and I developed both a great working relationship and a personal
friendship during those recordings," McDowell recalls. "When
it came time for the next batch of songs to be recorded, I again
contacted Mike to produce the project."
Those recordings would become stickfigure's 12-song debut album
Just A Thought, which was released in 1994 by Chicago indie label
Monsterdisc. "I felt strongly that the songs and the direction
I was heading in were definitely not right for V.I.E.W. I chose
stickfigure as a new band name, because it represented the music;
raw, stripped down, and no b.s.! Also, I was referred to as 'stickfigure'
in my younger years," laughs McDowell.
Both McDowell and Hamilton shared production and guitar duties on
Just A Thought, and five bass players, (including McDowell), would
lend their talents to the low end. One of the bass players who participated
was the Smithereens' own Mike Mesaros. Mesaros appeared on four
tracks on Just a Thought, and became stickfigure's permanent bassist.
Without a drummer for the newly formed stickfigure, Hamilton and
Mesaros approached mutual friend Frank Funaro to complete the band.
This line-up remained intact for three years and the recording of
stickfigure's follow-up album Feedbag, which was released by Boston's
Monolyth/ Soundproof label. Feedbag also saw McDowell take over
the producer's chair. "I had a raw/ indie sound in mind. I
wanted to see if I could get it on tape myself," explains McDowell.
McDowell began recording in his Cleveland basement and returned
with a blistering 13-song release. Feedbag is a guitar lover's dream:
loud, raucous and in your face. Don Dixon's mixing efforts intensified
the passion and angst the songs conveyed.
In 1998 , with Jack's blessing, Funaro took over the drum seat for
Cracker and McDowell went back into the basement to begin work on
what would become stickfigure's current record, Ape of the Kings.
McDowell recounts that, "There was a two year period in 1998-99
when my baseball career took a negative turn for health reasons.
I knew that the possibility of retirement was a reality and I was
beginning to write the next record. A lot of amazing material came
from riding that emotional roller coaster and I feel it transferred
perfectly into song. While the songs aren't specifically about baseball,
any writer will tell you that their emotional state at the time
of writing dictates the feel of the music."
From the whimsical "Call Me Crazy" and "No One Has
To Know" to the passion, and blazing guitars of "The Grave"
and "Hour of Day," the thirteen songs on Ape of the Kings
ride that roller coaster to guitar pop perfection. Prior to signing
with Colorado based What Are Records? in early 2002, stickfigure's
"The Grave" was already reaching radio audiences on Top
40, alternative and adult contemporary stations. Future singles
will include," Hey Man," and "Just Like Them."