Life is full of surprises and sometimes, it takes you to places you would never expect. Imagine finding yourself at the other side of the world because you once wrote music and created art with your mates. How does it shape you as an individual? What are the odds that the local band, who once opened for you a the other side of the world, takes you on a massive European tour 10 years later?
«Oh, that’s so cute, Winston has a band!», recalls Josh James, laughing.
Winston. As in Winston McCall, known as the vocalist for Parkway Drive.
In 2006, Josh James, current guitarst of Stick To Your Guns, was headlining shows through Australia, with his old band Evergreen Terrace. Back then, Winston McCall was their driver. When they arrived in Byron Bay for a show, McCall reminded them that it was his band, Parkway Drive, opening for them, and they found it “cute”. Three years later, Evergreen Terrace have plans for another tour down under and suggest Parkway Drive as a main support. Little did they know that the band got so big in the meantime, that they would headline above them. “For me, I was there in the beginning, when almost no one was there, and then, I missed the middle section and now they’re playing 6000 capacity venues, which came out of nowhere”, observes James. “The reason why they are Parkway Drive, and what brought them to the top is just some guitars, drums and mics […] It’s just so really cool to see them do that without really changing.” The rest is history.
Similarly to Parkway Drive and their relentless touring, it appears that the majority of Stick To Your Guns‘ success is from touring. That’s how they usually think about being in a band anyway : on stage and playing live music together. Of course, the constant touring can also take a toll on the artists, while at other times, having two months off would make one lose their mind, and in need to get back on tour “as drug addicts”, as Josh puts it.
Living off music puts you in a position where it becomes essential to find the right balance in life and understand why you do this and find ways to make your mark in a hectic world. And we are not talking about “making a mark” as in climbing the ladder of fame but rather making a mark as humans, living in a world populated by many, many other different humans.
Now ten years on and it’s becoming obvious that what drives a band like Stick To Your Guns isn’t solely the music. With a very social and political grounding, a huge part of their message is about self reflection and the idea that once you take care of yourself, you can take care of other people. They have used their voice many times to advocate for equal rights, animal welfare and standing against abuse, among other things. Following their morals and thriving on putting ideas into actions, the band takes every other opportunity to do their bit, which is what took them to Kenya in early 2017.
If Stick To Your Guns became the first american rock band to play Kenya, they jumped right at the occasion and managed make it more than about a show in Nairobi. It’s true that having a charity like Hardcore Help Foundation arranging to play a show in Africa helped.
Hardcore Help Foundation is an organization based in Germany which collects medical supplies, take donations through collaboration with artists, events, charity shows in their home country and take it to Africa. Stick To Your Guns made collaborations with the charity in the past and decided to take it even further, accepting this opportunity. A few days before the show, members of the band joined the foundation in Kenya and took a trip to Naikuru. It is a town village a few hours outside Nairobi, where they spent time working with disabled kids.
From there, they also learned about another project through the Action Not Words organization, which takes kids from a dump site too many of them live in, to boarding schools where they can get an education and aim for a better life. The project lives off donations. “You have to realize that there, making a dollar a day is living wage that can help you afford to live in a nicer place. It’s not “nice” by our standards at all […] but it’s better than the trash.”
Spending time in Kenya was an eye opening experience, in many regards. In retrospect, it has become James’ best memory with his band. “I would have never thought that being in a hardcore band would get me to some fucked up village in Eastern Africa and I couldn’t be more grateful for it.” As people, living in comfort, it is important to go out and see how life is for a lot of other people. “[There was ] no electricity, no water, and that is something where your perspective on life is just shattered […] Obviously, there is extreme poverty in Paris or in Los Angeles. It doesn’t make it worse or better than in any other place. But it was just so different to see that way of life. I don’t want to say it was awesome, but it was very interesting.”
But what took Stick To Your Guns to this place is hardcore music. It has to be said that even the music in Kenya is perceived differently as a whole. You would think that – because Nairobi is a metropolitan city, heavily influenced by the western culture – attending a hardcore show would be like anywhere else. Well think again, because hardcore to Kenyans is different than hardcore to us. “From what I gathered, it’ just rock’n’roll music”, says Josh. It is ike being in a punk band in the 1980s. “People wore metal bands or hardcore bands shirts, so they were definitely aware of it, but the whole idea of hardcore/metal/punk and rock’n’roll being separated; I got the vibe that it wasn’t”, he adds.
It’s interesting that Stick To Your Guns toured Europe this year with Parkway Drive. It is a band who shares the same interests as theirs and who had similar experiences in Asia and in India, for example. These are places where both bands didn’t experience the most fun trips, rather the most “affecting to [their] inner beings”, as Josh describes it. Do Stick To Your Guns tour and work only with bands like them? It’s worth noticing that many of the bands they end up on the road with, have close backgrounds (Stray From The Path, First Blood…) But it’s not the first and only criteria they look at, since many variables come into consideration. “At the end of the day, when we build a tour, we try to make it a tour where our fans and any other band’s fans would want to go to. We love the idea of having a diverse tour, but of course we don’t want to put a ska band, and a death metal band and then us, because none of the fans would get excited about the three.”
Stick To Your Guns never lose sight of consistency. According to Josh, they managed to keep growing together as a band, because they have a similar foundation, as far as their personalities are concerned. “We all have similar interests, we all live in very close lifestyles to each other. For instance, everyone in the band is straight edge, because drugs and alcohol can very much separate a band. Everyone is on the same political and social playground, and everyone is friends with each other. There is a common respect.” With a solid background and diverse other musical experiences, Josh notices that in the five years that he’s been with Stick To Your Guns “it’s either been a steady plane or a steady increase.” It’s comforting because finding such a balance in this particular environment and at this level isn’t an easy thing to achieve.
This idea of growing together and the mutual respect that cements this group had already been brought up last year, when we chatted with Jesse Barnett (vocals) and Chris (Rawson, guitars)). They put forward the idea of them constantly learning to understand each other’s perspective, even in disagreement. “Everyone in the band stays pretty open minded and has faith in each other”, underlines Josh. “When it comes to writing songs, or working on new ideas, everyone hears each other out. We don’t disregard each other.”
Waking up everyday to create and play music with people that are close to you isn’t linear. It’s not glamorous, either and it takes a lot to succeed in this path. But doing this becomes more meaningful when a positive purpose comes into consideration. The will to open up to the world and contribute to make it a better place, for example. You never know what is going to happen next and Josh James and Stick To Your Guns‘ story in the making is a case in point.
Since then, Stick To Your Guns traveled back to the studio and finished recording an album. “True View” is set to be released on Oct 13th, 2017 through Pure Noise Records / End Hits Records. Stick To Your Guns will be back in Europe in the Winter alongside Being As An Ocean and Silent Planet. Now listen to a new song below.
Words : Mariam B. & Yousra F.