This summer, the surviving members of Stick Against Stone will join forces with some local musicians to play some gigs for the first time in close to 30 years.
In addition to these shows, a documentary about the band’s history and its deceased frontman John Creighton, Get It All Out, is currently in production, with an eye towards a 2012 release. And on top of that, Creighton’s writings and poetry have been compiled into an interactive eBook which will see release later this year.
All this activity would be impressive for any indie band. But how – and why – has all this activity come together for an obscure no-wave/post-punk/free jazz band from the early ‘80s?
The driving force behind all of this is Will Kreth, the first person ever hired to work at WIRED magazine and Stick Against Stone’s one-time manager and soundman. Kreth first discovered the band at a free show in Eugene, Oregon, and he knew the moment he saw them that he wanted to be involved with them.
“I didn’t meet them until they’d cycled through several different people,” Kreth recalled, “but the spirit of what they were about took a hold of me as a young person.”
The band’s no-wave/post-punk/free jazz sound had certain antecedents – Kreth cites bands like Pigbag as a significant influence, and one can also hear faint twitches of Talking Heads and James Chance – but it was also, in early ‘80s Pittsburgh, definitely not fit for mainstream consumption. In the words of the Creighton’s friend John Gallone, there were only about “four or five bars” in the entire city where the band could play a set without getting doused with beer by frat boys.
“Pittsburgh was just not where they needed to be,” Kreth tells me. “They needed to be [in New York], or in Manchester or Bristol or some place that would have appreciated them.”
Stick Against Stone never cut a proper recording. But their music, along with what he termed their “clusterfuck nature,” cast a spell on Kreth that never quite went away. But it was still a shock when, in 2005, the band’s original bassist, Brook Duer, passed Kreth some recordings they’d made back in the ‘80s. “The magic of it for me was even more quirky and eclectic and bizarre [than I’d remembered],” Kreth says.
“It made me want to excavate it.”
As Kreth began to think about doing so, he realized his fascination with Stick Against Stone extended past the band’s music, and that any project about it would have to be the same way.
“John [Creighton] was a volunteer for the Hunger Action Coalition [now Just Harvest] in Pittsburgh,” Kreth says, citing one example of the non-musical things that appealed to him about SAS. “All the kids in this group got their training in public schools, not private academies or anything.”
In order to capture those and other details – Creighton’s thesis on women in punk rock, the story of the band’s drummer, Richard Vitale – he would have to embark on a project that extended out past a simple reissue project.
“I really don’t want to use the ‘T’ word because it gets the crap beaten out of it,” Kreth chuckles, “but it’s transmedia.”
Transmedia, as Kreth understands it, “is really all about extending your narrative as opposed to replicating your narrative.” And despite his reluctance to use the term, it is a mode of thinking that almost every musician should be aware of.
“It ought to be a growing, living thing,” Kreth says, now speaking about any transmedia project. “There’s gotta be a way to create something that’s more than an electronic press kit.”
It also has to involve the nuanced use of various platforms. “It can’t just be tick-box,” Kreth says. “If you’re just cookie-cutting, where your bio is the same whether it’s in print or online, that’s not transmedia. That’s duplication marketing.
“It’s all about the theme,” he says.
To Kreth, Stick Against Stone stood for many things: Creighton’s strident political stances, the value and importance of musical education in public schools, and an artistic inclusiveness and openness that continues to inform music-making today. But the music is at the heart of all of those things, and it is the vehicle Kreth hopes will set everything else back into motion.
“This music was meant to be played,” Kreth says, echoing the sentiments of SAS’s drummer Vitale, who died four days after a day of a day of shooting the documentary last July. He hopes the latest incarnation of the band, which features members as young as 21 and as old as 62, can bring the band, its music and its message the credit they’ve long deserved. In addition to upcoming dates at Sullivan Hall (June 8) and in a Bed Stuy park, the Stick Against Stone Orchestra is looking to play at the 2012 Three Rivers Festival in Pittsburgh, 30 years after the original band played there for the first time.
“It’s up to the audience,” Kreth says, “but we’ll take it one show at a time.”